The Numbers Tell a Story

I like to analyze things. Things make more sense to me when they can be observed, analyzed, changed and tested. While my wife can write beautiful words that paint a scene, I’m much more at home figuring out a way to use formulas in a spreadsheet to help me automate a complicated process. God gave us all different personalities, and so I know this is normal. However, there are many times when I need to not only focus on the numbers, the things that I can see more easily, but also focus on understanding the story that the numbers are telling.

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Kathy’s crazy 4 year-olds

Doulos Discovery School in Jarabacoa is home to 256 students from age 3 to seniors in HS. Half of the students at Doulos receive a scholarship to attend and of those students, the average family income is $527/month. At the low-end, we have families earning less than $150/month. When Kathy and I share our story of how God brought us to the Dominican Republic and to Doulos, we do a pretty good job of sharing those numbers. It’s one of the easiest ways to explain what it is that we do here. But what that doesn’t do is tell you what it’s like to sit in the home of one of Kathy’s Pre-K4 students. To have the family offer you coffee and welcome you into their home. To hand you their newly born baby to hold and proudly show you the pictures of their wedding and children’s birthdays. To give you the tour of their house and make introductions with all the extended family that lives together or close by. These moments make real a world that if left only to the numbers would sit idly on the page.

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Kathy with her student and a new baby sister!

Doulos also has a cafe and part of my job is overseeing the operations there. I always fancied myself a restaurateur and so for me this is an exciting outlet for some of my creativity. Also, I enjoy eating good food, so I’ve got a vested interest in the Cafe’s success. The cafe serves between 80-100 lunches daily to staff and students. Most students have lunch brought from home, but for those that have two working parents or who live too far from the school to allow for this, we provide lunch sponsorships. We have 25 students who receive some form of lunch sponsorship. We work hard to serve healthy meats, veggies, fruits and a whole lotta white rice to the Doulos family every day. Earlier this year we had a team from the US come in and build us a covered eating area off the back of our main administration building. Since Doulos doesn’t have a cafeteria building, we eat at picnic tables outside. Which is fine as long as it’s not raining. Now with the size of the new eating area, we can easily fit all the students at tables in one central location. I got to manage this project from start to finish and was able to dust off some of my construction management skills that I thought I’d all but forgotten.

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Starting construction

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Waiting on the roof panels

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The finished comedor

Around this same time, we were notified of a student in Kindergarten that didn’t have healthy food every day for lunch. At best, she was getting some fried plantains and a little bit of rice. After talking with the school counselor we put her on a lunch sponsorship. The first day when she got her plate with baked chicken, salad and two scoops of rice, you should have seen the look on her face. She ate every last bit of rice and the proud smile she wore was infectious. Every month I process a report on the lunch sponsorships and it’s just numbers on a spreadsheet. The reality that happens just a few steps from my office every day is so much more than that.

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Hamburger day in the cafe

These stories happen every day all around all us. Not just to those of us that live in foreign places. The hardest part for me is to pause long enough from the everyday spreadsheets, numbers and tasks to take in the beauty and complexity of the people and lives that we touch.

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Kathy’s class picnic

Our family has been living here for almost two and a half years. We’ve seen our children grow from not knowing any Spanish to being indistinguishable from Dominican children, save for the blond hair. We’ve flown home three times for fundraising and visiting family, twice for funerals, and once for professional development. Our home is 936 miles away from the last home we lived in and yet it feels like millions some days. Please pray for our little family. Pray that we will be healthy and have the strength to “live the command” that Jesus gave us. Pray that God will supply all our needs.

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September 15, 2012

This picture is on my computer desktop and reminds me daily of the story we started writing 2-1/2 years ago. Thanks to everyone who has joined us on this journey. We can’t do it without you.

The musings of an English speaking preschool teacher in a Spanish speaking country

The average four year old can stand on one foot for 9 seconds, peddle a tricycle, count 10 items and has the capacity to acquire 4 to 6 words per day, given access. They are learning everything from how to sit still for longer periods of time (we’re talking 10-15 minutes), how to wipe their own bottoms and quickly undo their pant buttons and how to do it in time.  They are finding out how to open their own juice boxes and insert the straws without creating an apple juice geyser, and how throwing rocks at their friends seems fun but can also hurt someone. They must learn that writing on the walls and not following the rules comes with consequences. They are learning basically everything through trial and error.

