Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Each afternoon, Back2Back India staff member, Courtney Schreiner, eagerly waits by the gate of the children’s home, greeting each child by name, as they arrive home from school.
“How was your day?,” she asks cheerfully.
Initially, the children all responded similarly. Arms crossed, gaze fixed at the ground, they mumbled, “I’m fine.”
“I yearned to know more, even a tidbit of information to get inside their world, their head and their heart. I was relentless with my questioning and even still it was the same response,” said Courtney.
Their detached response was all too common for the children we serve in India. Culturally, children are not encouraged to open up emotionally. Nonetheless Courtney sought to make a personal connection with each child. Day after day, Courtney faithfully waited at the gate, until one day she began to sense that some of the children longed to open up with her but didn’t know how.
“I finally started calling their bluff because I could see in their eyes their day was more than fine. Whether good or bad, there was more to the story,” Courtney explained.
Courtney kneeled down to the children’s level and gazed intently into their eyes, hopeful they would recognize just how much she cared for them.
“Was your day really just fine?,” Courtney asked. “Some of you don’t look like you had a good day – you look sad.”
One by one, the words spilled out.
“My teacher scolded me this morning,” shared one.
“I had a hard day today,” said another, softly.
Courtney didn’t react. She simply listened and hugged and prayed. She soon realized the children longed to be heard, but were rarely given an opportunity to share. But, the children knew they were safe with Courtney and slowly the stories they had bottled up for days or weeks or months tumbled out.
Now, the children run to the gate after school, eager to share about their day. Those seemingly mundane moments at the gate have become sacred. Courtney made a decision to be intentional in engaging each child, and it was in that safe space God began to soften the children’s hearts.
“I felt like a rockstar because I was given the privilege to step into their world,” said Courtney. “Before long, some of the children would never fail to find me upon their arrival home, reporting to me about their day, either with excitement about an upcoming field trip or an excellent exam score, or with agony over poor marks they received or a friend who hurt them. I was just as anxious to listen, as they were to share, because it was likely a rare opportunity for them to open up to someone who intently listens and genuinely wants to know about their lives.
As the children rattled off the details of their day, Courtney quietly celebrated their success of simply sharing and the emotional gains they were experiencing. This growth may seem like a small step, but it’s actually a huge leap of success – the result of months of Courtney consistently engaging the hearts of the children we serve.