The first English test that I gave at the little village public school where we've been teaching was rampant with cheating. I wasn't surprised. Unlike our culture, cheating in school is not strictly punished here and is not considered the grave sin that it is in the U.S. classroom. Even the most engaged teachers only issue a not-so-stern rebuke when a student is caught copying from his friend. And the worst teachers turn a blind eye entirely and even encourage the practice.
So my kids are big cheaters and I can't really blame them. If I'm being honest, they're just mimicking what they see in the world around them. Still, I think the practice of cheating speaks to a deeper spiritual need in this community. But on that first test day I wasn't thinking of that. No, I was irritated that the kids hadn't studied. "If these kids don't learn even a few words in English this year, our plan to get a foot in the door for 'real' ministry in the future will be lost," I thought.
This week I administered our final exam. Before handing out the test to my fifth graders, I reminded everyone that test time has rules. "The first rule is..." I started before I was interrupted by a unanimous shout of "Integrity!" in perfect English from the class. Taken aback I asked, "And the second?" "Respect!" came the loud response. The scenario repeated itself in each class that day. And I came to two important realizations. The first was that my kids did learn at least a few words in English...and they are awesome words to live by. And the last one was that the "real" ministry has already started.