The Longest Day (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

11:36 AMHeather

I remember when my kids were little and the days seemed SO. VERY. LONG.  The hours would drag as I tried to keep a preschooler, toddler and infant alive occupied.  My husband knew the sure sign of a long day.  If he came home and the children were in the bathtub, wrinkled with pruny fingers, while I sat against the wall next the tub--it'd been a long day.  Because I had resorted to my old trick of "hey, kids, climb into this contained space and play and splash and I won't even attempt to wash you."

My second day in Belize felt a little like that.  Okay, a lot.  Except that you can't exactly throw fourteen children, ranging in age from four to seventeen, into a bathtub to pass the time.  Nor can you sit them in front of a television or use the crutch of electronics.  Because these things were not part of the equation.

Listen, I'm not proud of my response to that second day. But, I'd like to pretend that I kept my issues contained and internal, away from the kids and the team. Because our only assignment, being part of the "kid duty" team, as opposed to the construction team that day, was to play with the kids.  Enter their lives.  Get to know them.  Show them love.  

You know, in other words, the very reason I came to Belize in the first place.

I started strong.  I had actually gone to sleep the night before in the blessed air conditioning that we enjoyed only during sleeping hours, on my top bunk and cool sheets, thinking about how repulsed I was by my excess.  Impressed with the simplicity of what really matters.  On that emotional high of hearing those Belizean beauties and boys singing about their love for Jesus.

So after a delicious breakfast, prepared by the amazing Rosa (how does she pull off meals for thirty in a hot kitchen less than half the size of mine?  I can hardly pull something together for my family of five?) was play time.  Or rather, homework time.  Because the kids all had homework to do on that bright, hot Saturday. As soon as Kendra, the house mom, gave us the list of homework for the various kids, we shooed her away for a day of respite.  

First on the Noah's Arks.  Um, what?  It took some clarifying from the older kids to understand that yes, indeed, the majority of the kids were tasked with building models of Noah's Arks.  For school.  Public school, at that.  Because apparently, in Belize, public school education includes stories from the Bible and assigned Scripture memory.  Who knew?  

So, like McGyver, Tracy, the team leader, and I bee lined for the building that is currently storage to see what craft supplies we might scrounge up.  Okay, I can do this, I thought.  I'm crafty.  Surely, I can figure this one out.  

Here is the random assortment of goods we scored from the stash of things other teams have sent and brought for the kids:  paper plates, felt, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, tape, glue, scissors, a little cardboard, and construction paper.  Oh, and by the way--the ark should include animals and of course, the eight people who were on the ark.  That was the assignment. These kids had their Biblical facts straight:  you must have Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.  

Alrighty then.  We laid it all out and began the mission impossible.  Like any other siblings, there was the mad dash to claim supplies and fight over them while we adults attempted to negotiate and tackle how to help about eight kids make replica arks out of the supplies on hand.  Yi yi yi.

But, as it sorted itself out, I was amazed at how quickly the kids divided into groups with adult helpers and began working on either their arks or their spelling or their reading.  Diligently working.  On a Saturday morning.  Initial groaning (and who could blame them?  I was sure my teenage sons were still asleep back home)...quickly evolved into diligent work.  Showing what I would come to see is an amazing characteristic of Belizeans.  A strong work ethic and industriousness.  

(Author's rabbit trail note: one of the girls kept repeated the theme for the 33rd birthday of the country of Belize.  We kept hearing her saying, "Injustice hands, intelligent minds, together for Belize" in her Creole accent...We later figured out she was actually saying industrious hands.)

These kids were creative and took pride in their work.  One boy, I will call David*, carefully constructed his ark like a trained architect.  He seemed to have a mental blue print immediately, and tenaciously spent the next three hours bringing his plan to life.  His intricate framing became a strong structure.  Others worked with cardboard or felt or craft sticks.  And somehow, in the hands of these strong and hardworking children, a pile of random craft supplies became a wide assortment of completed Noah's arks.  

I spent the entire morning helping one little girl, Rachelle*.  This little girl is first of all, gorgeous.  She could be a model for sure.  She is sweet and kind and helpful beyond words.  If you're looking for her, you will likely find her in the kitchen helping with dishes or toting the house parent's one year old baby on her little hip.  

Rachelle was not convinced when I initially suggested we use the paper plates as a frame.  She let me know how skeptical she was, but also that she was willing to give it a go.  And so, we slaved over the coveted hot glue gun I had broughtWord quickly got out about this useful tool, and so a little crowd of kids crammed into the tiny kitchen to get a turn.  

As the morning progressed, Rachelle and I bonded over hours spent with paper plates, brown paper bags, craft sticks and hot glue. She offered the ultimate compliment when she expressed that she wasn't sure of my idea at first but that she was glad she had gone with the choice of paper plates as a frame.

 Rachelle's finished ark

The morning wrapped as the kids fawned over our assistance to draw the animals they needed for their arks.  Side note: no animal artists were part of our team. The kids giggled over our attempts and graciously accepted the animals they deemed worthy.  I was still doing pretty good emotionally at this point.  I was still in awe about how I tend to dread school projects at home.  But here, stripped of distractions and agendas, I found that I welcomed the project as an opportunity to bond and as something to do.  I loved seeing the quiet and hard work ethic of some,  and the energy and mischief channeled into the creativity of others.  

