One by one the majority of the students in my fourth-sixth grade Gifted and Talented program at the local school where I taught full-time last year and continue part-time this year came in as I was setting up for our usual Friday afternoon class to tell me, “Miss Jennifer, I won’t be coming to class today.” Their reasons seemed legitimate as they told me of the school-wide science fair and how they either had a competing project or wanted to see their classmates’ creations, and I thanked each child sincerely for having the respect to come and let me know that I should not expect them that afternoon although I was slightly disappointed with the news of the science fair’s conflicting schedule with my class.
But in my heart I rejoiced, thinking Yes, I can just cancel the class due to low attendance and spend time resting, reading my Bible, preparing for the coming week, and getting ready for the girls’ basketball practice that will begin in a few hours. I had spent a week in a warzone between our four children who are all struggling with the adjustment of having a new sibling, plus the continuing adjustment of dealing with their pasts, being in a new homeschooling program, accepting Darwin and I as parents, etc. The week had been filled with bouts of jealousy, various children declaring that they felt unloved or outright accusing us of favoring one child over another, the children forming teams against one another, feeling as though they need to struggle or compete to earn their spot in the family or classroom, playing the victim, and putting others down to feel better about themselves. Every day it seemed like each child had at least one eruption or shut-down, and our week was filled with stress, long prayers, varying punishments, discussion upon discussion about what it means to show the love of God to others, and so forth. I just wanted to collapse from mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and I thought What an unexpected gift that I won’t have to teach today –
And then in came one of my eager fourth-grade students, and with a fake smile on my face I anticipated his science-fair excuse and cut him off, “Oh, it’s okay, I know there’s the science fair. Go enjoy it and we’ll just wait to have class until next week.” And somehow my exhausted cheek muscles forced out a reassuring smile, expecting him to accept my proposition as valid and leave.
“No!” And his face dropped, “I really want to have the class this afternoon…” and he looked confused about why I was considering canceling.
And I thought Dang it, why doesn’t he just go to the science fair? Doesn’t he realize I’m on the brink of some kind of breakdown?
I then asked tiredly if it would just be him or if others were also planning on attending our class, and he confirmed that there was at least one or two others who had said they would arrive. I thought, trying desperately to justify myself in canceling the class, If there are just two or three kids – when there are nearly twenty enrolled in the program – it’s not worth it. It’s better just to wait until next week when we’ll have full attendance.
Then, as has happened so many times, Jesus’ words cut to my core “Even if there were just one person — one sinner — in the whole world, I still would have died for that person. Even for just one. Numbers don’t matter. Look at this eager little boy and accept him as I would – invite him in and teach him of Me and my ways. He matters to me. As I said to my Father in anguish before dying on the cross, have Your will be done, not mine.”
Then, even with rebellion – I might even call it self-defense – crying out in my heart, I told him that, yes, we would have class because numbers don’t matter, and in my heart I knew that having the class would be a submission of my will to God’s. His eyes immediately lit up, and he left the room and began shouting loudly to his comrades, “Let’s go! It’s time for Miss Jennifer’s class!” And I laughed and quickly stumble-ran out of the room to the school’s balcony where he stood to tell him to stop shouting because class wasn’t scheduled to start for twenty more minutes and, as he and my other students know, I am allergic to unneeded noise.
His eager little face then appeared periodically in my window over those next twenty minutes as he squinted to see the agenda I was scribbling on the whiteboard and to catch a glimpse of the learning materials I was preparing for them. My rebellious heart broke and I thanked God for having guided me into loving obedience.
That day five enthusiastic fourth-graders arrived in my classroom and we had an incredibly fruitful time that began with an in-depth reading of the words of Saint James: Religion that is pure and faultless in God’s eyes is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself clean from the corruption of the world. From there each of us – myself included – spent about twenty minutes drawing what that means – not only the aspect of helping those in distress, but what it means to keep oneself pure from all of the destruction and sin in our world – be it pride, love of money, hatred, materialism, lies, sexual impurity, etc. We then continued on with a writing exercise in their journals with a given open-ended prompt, followed by an exercise I have invented called Rapid Math, and finished with a logic game, all interspersed with dynamic dialogue about what it means to know and follow the True God.
Throughout my two-hour time with my students, I recalled my husband Darwin’s words that he spoke at his cousin’s home recently. His cousin, who is married, in his late fourties, and a very wealthy businessman, had asked Darwin sincerely about the life of Teresa Devlin, the elderly missionary under whom Darwin worked and was mentored by at La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory for over ten years. Darwin answered sincerely, “She spoke frequently and sincerely of Christ as she ran the Music Conservatory, but the majority of the students and teachers received the message of Jesus with deaf ears. I heard the message and was saved. Basically I am the product of her 15 years in Honduras, and her mission was fulfilled through my life.” I remember looking at my husband in a new way – and not only him but also the life of Teresa Devlin and God’s infinite and tireless power – with renewed awe, respect, and determination.
Even for just one, it is worth it. For one life turned toward Christ – even if it takes several years, frustration and despair over those who are lost, and daily struggle – it is worth it. Even if you or I or someone’s student or your grandchild or that terrible boss were the only human being alive on the face of the earth, Christ would have willingly died for that one person as He did for the multitudes. May we never judge our success, failure, or the value of our efforts on numbers.