It was a familiar voice and a familiar message. I had heard the message several times before and it was comforting to hear it once again. Comforting for so many reasons: a new window to the world would be opened, lives could be changed, and yes, comforting because it meant I didn't have to figure out how to solve this problem.
The year was 2011 and the location was Achiever Academy in Mahaballipuram, India. Jim and I had just arrived, excited to get started on our volunteer work training teachers in English and loving on children. As we unloaded our bags and begin to set up in the computer room, we were greeted by old friends.... VERY old friends ...8 ancient dinosaur-age computers that been donated to Acts of Mercy as used cast-offs years earlier. As we set about trying to boot them up, I chuckled, realizing that a good boot in the side might be just what they needed. Despite our best efforts, we finally managed to coax only 3 of them to turn on with only 1 of those with Internet capacity. After waiting about 10 minutes for my GMAIL inbox to open, I discovered that the operating system was so outdated, we couldn't open much of anything from the Internet. It was then that we stopped and did
The following summer (now 2012), we returned to find students crowded on the floor in front of the one remaining computer gasping its last breath. With such limited capability, lessons were now limited to memorizing the components (including the floppy drive), typing letters on the one remaining keyboard, and learning to operate the mouse. And yet 25 small children sat in silence, watching intently, awaiting their few minutes with this treasured device. These children deserve better. My heart wrenched again as I thought of the hundreds of computers in my school back in the U.S. Donations had always come easy. What HAD I been doing with my time back home? As I promised myself to do something about this need, I knew we could do better. I just didn't know how. So we prayed the same prayer again, just as we had before. And, just as before, God answered with the same 2 words: "Someone's coming." Once again, I felt relief that it was not to be my calling, but someone else's. But who? Three years we had prayed these same prayers. Three years we heard the same exact response. Three years we waited. We would wait a while longer.
About six months after our return home, Jim and I were invited to speak, for the second time, to the Faith Builders Sunday School class at Whites Chapel Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas. The previous year, one day my mother found herself in a spontaneous conversation with one of her Sunday School classmates who admired her bag, which had been a gift from me. After she shared that it had been handmade in India by women in the Acts of Mercy widows rehabilitation program, the classmate's interest grew and eventually resulted in an invitation for Jim and me to speak to the entire class in a 2-session presentation about Acts of Mercy. We received a warm welcome from the large group of about 50 and enjoyed the feelings that God had arranged this opportunity for us to share His stories. So when the second invitation came the following year, again for 2 Sunday programs, we were excited to share more. The first Sunday, I shared updates and new stories and with just a few minutes left, ended with a short video showing the one remaining computer with 25 children sitting on the floor around it. I briefly explained the need and closed by asking the group to contact me if they knew someone who could point me in the right direction.
The following week, we returned to the class and I helped Jim set up for the 2nd part of the presentation, which he would conduct, as planned. Just before he began, I headed for the coffee bar in the back of the room, where a man I had not seen before approached me with focused intent and introduced himself. "Susan, my name is John Boelens and I'm going to get you some computers." Before I could even react, he went on, "I wasn't here last week and I didn't hear your stories...and I don't need to. I heard them on the golf course last week and I think I can help you." I had so many questions of my own but our brief conversation ended quickly and soon I was left with only his email address and a promise that he would be in touch. I'm not sure I heard much of Jim's presentation for the next hour as my heart was reeling at how this had all unfolded so quickly and so simply. Somehow, my few minutes of sharing about the need for computers the week before had been discussed on the golf course days later. And the one man who had not seen the children's faces on the video nor heard the stories I told was the one responding to the call. How is this possible? Who is this man and where had he come from?
A few weeks later, my mother began to report that John Boelens was asking the class members for donations of used laptops. He had organized a few friends and together, they were refurbishing laptops and loading them with software, security systems, and of course, Bible programs. Excitement for the project was building. John visited other classes, telling the story, and accepting donations as he went. Some brought laptops and some donated cash to purchase new computers. He contacted businesses and organized donation information and when he learned that Internet in India was delivered over antiquated wiring systems, he found donations for the purchase of a new wireless router for the school. Several months had passed and yet all this time, with no further contact with us, John had been hard at work, following his heart to answer God's call. Just before our departure for India last summer, we met , for the time, with John and his friend, Jerry Orler, who had been working alongside John from the beginning and with great emotion, they turned over to us cash for the new wireless router, power strips, headphones, and 11 laptop computers!
My only disappointment was that John Boelens and Jerry Orler were not in India with us to see the faces of the teachers, staff, and children of Acts of Mercy as they stared at all these computers in disbelief! When we shared that we had stuffed them in our baggage and refused to consider the customs repercussions, they understood. These were God's computers and He would not be stopped. They shared with us their overwhelming feelings at receiving such a gift that they never could have imagined. It was gift that changed Achiever Academy. We purchased a new laser printer to accompany the new hardware and soon, the teachers were searching the Internet, printing off lesson activities, and streaming videos. We purchased a subscription to EnchantedLearning.com, a treasure chest of lesson plans, activities, printables, videos, etc. We downloaded cartoons filled with engaging songs about grammar and phonic activities for children. We downloaded music into each laptop and encouraged teachers to add more. We gave them an MP3 player filled with worship music and together, we watched YouTube clips from The Passion of Christ. The wait was over. For years, we had been waiting for someone to come - to come and open the door to the rest of the world for the teachers and children at Achiever Academy. These children who wanted to learn to use computers could now use computers to learn. Lives have been changed and a new day has come to this village.