After lunch, we brought out the toys.  THE TOYS.  Y'all, THE TOYS that were sorta a "time filler" in our minds -- something to do in between our other planned activities with the kids over the weekend.  But, these kids--all of them--would spend hours, literally hours, playing with them. They went from being a side note to the main thing.

The toy that was such an instant hit?  Legos.  Yep.  A few bags of discarded or borrowed legos became THE THING.  The kids were plopped all over the dining hall, in little groups or solo, building with legos.  From the four year olds to the teenage girls.  These simple toys became not just hours but days of distractions for the kids.  There were fights, of course.  From subtle negotiating and trading by one boy to full on grabbing out of each other's hands.  But, they sat, oblivious to their sweating in the afternoon heat under the ceiling fans stirring the air.  

Here's where things started getting ugly for me.  The heat.  And humidity.  And the afternoon lull in energy began to wind me up. Or rather, unravel my resolve.  The day began to feel endless.  I began to miss the comforts of home.  I am sad to admit that I began to count down mentally how many more days until we could go home.  I mean, the kids are awesome and all.  But, when is bedtime?

How double minded I was, as I helped Tracy lead a Bible study with the kids on the fruits of the spirit (while they played legos, we spoke and they listened). Even as I was teaching a song about patience and self-control, I was wishing the days away until I went home.  Oh sure, I marveled at the seeds of faith obviously planted in the fertile soil of their open hearts.  These kids spouted off answers throughout the lesson that showed that this was not their first Bible study rodeo.  

But still, I found myself overcome with waves of irritability and frustration.  Even a touch of homesickness.

Here is the only thought that pulled at me throughout this first full day, fourteen hours with the kids.  I had a choice to make.  All of us who visit foreign countries or volunteer or enter the difficult lives of others.  We can complain and moan about the heat and bugs and work and discomfort.  Or, we can remember that WE actually have a choice.  Because we can go back home to all of our creature comforts.  We can go back to air conditioned expansive homes with luxuries these kids couldn't fathom.  We can enjoy opportunities that these kids might never see.  We were born in a privileged America.  And we are wimpy.  And we gotta get over ourselves.

Because we can endure for a few hot and sweaty days and pour ourselves out--working heartily as for the Lord and not men (Colossians 3:23).  Putting our comfort aside for the sake of others.  
Because if we are going to attach ourselves to the name of Jesus, we must remember, after all, how uncomfortable he became for our sake.

THIS, this train of thought, pushed me through the long afternoon of negotiating legos and playing with the kids and finishing homework and then setting the table for dinner.  

And God whispered some truth to me as I battled internally, placing these thoughts in my head.  I had overcomplicated things.  I worried that the older kids wouldn't like the song I taught or the crafts I'd planned...or even me.  

Here's the simple truth.  The simplicity of the worldwide church.  Loving joyful kids plus an obedient heart to do so equals God's greatest blessing -- hearts united and new connections.  Children like Rachelle* who would sneak up behind me to throw her arms around my waist and offer a huge smile.  Jesus is our common ground.  Beyond language barriers or cultural differences or age differences or racial differences.  They have a need, I thought.  I can meet a need.  

Yet, I was discovering that actually I am the needy.  They are the need meeters.  They have much to teach.  They have much to offer. It's the reciprocal rhythm of living out the gospel.  

Before I knew it, the sun began to set on that very long day.  And while their unusually late 10 pm bedtime still loomed hours away, the dark of the evening became the light at the end of my tunnel.  The kids fought over which adult sat next to them at dinner.  Obvious attachments had grown throughout the day.  And I realized that these kids, of all ages, had just passed a day with great contentment without an electronic or even air conditioning.  With simple toys and tackling school tasks.  Not once did anyone complain about being bored. 

Yeah, my kids are not going to like some of the things I will go home with from this experience.

After dinner came the big treat we had planned for the kids.  We played The Lego Movie, projected on a sheet hung on the wall of the dining hall.  Amazed that I had wifi there, I was able to sit in the dark at the back of the room and text with my family at home. This helped me pull it together so I could get over myself.  And then, before I knew it, I was told I didn't have bedtime duty and I could go shower and go to bed whenever I wanted.

Oh yes.  Once again, I felt an internal scolding of how much I had mentally complained. Unnecessarily. I fell into my bunk and prayed that I could endure with more grace and finesse from here on.  I had come all this way.  I didn't want to just get through the experience.  I wanted to enjoy it.  To soak it all in.  To run this little six day race with endurance.  Lord, help me!  It may not always be comfortable.  But it is only temporary.  

I reminded myself that I was right where I was supposed to be. Where I was meant to be.  

And so I prayed for new mercies in the new day to come.  

Because that is, after all, what God promises for each new day.

New mercies.  Fresh faithfulness. 

*Actual names of the children have been changed.  Tomorrow, I will dive into why.

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