School has been out for two and a half weeks now and I (Whitney) have been doing a variety of different things, coming into contact with many different people. I would like to share some of their stories here in a series of “short story bio” blog posts. I plan to share the stories of Timothy, Joselyn, Tabita, Evette, Edna, and Mercy. Some of their stories are inspiring, and others sad, even cruel, but unfinished. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I have.
Part I: Timothy
School had been out for four days and Scott and I had just returned from an amazing trip to the Masai Mara. While we were unpacking and settling back in, our land-line telephone rang. I answered the phone and identified myself. The voice on the other end of the crackling line was an unfamiliar one and clearly Kenyan. I was able to make out that the person said her name was “Helen.”
“Helen the guesthouse cook?” I asked puzzled.
“No, I am Helen Tongus, chaplain at Tenwek Hospital.”
This statement piqued my already heightened curiosity even more as I had not met any of the hospital chaplains yet, and I had no idea why one would know me or call me at home. I asked how I could help her, hoping to figure out the reason of this mysterious call, but first she had some questions for me,
“Are you the one who has been teaching at Dr. Steury Memorial School?”
“Were you teaching students who were around 11 years old?”
“Yes” I answered again, becoming slightly nervous at this interrogation.
“Why?” I asked, happy to ask a question of my own and hoping to understand what was going on.
“There is a boy, one of your students, he told me that something you did made him very uncomfortable.”
Gulp. My sympathetic nervous system kicked into full gear and silence ensued as my brain processed this information zipping along at lighting speed alternately running through any potential scenarios in the last few weeks that could have possibly made someone uncomfortable and at the same time shouting jumbled exclamations in my head of
“No! I’m innocent! Ahhh! What did I do?! I’m doomed! How did I get myself into this?! Stupid! No! I’ve been framed I tell you! Please no! All I wanted was to help and now I’m RUINED! But wait! Wait! I don’t even know what I did!
During my silence Helen decided to continue her interrogation. “Did you give your students a test or homework or something?”
“Yes, homework,” I responded.
They asked for homework! It wasn’t my idea!
“And I think you told them, like many other teachers do, not to copy from each other?” “Yes.”
What’s so wrong about that? It’s right, other teacher’s do it too, you even said so! However, I did do something other teachers don’t do, I made frosted banana cookies and gave them to the kids who got the extra credit problem right. Do you know about the cookies Helen??? You see, I’m not a real teacher, so I could not give them extra points, but I wanted to reward them in some way. Is that wrong? It probably is. Maybe that’s what made him uncomfortable? It is probably a terrible violation of some Kenyan cultural tradition that I didn’t know about.
“And when you marked their papers, did you ask them if they copied?”
Alright Whitney, you’re going to have to start talking sometime, just be smooth, nonchalant. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Act innocent!
“Ahem. Yes, I wanted to make sure that they did not cheat so I checked their papers very carefully looking for work that would indicate that they had done it themselves. If I didn’t see enough work to support the answer of the math problem, then I called them to me in the teacher’s office, where I was correcting their work, and had them explain how they arrived at their answer. One boy admitted that he had copied so I told him I couldn’t give him credit for that problem, but everyone else was able to explain, to a reasonable degree, how they found the answer to the problem.”
Helen continued, “Ok, so this boy is, I think, one of your students. Last week his parents noticed that he was not acting like himself. He was quiet . . . He was not active . . . They were worried that he was sick, so they took him to Tenwek. The doctor in Casualty [Tenwek’s Emergency Room] evaluated him and said that there was nothing wrong with him and told the parents he was not sick. I thought to myself that maybe the boy had something else wrong with him, something emotionally disturbing him. So I asked his parents if I could take the boy aside and talk with him. He was able to confess to me that he had been picking on his neighbor kids and he had also copied his homework from his friend and then lied to his teacher when she asked if he had done it on his own. He felt very badly about this, so much so that he felt physically sick. He had been told that God sees and knows everything you ever do, and he knew that God had seen him cheat and lie.”
“Oh.” I said, wondering at this turn of events, this boy’s story and curious as ever what Helen’s agenda was in calling me.
“I then prayed with him and we asked for God’s forgiveness because he knew that he had sinned against God.”
“Like David.” I managed dumfounded, thinking of Psalm 51:4.
Helen: “Yes, and then I explained to him that all was forgiven because he had confessed and asked God for forgiveness with all of his heart. That Jesus had already paid for that sin on the cross for his sake. So that he could become the righteousness of God, clean and perfect before Him. I told the boy he had nothing more to be worried about, he could now feel comfortable having confessed to the Lord. Still, he told me that he wanted to see you and confess to you, his teacher, and ask for your forgiveness too. I tried to find you that Friday afternoon, but I was told you were in the Mara. So, I called the boy on Saturday, after he had confessed to his parents, and I prayed with him and encouraged him then. He still wanted to meet with you and confess to you, so I am very happy to have reached you tonight and I would like to prepare a time to meet with me and the boy, Timothy.”
“Yes, yes please. Anytime is good for me.” I stammered.
Aye! Wow. Oh Lord, this boy and his pure, sweet, uncontaminated spirit humble me. I am honored to be a part of this. May he never become jaded to sin and accept the world’s tolerance level. May he always desire to be clean, and therefore near you, as he does now. Thank you for the indwelling of your Holy Spirit convicting him. Thank you that he heeded your Holy Spirit and did not find ways to justify himself, even though his peers may also cheat and lie. May I also be this sensitive to my sin, I don’t want to deceive myself, may I be weary when I find myself reasoning and justifying. Thank you for this boy’s example.
I met with Helen, Timothy, Timothy’s mother and younger brother three days later on Wednesday. Helen led the conversation and Timothy told me what had happened and asked for my forgiveness, saying that if I forgive others, our heavenly father will also forgive me. I thought this was so sweet, that his reason and plea for me to forgive him, was so that I too could be forgiven by God, a quote of Matthew 6:14. I assured him that I forgave him, praised him for listening to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and humbling himself, leaving his pride, which enabled him to admit that what he had done was wrong. That is hard to do! I encouraged him that all had been forgiven by me, Helen, his parents, and God, and that now he could grow in his faith and walk closely and joyously with God. When we have sin, it’s like a wall that separates us from God and we can’t feel close to him, but when we confess it, that wall is removed, gone forever, and we can be in communion with our loving Father again.
On a scrap of paper, I had written down some thoughts and favorite verses that I go to when I have sinned and wonder at God’s forgiveness. I gave this to Timothy and encouraged him to read through it. I also included Psalm 32:1-6, which reminded me exactly of him and his story.
Helen asked me to close in prayer, I prayed, Timothy and his family left, happy, and Helen and I rejoiced at Timothy, his character, and how his mistake had caused us to meet. We planned for me to round with her on the surgical ward the following week. This arrangement caused me to meet Josephine and Evelyn, two women with unique stories that I will share here in the following days.
For now, peace and blessings to you!
“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165