From the first week of teaching here at Dandelion School, a boy named Bill stood out to me. He struck me automatically as someone with huge potential as a leader. He’s the kind of kid that you would want to get elected chairman in a TeenPact committee or that you would want to be captain of the soccer team because he needs the opportunities to grow and become the leader I know he can be.

As I got to know “Bill” better, I learned that he is a very active young man. He can hardly sit still, and is usually distracting in class. He may have an attention disorder, and he can sometimes get aggressive if provoked. I know he has gotten in trouble more than once, and he will probably continue to. He doesn’t study well, so he barely speaks a word of English. He can be really annoying and dominating around his classmates, and most people don’t know what to do with him. But I still see so much in him. 

I tried to show him through little conversations and smiles and remembering his name that I noticed him and valued him. Over the weeks, he started getting really excited whenever we passed each other in school, and he would always try to include me in their games during PE class (which I love!). On a field trip two weeks ago, we talked as much as we could on the bus, and he told me his dream is to be in the military. Then he hung out with me the rest of the day, even though he was the only boy with about five other girls.  But I still wanted him to know that I cared about him more than just “one of my students.”

On Thursday, I was practicing oral English with one of the girls, and he came and kind of took over our conversation, which I didn’t really mind. He mentioned that it was his birthday – what?! Of course, I told him, “祝你生日快乐!” But I wanted to do something more! I couldn’t give him a gift; not good policy at the school. And I couldn’t really write him a meaningful card because he doesn’t speak English. But a card is a good idea… 

During our teacher’s meeting, I carefully wrote out a note using all the Chinese I could muster. It said, “Happy birthday to you! You are my friend. We are both students; we are both teachers. I think you can be a leader. I am happy to be your teacher and friend! ~Xiaoya”

I left the teacher’s meeting early and walked over to his classroom. They told me he wasn’t there; he was at guitar club. I didn’t know where guitar club was, and I didn’t really want to give him the card in the middle of a bunch of people. Attention can make him do weird things sometimes. I wanted to find him alone… but the chances of that are pretty slim at the school. I figured I would … maybe try tomorrow… maybe it would be a day late… hm…

Something kept me walking around the school until I saw lights on in the big auditorium hall. I walked up the stairs and peered through the window: I found the guitar club. But there were probably 25 boys all clumped down at the end of the hall. Drats. Then I noticed one boy all alone right across from the door. It was Bill. It was weird for him to be alone, but it was perfect for me. 

I walked over, and he looked up and got a great big smile on his face when he saw me coming. He had mentioned to me before that he played guitar, and had wanted to play together. So we did. I noticed his eyes were a little red and puffy, like he had been crying. Maybe that’s why he was all alone. He played and sang for me, and then I played a little for him. He did a good job, and I was proud that he had taken the effort to learn the chords. 

A couple of other boys that I knew came over after a few minutes, and as they did, I handed Bill the little note I had written. It said “Happy Birthday to You” in English on the front, and he couldn’t read it. But then he saw “To: Bill,” and he said, “Oh, 是我。” (“That’s me.”) He turned away from the other boys and me to read it. I played with the boys for a little while, watching Bill out of the corner of my eye. He read slowly, and then folded it up carefully and put it in his pocket. He walked off quietly to get his guitar case, then came back and stood next to me while I played with the other boys. He didn’t say anything, didn’t try to get me attention, didn’t interrupt, didn’t do anything he normally would have. When I looked up from the guitar, he just smiled softly and said, in English, “Thank you.” 

The guitar club started cleaning up for the night, so I left quietly, my heart happy and full. I could tell it had touched him. I was thanking God for the perfect opportunity, when He gave me yet another. He is very rarely finished. 

At the bottom of the stairs, the doors of the auditorium hall  flew open, and I heard “Xiaoya!” I looked up, and Bill was leaping down the stairs after me. I don’t know why, but I remember in that moment feeling like it was a movie. One of those perfect moments. When he got down to me, I expected him to ask me something, or try to… I don’t know… but he just said, “走吧。” (“Let’s walk.”) So we did.

We walked slowly, and talked the whole time, using a lot of my Chinese, plus some new words too. We stopped outside the classroom to finish our conversation alone. Earlier that day, he would have been trying to show off that “Xiaoya” was talking with him, but now he seemed to value it for the actual content, and not the appearance. Just like me. 

He had missed dinner, so we walked there together too. Going into the cafeteria, he opened the door for me (well, pulled back the screen for me). He wouldn’t have thought to do that a week ago. 

After he got his food, he had to go work on homework. But in saying goodnight, I said, “明天,我们有课。”(“Tomorrow, we have class!”) And after he figured out my mangled tones, he enthusiastically responded, “对!有课!”(“Right! We have class!”) An hour ago, class was something he didn’t really care about. 

As I walked back to my office, I literally felt like I was about to explode from happiness. And as I thought it all through, I realized more and more what had really happened. When I treated this boy like I was proud of him, he did things worth being proud of. When I gained his respect with love, not showing off, he felt comfortable enough to be weak and real. When I treated him like a gentleman, he began to act like one. 

Sometimes, God gives me incredible opportunities to go deep into the gospel with someone, and that energizes and motivates me like nothing else. But here, with a language barrier that limits us to the most basic topics, I’ve been learning to love with actions. And God is starting to show me just how beautiful it is.


  1. Oh Shelby. The joy in this post. God truly gives beautiful gifts. So proud of you, dear. Keep pressing on!

  2. This made my insides all glowy. I love you and I love Jesus in You.

  3. This is beautiful, Shelby. And such a powerful reminder that our words don't always mean much. We're called to love through our actions. And I think we could all do a better job of that. :)


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