A few weeks ago we began offering an optional “Christian Leadership” class on Tuesday afternoons for those students and laborers who wish to stay a bit late after their morning academic classes and deepen their walk with Christ.
We had the handwritten sign-up flyer taped to the external wall of our Education Building during the days leading up to the first class, and I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few names scribbled on the list. There would be no credits given for the class, and, moreover, the other after-school classes being offered – sports, art, music, cooking class, and math club – honestly presented a glossier, more alluring attraction to the majority of the students than another class about Jesus. I mean, all of our students already spend several hours each week in Bible study, praise and worship, and organized prayer groups. What teen or pre-teen previously accustomed to very little spiritual direction would voluntarily sign up for more?
On the morning of the first class I glanced at the sign-up sheet again, and to my surprise many of the names had been carefully covered up with white-out! The brightest students – and honestly those whom I’m closest to and who participate most in our twice-weekly Bible studies – had erased their own names from the list! I sighed and read the names that remained: generally lazy trouble-makers – bad students! – who I have to constantly reel in during Bible study! How could this be? Why on earth would they sign up for an intensive Christian leadership course while the others backed out last-minute? Why didn’t those wily, disobedient students just sign up for cooking class and sports club? Is this some kind of joke?
I headed to our bedroom, quite disappointed and wondering why so many students backed out last-minute. I gathered my teaching materials from our wooden bookshelf and began heading over to the 7th-grade classroom where I would hold the class. In passing I commented to my husband sarcastically: “Ha! Stanley [a 15-year-old 7th grade student who has a long record with us of disrespect, laziness, sexist jokes and general immaturity] signed up for Christian Leadership! And he’s constantly goofing off in Bible study. Why would he sign up for the class? I think he got confused with the sign-up sheets.¨
As soon as those venomous words came spewing out of my mouth I bit my lip, already regretting having said all that I did (or rather, having thought it in the first place).
So I exited through our front door, repentant for my judgment of Stanley and determined to ask God for a better perspective – His perspective. As I took the ten or eleven steps to reach our Education Building, Charlie, a very small 13-year-old in 7th grade (who also has a long history of clowning around, not passing his exams, etc), came running up to me and asked if it was too late to sign up for Christian Leadership.
I smiled warmly – Charlie had been in Darwin’s and my prayer group that morning – and told him we would be entering in 5 minutes and that he was welcome to join us.
I guided the 5 students who had signed up for Christian Leadership over to our kitchen to serve them rice and beans, and from there they carried their plastic bowls with them over to the classroom where we would be having our class.
Miraculously, rebellious Stanley had not slipped out our front gate unnoticed, escaping his commitment to the class. He was right there with the others, face unusually bright and open. I suppose I had still hoped that he had signed up for the wrong after-school class and would be erasing his name from the list as so many others had already done.
We entered the empty classroom, everything swept and cleaned – smelling of a strong yet pleasing cleaning liquid – after our 7th grade students had collaborated only a few minutes earlier to clean at the end of their schoolday.
Everyone sat down as we formed a tight semi-circle out of the desks, moving aside those that remained empty so as to create a sense of greater unity and less distraction. Miss Martha, our 56-year-old nurse and cook, came in, as she had also written her name on the sign-up sheet. A few moments later 22-year-old Miss Isis and 29-year-old Miss Ligia, our elementary and secondary teachers, also entered the class, eager to learn.
As Spanish praise and worship music played softly over the CD player – at times barely audible as the rains intensified over the tin roof of our Education Building – I considered the motley crew of eager disciples Jesus had chosen for this class: a woman in the autumn years of her life, a young single mom, a lawyer who left the world behind to take a low-paying job teaching troublesome rural teens for God’s glory, four teen boys (all of which are not generally classified as ‘good students’ and who have had their share of behavioral struggles with us), our 12-year-old daughter Josselyn (who had just entered third grade this past week after passing second grade with flying colors), and myself.
My mind listed about five or six names of students who would have been perfect for this class – those who actively participate in Bible study, those who actually show some interest in knowing God and obeying Him. Where were they?!
I sort of looked around, stupefied, waiting for at least one or two of the boys to stand up and leave once they realized this was a Christian Leadership class. No fun art projects; no tasty cooking experiments; no high-energy relays or trips to the local soccer field. Just the Bible, an open heart, a large whiteboard in front of us, and a journal for each person.
No one moved, not even Stanley.
