On a recent fall day in second grade, my students celebrated a very special birthday. It was a special day because it was Melissa’s birthday! We celebrate birthdays with a “picnic lunch” in our room and those are always some of our favorite days!
It was also the first day that Melissa had permission to walk instead of stay in her wheelchair!
Melissa’s been a part of our class for much of the fall, but she’s actually a guest in our classroom. In fact, Melissa’s a guest in our country through the organization Healing the Children (HTC). Healing the Children arranges for surgeries for children from areas in the world without access to surgeons and facilities. They provide them with host families who oversee their care while they’re here. Melissa’s host family is the Miedema family, a West Side Christian School family.
Mrs. Betsy Miedema said, “We've known of Healing the Children for a long time because Eric's parents had hosted a couple of children about 15 years ago. God laid it on our hearts over a year ago and we applied to be a host family with HTC, and then we got the call from them this past summer about having Melissa placed with us.”
“Melissa had a deformity in her leg because she had been injured in the 2010 earthquake when she was a baby. She had surgery here to straighten her leg, and she is staying to recover and gain strength in this leg because she's never been able to use it much.”
“We knew that HTC kids often attend school while they're here recovering from surgery, so we asked West Side Christian School if it would be possible for Melissa to attend some school while she's here. Because our daughter and Melissa are very close in age, we asked Mrs. Koster if Melissa could attend her class too. Mrs. Koster was very eager to include Melissa in their classroom and to allow her students the opportunity to both help and learn from Melissa.”
“Melissa loves to be with people, so being at WSCS where she is loved by so many wonderful people, has been such a great experience for her! She enjoys going to school and has made many friends. The fact that our school community has embraced Melissa and supported our family has blessed us more than words can express. She is away from her home and family in Haiti for a long time, so going to school is providing her with a safe, fun, and encouraging environment while we wait for her healing to be complete,” noted Mrs. Miedema.
Melissa is indeed loved by many! When she first came to our class, students were somewhat wary of her wheelchair, and she doesn’t speak much English so it was also difficult for them to communicate with her. They didn’t really know quite what to think and were a bit tentative around here. They also knew she’d had surgery and were careful around her.
But it didn’t take long for students to embrace her! It’s been wonderful to see the second-graders be the hands and feet of Jesus and serve Melissa. They’ve learned how to work her wheelchair and take turns pushing her in it, and they wheel her out to the playground and make sure she plays with everyone out there. And it’s not just my students who do this – Melissa has friends all OVER the school who come see her, smile and wave at her in the hallways, and play with her on the playground.
Even though there is a definite language barrier, Melissa understands enough to get by, and the second-graders help her with things we do in class, passing time in the hallways, and anything else she needs. In fact, they LOVE helping her!
“We don't have a lot of information about what her life is like in Haiti, but we do know she lives with her mom and stepdad and two younger brothers - Lens and Dave,” says Mrs. Miedema.
Melissa came to the United States with two other HTC children, and they will return to Haiti once their medical treatment is complete. Melissa will be with us at least through November.
Melissa is a much-loved member of the WSCS family! Our classroom is so important to Melissa because we ARE her family while she is here. These students are her family and have loved her so well.
The blessing isn’t a one-way street. Melissa has blessed us and taught us such important things. I can teach these second-graders lots of things, but Melissa has taught them so much more about what it means to be part of the family of God and a community of believers that I can’t possibly teach them through books and curriculum.
How, you might ask? On Melissa’s birthday, they journaled about her.
In their own words …