A few weeks ago I was rummaging through old albums looking for a picture for “Throw Back Thursday,” when I stumbled upon a typical scene from my teen years. There was a turtle neck involved, feathered bangs, a sports watch, and my favorite oversized t-shirt that said, “Messiah.”
What I love about this picture, other than the fact that the little Mexican girl is mad-dogging the camera and copping a feel, is that I can remember feeling truly happy and fulfilled at this moment. Sure, my eyes are tired but that is probably because I was up in the middle of the night with one of my crazy friends who convinced me to leave the tent to go pee in the woods with her. (You know who you are. And you know it wasn’t pee.)
As a 14 year old, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to “do when I grow up.” I’m pretty sure I thought I’d be dead by now because 31? That would have sounded ancient to the teen version of Katie. I was too busy thinking about Leo DiCaprio and how to hide my acne than to wonder about what life would be like in my 30’s. However, now I can see that it was during those trips to Mexico that God was planting seeds and growing in me a love for working with other cultures. I had no idea what the future had in store, but He knew exactly what He had in store for me.
He knew the end of my story before I even realized I should probably grow out those bangs and wear shirts that fit. He knew that the nerd in the turtleneck would grow into a nerd with a heart for kids from other nations. So even though I grew up in a typical white suburb and have mostly white friends, God has repeatedly put me in positions with students who look, speak, and think differently than I do. And I absolutely love it.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that for the past two weeks I ventured around Southern California with 10 International students in tow. During those two weeks I couldn’t help but think, “Yes God, this is it-right here, right now, with these kids- this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Do you have those moments too? Maybe when you’re looking at your spouse or child or friend or job or whatever it may be and it suddenly becomes so clear that you were made for this. I don’t have these moments all the time- driving through Chick-Fil-A doesn’t really inspire this feeling of belonging and purpose. But every once in awhile God seems to whisper to my heart, “See, this is why I made you.”
My heart longs for that whisper and I heard it when I was with my students.
Since most are new to America, I helped prepare them for the transition by teaching them about omelets and chili-cheese fries and Cold Stone. Because that is pretty essential information if you live in America, right? I explained LOL and SMH and OMG. I laughed when one girl kept calling the beach the bitch and corrected a boy who didn’t realize how offensive the n word is. I explained how to order food, use the magic word, follow movie etiquette, and respond to “What’s up?”
where all stereotypes of female, Asian drivers were confirmed as the girls repeatedly crashed into random things and people.
where two boys had to be rescued by the lifeguard because of the rip current.
The purpose of the two weeks was to prepare the students for life in America but also for their Bible and English classes. So we spent 5 hours a day in the classroom going through pages and pages of idioms so they now can say things like, “Miss Kitty, a little birdie told me that you should act your age” which yes, they did say several times.
And no, I did not introduce myself as Miss Kitty. They couldn’t quite master “Hardeman” so it kept coming out as “Miss Hard man.” Not cool. They must have tired of me correcting them because they switched to my first name and because of their accents some of them truly thought my name was Kitty. I chose not to correct them because it makes me laugh.
We began each day with two hours of Bible class, so by the end we had covered all the major stories in the Bible. Most students are from China and had little exposure to the Bible so they knew next to nothing about God and Jesus. What a joy and privilege it was for me to get to explain God’s story to them!
We used a children’s book called The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones in order to simplify concepts and bridge the language gap, and it worked wonderfully. Sure, there were some gaps in the story that I filled with my own explanations. And yes, there were a few small inaccuracies, but if you have a child, I highly recommend this Bible. Every Old Testament story points to Jesus and it does a fabulous job portraying our God who loves and rescues us. Plus, the pictures are awesome.
(Also, if you want a fabulous book about how to teach Bible stories to children, you must get John and Kim Walton’s The Bible Story Handbook. It teaches what lesson should be emphasized from the story and what mistakes to avoid. For instance, did you know Genesis never actually says the serpent was Satan or that there were three Magi? I sure didn’t.)
My favorite part of the day always came after we read the stories and watched clips from The Bible and then kids shared their comments and/or questions. These questions forced me to my knees in prayer each morning because they were some hard-hitters. For example, on day one we were already talking about free will since they wanted to know why God didn’t create us with hearts that would be forced to choose Him . They wanted to know why Adam and Eve would choose to disobey if everything was perfect and why God created Satan and Buddha and what the Bible says will happen to Buddhists like their parents when they die.
And that was just the first day.
Every day they raised really thoughtful questions- questions I didn’t even think to ask until I was in college, and at first I felt boat loads of pressure. I wanted to say all the right things and have all the right answers, so they would choose to turn to God. I thought I alone was responsible for how they view Christianity and God, but He quickly reminded me that the salvation of these kids is not in my hands. Sure, He lets me play a tiny role. I get to tell them what God has done and explain who Jesus is, but I’m not the one nudging their hearts. I’m not the one who pulled them out of their Buddhist or atheist homes in China and brought them to a school where’d they be surrounded by Jesus followers.
No, I’m simply one of His representatives, one of His minions if you will, and my words would never be enough to convince anyone of their deep need for Jesus. Only the Spirit can do that. So I’ll let Him do His job and I’ll do mine- I’ll point to what God has done and is doing in my life; I’ll tell them why I trust this invisible Being whom I can never fully understand and why I call Him my best friend. I’ll model what it looks like to live a life loving God and others and know that their other teachers are doing the same.
And then I’ll pray. I’ll pray like mad that God would meet with these kids in crazy ways and they would encounter Him so powerfully that it won’t matter that they don’t fully understand why God would create Satan or Buddha. Because while Christianity certainly makes sense intellectually, the truth must also penetrate their hearts and souls in order for them to truly believe the crazy truth that the creator of the universe loves them.
So that’s what I’m doing. Our class is over but I continue to pray and I can’t wait to see God answer. He knew what would become of me 15 years after I dorked around Mexico with kids on my back, and He knows what will become of my sweet little Asian students in 15 years. He knows their hearts and He sees their full stories, start to finish.
And I love that I, Miss Kitty, got to play a tiny part in their story.