Jenny

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How much time do students spend in school? An average of seven hours a day for one hundred and seventy five days a year equals an immense sum of time spent within the walls of a classroom. I find it ironic that the most meaningful educational experience I’ve encountered did not take place in a classroom, or even in America. This life-changing lesson took place during my second mission trip to the small Central American country of Guatemala.

My classroom consisted of the Lake Atitlan Region- a treacherous terrain dotted with jagged volcanoes surrounding a pale-blue watery abyss. The sun leaped high into the sky in the morning but scampered below the mountaintops mid afternoon. Streets were lined with uneven cobblestone squares and buildings were constructed out of misshaped tin and cement. Corn sprung out of the soil at every available square inch. The roads wrenched buses back and forth between bone shattering drops off sheer cliffs with minuscule guardrails. The outdoors beckoned, pulling tourists and locals alike into its beautiful coffee bean environment.

My teacher consisted of a four-year old girl named Jenny. She had mocha- brown skin and a dainty form that stared up at me with gracious curiosity. With eyes lit up like tinted Christmas bulbs and deep as pools of chocolate, she gazed upon the world. Her little hands could be cupped in my index fingers and her dirty feet jutted off the ends of worn-down sandals. She was wrapped with care in a colorfully woven skirt and topped with a beaded blouse, donning the custom Guatemalan clothing. Her laughter echoed within the recesses of my heart, sounding not unlike a baby’s cooing. Smile after smile made home on her small face, swallowing her features whole and creating a picture of joy that melted all five senses and ceased to end.
The curriculum was daunting- to build a house for an older man, who happened to be Jenny’s grandfather. But the lesson itself was simple- still it is one most do not learn in the course of a lifetime. The class wasn’t taught on paper; instead it was drilled into my heart by experiences and a four-year-old girl.
Throughout the course of the week Jenny displayed the definition of pure and unfiltered joy that every person should possess. She looked her circumstances straight in the face, and laughed with a thrown back head and glittering eyes. Her little hands constantly tattooed the beat of high fives as she verbally exclaimed the few Spanish terms she could pronounce. Happiness is the only emotion Jenny knows and she chooses to let it show. She possesses the child-life faith that all Christians strive for but most fail to truly accomplish. Jenny wasn’t pasting on a fake smile from day to day, instead she was letting the joy in her heart leak out and touch the world around her. And she was contagious- she changed my life.
Why is this educational experience the most meaningful one I’ve yet to encounter? Joy is something that can’t be purchased at a local Rite-Aid or studied in a textbook. Joy has to travel from our heart, through our veins, and leak out of our pores. I have never more clearly understood a lesson then the simple truth installed in me by Jenny. This reality has impacted my life in ways that I cannot begin to describe. I am thankful every day for the chance to get out of bed and set foot in the world, so why not do it with a smile on my face? Whenever the road seems too long and the stress of life is riding on my shoulders I remember Jenny’s heart-stopping grin and I inevitably find myself smiling back.





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