We have been in Schönebeck for over a month now (I forgot to post this–this blog was from Sept 11, 2018) and reflecting back on our first stop of this year journey, the Matthew 18:1-5 continues to be a constant reminder for reflection and inspiration. At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom He put on among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5). This verse has brought me a lot of encouragement over this last month, as I have had to rely on the help of so many different people (children, adults, strangers, family, friends, etc.), just like a child. Since the beginning of our time here in Germany, I have felt many times just like a child and I must share with you that it is a very humbling experience; I have felt lost, confused, isolated, alone, and completely helpless at times. When I have felt most like a child during this time, I try to remember this passage in which Jesus tells us that it is important to become “like a child”. Maybe this is not entirely what he meant, but I think there is truth to the idea that when you put yourself in a situation where you are having to rely on others, you are opening yourself up to being vulnerable and must learn to accept the help and love of another.
Now for someone like me, this is not an easy thing to do. I know that I am not the smartest person in the world, but I do feel like I am competent and well educated. I have my Masters in Social Work and while it has been a while since I have worked in the field (for those that don’t know, I was blessed to be able to stay home with our children for the last 11 years), I do have a level of competence that helps me to feel like I can help those with basic needs. I have been volunteering in an elementary school here in Schönebeck, specifically a 1 Klasse (this is the first class children attend in elementary school). The students are learning their colors and shapes, their alphabet and numbers (and how to write them), and starting to put letters together to make a word (for those in the US, this class is comparable to our Kindergarten classes). So given my education and background I felt that I could be of help when I was asked to help out a special needs student, basically to help keep him on track and help him with the assignments as he needed it.
The first several weeks was quite trying and extremely humbling. As I sat in class with these children, I realized that I was not there just to help, but to also learn right alongside them. I was learning my numbers, letters (and the sounds they make in German), my colors and shapes, etc. I was a 1 Klasse student and helping a student with whom I couldn’t speak to because of the language barrier. The simplest of tasks became quite difficult (ie.“write your number one from the top down not the bottom up”—I don’t know how to say this in German, so I have to try to show it through action).
Now the language barrier is challenging enough with adults who are patient and willing to help and learn alongside of you, but a language barrier with a child who already has difficulty learning and paying attention….sigh. I was starting to wonder how helpful I actually was until the teacher I am working with asked me to stay and continue to help (of course knowing that we had plans to change locations at the end of September). Now this job is nothing like the high stress job I had before and there are many times I still feel pretty useless, but I know that I am helping both the teacher and the student. And it may be a small way in which I am helping, but this journey is about just that, helping people where and how they needed it. Right now, this teacher and this student needed me to help in this way, and even though I may not always feel effective and competent, I know that I am giving them something that is making their life just a bit better for this moment, and that is wonderful.
The really amazing thing about this time in Germany and in the school is that not only am giving to others, but I am getting so much from them. I have been given an opportunity to learn how to laugh at myself and how to accept the help of others. I have learned that sometimes conversations and meanings just get lost in translation and when it happens, laughter seems to bring everyone back together. The people here in Schönebeck have shown our family so much love, patience, and acceptance that I can’t help but hope and pray that we all learn to show the same to others who don’t speak our language.