United States

I first heard about Lee a week before school started from a teacher who works with me at a child development center in Saipan. They told me that he would be in first grade and didn’t speak much English. Because he wouldn’t be in my preschool class, I didn’t think much about him until I met him on the second day of school. 

While supervising a group of kids on the playground, I noticed a boy who looked too serious for his age and didn’t seem interested in playing outside with his classmates.

“Hi, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Lee,” he replied with a bored look on his face.

So, this is him, I thought. For the rest of that afternoon, I observed that he was a quiet child who kept to himself.

Over the next few days, I made a point to greet him on the playground. I was always met with the same bored look that spoke volumes about his interest in talking to me.

I later learned that Lee was shy and that it took him a while to warm up to people. Additionally, he was still learning English and could communicate only a few words at a time. After several weeks passed, I still wasn’t getting a response from him, so I decided to make it my personal mission to befriend him one way or another.

One afternoon, rainy weather forced the children to stay inside the classroom during recess. It was my turn to supervise again, and after taking a quick survey of the room, I noticed that Lee was playing alone with some toys on a table.

Should I approach him? I wondered. I wasn’t sure whether he would enjoy my company because he hadn’t seemed to in the past. Deciding against my doubts, I chose to sit across from him but was content to let him play by himself. After a few minutes of watching the other kids, I decided to join Lee in hopes of finally connecting with him.

At first, he didn’t seem very open, but after a few minutes, he accepted me. My new resolve turned out to be a success! We spent the last forty-five minutes of that period together pretending to be dinosaurs, having a dump truck race, and even having a birthday party for the toy soldiers.

The next morning, when I arrived at the playground, Lee’s eyes lit up when he saw me walk through the gates. He immediately walked up to me and pointed to himself and then to me.

“You touch,” he said while gesturing around the playground. I was shocked. That was the most he had said to me since school started. However, I hadn’t comprehended what he was trying to say.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You touch!” he repeated as he slowly backed away from me. It took me several seconds to understand what he was trying to tell me: he wanted to play tag!

While I chased him around the playground that day, his laughter filled the air and warmed my heart. I was overjoyed that my persistence hadn’t been in vain.

Since arriving in Saipan, I’ve come to realize that doing God’s work isn’t for the faint of heart. There are many days that I question my purpose on this island and whether God is truly working through me to minister to the children. But as I look back fondly on this experience, I’ve come to realize that times like this remind me why I chose to serve in the first place.


If you’re interested in being a volunteer, visit AdventistVolunteers.org.

Samantha Wawondatu a communication graduate from Walla Walla University in Washington, United States, served as an assistant preschool teacher at Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School. Saipan is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, located in the western Pacific Ocean.