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Strange Does Not begin to Explain This…

February 17, 2014

I have had some puzzling students over the years.

Lila fancied herself a country music star but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Jordan wanted to transfer out of our school so bad he kept fainting.

Kim kept trying to put on makeup in class, complete with mirror and powder.  She was unable to understand why this was wrong.1a

But the top of the list was Frederick.  Even though he graced my class over a dozen years ago, the memory of this young man still stays fresh in my mind.  Even as I type these words, I still shake my head when I recall the year that Frederick was a pupil at our school.

It all started when I got a call one morning and was asked to meet some parents who were enrolling their boy into our sophomore class.  They wished to meet me in private, asking me to meet them off-campus and away from anyone – the secrecy intrigued me.  When I arrived at their temporary living quarters,  I shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. “Tate” and learned that they were missionaries in France.  Both were Americans – Mr. Tate was lean and athletic and Mrs. Tate was quite petite and demure, and both were all smiles as they served me coffee.   They explained that they wished to bring their son to our school for a year while they went back to their home base and ministered in the field.

“That’s quite a sacrifice, being away from your son for a whole school year.” I said.  “What type of ministry do you have, Mr. Tate?”

“It’s a surfing ministry,” he replied, smiling.

“A … surfing … ministry?” I repeated stupidly.

“Yes,” he nodded.  “My work is on the beach.  There are many non-Christians in France – a very atheistic country, you know – and many who wish nothing more than to just entertain their lives away.  So, I join them.  I surf the days with them and befriend them.  I work toward building their trust and possibly get a chance to talk about God with them. But that’s the way I minister, by surfing.”

I was trying to process this.  Well, I reasoned, different people groups need doors opened different ways…

“The reason why we wanted to talk with you is that we want you to take Frederick as your son,” said Mrs. Tate.

I nearly spit my coffee on the table.  “You don’t even know me. Y-you want me to adopt sixteen-year-old Frederick?” I sputtered.

“Well, in a way, yes,” said Mr. Tate.  “Take him into your home.  Make him your family.  Discipline him when he needs it.”

“You will be his father.  You have full rights,” said Mrs. Tate, nodding.

I was totally taken aback.  “Um, I am … er, honored that you would ask me, b-but I cannot… I have two teenage sons at home, and my wife has just been diagnosed with a disease …our house is very small… ” Finally, I shook my head and raised my hands determinedly. “No. No, I am afraid that cannot work.  There are too many variables involved.  I could not take on the responsibility.”

“Oh,” Mr. Tate shrugged flippantly.  “That’s okay.  We just wanted to ask.”

I was thrown by the casualness in the response.  What was going on here?

“But we must tell you that you will be teaching a boy who is a genius.  Clever.  Intellectual.  His grades amaze us,” said Mrs. Tate, tapping her finger on the table. “He has made straight A’s since kindergarten.  Academically, he will leave your class behind in a very short time.”  She sat back.

“A prodigy?” I was intrigued.  “He has had deep Bible teaching as well as the other fields of study?”

Mr. Tate grinned.  “Bible was one of his top subjects.  We had him homeschooled while in France and he was so gifted we stopped tutoring him, just let him go through his books on his own.  He would fly through the study manuals in no time.  He had a full 100% for years.”

This was going to be a new turn to my school year.  A young scholar gifted in the Scriptures…

Frederick was in my class the next week.  We gave the lanky, bushy-haired fellow a warm welcome and I resumed the previous week’s study on the book of John.  Frederick grew still.  He sat staring at the notes on the screen, never taking a note at all.  I watched him out of the corner of my eye.  I had taught prodigies in times past, and each was intriguing in their own way.  Did this boy have a photographic memory? Would we be going too slow for him?

He raised his hand.

“If you write a book and it has Scriptures in it, does that mean you’re trying to start a cult?”

I didn’t grasp his question.  “Run the question by me one more time, Frederick.  Do you mean if someone tries to distort Scripture for their own gain?”

“No,” he replied.  “If they try to use the Bible in their book at all.”

“Well,” I said, scratching my head, “there are books that are devotionals that cite Scriptural references, if that’s what you mean.  In fact, I’ve published two books myself that use Scriptural references, so if you are asking if someone uses Bible verses as source material, no, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is trying to distort it…”

“Well, here’s the thing,” he said as all the class listened.  “My mom is finishing up a book and it has Bible verses in it.  I think she’s trying to start a cult.”

That was Frederick’s first assertion in class.  You could have heard a pin drop.

“Well… why don’t you and I talk about that after class and I’ll try to answer your question in a more detailed way… ” I tried to regroup.  “Um, let’s all turn to the book of John and go to the fourth chapter…”

Everyone got out their Bibles and promptly turned to the passage.  Except Frederick.  He turned to Dwight and whispered something and Dwight gave a small quiet explanation about something.

After class, Dwight approached me.  “Sir, I think there may be something a bit off about our new student.”

“Oh, you mean the cult confusion?” I asked.

“No, besides that.  I mean, you saw when he was asking me something in class?” Dwight shook his head.  “That was because he didn’t know how to find the book of John in the Bible.”

I stepped back.  Frederick, the prodigy…

“Even more,” said Dwight.  “When I told him it was the fourth book in the New Testament, he didn’t know what the New Testament was…”

It didn’t take long for me to figure out the deal.  Frederick had been hornswoggling his parents … for years, for all I know.  Having been a former author with a homeschooling publishing company, I was familiar with the curriculum he had been using while in France.  The books had the answers in the back section.  Somehow his parents were unaware of this, and when they would leave the room, Frederick would race like wildfire to copy answers from the back section.  Who knows how long he kept us this ruse?  I discovered that he knew nothing about the Bible.  Adam and Eve.  Moses.  The book of Matthew.  Prophecies.  The Psalms.  Nothing.

