Another exhausting day of school had just ended. We were riding home in the back of the safari truck, bouncing and jouncing over the rocky terrain. I could hardly swallow my water or scarf down my soggy ham and cheese sandwich Scott had packed me for lunch. My hair was in tangles, my shirt reeked of sweat, and my fingernails were caked with the dirt of the day. My dry, scratchy eyes could barely squint through the whirlwind of dust that enveloped me. And it hit me again, like it often does – that moment where I just have to ask myself: How in the world did I get here?
The last I remember, I was driving a little red Honda Civic to high school for morning student council meetings. I was sitting in English class, reading classic literature like The Pearl and The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick. The last thing I knew, I was dressing up for silly hall dinners in college with new friends. I was swooning over a lanky, long-haired boy I met my sophomore year. Not too long ago, I was settled cozily into a one-bedroom apartment in Virginia with my new husband, master’s degree, and a bouncing baby boy.
So how did I end up sitting on a truck in the middle of a sugar cane field on an island out in the Caribbean?
And even more importantly, why am I doing this?
I mean, seriously. Are these kids in my kindergarten class learning anything? Do their parents – these families who live for today with little thought for the future – do they have any idea what an education can do for their children? Do these people get it? That it often feels like I’m leaving the job of mom and dad to my husband so I can laminate letters and put filthy, too-tight shoes on their children?
As I begin to peel back the layers to this onion of a question, I realize that there are so many reasons for why I’m here – all so tightly packed together that it’s difficult to see where one answer ends and another begins.
One reason actually revolves around me. You know, I’ve been a bit selfish by choosing to live here. These little boys and girls have become so precious to me, and this marathon of a discipleship process has just begun. I’m still getting to know our students and their families. But I can’t imagine having to give up the budding relationships and experiences I’ve collected so far. I want my hugs from lovable Anllelo and winsome Alfredo. I secretly love Javier’s goofy dances and crazy-eyed head nods as we transition around the room. To miss Nicol’s bright smiles and deep-seated dimples as she runs towards the truck each morning in Cabeza de Toro would be to miss a beautiful sunrise.
But if cute kids and sugary smiles were the only reasons for my living here, I don’t think I’d last very long. I’ve already alluded to the fact that life is not always butterflies and roses. Anllelo has a stubborn streak, and Javier can push the limits. Nicol can wipe her snotty nose down the front of my leg and invade my personal space at an all-too-early hour for my foggy brain. Kids can disappoint and disrespect. They can grate on nerves and cause emotional and physical fatigue.
So there has to be another reason for my living so far away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. Allow me to pull back another layer to this complex question.
The need for education in the Dominican is incredible. We’ve seen firsthand that the boys and girls in “our” villages are dreadfully behind academically – teenagers and some adults can’t read or even recognize enough letters to write their names. Teachers in the public schools are absent about as often as they’re present. Between holidays, rain days, and strikes, the normal four-hour school day can hardly be described as consistent.
So what happens when the adventure and the “feel-good” sensations wear off? What happens when I remember that there’s need in every single corner of this broken world? My heart feels an even deeper sting than the watery eyes and burning nose that usually accompany the slicing open of your ordinary onion.
To be satisfied with doing life in this very different country, there has to be more.
Thankfully, when I cut down to the quick of it, there is more.
The real reason for my sitting on a dusty, bumpy safari truck – the primary purpose I have in holding those snotty kids close – my major motivation in enlightening them with the ever-so-profound truth that “the B says ‘buh'” – is that my Jesus asked me to do it.
There it is. The most basic layer to my “onion” question is that I’m doing it for my Savior.
What’s that little saying? “Christ died for me, so I’ll live for him.” Paul didn’t say anything about onions in Acts 20, but I love the way he puts it:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Call it cliché. Call it traditional. Call it “aw-bless-her-little-heart” or dedicated or radical or just plain crazy. I find no greater satisfaction in this world than to know that God has called me here – “for such a time as this” – to live out this plan He has. For these people. And for me.
Life is not easy. It isn’t always fun. I sometimes lose perspective. I’ve wanted to throw in the towel.
But that’s when I can stop and thank God for the difficult days and uncomfortable truck rides. I can praise Him for those reminders (disguised as little trials) that prompt me to reflect on why I’m here and how incredible it is to be used by Him.