I teach 5th grade in a Christian school here in Costa Rica. Half of my students are Costa Ricans and half are Americans. The overwhelming majority of my teaching is in English, with constant consideration for the students learning in a second language. Often I translate an unknown word directly into Spanish for a confused student. Other times I ask my students what the Spanish word for such-and-such word is. And whenever I let the kids chat with their friends my Spanish speakers always revert to their Mother Tongue. (Sometimes they forget that I can understand them when they’re speaking Spanish, so that’s amusing.) Sometimes I wonder if certain lessons really connect with my Spanish speakers.
Because we are in a Christian school, we have Bible class a few days a week. In general, I have found that my students know very few of the classic Bible stories- except for a couple of my missionary kids who grew up in church. Names like Abraham, Joseph, Ruth and Saul are virtually unknown. Yesterday I told the story of Lot and Abraham choosing land for their flocks. I said, “Lot chose the good land around Sodom” and a boy asked, “What’s Sodom?” He had never heard of the original Sin City. I blame this on a lack of Sunday Schools in Latin American churches. I feel the responsibility to teach them what they are missing. The majority of my teaching time is spent telling the stories that I grew up on in Sunday School. I kind of enjoy it.
At the end of our lesson yesterday was a brief story about the classic church hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus”. (I don’t know if this song has ever been translated into Spanish or not, but hymns are NOT popular in the Latin Churches now days.) The lyrics of the song were printed on the page after a description of how it was written. Scanning the lyrics, I got a lump in my throat. Years and years of Sunday School music and stories filled my mind with sweet memories of church. The old hymns carved deep grooves into my young, supple theology. I quietly asked the kids if they wanted me to sing the song for them.
I closed my eyes and started singing the well known words of the great hymn. Some of the children sang or hummed along with me, some sweetly and childishly out of tune. The peace of the Holy Spirit came down on us in that room. When we were done singing, one boy said it was “like a lullaby”. That’s how he described the peace he felt.
Another boy, who is probably my most “random” child, asked if I had ever heard that song before. I couldn’t resist messing with him. I sarcastically replied, “No, I just made that up right now.” The whole class groaned and laughed together at my joke. It was a great note to end the day on.
I’ve been thinking about that song ever since. Yes, I’d rather have Jesus than anything.