As I prepare for a year-long furlough next month part of my mind is already making plans for the return to Melbourne in 2014. It may seem strange to think about things more than twelve months ahead of time but my heart will always be in Melbourne so even before leaving I am excitedly looking forward to coming back.
Many of you who read my ministry updates know God has placed a real burden upon my heart for young children in the Australian school system. Eventually this led me to start volunteering at a school in an area of Melbourne known for its poverty and violence (In early 20011 two rival drug gangs drove the down a street shooting at each other less than five minutes away.)
Instead of teaching the Bible or counseling students with Scripture in late 2010 I began working with a group of boys who had such serious anger issues they couldn’t be with other students, and weren’t capable of doing anything competitive (like playing basketball) without screaming racial slurs at one another.
That was followed in 2011 by becoming teachers aid for eighteen first and second graders once a week, and helping teach art class for two hours on Wednesdays this year. (Editors note: God must have a sense of humor because I am the worst artist in the history of the world…for more information about this along with visual proof check out my post about teaching art).
To be honest I was pretty confused about God deciding to close the door for a religious ministry and instead lead me to children whose idea of asking for a red texter is screaming “I want a red one!” as loud as they can. But our art classes on Wednesday (or chaos as I like to refer to them) have become opportunities to not only teach proper social skills but share my Faith, and be accepted by the teachers as well as students.
Last Wednesday almost every one of the third and fourth grade art students greeted me with a cheerful “Hi John” as they walked by and took their places on the floor. These where children who have a reputation for being the worst class in the entire school and ate substitute teachers for breakfast, but if I say “oi” (Australian for hey stop that) they suddenly get quiet.
How can an introverted man with a relaxed personality and fear of confrontation control a group of rowdy students? It’s simple, they know me. Some of them I have been working with for the more than two years on Wednesday afternoons so they have seen me happy, sad, annoyed, frustrated, and yes angry (which is when Mean John shows up).
In early 2010 I began praying about becoming actively involved in a local school….the first step in this is being accepted and respected by the students as well as faculty and teachers. In short they have to truly know you. After more than two years the Lord has brought me to the point where I have that strong relationship and there are opportunities to do more at the school.
This is why I will have a note of sadness on August 29, the last Wednesday with the children before leaving on furlough. But the last two years have definitely been worth it and can’t wait to see what the Lord does with those relationships once I return.