Ast month, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 7th annual Arts & Crafts Camp hosted by Jerusalem Ministry. The camp gathered 38 girls from various children’s homes all over Seoul and 45 volunteers. We spent three days together decorating tote bags, molding clay, stitching sock bunnies, and ironing Perler bead keychains, and to top it all off, the camp wrapped up with a fun afternoon of ice skating. Underlying all the activities, the purpose of the camp was to really love on these girls, all of whom come from broken families and orphan backgrounds.
When children experience abandonment and neglect from an early age, they become scarred with deep emotional wounds. It shouldn’t surprise us when they build up walls and act coldly and dismissively toward adult figures who enter their lives. These kids have been convinced that adults aren’t to be trusted. For the three days of camp, we volunteer and made it our goal to show these girls how much God the Father loves each one of them and will never leave them nor forsake them.
Here is my reflection on the incremental change I saw in one 12-year-old girl over the course of camp. It was the first day of camp. Haley* plopped herself into a seat next to mine and immediately buried her head into her arms on the table, as if to say, “I’m too cool to be here.” The other teachers in my group gave me a meaningful look, and I gently patted her on the shoulder to welcome her to our group. She didn’t budge. Oh boy, I thought, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of camp, here goes.! We, teachers, tried to coax Haley out of her aloofness as we decorated tote bags and made clay mirrors that day. But it was as futile as trying to woo a pearl out of a clammed-shut shell. Haley remained cool and reluctant to engage, responding to everything with an emphatic, “NO!”
“Haley, do you want to stitch a button on your bag?”
“Do you like this blue color or green?”
“What would you like to–“
I could tell from Haley’s wry smile that she wasn’t completely shutting us out. On the second morning, she walked straight to our table with more pep in her step, her shoulders no longer hunched. Having gotten to know the other 6th-grade girls at our table, she felt more comfortable chatting during the morning activities. She even passed out the snacks to our group members. She tossed them roughly across the table, but it was an improvement nonetheless, As the day wore on, however, Haley became more unruly and as an unni (older sister) her misbehavior was contagious to the younger girls. She would run off from the table without permission and horse around at other tables or in the hallway. During our time giving compliments, Haley and the older girls kept talking loudly while teachers were presenting at the front of the room. In an effort to model how to respect the presenters, I put a finger to my mouth to shush the chatting girls, but I realized that the harder I tried to control their rowdiness, the rowdier they became. They began to mimic me and deliberately talk over the presenters until the camp director had to come over to silence them. I left the camp that day in a rather dispirited mood. Why weren’t they listening?
That night, I considered that the more I tried to tame the girls, the more they resisted and squirmed out of my control. The girls didn’t want any more scolding; they wanted affirmation and understanding. So the next day, I decided to leave behind the frustrations of the previous day, and I resolved to simply love and encourage the girls. Thankfully, the girls were calmer on the last day. During card-making time, I wrote a note for each of the girls in our group, and in my card to Haley, I told her I was sorry that I couldn’t speak Korean well enough to tell her all the things I would’ve liked to. Haley worked with another teacher that day, and I lost track of her while everyone was ice skating. At the end of the day, I did manage to snap a selfie together with Haley and her 6th-grade friends, and her face was lit up with a smile. I knew it could be drawn out in time: that radiant pearl inside her shell.