As a teacher for 18 rambunctious and affectionate first-graders, I receive many gifts from my students. On average, I receive about six flowers every day: some boldly brought to me with big smiles; others quietly placed, crumpled, in my hand. Sometimes, I’m given little notes asking me to stay in Timor-Leste or to come to their home, or telling me of their love. My cupboard doors are covered in drawings of all sorts of things from monster trucks to animals to “teacher and me” to bright beehives swarming with bees. I have a drawer full of funny little gifts such as buttons, seeds, coral, leaves, paper snowflakes, pins, candle holders, shells, colorful pieces of paper, and candy. But of all the gifts from the children, one in particular stands out.

Teaching my neighbor kids basic English in our free class.
Saying one last goodbye to my beloved students on the last day of school.
Making new friends on the streets of Timor-Leste.
Receiving student missionary packages from Walla Walla University.

One day at recess, my youngest girl came up to me, a massive smile spread across her face, and asked me to hold out my hand. “Something for Teecha,” she rasped out in her warm, little voice. I stretched out my hand, and she placed something shiny in it. Her eyes looked keenly up into mine, waiting for my reaction.

Looking into my hand at the special gift, I smiled down at her and thanked her for thinking of me. Her eyes glowed with pride as she gave me a big hug and skipped off to play.

Our Thirteenth Sabbath Offering for third quarter 2015 helped build the school where Julia taught in Timor-Leste. Until then, there wasn’t a single Adventist school in the entire country! Meet some of the students who faced a difficult decision between following Jesus and getting an education in the video stories “Tough Choice,”, and “School Challenges,”

As I examined the gift, I laughed as I realized what she had so lovingly given me: the back of a dead cockroach. I can’t say that I kept it, but I can tell you that I felt all the love she meant to show me in her unknowingly nasty gift. I wasn’t looking at the piece of a cockroach; I was looking at those eyes, just longing to show her love to her teacher. That meant all the world to me.

I dedicated this year to serving God as a teacher in Timor-Leste. In a sense, it’s my gift to Him. But to tell you the truth, I’ve failed in many ways. Some days I’ve become impatient with my kids, been impolite to people, or not shown love to those who need it most. As much as I desire to give my best to God, my best just isn’t good enough no matter how hard I try. But you know what? Just like I felt my little student’s love through her unpleasant gift, God looks at my broken, stained, and pathetic gift of service, and He sees right into my heart. He knows my motives, and He can see my eyes looking up at Him, just longing to show Him my love.

Psalm 103:13, 14 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (NIV). God’s benevolence surpasses our mistakes; His love fills up our brokenness, and His sacrifice covers our failed attempts at showing Him love. Just like the story of my student, our love behind the gifts we give God are more important than the gifts themselves.

This year I’ve learned that if I give my best for God, if I give Him my all, He will use it to His glory. And for me, that’s reason enough to keep giving Him my broken gifts.

Adventist Volunteer Service facilitates volunteer missionary service of church members around the world. Volunteers ages 18 to 80 may serve as pastors, teachers, medical professionals, computer technicians, orphanage workers, farmers, and more. To learn more, please visit

Julia McEdward
Originally from the United States, Julia McEdward spent the past year as a volunteer teacher in Timor-Leste. She is earning a degree in education at Walla Walla University.