From Struggling Learner to World Leader

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In 1940 Hitler and his Nazi forces were infiltrating North Africa. In Europe country after country had either fallen to Germany’s military forces or buckled under Nazi pressure.

On May 10, Nazi parachutists landed deep inside the Netherlands and captured bridges. Though Belgian, British, and French troops were working to defend it, the Nazis had also entered Belgium that same day. And, also on May 10, the Nazis had crossed the tiny country of Luxembourg.

By May 12, they were in France.

On May 13 the Dutch queen and her government fled to England.

On May 14 the Dutch army surrendered.

Hitler’s forces headed toward the English Channel. By the end of May, thousands of British troops, along with soldiers from Belgium and France, were trapped on the French coast alongside the English Channel. The British military was in a race to rescue them before Hitler destroyed them. British leaders feared the worst and believed they might only be able to rescue one in four or maybe even just one in ten.

When the Belgian king surrendered his army to the Nazis on May 27, the situation grew even more dangerous. What happened amazed the free world. From May 27 to June 4, French, Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian ships worked alongside the British Royal Navy to rescue the troops from the French port of Dunkirk. Assisting these naval forces were trading ships from the British merchant marine and more personal boats owned and piloted by volunteer British citizens than anyone will ever know.

In the end, the British lost 68,111, but 338,226 men, including Belgian and French soldiers, were rescued.

England had not been invaded since Norman forces under William the Conqueror landed there and defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. If the Nazis had their way, that was all about to change. Though a large British force had been evacuated, they had left behind a massive amount of supplies, which the Germans confiscated and later used against Allied troops.

  • 2,472 guns
  • 63,879 vehicles
  • 20,548 motorcycles
  •  76,097 tons of ammunition
  • 416,940 tons of provisions

This is where our struggling learner enters our story. Sir Winston Churchill had been serving as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for sixteen days when the evacuation of Dunkirk began. He was sixty-five years old and had become one of the most eloquent men in the history of England with an intellect few could match.

Few, if any, who knew Winston Churchill could have imagined this when he was a little boy taught at home by a governess or later at school or when he was a teenager at another school. His marks were terrible in math, in French, in Latin, and in Greek. In any subject that interested him, he excelled. If it did not interest him, he was considered a miserable failure in the eyes of both his teachers and his parents. His test-taking skills were abysmal. During one crucial exam, he was unable to answer a single question — even the answers he knew.

When parents of students came to school on one special day, the boys were paraded in front of them in the order of their school performance. At the end of the line was Winston Churchill.

Early in his school experience, Churchill became fascinated with the English language. He became an excellent writer and speaker, too, in spite of his lisp. After becoming an officer in the British army and while serving in India, Churchill had long hot days with almost no responsibilities, so he devoured books about things he wanted to know and thought would be important in his future career, which he hoped would be in Parliament like his father before him.

Many in England would have surrendered to Germany as other European nations had done, but not their Prime Minister. On the day the last man was rescued from Dunkirk, Churchill ended his speech to the British House of Commons with these words:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

A boy whom no one believed in finally grew up. He took longer than most boys do, but he grew up in the end. And in World War II, he led the United Kingdom to a victory few could have imagined when he came to power in 1940.

Sir Winston Church, His Son Randolph (Named for Churchill's Father Whom He Idolized), and His Grandson Winston. Sir Winston Churchill said, "All babies look like me." I think he was right. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Sir Winston Churchill poses with his son Randolph (named for Churchill’s father, whom he idolized), and his grandson Winston. Sir Winston Churchill said, “All babies look like me.” I think he was right. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

I keep encouraging you not to despair if your child is not at the place that other people–or maybe you yourself– think he should be right now. As we quoted last Thursday:

God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
Genesis 1:27

You just never know when God will place one of those children in just the right place at just the right time to do something amazing–maybe in a nation, maybe in a village, or maybe in a home. What we do know is that your child is made in God’s image–and that goes for every single child, including the ones who call you Mama.

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  1. I recently read a book called Speak Like Churchill Stand Like Lincoln… there is so much to learn from these courageous and eloquent men!!

    • Yes, I agree with that. I have lately become interested in Winston Churchill, and decided to look him up. Something interesting to me that I learned was that he felt a call to destiny on his life. To lead Britain during that difficult time in their history. I find it interesting that God uses people despite themselves. Winston was no perfect man, though yes, he believed in Jesus Christ. God uses imperfect people. It is encouraging and inspiring when we see greatness in a person amidst their human imperfections.

  2. Wow, God is kind! I was just telling my husband last night that I don’t know how to help my daughter, who struggles with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and just “growing up”. Thank you for sharing this example and the reminder that she is made in Gods image.
    I will look up more of these stories.

    • I encourage you to hang in there with her. God has a plan. I encourage you to help her find her gifts and not to feel inferior in any way. She is so blessed that you homeschool her!!

  3. Thank you. We have been working for about 5 years now to help our son seek out who God created him to be and work with him to provide the tools he needs to learn the way he learns. It is always nice to be able to share with him that he is not the only person who ever struggled or who will one day fulfill the great plan God has for him.

  4. Thank you for this! I feel so defeated sometimes as I don’t know how to help my dyslexic son. His mathematical and mechanical mind amaze me and everyone he meets goes on and on about how intelligent he is… but that is the people that don’t know he can’t read. At school he was put in a special education class and given coloring sheets because they said “if he can’t learn to read he won’t be able to do anything else.” I homeschool him now and he continues to excel in everything but reading. This reminds me to not give up and God has an amazing plan for him. I am excited to see how God will use him.

    • Jennifer,
      On the practical side:
      Have you looked at SWR, Spell to Write and Read by Wanda Sanseri
      for reading? It is a very user friendly approach of heavy phonics that uses every pathway to the brain.
      The classes that I have taken from several of their teachers are really wonderful and helpful (many have been homeschooling moms).
      They teach from the known to the unknown so if your child talks, he can learn the sounds and learn to spell the words and then read!
      I have had the privilege of watching my busy, struggling-to- learn son suddenly pick up books and read for his own pleasure to learn! What a thrill and answer to prayer!

      With Charlene’s encouragement and our prayers, anything is possible! GOD honors prayer!

      Don’t give up!
      “Never give up” on your “image of GOD” bearer.

      HOLY SPIRIT will lead you into all truth!

    • Jennifer, one of my boys could not read anything until after 12. We tried everything … one day it clicked and he is grown now and works in his dad’s business in charge of 17 men and reads constantly. His employees love him and he’s good at relating to them since many of them have never finished school
      And can’t read. We see Gods hand in allowing this to be delayed in his life and we are rejoicing. He makes no mistakes.

  5. Charlene,
    Your daily encouragement posts give me such insight and hope. I homeschool 4, and if it were not for the encouragement of other moms like you who have been there and done this wonderful-but-oh-so-overwhelming journey called homeschooling, I would have called it quits long ago.
    THIS story is just fabulous. It’s so easy to look at the Edisons and Churchills of the world and say, “yeah, they struggled in school too,” and not think it’s a big deal. But it seems like such a BIG DEAL when it’s my child struggling, and I cannot envision his amazing future because of his struggle with dysgraphia and low achievement test scores. I needed this tonight. I can’t tell you how many of your posts have helped me get a better mindset!
    Bless you!

  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful story that reminds us that God has a plan for everyone! My daughter is a terrific reader, but struggles so much with comprehension and gets so frustrated. This story encourages me to not lose hope and trust God 🙏🏻

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