And he never did bring up the question about his mom starting a cult.  This was going to be a very interesting year.

The next week during my free period I went to the teacher’s coffee machine and there stood Frederick, sipping away.

“Beg pardon, why are you here, sir?” I asked.

“Oh,” he smiled at me.  “I wanted a coffee break.  Coffee’s big in France, so I got into the habit.”

“Do you have a class right now?”

“Yes, algebra.”

I took the cup from him and gestured to the door.  “You’re required to be in that class, Frederick.  This isn’t a home schooling schedule, and the rules of this academy is that you are to be in class.”

“I know, but I wanted to get a coffee…”

“Go.  Now.”

He seemed openly perplexed that I would enforce a rule.

He never took offense at my discipline; rather he came to me quite often for chats now and again before and after school.  Once, he ran alongside me during my afternoon ritual of jogging the school track.  I glanced at him.  “Frederick, what did you do to your eyebrow?”  Half of his right eyebrow was shaved off.  Exactly half.

“Oh,” he chuckled.  “It’s a way to meet the ladies.”  In reality,  I found out it was a way to make the ladies fall down and guffaw.  He started doing odd things that he legitimately thought would bring him fame and admiration.  Frederick attempted to socialize himself on his own terms.  The students reached out to him but, no, he insisted on determining the rules of affair. He would walk into a geography class – skipping his own –  and ask a girl out, verbally and loudly.  She would, after overcoming her intense embarrassment, rebuff him every time.  He would write elaborate pages-long notes in History class, explaining to a girl why she should be his girlfriend during his tenure in the U.S. – she owed him.  And he would continually walk out of class to go get coffee.

He was setting a record with detentions.  He might as well have set up an apartment here at the school, he was staying late so many times.

And all the while he was failing Bible miserably.  His tests were disasters.  I tutored.  I coached.  I adjusted the questions.  No progress.  It wasn’t so much that he was failing as he was dismissive about everything.  Frederick assured me of his salvation and his trust in Christ as Savior, but his lifestyle was so confusing to us all.  Rules were more of a curiosity to him.  Social integration was approached like walking into a candy store; he’d pick and sample.  One day his shirt collar was pulled straight up.  The next day it was tucked completely inside his shirt.  The next day his left pant leg was rolled up above his knee.  The next day he’d come to school barefoot. He took a Sharpie marker and gave himself a beauty mark on his cheek. He’d ask out three girls for the same date all at once and become puzzled when the three were insulted.

We teachers worked hard to help him adjust.  He found us curiously amusing, as he did all things.  And through all of this, he liked me immensely.  I just could not reach into the fellow’s heart.

In late April, Mr. Tate arrived back and bounced into my room.  “So how has my boy been doing?”

I gestured for him to sit at a desk next to me,  “Bad.  Very bad. Mr. Tate, we’ve been trying to contact you for months.  Frederick is failing all of his classes,  especially Bible.”

“Ah,” he scoffed as he plopped down.  “So he’s a little low in the average…”

“Mr. Tate, Frederick is averaging a 39% in this class,” I pointed to the grade book.  “From here on out, he could ace every quiz and test I give and still not even reach a ‘D’ in this class by the end of the year.”  I explained the lack of Bible knowledge, and how Frederick had been cheating his way through middle and high school in his homeschooling.  “I continually work with him on Bible verse memory, but when the quizzes and tests come around, it’s like he never saw the verse at all.”

“Bah! I don’t see what it is with you and the verse memory,” said Mr. Tate, waving his hand.  “This obsession with Scripture, I don’t get it. ”

I was stunned. This is a missionary?  “It’s the basis of this class.  It’s God’s Word,” I replied.  “It’s the very foundation of why I’m a Bible teacher.”

Mr. Tate looked at me as if I were an alien arriving in a spaceship.  I then knew where Frederick’s problem originated.

The Tates withdrew Frederick  and we never saw him again.  They left the mission field in France.

Three months later I came home to a voice message on my answering machine.

“This is Frederick.  I wanted to let you know we started a new ministry, after we left France.  We moved to Los Angeles – you ought to see the surfing here!  I go with my dad and we surf all day, up and down different beaches….”


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  1. Neil Horlock permalink

    Hey Brad, I’ve tried commenting before and never quite could get things straight because of my inability to use a finger as a typewriter and therefore messed up several times on my entry and subsequently lost everything that I had typed. I gave up and left it until now. So, here I try again. My identification with the attitude of “Frederick” and Mr. Tate is so very typical of the surfer mindset. I don’t know if you recall but I grew up surfing Southern California. They really do have a laissez-faire attitude towards life in general. As much as I wanted to maintain this attitude I knew it would not get me very far in the real world. And on top of that my dad did take the time to teach me a good work ethic. Mr. Tate did indeed have a difficult task in ministering or reaching out to surfers especially in France.

    I try to read your blogs post when I can and don’t get to read them all but I’m enjoying the ones I have read. I’m glad for you that God has allowed you to minister and impact the lives of young people and I pray that God will continue to bless you.



    P.S. Sorry I never got to stop by and visit when we had family living near Knoxville (they now reside in Maryland)

    • Neil, thank you for your insightful comments. That helps shed a light on Mr. Tate’s work… I just wish the man had a conviction about using God’s Word in his ministry, and especially with his son.

      I’ll always remember what a great help you were to me in college, Neil, when I tore out my ACL and was down for the count. Thanks for your giving spirit.

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