Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Worth of a Visitor

When a relative or close friend passes away, I like to spend some time reflecting on the memories of special moments I enjoyed with that person. This helps me deal with closure, especially if I am far away and unable to attend the funeral. Experiencing two deaths in the last two weeks has made me nostalgic. One of those deaths, the passing of Aunt Mabel, my grandfather’s sister, brought back a wonderful memory about Sunday School.

When I was a child, I had a horrible time with homesickness, even into my teens. I suppose it came from not being able to see well, that I was suddenly thrust into unfamiliar surroundings where people didn’t understand my needs as well. My embarrassment at my lack of emotional control only made things worse. Several times I stayed at relatives’ homes only to beg to come home. Unfortunately, if I was out of town, coming home was not an option.

True to my character, I was miserable before the first day was over when, at the ripe old age of twelve, I visited my great-grandmother 120 miles away. Aunt Mabel, who checked on Grandma every day, picked up on my misery but, intent to give me dignity, said little. Instead, she tried to get me involved with projects to get my mind off my angst. Since Grandma was house bound, Aunt Mabel offered to take me with her and Uncle Bob to church that Sunday.

This caused more anxiety. Raised in an independent Christian church, I was asked to go to a Baptist church! Sacrilege!! It was a huge church too. More sacrilege! More angst! Yet, in spite of the large number of preteens filling the massive room, the teachers welcomed me kindly and guided me toward my small group of seventh grade girls.

The lesson that morning was on Josiah finding the book of the law. Are you surprised I remember the lesson? I’m not, because the way the teacher presented the lesson made it unforgettable. She told the story, then assigned parts. One person was Josiah, another was the secretary and the rest of us were a long line of workers that passed the word, first to “go clean up the Temple,” then “We found the Book of the Law!” I was chosen to be the worker who actually found the book. And I did my part with much exuberance to the giggles of the other girls. For that hour, I forgot my homesickness. For that hour, my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness vanished.

Why have I never forgotten this story? First, it was a new way to present a Bible story. I grew up in the sixties where we were made to sit quietly while the teacher read the story out of the quarterly and we responded by filling out a worksheet. If we were lucky, the teacher used flannelgraph pictures which I could never see anyway. This was different! The teacher involved us in telling the story. That day, a seed was planted in my life that has grown and blossomed to create me into the teacher I am today. I believe that I am the proponent of interactive teaching that I am because I saw it work when I was just twelve years old. I saw how drama makes student live the story rather than just hear the story.

I learned another important lesson that day – the importance of involving your visitors. I would never darken the door of that classroom again, yet the teacher chose me, a visitor, to take an important role in our little drama. She probably was tempted to pass over me this sullen, shy, awkward teen. Without the foresight of how involving me would affect my life and teaching philosophy, she chose to do her job faithfully by showing kindness and preference to a one time visitor.

Each time we teach is a precious opportunity. We may never know this side of heaven the impact we will have on the lives we teach. The children who are inside our classroom today may never cross the threshold again. As teachers, we don’t know what baggage each child carries, how our attitude toward them can bolster or corrode their self-confidence.

Each child who walks through your classroom door has a story. Each child has a need to know the Savior’s love. You have this moment to teach, to influence.

That Sunday morning, Aunt Mabel could have decided not to bother with a sniffling, sulky preteen. Instead, she chose to take me to church, never realizing the impact one Sunday School session would have on my life and my future ministry.

Aunt Mabel, now that you are in heaven, I hope Jesus lets you know that I’m glad you took me to church that day And if that teacher from that Baptist church is up there too, would you let her know? Just tell her I said thank you.