“Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed foreign armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless- the world didn’t deserve them!- making their way as best they cold on the cruel edges of the world.” Hebrews 11:32-38
I teach the Book of Acts to the 9th graders at our school. I really did try to get out of this assignment, but it seems that I’m the only teacher who actually went to Bible College, so I was the obvious choice for teacher. Turns out, I’m really enjoying this class. It kind of reminds me of teaching Sunday School to our youth group kids all those years ago. But this class is distinctly different from our church youth group where the majority of the kids had grown up in church, hearing all the classic Bible stories over and over again until they were bored with them.
This class is made up of a wide variety of denominations, most are some flavor of Protestant, one is Catholic, one hasn’t decided if he really wants to follow Jesus or not. There are a handful of missionary kids, and the rest are Latinos whose parents want them to learn English. So my first question of the year was, “Who has read the book of Acts in the Bible?” Not one of them. As I teach, I weave back and forth between the Old and New Testaments showing parallels in other stories, discussing symbolism unique to Judaism, explaining cultural details that us Western thinkers often miss. The thing that is interesting to me is that if I were teaching this to our kids who grew up in church, they would be bored. They have heard this so many times. But for this class, most of these stories are new and ALL of the conclusions I present are revelations to them. And that’s exciting to me.
I love laying out new material. I love seeing the lights go on in their eyes, waiting for that “Ah-ha!” moment when it all clicks for them. I love watching the wheels start to turn in their minds as they are exposed to completely new thoughts. I love hearing them unravel a story and wind it back up again- making it theirs. I love that.
When we reached the point of the story where the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is stoned and then later Saul is converted. We “camped out” on these stories. We talked a lot about what it means to be a martyr and why the Lord allows Christians to die like that. We read stories about modern day martyrs and watched the movie “The End of the Spear”. Then I assigned them a paper about a martyr of their choice. This awakening of knowledge stirs the embers of passion into a flame. This age, kids can really seize upon a cause and wrap their hearts around it. They want to meet with ideas that challenge them to think and feel and question their own beliefs. This is a good age to stoke the flames of dedication.
The potential to change the world that sits latent in those desks in my class room is just staggering to me. Will the world find itself unworthy of any of my students? I hope so. I hope that some day these kids will look back on their 9th grade year as the year when they decided to get serious about their relationship with God- to really “go for it” and “give their all”. If you can look death in the face and know where you will end up once the battle is over, then you have robbed death of its power of intimidation over you. You won’t fear death. Death comes to us all. Will the world which is unworthy of your life, look you in the face as you die and sigh because it could not conquer you?