Oh yes He blesses them. Every single day. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. You can feel it in their hugs. It's a Little Bit of Heaven on Earth.
It's great to be back at Achiever Academy in Mahabalipuram, India, where Jim and I feel very much a part of the school faculty and at home in this village. I work in the school each day, primarily training teachers in English literacy and reading instruction. When he's not working elsewhere for Acts of Mercy, shopping at the market, dropping off our laundry, or visiting with villagers while he runs errands, Jim sometimes joins us in the trainings. This year, we've noticed a healthy improvement in the teachers' English so we're conducting more advanced grammar lessons, often using scripture and even music for practice. A wonderful new addition this year is the opportunity to
These children haven't had many opportunities to experience heaven on earth and especially not those from nearby fishing villages. Many live on the beach and survived the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, having been carried in their mothers’ arms through the swirling water. The younger ones have only heard the tales of their fathers who clung to trees to keep from being swept away. All knew the devastating impact it had on their village when all the fishing boats and nets were lost at sea. It had been that catastrophic event that had been a defining moment in their lives. A few years earlier, John Christian had established Acts of Mercy, a small humanitarian nonprofit organization 50 km away in Chennai. But on the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, the news of the nearby tsunami reached John and in an instant, he knew this was a defining moment for his ministry and that he had been called "for such a time as this." For when the waters receded enough for roads to the fishing village of Koklimedu to be cleared, it was John Christian who arrived first and offered the survivors their first drink of clean water in 10 days. He brought food and he brought medical supplies. Most importantly, he prayed and asked Jesus for healing and restoration for his suffering countrymen.
With tsunami relief donations from around the world, Acts of Mercy quickly focused on the plight of widows and children in the regions devastated by the tsunami. The following year, Achiever Academy was opened with 39 children, ages 3-5 with plans to add a grade level each year. Today, 146 children attend Achiever Academy in grades pre-K –6th grades.
Achiever Academy is a Christian school, established for the purpose of educating children of all backgrounds, religions, and castes - all for the glory of God. Hindu and Muslim children sing praises to God and pray the Lord's Prayer together with Christian children every morning. In recent generations, Indians have come to realize the high value of education and Achiever Academy is well-respected in this community for its outstanding educational practices and English-medium instruction. For these reasons, Hindu and Muslim parents are willing to tolerate their children praying to Jesus every day. While I know I wouldn't have been so free with my own children attending a school contradicting my own spiritual values, I am thankful for the doors that Jesus has propped open wide here in India.
The student population is capped with 49% of the families paying full-tuition while 51% of the available seats are reserved for the poorest of the poor children. Believing that accountability and investment foster commitment and value, all children are required to pay tuition. The disadvantaged families pay on a sliding scale (some as little as 10 Rupees (20c) per month) with international or local sponsors paying for the balance of the tuition, books, and uniforms.
All instruction and conversation is conducted in English, and this alone, makes Achiever Academy unique in much of India. The leadership understands that if these children are to be successful adults in the future, they must read, write, and speak English fluently. English is taught at many government or private schools, just as foreign languages are taught in American schools. In the same way, most children learn to speak a few words and phrases but fall far short of authentic literacy. Conducting all instruction in English ensures that our children are fluent English speakers, often by the time they are in 1st or 2nd grade. Most go home to families who speak the national language of Hindi or tribal languages, and often a combination of many languages.
Our Pre-Kindergarten children begin at the age of 3 and we see some tears in early weeks of the school year, just as we do in the U.S. But imagine dropping your 3 year old off to a strange environment where everyone is speaking an unknown language. It's wonderful to watch them quickly adjust. They love the morning worship time and music so much that these are often their first attempts at English. It's delightful to watch them try to mouth the words to the Lord's Prayer in English, even though they can hardly understand any of the words. They close their eyes, fold their hands, and sometimes even peek out to make sure they are doing it correctly. But they want so desperately to understand this strange new language and want so much to sing worship songs to this God that brings such heavenly joy to the faces of the other children.
The caste system is alive and well in India and Achiever Academy is hard at work, building bridges between the castes, one child at a time. The school is intentionally comprised of children from every caste level because they have faith that when children from all castes study, play, and worship together, life-long respect and friendships will be formed. They will learn to work together to solve problems and improve conditions here in India for generations to come. And one day, they will teach their children that we are all to be respected, valued, and loved by others, regardless of birthright, tribe, or economic status. Our prayer is that one day, they will all worship in heaven together, too.
In this culture that does not always respect and value its children, Achiever Academy is deeply committed to authentically loving each child, modeling after the examples of Jesus. Parenting skills are taught when necessary and Achiever families are held accountable to a higher standard of character. When challenges arise, at school or at home, they pray. They know that Jesus has entrusted these children to them and it is only through Him that lives will be changed.
In 2009, I visited Achiever Academy and as we prayed for the children, I was overwhelmed by a strong feeling that, just like Ester in the Bible, the children of Achiever Academy have been chosen by God “for such a time as this.” I truly believe that it is through these children, that their parents, and perhaps the entire village, will have the opportunity to join us in heaven someday.
As I am writing this, a 4 year old little Hindu girl named A. has come into the library to visit me. She must have wanted to tell me something really desperately because she began to jabber in Tamil, her tribal language. When I couldn't understand her, I asked her to speak English but she frowned and shook her head, not believing she could. She seemed persistent to tell me something so I hugged her and encouraged her, but despite how hard she tried, she couldn't find the English words for me. So I decided to pray for her right then and there and tell her Jesus loves her. For some reason, this summer, I find myself singing Jesus Loves Me when I have a few minutes alone with students. So when little A. became frustrated that she couldn't convey her message to me, I began to sing Jesus Loves Me to her. Instantly, her face lit up with the biggest smile of joy and she joined in. We were communicating in the only language we had in common - Jesus. He loves us both. She is Hindu; I am a follower of Jesus. But God joined our hearts with His promise that He loves us both, just as much as He loves His son, Jesus. We sang together in the library this morning and I pray that someday, this little girl and I will sing Jesus Loves Me together in heaven.
I grabbed my video camera and captured this special moment. I thought of you, our mission support team, and knew you would enjoy meeting this little angel named A. and hearing what A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth sounds like in India.
You can see it in each face and hear it in each voice. You can feel it in each hug. It's a Little Bit of Heaven on Earth.
Jesus Love Me ... and you!