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The Night of the Cockroaches

February 16, 2014

Bible teachers are often a hybrid sort.

We become not only classroom educators of the Scripture, but we also take on the role of youth pastor.  Often this simply takes the form of a counselor, but in many cases we become a “utility fielder” when the church needs someone to fill the empty youth ministry niche left open due to a departing leader.

This has happened to me, and it has made for some memorable moments.

Through the years it has been necessary for me to teach in some very … well, unique physical surroundings.  I have taught classes in an athletic weightlifting room, with gym equipment all around.  I held classes in a basement.  I taught a class in a locker room.  I have even led a class in a broom closet (the number of students was, quite obviously, small).  Often I did nimageot have the luxury, as do my co-laborers in the educational field, of a desk.  This brings to mind the very first teaching job I ever had, out in California.

As I had told you in an earlier post, I was not only teaching numerous Bible classes and coaching as well, I was also the church youth pastor.  The growing frustration was that I had absolutely no office or desk space for storage or records; everything was stored at my apartment or in the back seat of my car.   I had been promised one in my job interview, but due to one circumstance or another, this never came to fruition in my years at the school.  I literally carried my “office” around in the form of boxes, bags, and manila folders, much to the annoyance of many a staff member.  Numerous times I made requests for some sort of office anywhere on campus, and finally I was given one.

I was given a closet in the attic of the church.

It was previously used as a quick-change area for baptisms.

My desk was – I kid you not – two concrete blocks supporting a plank of wood.  A metal chair.  A tea lamp draped around a sixteen penny nail. A gaudy orange extension cord looping around the dusty floor.

Fast forward through the years and I recall explaining the book of Ruth, then noticing something out of the corner of my eye.  At that very same moment there came an explosion of screams and leaps from the sophomore girls on the right-hand side of the room.  We had mice. Plenty of ’em.

I’m not complaining, because it actually became sort of a treat in the successive weeks as the school made steps to deal with the issue of the mice population.  Jeremy, Tim and Josh could hardly wait for me to open the classroom door in the morning, bursting in and running to check the traps and see if there were any results.  Sort of like a weird rodent Christmas ritual.

But none of these tops the time when I was in the hybrid Bible teacher/youth pastor mode out in Arizona.  I had only recently come on board at the church/school – two weeks before, to be exact – and I was asked to take the reins of a trip for the youth group up to a summer camp in Colorado.

“I’m retiring as the youth pastor, and I want you to adjust to the group,” said Darrell.  “The trip itself, due to the necessity of skirting around the Indian reservation en route to our destination, will take two days of hard driving.”

“You’ll be driving the school bus?” I asked.  Darrell nodded and pointed to the van.  “I need you to drive the luggage van.  You’ll have about three teens in the van with you.”

“Okay,” I said.  “What’s our destination tonight?”

“Well,” said Darrell, “We have thirty teens who have spent all year saving for this trip, and we can’t afford hotels.  We’ve arranged to stay at a school’s facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We’re going to sleep in the gymnasium.”

We arrived in the city well after midnight, and I noticed that Darrell was imageespecially pale and fatigued.  Everything started off well enough as the janitor opened the gym for us and we piled into the building.  I was surprised, however, at the mounds of bags of garbage stacked at one wall.  “They had a tournament of some kind today, and they forgot to take the concession stand garbage to the dumpster.” He shrugged.  “We’ll get it tomorrow.”

The teens were tired and the chatting subsided as they washed up and crawled into their sleeping bags, but then Darrell staggered over.

“I’ve come down with the flu,” he gasped.  “I’m sick as a dog.  I’m going to go over to the school wrestling room and sleep on the mats and try to sweat this thing out.  Brad, you’re going to have to take over and get these kids to sleep.”

He stumbled into a side room and locked the door.  I turned to the teens.

“Everybody in?  Accounted for?” I asked.

Jim took a head count.  “All’s good, Pastor Brad.  Thirty is the number I got.”

“Great,” I said as I reached for the light switch.  “We have a big day of driving tomorrow so it’s important that we all get some sleep.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” called a girl from the other end of the gym.  “No horseplay.  I wanna sleep.”

I turned off the lights and slid into my sleeping bag.  The gym floor was hard,  but we were all worn out.

I was just starting to doze off  when I heard clicking.  Not shuffling or talking.  Clicking.

“Hey,” called Jim.  “Someone’s tickling me.”

“You guys, stop the horseplay,” yelled the girl from across the gym.  “I want to sleep.”

“There’s something in my sleeping bag,” cried Roberto.  “Somebody get a flashlight.”  Three teens complied.  The beams shot across the floor.  Everyone gasped – guys and girls – and screamed.

There were cockroaches. Dozens of them.  Hundreds of them.  They were running in and out of the garbage.  They were scurrying across the floor.  They were on Misha’s back.  They were coming out of Roberto’s bag.  They were darting around Brent’s hands.

“Invasion!” I hollered.  “Everyone head to the bleachers!”  In a mad rush we ran to the stands.  The situation was somewhat alleviated but not altogether solved;  some cockroaches followed us up into the bleachers.  Hardly anyone slept that night, as the gymnasium air was filled with either that cockroachian clicking sound or an occasional squeal from somewhere in the darkness.

“Enough of this,” snarled Jim. “If I’m going to be awake, I’m going to make them pay.”  Jim rounded up a group of wide-awake boys and formed a full-court hockey game by flashlight, using cockroaches as pucks.

I lay there, reflecting as I listened to cheers.  I thought of some of my former college mates who had escalated in their careers.  One was a successful broker in Manhattan.  Another was a high-profile lawyer in southern California.  And here I was, laying in a gymnasium and flicking away vermin.

I had to laugh.

As bad as it was I enjoyed it.

It brought to mind why I was a Bible teacher in the first place – to reach, educate and minister to young people.  I was reminded of the words of the great man Paul as he penned the words in his first letter to the Corinthians that “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  In this world’s quest, we are empowered by Jesus each to take a path of service … and advance.  I have chosen this path.  I want to glorify Jesus as I move along the path.

If that pathway includes doing office work on a board plank in an attic office, then I will do it.

If it includes being a hybrid worker with both counseling, teaching and clean-up responsibilities, well, I’ll remember that it’s what Jesus wants me to do.

If it includes lying in a gymnasium, flicking cockroaches off of me while I chat with a teen about his goals in life, I’m glad for the cockroaches.

Well, I’ll endure the cockroaches.  

Brrrrrrrrrrr.

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