by curtis stout

In Mark 9:35-37, Jesus addresses the idea of greatness among his disciples after overhearing their competitive debate on the topic. In this passage, the Teacher turns our view of greatness upside down by saying, “in order to be great you have to serve, you have to put everyone before yourself.” Then Jesus brings heaven down to earth in his unique, only Jesus way, by painting us a picture in real-time. The great Artist invites a little child, a second rate citizen of the day waiting for adulthood to bring worth and status, into his arms and into the circle with his disciples and says, “when you welcome this child in, in my name, you welcome me.”

Earlier this month Institution One 17 had the opportunity to welcome in 21 new students into our school family. Each spring as we are wrapping up one year, we start looking ahead to the coming year by enrolling new students. In the past we have gone out into local villages and enlisted the help of a local magistrate to help us find the students that need our school the most. This year, word got out publicly after we announced our enrollment date at a parent meeting and we were inundated with requests by local parents desiring for their children to attend our school. 

Why the sudden inundation of requests for a place in our school? Over the course of the last year our school’s reputation has developed into more than just a new school, but a school with good teachers, nice facilities, and a compassionate heart for it’s students. I’ll tell you right now it feels good to be a part of something that is desirable and sought after. It was nice to hear that the effort made by our board, volunteers, and school staff was identified as beautiful and successful in the eyes of local parents. In other words, I received a little ego boost as I received this feedback.

I don’t know about you, but I am wired to achieve, go fast, and be competitive. If I do something, I want to do it well and I want to win. This is evident in my personal and professional life. I have been known to let out unintentional, angst-filled grunts while playing leisurely card games (which is embarrassing when it happens in front of your wife’s new boss at a first time hang-out). When I play soccer with children in Haiti I have to remind myself that winning isn’t the most important part of playing and that slide-tackling kids isn’t cool. My favorite part of making to-do lists is checking them off. I don’t want to just build a run-of-the-mill school in Haiti, but instead create a school that is great, God-honoring, and worthy of the beautiful people we are called to serve. Anyways… what I am sharing with you is that: 

  1. I am sometimes guilty of buying into the idea that greatness equates to being first, to winning, to being sought after by others, and to receiving positive feedback.
  2. I am a person in need of God’s grace and His Holy Spirt’s guidance.

But anyways, according to Jesus, greatness is more about serving others and welcoming the disadvantaged into loving circles than winning any of the things listed in point 1. 

Back to enrollment. Due to the sudden influx of parents requesting admission this year, we were given the task of discerning who needed hope through education the most based on a list of names and informal interviews rather than a casual walk through local villages. As Greg (our Principal) and I went through a long list of student names and a waiting list that we formed last year, we chose students based on three criteria. First, we chose older students who have not had the opportunity at other schools because we know that 3 years old is the prime age to start kindergarten in Haiti and that older students are often times overlooked by other schools. We ended up enrolling six kids who are five and in need of starting their education this year. Next, we designated an equal number of spots for girls and boys knowing that girls are often times overlooked simply because of their gender and that families in rural Haiti sometimes find their daughters time to be better spent at home helping the family rather than attending school. We ended up giving 14 spots to girls and 7 spots to boys because our list of potential students was 70% girls. Finally, with knowledge of family stories, we prioritized children from bigger families and children with parents that are gone (deceased or uninvolved) because these children might need more help than others due to financial barriers. 

Project 117’s process for enrollment is completely different than any other school in our area where first come, first pay policies are utilized. Our enrollment process is far from perfect, but every year we ask God to honor the desire He placed in our hearts to serve the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the materially rich (relatively speaking for rural Haiti), but spiritually poor, and the left behind. Hundreds of thousands of primary aged children are left out of school every year in Haiti and a handful of those children can be found in the rural communities around our school. Each year we count on God to divinely align us with new students and impressionable hearts to shepherd, THEN we prayerfully seek out those young hearts and minds through enrollment. This attitude is what makes us successful. Our heart for those that need us the most is our greatest achievement. 

As we continue progressing and learning how to lead a school in rural Haiti, I am realizing that how we serve others matters far more than how much greatness we achieve in the eyes of others. Don’t get me wrong, I am still wired to achieve, to go fast, to win, and to be viewed with favor by those involved in our work. Those can all be very healthy ambitions when they are focused on obediently participating in God’s kingdom restoration movement.  However, a ministry marked by obedient service is what our focus must be, rather than a ministry of great size or great achievement or even great value in the eyes of others.

I still pray for new opportunities to build more SCHOOLS because I know the need is great in Haiti, and I want to kick Haiti’s educational injustice in the teeth. With that said, I know that if all we ever do as an organization is obediently serve the oppressed that God puts in our path yearly with our one school in rural Haiti then our work will be labeled “well done” by our Father. Our “doing” will reflect accurately our collective belief in a holy God. For me that means embracing the small moments on every trip when I get to joyfully tickle the fatherless, enthusiastically hug the left behind, or foolishly try to make a child with a toothache laugh so they forget the throbbing pain in their mouth for just a minute. If I obediently serve God’s children then it will be like I am welcoming Jesus himself into my daily life. 

That sounds pretty GREAT to me. How about you? If so, join me in chasing after obedience rather than achievement. Join me in pursuing relationships over success! Join me because I need your help and you need mine.