My eyes met 15-year-old Brayan’s, our beloved prodigal son who is in fifth grade for the fourth time. Brayan – Brayan!, that now-almost-as-tall-as-me man child who lived with us for eight months a couple years ago, whom I used put to sleep at night, whom I read Lion King picture books to, who has the affectionate needs of a small boy, who can’t seem to ever ´get his act together´ and get on schedule with his homework assignments, who spends his free time wandering aimlessly around our rural neighborhood, who can´t seem to maintain a respectful attitude toward his step-mother, who even recently got mixed up in some bad decision-making – who even now, almost two years after having moved out of our home, still calls me “Ma” – this Brayan! – wants to learn to be a leader for Christ.
I get it, Father. They’re all here on purpose – You’ve carefully chosen each one and placed them here for a reason – and no one is leaving.
Your plans are always better than mine, Father.
With a big, genuine smile and an ‘okay-then!’ attitude, I let out a small laugh that probably only I understood and began displaying several brightly-colored notebooks on one of the desks in the middle so that each person would come and grab one.
The Spanish worship music continued in its majesty; rain trickled overhead, then pounded, then trickled again.
The Bible verse I scribbled in large print across the whiteboard that first class was this: ¨Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.¨ (1 John 2:6)
From there, everyone participated as they called out different aspects of the way Jesus lived. Perfect obedience to God, joy in the midst of difficulties, did not love money or seek happiness/security in it, willingness to suffer, did not consider this world to be His home, etc. I listened as I wrote frantically with arrows spouting out from the large-written verse, trying to keep up with all that was being said.
Then one of the teen boys mentioned with confidence, ¨Jesus spent time with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and the ´bad´ people – drug lords and thieves. He wasn´t scared of them, nor did He judge them.¨
Another one of the boys perked up, familiar with this teaching that we had all studied together in our community Bible study several months prior and added enthusiastically: ¨He came not for the ´good´ people but for the ´bad´ — those that recognize that they are bad, that is. We are all murderers, after all. He came to heal the sick – those that recognize they need a savior – and not for those who try to justify themselves!¨
As my long arm extended toward the whiteboard, instinctively trying to keep up with their right-on proclamations of the way Jesus lived, it hit me hard and clear: that´s why God has brought together such a motley crew of disciples for this class. These are the kids who recognize they need more of God; they are the ones who perhaps best associate with the God-man who sought out the lost, the robbers, the ‘bad guys’.
These are the same kinds of young men Jesus would have probably hand-picked to walk with Him 2,000 years ago.
I’m so foolish in my quick judgments and human standards!
Now I get it, Father. Thank you for revealing Your wisdom to the most unlikely.
Oh, throughout this year we had been so consumed with looking for ‘good students’, with finding bright youth from our neighborhood – those that display some real sense of leadership capability, those who already have good habits, fairly respectable personal hygiene and some pinch of academic work ethic. But the whole time our Father has been preparing the vagabonds – the ´bad´ teens, those that are a step or two away from falling into the gangs – to take hold of His Word with faith and be trained up willingly to go out and make more disciples for His glory.
So we continued onward with an attitude of great joy, mine rooted in deep thanksgiving, as we held dynamic discussions and participated in communal prayer.
We finished the class by reading the entire book of 1 John, which I believe none of the participants had previously read. Each person grabbed a Bible as some sprawled out on the tile floor to read while others remained in their desks or stood quietly by the open windows to take God’s Word in their hands and meditate.
The peace among us was so strong; a great calm overtook the room as soft sunlight poured in, the rain still trickling overhead, each person silently absorbing the great hope we have in a God who loves us enough to not give up on us, who goes so far as to die for our redemption, liberating us from the punishment we deserve. The rest of the world carried on with its business (busyness): our kids and students passing by the front porch, Darwin giving piano classes in an adjacent room, others involved in cleaning projects or group homework assignments or pick-up soccer games on the damp front lawn as God silently, efficiently, made His will known to each of His unlikely disciples.
That was four weeks ago; every Tuesday afternoon since then we have continued to meet, to open the Word together and learn what it means to submit ourselves to God’s will to such an extent that we become useful instruments in His hands, leaders to reach the nations with the Truth. Three additional students, also very unlikely disciples, have since joined our class as we continue onward with great hope that He will transform us – we who would be the last to be chosen for any great task the World could assign! – into powerful instruments in the Living God’s hands.
Amen! Glory to God!