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The served become the servants

Every Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., fifteen hands shoot into the air as I enter the room. Fifteen toothless smiles. Fifteen sets of bright, eager eyes.

“Ms. Johnson, can I read with Mrs. Hunt?”

I’ve been walking into this classroom for five years, and their greetings never get old.

Nor does their bravery, their perseverance, their determination. Many of these first graders at The Academy at West Birdville barely know their letter sounds when I first meet them in September.  “You can do hard things!” I tell them. Each Tuesday morning, I sit on a corner of the rug, and they come to me, one at a time. We sit together and they read to me, struggling over sounds and letters and blends. Sometimes –ow says OW, I tell them. But in this word, it says OH. It doesn’t make much sense, and it’s tricky. But you can do it, I tell them.

And they do. Over and over and over again, they figure it out. Tiny miracles happen in first grade every day. The child who barely recognizes the letters of the alphabet in September is reading sixty words per minute in May.

I play a small part in their story. It’s not a big role, and it’s mostly cheering them on and giving them a little extra help. Occasionally they share their secrets, sometimes with words, sometimes with silence: not enough food, fear of abuse, separation from their families. On Tuesday mornings, I briefly step into their world. I’m not the only one—every day, volunteers from NorthWood Church step into classrooms to remind these kids how amazing they are, and coach them with reading or math or vocabulary. It’s a small thing. But it’s something. It’s a small thing done with great love.

For the past five years, on my final Tuesday with the class, I bring a gift bag full of individually wrapped books to give them. Their pants have creeped up their shins, their toes rub against the tops of their shoes, their new teeth have filled in the gaps. They have grown—oh, how they’ve grown! Their smiles are brighter, their confidence soaring, their brains expanded. They know I have a special treat for them in my bag, so they sit criss-cross-applesauce, hands in their laps, bouncing on their backsides, waiting to receive.

But not this time. Today, before I can even announce the gifts, Ms. Johnson walks over to the bulletin board and pulls down a piece of blue construction paper, scrawled with first grade script and displaying two sandwich bags filled with coins.

“We have been learning about charities,” she tells me as the kids sit grinning. “And we decided to collect money to give back to NorthWood.” She reminds her students about the playground pavilion the church built, and the school supplies we provided, and the many volunteers who wrap their arms around this school.

This is where Jesus resides. This is his ZIP code. Among the smallest, the most vulnerable—raising their dimpled hands and declaring “Me too! I want to be a part of this kingdom!” Where the served become the servants. Where generosity begets generosity. Where small seeds of love are planted, grown, harvested, and replanted, awaiting the next season of growth and harvest and replanting.

One Tuesday morning at a time.

 

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