Creating Culture

By Heidi Fabian.

The teenage boys gathered around their teacher, Sarita Ma’am. Their faces were serious, some were angry. They had called for this meeting. A few shared that they no longer wanted to come to the school. “You are too strict, you do not love us.” They said. “If you did, you would not make us stop sniffing glue and you wouldn’t give us so many rules.” Sara took a deep breath, along with a quick prayer, “Lord, help them to understand what true love is.” Then with God’s strength she began, “Love has two sides. One side is to comfort and take care of your needs, the other side is to give you rules and discipline to protect you and help you walk on the right path.”

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The abundant love that only Christ can give welled up in her heart. She looked at each boy gathered around her: seven boys, ages 13-16, all from abusive homes, all living on the streets. Her eyes stopped on Yusuf. He was still angry about the time Sara made him leave the premises when she saw him smoking. She looked into his eyes, “Yusuf, I love you. I have disciplined you to protect you. I love you.” His eyes of anger suddenly changed. The Holy Spirit softened his heart and, without warning, tears began to flow. Sobbing, he fell to his knees and touched her feet with his hands, “Please forgive me Sarita Ma’am, please forgive me.” The flood gates opened wide and each boy asked for forgiveness with a mixture of tears and hugs. This instance was just one of many difficult moments in the growth of our two-year-old school in which we have seen God come through with mighty power. When my team and I started, our dream was to give opportunity to children and teens that had none. We hoped to prevent them from trying to solve their life difficulties by moving onto the streets. Our greatest desire was, and still is, to see each one that comes into our program transformed in every way by the power of Christ. On a full day (9:30-5:00) 60 children and teens from the surrounding slums come through our doors. As our school proved to meet the needs of these children, the news spread and now seven boys who live on the streets also come faithfully. We often turn children away because of the lack of space and workers. What we came to realize is that, in the process of creating a school, we actually created a new culture for these children to live by. The Dictionary of Modern Sociology defines culture this way: “The total, generally organized, way of life, including values, norms, institutions, and artifacts, that are passed on from generation to generation by learning alone.” When children or teens voluntarily choose the streets it is because they don’t fit into their own culture. They have no identity, and they are lost and confused in their system of beliefs and values. Their culture doesn’t work for them, and the values and behaviors conflict with one another. So, as they enter our school, they enter a new culture… a culture that does work.

A Kingdom Culture

The culture we strive for is a kingdom culture. Each earthly culture is imperfect so we do not impose our own, but look to Jesus who taught us how to live the culture of heaven on earth. In our school, we spend one-half hour each day (or more) learning about Jesus, talking to Jesus, and singing to Jesus. We have found that if this time is not the center of our day, we forget and try to fight the spiritual battle on our own. It is only through Jesus that these children and teens will be transformed. We have seen God do miracles through the prayers of our children. We have seen relationships mended because they chose forgiveness and humility. We have seen hope rise up from devastation.

A Culture of Wholeness

Secondly, the culture we create must be holistic. Our desire, as a staff, was to create a program that would touch each area of the childhood need: emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual, mental, and social. Our daily schedule reflects this desire.

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A Culture of Love

Kingdom culture is a culture of love. This feature seems so obvious but the most difficult. It has to be intentional, sacrificial, and flow from Jesus Christ otherwise, it is impossible. We show practical love the very minute they come to the door. Before they enter our school, they have to say in English, “Good morning Ma’am, may I come in please?” Then, “How are you, Ma’am?” This small English exercise is our excuse to give them a hand shake, or a hug before they even enter our school. Our actions and words say, “We love you,” “We’re so happy that you’re here today.” We also try to ascertain what has been going on in their lives so we can understand their emotions throughout the day. Another way that we show love is to pay attention to each individual child so he knows he is special and unique. This can be complicated. However, we have created certain times in our schedule where the quiet activities allow us to sit with each child and focus on him. The kids’ favorite one-on-one time is when we have Clinic Time. Those who have sores, infections, etc., can stay afterwards to have their teacher’s undivided attention. What an opportunity it is to ask questions, dote on them, and then pray to Jesus for perfect healing. To keep love as our focus, we make sure our school never becomes “just a project.” It is easy to focus on the project: lesson planning, structuring, preparing food, doing everything on time, completing all the tasks of the day. These are all important, but we learned quickly that the child always comes first. We evaluate our program regularly to make sure that each part of it is only a bridge to the final destination―a relationship with Christ. We have come to the conclusion that, if love is indeed our focus, we cannot be concerned about outward success (e.g., having the biggest school, or having the best supplies). Our desire is that we dig deep into the souls of the children we are reaching. We cannot be satisfied with just touching the surface. This issue has come up many times, and we realize how hard it is to just keep digging deep.

A Culture of Celebration

Every culture has traditions and times of celebration. We make sure to have plenty of fun moments that will become a significant memory in their lives. One day we celebrated everyone’s birthday. The majority of them don’t know when their birthday is so, as part of their birthday gift, we let them choose their own birth date! They were thrilled to be able to say the date that we would all celebrate throughout the year. We try to be creative because we recognize that each celebration plays a part in growing them into unique, confident adults.

A Culture of Structure

A year into our program we realized that most of our discipline problems resulted from a lack of structure. Children cannot function at their highest potential without structure. The world around them is falling apart. There is no consistency in their lives. They need a place where they know what will happen, what to expect, and how they are expected to act; and a place where they know they will not be let down again. Even though they crave structure, they will fight it because it has not been a part of their lives, so we teach it to them. Building structure involves very simple steps: a consistent schedule and teaching format; dependable teachers; and a just discipline system―these are all vital for each child to function. We also found that very simple structures such as lining up for each activity, quietly sitting in different formations, and praying took months to teach. But now that this structure is built into them, the children, themselves, are teaching the new kids.

A Culture with Identity

Culture means being a part of a group. Everyone wants to fit in, and have an identity. As a group they have prayed for their friends and have seen God’s miraculous healing. Together they have learned how to play without fighting. Together they have witnessed the atmosphere of joy and peace when they humbled themselves to ask each other for forgiveness. It is in this togetherness that they have experienced a new culture and the true meaning of life.

The greatest result is that living in their new identity can have tremendous impact on others. We talked with one mother who now lives in the same area as the seven boys who live on the street. She told us that she has seen them throughout the day going through their tasks.When they wake up in the morning, they sit together to pray, they often practice the English conversations that they have learned, they love to sing, and before meals they say thank you to Jesus for providing their food. Their lifestyle has completely changed because they are living by the rules of a new culture—a kingdom culture! They can now move out into the world confidently bringing a touch of heaven onto the streets.

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