Picture this. You’re 20 years old in an unfamiliar country with absolutely no background in teaching, standing in front of a classroom of 28 first-graders. That was me on day one of being a student missionary.

The biggest challenge I faced during the next 10 months on the island of Palau was feeling completely and utterly unqualified for the privilege of teaching these precious kids. But God often calls the unqualified, right?

There were days when, after the children left the classroom, I would sink to the floor, holding back tears because, let’s face it, I wasn’t fit to teach these six-year-olds. I would think to myself, Am I teaching these kids anything at all? Are they receiving the education they deserve?

Looking back now, I realize that when I volunteered to become a missionary, I thought I’d be the one doing all the teaching. In reality, the children ended up teaching me.

There was never a dull moment when I was hanging out with my seventh-grade boys.
My girls’ basketball team took first place in their league. 
My sixth-grade girls showing off their islander flare.
Shari was one of the biggest blessings in my first-grade class.

My first-graders taught me beautiful lessons on love. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I’d stand in front of my classroom, waiting for them to stream through the door. They’d greet me as if they hadn’t seen me in months. I would open my arms wide, and, one by one, receive the warmest hugs I’d ever felt. “Ms. Lysa, I missed you!” “Ms. Lysa, I made something for you!” “Ms. Lysa, he hit me!” “Ms. Lysa, she’s lying!” “Ms. Lysa, can I play games today?” “Ms. Lysa, can I tell you a joke?” “Ms. Lysa! Ms. Lysa! Ms. Lysa…”

One day, I was losing my patience because it seemed like I’d repeated myself a hundred times, asking the children to sit down, be quiet, and behave. I wondered how many times I’d have to ask before they learned their lesson. When would they understand that I was simply trying to help them? When would they realize that I had nothing but their best interest in mind?

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

In that moment, I realized that I was exactly like my first-graders in my relationship with God. How many times does He have to repeat Himself before I learn that He’s trying to help me? How often does He put His head down, thinking, When will you understand that I have nothing but your best interest in mind?

My students taught me so much more than I ever imagined they would. They taught me what true laughter is and how to see the bright side of everything. They taught me to enjoy the skies even when rain was falling and the classroom floor was covered in mud. They taught me how to love God like a child and trust in Him, always.

There I stood, 20 years old in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar task, feeling completely unqualified but eternally grateful that God called me anyway.

Elyssa Hinojosa
Originally from the United States, Elyssa Hinojosa served as a volunteer computer teacher on the island of Palau. She is currently earning a degree in communication at La Sierra University in La Sierra, California.