For Palawano people, going to school is a special experience in many ways. For one thing, your classmates’ ages may differ from yours by five or ten years or more.
That’s the case with two of our classmates, Abnir and Magni. Fourteen-year-old Abnir’s parents are fairly well educated. His father was an elementary school teacher for more than 10 years. On the other hand, Magni’s father died many years ago, and his mother never went to school. Magni doesn’t know his exact age, but he is probably about 21 years old and attends eighth grade with Abnir. Despite their seven-year age difference, they are great friends.
There is certainly a difference in maturity between Magni and Abnir. When I came to Palawan and started teaching at the high school, Magni’s eagerness for learning was obvious. Not that Abnir wasn’t interested, and he is able to learn many things much easier than Magni, but Magni studies with more focus and purpose. Also, Magni is deeply interested in spiritual things. He yearns for God to work in him and is willing to serve.
Over time, and as my Palawano language skills developed, my relationship with Magni deepened. When I started going to the village of Kensuli to lead out on Sabbaths, I asked him to be my helper. He immediately agreed, and Abnir came faithfully, too. Magni grew a lot from this experience. He was eager to take more and more responsibility, and he was always open to trying new things, even things that intimidated him at first, like telling a children’s story. God took away his fear and developed new talents in him.
After several months, I felt convinced that Magni was ready to take the next step and really give his life to Jesus and get baptized. When I was leading a worship at the boys’ dorm one night, God impressed me to ask who would be interested in preparing for baptism. Both Magni and Abnir responded. Brenden, their other dean, and I were thrilled that God was working on their hearts. But He also was working on my heart. With the joy about their decision came another impression—one that was harder for me to swallow. I knew deep in my heart that I shouldn’t be the one to give Magni and Abnir Bible studies. I realized that Brenden, with his better teaching and language skills, would do a much better job than I could, and I had to let go of my pride. Ellen White wrote in Steps to Christ that the “warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought.” How right she was! And this battle doesn’t end when you’re in the mission field. It becomes even more intense.
About two months later, there was a baptism at our camp meeting, and Magni was among those who took their stand for Jesus. It was one of my most joyful experiences here on Palawan to see him become my brother in Christ!
The new school year brought some changes, and my new role kept me away from Kemantian most of the time, so I was disconnected from the students for a while. However, for the first weeks of 2017, I was back teaching at the school. I learned that several students were struggling, and Magni was among them. There were rumors that he might not continue after Christmas break. Two weeks later he didn’t come to classes on Monday morning. When I asked about him, I learned that he had come to the dorm the evening before to tell them he wouldn’t be continuing with school. They prayed for him before he left.
I was sad. I couldn’t believe Magni, once such an eager student, had given up on education. I feared for his relationship with God. I wasn’t sure his faith was strong enough to continue his walk with God without the structure of school. At the same time I felt impressed that someone should visit him at his home; that his decision might not yet be final. On Tuesday, I felt I should go, but I reasoned that it was too early—that he needed more time to think—so I postponed until Wednesday. This became lesson number 973 (or so) for me on the topic “When God says go, then go!” Wednesday it rained without pause, and trails were so bad that I decided to try again on Thursday.
I’m glad that our God is a God of second chances! Thursday started out rainy, but by the time I was leaving, the sun was back and trails were passable. I was praying that Magni would be around and that God would give me wisdom as I talked with him. God answered both prayers abundantly. I found Magni at home, and God guided us into a meaningful, open conversation. I didn’t even have to make any points, because Magni made them all for me. He wanted to come back to school. He realized that God’s plan was for him to continue learning and take on more responsibility. All he needed was someone to encourage him to go back to where he had last seen the light and to follow what he knew was right.
How often we might miss opportunities to help someone make a better decision by just accepting their first choice and not giving them the chance to re-evaluate? How many people are just waiting for someone to encourage them to follow God, to come to church, to give their lives to Jesus? But they wait in vain, because we don’t want to bother them. We don’t want to pressure them into anything or make them feel bad. Giving opportunities to reconsider has nothing to do with being pushy, but it has a lot to do with caring for people. Let’s care more about people and let the “what ifs” take care of themselves.