e all know that one student who seems to thrive on creating chaos in class. Anyone who’s been a teacher can tell you these children act out for a variety of reasons. They may struggle academically, find it difficult to focus, or simply resent authority. During my time as a volunteer teacher in Yap, I found effective ways to work with all my students, no matter what challenges they presented. Except for one. He rejected every attempt I made to help him. I’ll call him Leo.

When I first met Leo, I simply saw a cute, lanky kid with a head full of curls and a wide, mischievous smile. However, I soon realized that he couldn’t care less about school and found pleasure in causing commotion. I resolved to foster some kind of change in his mindset. But over time, I learned that his behavior was deeply rooted in other issues, and frustration and discouragement settled into my bones.

Leo was full of anger and indignation, pegging himself as one of the “bad kids” and coping by making jokes about his and others’ failures and mishaps. Yet, he was a leader in the eyes of his peers, full of life and curiosity. Leo was also athletic and artistic. But he saw himself through the distorted lens of his negative labels.

During the second semester, there was a time when I felt that Leo and I were in a more positive place. He had told me in frustration that he couldn’t do his math assignment until he understood division better. I was excited that he had somewhat asked for my help. So, that weekend, I made him his own division table flash cards and happily presented them to him on Monday. I felt defeated as he looked at the cards with disgust and embarrassment, immediately declaring that he wouldn’t take them no matter how much I tried to persuade him.

I was vexed that evening but slightly put at ease when Leo sent me a Facebook message, apologizing for not taking the flash cards. Nevertheless, we continued to be at a standstill. 

At the time, I wanted the situation with Leo to turn out like the redemption stories I’d heard of volunteer teachers tearing down the walls of an unreachable student. I wanted to have a sudden turnaround with Leo that would change everything. But that’s not what God had planned for us. God knew that Leo didn’t need what I thought he needed and that I needed to learn more about His method of reaching people.

One afternoon, I gave my students free time for the last part of the school day. Everyone eagerly ran outside except Leo. He chose to finish an assignment that had been baffling him all afternoon. I decided to try to help him, pleased that he was opting to be responsible. While we worked together, I asked him about his home life, and we fell into casual conversation. I realized that it had been rare for us to talk about things other than his math assignments or why he should be more kind to his peers. I felt my heart opening more toward him, and his attitude toward me seemed to shift as well.

When the bell rang, I watched Leo join the blur of students rushing to board their buses. To my surprise, he paused mid-stride, turned around, and yelled, “Bye Teacherrrr!” This was nothing remarkable in itself, but coming from Leo, it was huge! This acknowledgment was the closest thing to a hug he had given me all year.

I had tried to find ways to change Leo, but I finally realized that what he needed more than anything was for me to try to understand and love him as he was, not asking him to be anything different.

Unfortunately, I had to leave Yap early due to COVID-19, so I won’t be able to see what God’s doing in Leo’s life or the lives of my other students. But I know my time there wasn’t in vain. I had the opportunity to be part of the sowing, and I know God can be trusted to lead them in the growing.


Adventist Volunteer Service

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

Watch video stories about Adventist Volunteer Service missionaries at m360.tv/avs.

Rebecca Orozco served as a volunteer fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Yap Seventh-day Adventist School in Yap, Micronesia. She is earning a degree in social work at Walla Walla University.