Recently we had the pleasure of seeing a task completed here on the mission field. We don’t always see the immediate fruit of our labors, so this was particularly sweet for us. This past Sunday we dedicated a bathroom to the service of God’s House. I know, we’ve reached new heights! This is our second term as missionaries, so see what all you first term-ers out there have to look forward too? Not everyone is qualified to do such work. But in all seriousness, this day was one of those days when I felt like I was doing what I was made to do.
Last year our last team of the summer was from Brandon, Florida. We brought the team out to a poor little church on the edge of town. The sanctuary is nothing but 4 concrete block walls and a hot tin roof. Next to the sanctuary is a dilapidated shack that the congregation was using as a Sunday School room, a make shift kitchen and a single stall bathroom for the whole church. It was barely standing on its own. The church had been told that since it was obviously not up to code, they would have to build a bathroom or close their doors.
The heart strings of the team were touched. When they went back home, they presented this need to their congregation and they raised $5,000 to give to the church for the bathrooms and whatever other renovations were needed to bring it up to code. The poor little church was beside itself with happiness. At Christmas time, we brought the money into the country and delivered it to the pastor, who we highly trust. In 22 days the church members constructed two bathrooms on the back of the property and were working on various projects to make the whole place handicap accessible, by Latin American standards.
But the amazing thing has been the response of the community. In this past month of working on the building, they have almost doubled in attendance. One man who lives down the street from the church would never speak to the pastor. He was recently released from jail again. With some of the money from the team, the pastor hired this ex-con to help with the construction of the bathroom. Now his opinion of the pastor and the church is quite different than it had been in the past. He is open to hearing what the pastor has to say.
This bathroom is more than a place to relieve the call of nature, it has brought dignity and respectability to the church in that community. It has financially met a felt need of the workers who were hired to demolish the old and build the new, and it has been a source of pride for the church members themselves who now feel that they have worth and dignity. No longer must they squat in a scary, dirty shack that shakes and shutters with every gust of wind. Now they have a lovely facility that is even handicap accessible for those in the community with such needs… and there are many.
So we had the privilege of going out to the church to get video and photos for the church in Florida who are excited to see the results of their giving. But more importantly, we felt the pride of the pastor and the church who built his with their own hands, and it is beautiful.
“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?
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.