Imagine walking into a high school classroom full of 22 9th graders. It’s the first week of school in the Marshall Islands. You greet them “good morning” and prepare to have homeroom worship.
Now, here’s the catch: all your life you’ve loved to sing and praise God and you know for a fact that many of your students are avid singers. You walk to the center of the room and begin to lead out in songs. Then, you realize that you’re the only one singing. This happens almost every day for an entire month.
One month goes by and you and your 9th grade class are in charge of chapel for the entire high school. You go to the front of the church with your students on that day and the majority try to hide in the back of the stage. Some students are refusing to sing, while others are goofing off. You are full of embarrassment, but know that your students can do better.
And so, as the months go on you prepare your kids to work for God through worship. You take them to elementary classrooms to have worship with the younger students. You have them teach the elementary students songs in Marshallese. You assign a song leader for the class to help your 9th graders to want to sing. You purchase a ukulele in hopes of inspiring your song leader.
And yet, some days your song leader doesn’t want to lead out in songs. The students ask why they can’t go sing with the 10th grade or 7th grade class. “Their homeroom worship sounds way better than ours.” Maybe if they had a more musical homeroom teacher they would be more inclined to sing. Your heart feels discouraged, but you press on. On other days, you ask your students if they want to sing for homeroom worship and they refuse. You become troubled, you don’t understand why all this is happening.
You spend hours on your knees pleading on behalf of your students because you know that their refusal to sing is more than just a matter of worship. It’s about whom they will choose to serve. You see how Satan battles for their souls. You see their struggle.
Now the days of when you doubted your love for your 9th graders are long gone, but still you struggle to encourage them to worship. Time passes and you build relationships with them. A love has built that words will never be able to describe. Some days are better than others, but the love continues to grow. Then the day for 9th grade chapel looms in the distance. But this time you’re ready.
Every spare moment (and some not so spare moments) is used to rehearse and yet, you don’t think they are ready. Something is missing.
Now it’s the day before chapel and your 9th graders begin to goof around during practice. One of your girls comes and stands beside you and proceeds to direct your 9th graders into a swaying motion. You’re astounded and step back to let her lead. To your utter amazement the entire class follows her lead, and not only that, but are singing loudly, full of praise in a way that opens your eyes to the change that has occurred over the months. This is it! you think to yourself.
It’s the day of chapel and you gather your 9th graders together to practice one more time before they lead the high school in worship. The songs are well put together, but you’re not so sure about the skit.
But before you know it, the time for chapel arrives. You enter early to set up. Then your 9th graders approach you, suddenly nervous, and you try to calm their nerves. The song leader grabs your arm, her eyes full of fear.
“Miss, I can’t do it,” She says.
“Yes, you can,” you insist, looking her right in the eye, “I believe in you. Have I ever lied to you before?”
“Then trust me now. Look, I’ll even stand next to you this time while you direct.” The student smiles weakly at you and nods her head.
Chapel breezes by and you can’t wipe the smile and the look of pride off your face. They did it! Your 9th graders are all beaming, filled with a sense of accomplishment and purpose. God has changed their hearts over the course of the 6 months you’ve been their homeroom and math teacher. God is good!
This story is true in its entirety. I have experienced it myself. These months have been a trial with my 9th grade homeroom class, yet I am here to testify that God is more than able to do this and more. I came to the Marshall Islands thinking that all islanders love to sing. And although this is true, it doesn’t mean they will sing for you just like that. Especially with high school students, it takes time to build trust and earn their respect. But all those hard days and tears are worth it. I’m here to give God the firstfruits of my labor, this chapel. On my own I can do nothing, only through Him (John 15:5).
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all you produce…” – Proverbs 3:9
“Take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…” – Deuteronomy 26:2
*Elizabeth Pujols teaches 9th grade in the Marshall Islands. She is a student missionary from Southern Adventist University. This story was taken from her blog with permission.