Shortly after our return last summer, we received an invitation to speak to another large group of about 60 at this same church. Those in this group who had heard John Boelens share about the need for computers and wanted to hear more. Others joined our network and offered support of all kinds. Two teachers shared our stories and videos with their high school students as inspiration for their Change the World project. Anna Griffith donated copies of a devotional book she published for the teachers. One of the groups donated another $400 to purchase another new laptop. Frank Greenwood and others volunteered to help refurbish the used computers and offered expertise at precisely the right moment, thereby saving one more computer that was assumed to be beyond repair. Time and again, small miracles disguised as coincidences moved the project forward as the pile of donations grew.
Soon, we learned that John Boelens & Friends were back at work for Achiever Academy, with a new plan in the works. Quietly, they went about their work until the night, months later, when John and Jerry and their wives delivered the news to us over dinner that they had secured donations to purchase ten new Edan XL Wireless PC Tablets and loaded them with free educational apps. Mary Miller and Susan Boelens stitched brightly colored quilted protective covers, adorned with special appliques that reveal the love and prayer sewn into each one. Once again, we were overwhelmed by not only by the generosity of these new friends, but of their deep compassion for and commitment to children and teachers whom they have never met.
I wish I could describe the joy – mixed with almost disbelief – that appeared on the faces of the children and teachers when they saw the shiny new tablets. While most have heard of iPads and electronic tablets on TV, no one had ever seen one in this village before. No school in this region of India has such wonderful learning tools. The teachers are already enjoying new apps for learning to speak and write the English language while the children watch Bible story videos and practice phonics and reading. Lightweight, easy to use, and efficient, they will serve many needs for the children and teachers alike for years to come.
Achiever Academy has always been a unique school, setting itself apart from the others by treating children with love and providing resources unheard of in other schools. With these tablets, they now take a giant leap ahead in educational technology. The gates to the rest of the world are thrown open wide and our children will march through with confidence and success, to take their rightful place as world leaders who will change the world. A new English class for parents begins next week and word of the new tablets will spread through this village quickly. And when it does, more parents will bring their children to learn at Achiever Academy with this new advantage. And when the children come, they will use the new tablets to learn phonics and English. But most importantly, when they come, they will meet Jesus here.
Last January, almost a year after the story of the technology began to unfold, I finally took time to ask John Boelens for "the rest of the story". What had happened on the golf course that day to move him into such action? He shared that while he had been out of town the Sunday of my presentation, in his regular golf game that week, Tom Hay, Jerry Orler, and Jay Bittick each told him the story they had heard from me 3 days earlier, of the need for computers half way around the world. In my presentation that Sunday, I had not shared God's message to me that someone was coming and these men likely had no idea that God was using them through a simple conversation on the golf course. In an amazing set of circumstances, each told John the story independently and privately without the others around. After the 3rd time, John knew the voice he was hearing in his heart was real and as he states it, "When you hear it three times, you better listen or you may end up like Jonah - whale barf on the beach!"
But this is not the story of Jonah, who resisted. This is the story of 4 men who heard the call and responded immediately.
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send?' ... "Here I am, Lord. Send me." Isaiah 6:8
It is Jim's and my belief that "God gives us the stories to live and it's our job to tell them." This is a great one, don't you agree? I think it's a story that only God could write. It began 5 years ago with a promise that "Someone's coming." I thank God for His faithfulness and I am humbled by His abundance. I also thank God for John & Susan Boelens, Jerry and Catherine Orler, Jay and Maureen Bittick, Frank and Edna Greenwood, Anna Griffith, and so many others who have responded to God's call in so many ways. I thank God for orchestrating this story in such a delightful manner that His touch is undeniable to anyone who hears. And... I thank God that this story is not finished yet, for I believe the best is yet to come.
In hopeful expectation,
SPECIAL NOTE TO YOU, THE READER: We had been waiting for John Boelens and the others for 4 years. God's timing is always perfect and He weaves the tapestry of our lives at His own pace, for His own purpose. As you read this, might your heart have been stirred by the Spirit just a bit? Are you the Someone that is coming for another person or another need? Jim and I have prayed for everyone who will read this story, whether we know you or not, and asked God to reveal Himself to you in new and meaningful ways. We encourage you to pray and ask God to reveal His calling on you at this time of your life, in both big and small ways. We encourage you to take one small step toward that calling, even if it is simply telling a story on a golf course this week. We would love to hear about your experiences and would be privileged to support you in prayer or in other ways.
If you feel called to support the Achiever Academy Technology Project in a tangible way, please use the Contact Us link above to let us know what questions you may have. We are continually accepting donations of new or used laptop computers (working or not), spare computer parts, power strips, headphones, MP3 players or iPods, new or used iPads or PC Tablets, or cash, check, or credit/debit card donations to purchase new equipment. Thank you.