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Another special year in Grade 1 – Summer 2023

Learning Center  »  Another special year in Grade 1 – Summer 2023

I sit with you today reflecting back on this year sitting in my favorite little café tucked behind the bustling streets of Addis, I am grateful for this time to look back and remember how God has been faithful during this school year. These next two months away from school provide an invaluable opportunity for me to process, celebrate, create, modify, and reflect on how this year went and to look ahead for how I can continue to improve for the upcoming school year. I’d love to pause with you and invite you to be a part of my reflection journey today as I share with you three things that I have learned this school year, in honor of finishing my third year serving at Bingham Academy!

1. Lesson Number One: A heart can trust in Jesus no matter how small!

This year, I was able to witness a beautiful, life-changing moment in Grade 1. During one of our weekly prayer journaling times, I had asked the students to write to God and tell Him anything that they wanted to (giving examples such as saying sorry or thank you to God). One student blurted out that he didn’t know what to say to God. I went to his desk and kneeled down next to him and whispered, ‘What is something that you want God to know? No matter what you tell Him on your paper, He is listening and can hear you!’ So the little boy answered that he wanted God to know that he wanted to go to heaven (we had recently been learning about heaven in our Bible times). Over the next few minutes, a six-year-old child and I were able to have a gospel-rooted conversation about trusting and obeying in Jesus. Later that day, I peeked into this child’s prayer journal and tears filled my eyes as I saw his life-changing note to Jesus: I want to go to Heaven. God can you please come in my heart and help me?

I was moved that day and reminded that God can stir in anyone’s heart, from a six-year old little boy to a 90-year old woman. He is not limited by age or size and simply desires for hearts that are earnestly seeking after Him! It invoked a new passion in my heart to see my 19 precious students as souls that can have a genuine faith in Jesus, even at this young age. As the year went along, I saw the hearts of my students truly seeking after Jesus in the inquisitive questions that they asked during our Bible lessons, in the way they worshipped God freely and without restraint during our chapel times, in the way that they prayed with honesty and boundless faith, and in the way that they showed genuine care for their classmates with empathy and compassion. In all these little glimpses of God in action through my students, I found myself humbled before God and thanking Him for growing my own faith by seeing the faith of these cherished little ones blossom and deepen this year.

1 Timothy 4:12- “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

2. Lesson Number Two: Work for the Lord, not for Man

I am sure many are familiar with Paul’s teaching in Colossians 3:23-24: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.’ I have also heard these verses countless times since my childhood, but this was the year that I truly learned the value and meaning of this and began to apply this practically to my life.

At some point this year, I experienced a level of ‘burn-out’, that I had yet to experience in my three years of teaching. Maybe it was due to the long hours I stayed beyond the school day trying to finish my never-ending to-do list (my fellow teachers can relate), or maybe it was due to challenging parent expectations that I simply could not fulfill, or the difficult behaviors that I felt weren’t improving after implementing every new and innovative behavior management plan I could find, or the desire to be the ‘best’ teacher that I could be, even at times, comparing myself to other teachers to measure my success or failure in this. Ultimately, what I think it boiled down to was that I was working for the approval of others (my students’ parents, my co-workers, my leadership team, etc.) rather than working solely to honor the Lord.

To be really honest, this is an area that I have yet to master and still really struggle in. But, what has this looked like for me practically in the last few months? It’s looked like giving myself grace, knowing that I simply will not meet every expectation placed on me by others and knowing that is okay as long as I have done my personal best. It’s looked like praying over difficult situations that I have encountered, both with parents and students, knowing that I cannot solve these on my own. It’s looked like going home early (even with a *massive* to-do list waiting for me on my desk) and spending the evening cooking dinner with my husband and enjoying time together. It’s looked like spending the first part of every morning, no matter how busy I am, reading God’s word and filling my heart with truth as I enter into another day of work. It’s looked like encouraging my co-workers on creative ideas they have in the classroom and transitioning my heart to seek collaboration rather than competition. It’s looked like finding margins to rest, to be still, and to invite God to be a part of every moment both in and out of the classroom, so that only HE receives the glory at the end of each day.

3. Lesson Number Three: Forgiveness

This has also been a year of great hurt, alongside even greater forgiveness. Towards the beginning of the year, I had a situation with a friend group that caused some deep hurt in my heart. I never knew what true forgiveness looked like until this year and I thank God for this lesson I so desperately needed to learn.

It came during a moment with my first grade students when we had a ‘forgiveness circle’ after an issue on the playground one afternoon. I remember explaining to my students what forgiveness was and why it is important to forgive people. Our circle time that day was filled with many beautiful moments of forgiveness and reconciliation that touched my heart. And in that moment, I realized, how can I possibly teach these students on the importance of forgiveness when I am not actively displaying that in my own life? For months, I had been holding onto my own personal hurt and letting it grow into a deep-rooted bitterness in my heart. As I navigated this season, I remember a quote that our marriage counselors once shared with us, which says, “bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I knew I had been holding onto this hurt so tightly that it had only been hurting my own heart more. After receiving wise counsel from trusted believers, I realized that true forgiveness can only be given when we recognize the true forgiveness we have received from Christ. Jesus knows every single sin we have ever committed, the worst, ugliest, and darkest parts of our souls that we desperately try to hide from others. And yet, He willingly sacrificed his very life for us on the cross, for every wrong thing we have ever done, not withholding one ounce of complete forgiveness for ALL that we have done. If Jesus is willing to forgive the worst in me and others, who am I to withhold this same forgiveness to anyone who has committed an infraction against me?

And with joy, I can tell you today that through many restorative conversations, I have sought after forgiveness with these friends and have found peace flood my heart. One of the hardest things I have dealt with in my time in Ethiopia has transformed into a beautiful story of God’s restorative and redemptive grace. Praise God for the gift of forgiveness that He has lavished on us and that we can go forth and show others!!

Carolyn Nathnael

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