Last Tuesday, the high school had a music concert. If you're thinking what I know you're probably thinking, the image you have of a music concert is a nice place where all the parents and families of the performers gather to listen to music that they have been practicing for at least several weeks. Right? In Thailand, it's a little bit different. Hmm. Maybe I should alter that to say at GES, it's a little bit different. It's not quite as formal as you may think. The concert consisted of several various groups of students performing a number of different types of songs - a couple of piano pieces, some singing solos, the GES band (guitars, piano, singing), etc. None of the kids were excited about it, either. They were only there because it was their final music grade, not because they wanted to give a performance.
To give you an even better feel for this event, let me describe the audience to you. It consisted of a few parents (literally - in the audience, there was maybe a grand total of three or four parents of the students who were performing), a bunch of elementary school kids, and a few teachers. The kids come wandering in and out at random intervals, chattering away in Thai the whole time. The parents, likewise, come in and leave at their leisure. The thing here is that you only go to see the person (or people) you know, and once their performance is finished, you can leave. Several of the students who were performing even left in the middle of the program for a while to go to 7-11 and get some snacks before their final song!
With that kind of an atmosphere, it's very difficult to pay attention the whole time! Several teachers wandered in and out as well, but I was the only one (along with the administrator) who stayed for the entire program. I remember my mom used to talk about how important it was to the kids that their teachers show up at all the events, like concerts and sports games, and that's why she went to so many different events. I have to say, I'm really glad that I took her advice in this case.
The final song was one that I remember really well - we used to sing it when I was younger. The chorus goes like this:
Carry the light
Carry the light
Go and tell the children
They are precious in his sight
Carry the light
Carry the light
Go and preach the Gospel
Till there is no more night
In the name of Jesus Christ
Carry the light
I'm hoping you remember it as well as I do. It's one of those songs that used to inspire me. I've wanted to be a missionary since I was young (like, 5th grade), and that song was always one that pushed me to cling to that dream.
Anyway, I was standing in the back, listening to this song and singing along with the kids, and suddenly I felt like my heart had just stopped. I realized that over 90% of the kids who were singing and listening to this song did not understand or believe ANY OF IT.
I watched the kids with a new perspective. There was one in the center of the group who wasn't singing, but goofing around. Those next to him were sort of singing, sort of goofing around with him. Another, off to the side, was watching the chaos in the middle, but still singing and looking like he was trying his best. Two girls on the other side had stopped singing and were just giggling at the guys in the middle. Some girls in the back appeared to be hiding because they didn't want to be there...
I looked at each of them, the ones who were trying to sing well and the ones who just plain didn't care, and my heart broke for them. They were singing to benches that were almost completely empty, and they were singing a song that few (if any) of them liked, but none believed. They were singing a song that always lifts my soul and fills me with a desire to share the Gospel, and yet they had no idea what it was really about.
I nearly started crying, and wanted to shout along with the song, "YOU are precious in HIS sight!" - but I didn't.
After the concert was over, I stayed in the back to talk to the students for a little bit. Several of them thanked me specifically for staying for the whole program. "It felt like we were singing to benches most of the time," one of them said. Honestly, I really agree with mom on this one. I think small things like attending the music program are what really make a difference to the kids, no matter how trivial it might seem to me at the moment.
As I look back on my first year of teaching, I know that there are a lot of things for me to improve on. I know there are certain things that I need to explain better in class, certain cultural characteristics that I need to be more aware of, and certain ways that I can be more encouraging and helpful to my students. After Tuesday night, though, the one thing that I wish above all that I could have done better this year was carry the light of Christ to these kids' lives. I see now so many opportunities I missed to say something. But I also know that God has used me in my ability to just be myself. I hope that by my daily actions, these kids have been able to see a glimpse of that light.
Graduation is a week away (Saturday the 19th), the last day of school is the 23rd, and after that...who knows? I may never see some of the current 12th graders again. I hate endings like this, but I know it's best. They'll move on to bigger and better things in their lives (just like I have!). My "strategy" this year has not been to beat the kids in my class over the head with the Bible. My goal is that someday, many of these students who are currently lost, will come to the light, look back on their last year of high school, and remember me as someone who tried to show them that light. All of that, however, I leave to the One who IS the Light.
Please pray for us, especially over these next couple of weeks. Pray that we as teachers will remain strong witnesses to the faith that we profess. Pray that the students who see us every day will someday understand and believe. And pray that God will continue working in their hearts even after they have left this place.