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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Loving the unlovable

This is been perhaps my hardest week here and it's only Wednesday. About half of the students this week come from an orphanage and are the rowdiest, most disruptive kids I've ever seen. Getting into fistfights during class, overturning chairs and blackboards, and just generally running amok -- all at 9-10 years old. It's absolute chaos.

The general emotion I feel is frustration. Why don't these children understand even simple commands like "sit down" and "be quiet"? We're even speaking to the children in Korean this week (which is normally a big SEV no-no) just to maintain some level of discipline, but even when you give them orders in Korean, they pretend not to understand and continue causing mayhem.

But deep down, under all the frustration and confusion, what I feel most is sadness and empathy. To be an orphan must be the loneliest feeling in the world, especially when you're trapped in a seemingly unending system. The children we have this week will probably never be adopted and will stay in the system until they either run away or are forced out. What kind of future can they possibly face?

But I've been thinking about the sermon I heard this Sunday. To introduce the season of Advent, the vicar based his sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 and this part stuck in my mind:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

And so I can't help but feel that maybe these orphans are here as some kind of test. It's requiring me to reach beyond what I am used to and dig deeper to find a way to love these children and be a good teacher. The hardest part has been balancing the discipline -- which obviously needs to be rigid -- with a display of compassion and affection.

Funny enough, as soon as the kids leave the classroom, they turn into the sweetest, most darling children who want nothing more than to hold my hand (I often find myself walking down the halls with three or four kids grabbing at various body parts) or to get a high-5. They all crave that one-on-one attention that must be so rare in an orphanage. Even acting out and being disruptive is how they have learned to get individual attention.

I'll be happy when they leave Friday and we're back to teaching "regular" kids, but there's also a part of my heart breaking for them. In this season of Thanksgiving, when I've been a little bummed out about missing Thanksgiving with my family for the second year in a row, it's important to remember that at least I have a family. These children have no one and that is just the saddest thing to imagine.

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