I was super jetlagged but too nervous and excited to sleep. I couldn’t believe I was actually in Albania and that, within a few days, I’d be starting my new job teaching English to kids in the country’s first Adventist kindergarten.
I had wanted to be a student missionary (SM) since attending the student mission vespers program my freshman year at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States. As I watched the SMs carrying flags from different nations, I felt a strong tug on my heart. I, too, wanted to serve!
I hadn’t had a particular country in mind, but I’d asked God to send me somewhere unfamiliar to me. He had answered that prayer; I couldn’t even speak the language! As I lay in bed that first night, the reality of just how different everything was crushed down on me. How could I have committed a year of my life, so far from family and friends, to teach kids I couldn’t even communicate with? Had I been crazy to accept this call?
Tortured with loneliness and doubt, I wish I could have known then what I know now: God is always in control, He is always with us, and He will always provide for our needs. Unfortunately, it took some time for me to realize this.
My first day at the kindergarten was one of the most challenging days of my life. The kids, all 31 of them, wanted nothing to do with me. And I couldn't understand a thing my coworkers were trying to tell me.
A month later, things hadn’t improved. The kids weren’t learning much English, and their parents were getting frustrated with me. I didn’t feel qualified to do the job I thought God had called me to do. I felt like a failure.
I prayed a lot those first weeks and clung to God’s promises. And then, slowly, I began to see His leading. He put amazing people in my life who listened to me and encouraged me. And although my coworkers couldn’t speak English, they helped me with the children, gave me hugs to let me know they thought I was doing a good job, and included me in their crazy adventures. My landlady and landlord welcomed me into their home like their long-lost daughter. And my new Albanian friends served as eager translators.
I was especially thankful that God put Pauline in my life. She was one of my first close friends in Albania and the first person I was able to witness to there. She helped me realize that I loved sharing God with others.
After a while, the kids started to respond to me. They were curious about the American teacher who wouldn’t leave. So they started trying to speak English to communicate with me.
One of my favorite breakthroughs was with a boy who had messed up the classroom and then thrown himself on the floor. Refusing to pick up the mess for him, I just sat down beside him and looked at him. Once he realized I wasn’t going to clean up, I told him he had two choices. He could pick up the room, apologize to his teacher, and join the rest of the kids in their fun activity, or he could stay on the floor and miss out on what they were doing.
Suddenly, he ran to me and gave me a big hug. He picked up the mess, apologized to his teacher, and joined the rest of the kids as if nothing had happened. I was so happy because he had understood me. I had been able to get through to him! From then on, the kids were eager to learn. I rejoiced in how much progress God had enabled me to make with them.
When I started my mission assignment in Albania, I was terrified of not being able to speak the language, but God reminded me often that actions speak louder than words. The things people did showed me how much they cared about me. And somehow, God used my efforts to show them a glimpse of His love. In the end, we communicated just fine!
Leilani Pollockserved as a volunteer kindergarten teacher in Albania. She is a senior at Southern Adventist University, earning a degree in kinesiology.