 

Teaching ABC’s and 123’s in English to Spanish speaking toddlers comes naturally to me. We are forever singing catchy songs and playing fun games. After just a few weeks of class, almost all of the children can respond to the question, “What is your name?” with “My name is (Fernando),” can rote count to 10, can recognize their own names and can recognize several English letters. They have already learned many vocabulary words like boy, girl, same, different, backpack, and classroom.  A few have even started saying word phrases like “a girl” or “my backpack.” It is truly amazing!

 

My name is Rachel.

My name is Rachel.

But a source of constant frustration for me as a second language teacher, is not in the academics, but in the area of the heart. It comes when I want to talk about the why, but my Spanish abilities sometimes end at the what.

 

I can communicate, “please don’t hit Camila!” but what I’d like to say is, “How sad Camila must feel when you hit her! You must be feeling very angry with her. How can you show Camila that you are angry without hurting her?

 

Instead of only knowing how to say, “Oh, no! Please don’t touch the plants!” I want to say, “Oh no! How can we keep our school looking beautiful for all the children to enjoy? God’s creation is so awesome and He wants us to take good care of it.” You get the idea.

 

There is a cliche that pops up often in the missionary world that says, “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.”

 

God is equipping me in these heart matters in three ways:

 

  1. He sent a bilingual woman of God to be at my side everyday. Rosalina is my teaching assistant and she is such a blessing with these matters. She has a beautiful way with the children and they love and respect her.  She can remove a child from a sticky situation and have those longer-deeper conversations that I so very much want to have, but simply can’t. Her heart breaks for the children that so desperately need to know that they are loved and cared for. While we still have much work left to do, she completes me in the ways that I lack.
  2. He provided Spanish lessons. This is an answer to prayers! This year our school administration and missionary board is providing all staff with language lessons! So Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I have Spanish lessons with a small group of other missionaries.
  3. He gives grace. Period.

 

And whether it is in preschool or marriage, parenting or the office, His grace is always enough.
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World Changers

They only weigh an average of 50 lbs. each and none of them more than 52” high. Their colors range from creamy vanilla to warm chocolatey brown, but they are too young to notice the difference yet. They are coming into their own, but still have baby faces and sweet baby voices. There are 20 of them. They are small in size. They are first graders world changers.

It started out as a project, part of the expeditionary learning model at Doulos Discovery School. The first grade theme is Families Around the World. Trevor and I are in a unique position that we get to experience the fruits of our ministry through the eyes of our own children—being that Luke is in first grade and Emily in Kindergarten. Their classes are a purposeful and perfectly split-mix of full-tuition paying students and scholarship-funded kiddos. So it becomes this breathtakingly beautiful thing when they begin exploring the ways that each other live.

Instead of just telling them about the children that don’t have mommies and daddies, they actually went and visited an orphanage and made observations. Science. They were welcomed into the modest homes of a small poor neighborhood to interview the locals about their family dynamics. Language Arts. They learned about families on each of the seven continents. Social Studies. And then graphed the ones that have clean water and those that do not. Mathematics.

But somewhere in between bar graphs and world maps, they learned about this place called Africa. I know, because Luke has not stopped talking about it for weeks. They learned that just like their own country, Africa does not have clean water. And they also learned about the millions of bellies that go hungry every day. And this is when Social Studies and Language Arts turned into something bigger. Their tiny hearts were touched and they wanted to do something. Let me remind you, this comes from kids that have next to nothing, wanting to do something for those that have even less. Each first grade family contributed the equivalent of $2.50 to give food to local families in need, many of them stretching their contribution over a couple weeks as it was more than they could afford. And then they wanted to do even more. So with the help of some grown-ups the first grade class is hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser this month to send all of the money to Mozambique, Africa.

Doulos meets a need of this community, but it doesn’t stop there. These little ones are already paying it forward.

Look out world! Great things come in little packages. And their journeys have just begun!

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Making observations at the orphanage as a little girl washes her plate.

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A little boy and girl show the first graders this family’s outdoor kitchen. The students were collecting information about about families.

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Our little “African” in his traditional garb and his South American cutie-pie friend showing off their graphing skills at Expedition night.