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The Students Who Refused to Give Up

February 18, 2014

It’s great to get back into the classroom.

It’s been almost a week since we’ve had class, due to the school canzockollroom 1cellations because of snow.  I unlocked the door  at 6:30 this morning and smiled as I took a glance around at the utilitarian white-brick walls of my classroom.  How do I describe how I feel about this room?  I’ve been in here for years, and I’ve never grown tired of the place. God has done things I never would have imagined.

As I picked up my mail in the front office, some senior students came by and asked what I might be writing about in my blog today. I had to admit that I wasn’t sure at the moment, but later on as I sat proctoring while the Bible students took tests, my mind wandered back to a very poignant memory within the classroom, occurring a handful of years ago…

Karen and Lisa were like two peas in a pod, although they looked nothing like each other.  One had short, dark hair and a smattering of freckles.  The other had long blond hair and high cheekbones.  Both were extremely neighborly and forthright; no pettiness or Barbie-doll demeanor here.  They both had a neighbor-across-the-fence kind of talk between each other that was enjoyable to hear.  From the first day they came into my class they were a delight.

“Say, Dr. Zockoll – am I pronouncing that right, ‘zah-kall’? – are we really gonna study the whole New Testament?” asked Lisa as she plopped down her books and gazed around the room. “‘Cause that’s what I wanna do.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” I said.  “We aim to please.”

“You’re funny,” chuckled Karen, sitting behind Lisa and poking her in the back and pointing at me.  “He’s funny.”

“I heard him,” said Lisa, frowning.  “I’m closer to him than you are.”

I soon discovered that Lisa and Karen were an extension of one of the most entertaining classes I would have up to that point in my career.  Now, I’ve always felt that each person is a novel waiting to be read, and I generally find people fascinating, but this class exceeded even my optimistic views. Anyone who says that Christian schools are dull has no idea of the delightful diversity of characters on campus every year, and this group took it to a higher plane.

Lisa and Karen’s classroom held a virtual New York Public Library of characters.  Practically every student was a little caricature of life.

Mona was a softball player who was so intense in class that she gritted her teeth throughout the lessons.  In fact, she bit clean through a pen once.  Milton sat in a corner and sketched sci fi dragons and warlords whenever there was a break in the class.   Newt, Harley and Chuck could have hosted a radio program on PBS, such was their wit and intellect.  Alex had a fixation on open-hand smacking Junior’s head every time he needed to make a point.  Junior didn’t seem to mind.

And Doug.  Ah, Doug.

Doug had a habit of talking just for the sake of talking.  It was both disconcerting and yet intriguing.  You couldn’t help but be fascinated by the sheer mess of words that cascaded over your ears.  He would start on a story – this was a daily routine – and soon you’d see his eyes wander toward a far corner of the room (or universe, for that matter) and he would just talk.  And talk.  And talk.   Doesn’t matter what the subject.  His truck.  The weather.  A video clip on CNN.  My Little Pony.  People would even walk away from him and he would stand there, still talking.  A veritable jukebox of vocabulary.  A thesaurus that leaked audibly.

Oh, there were others, but Lisa and Karen were the two young ladies who brightened my day with an unusually sunny yet genuine greeting.  Funny thing – every day they hailed me it was as if they had been practicing their lines for a theatrical presentation.  Not stilted, but very emotive.  They tickled me with their opening statements:

“I so look forward to this class, and I sincerely hope you’ve been having a wonderful day so far…”

“How are you doing, sir?  We want you to know that this has been a very good week for us.”

“Well, then Dr. Zockoll, how are you today – are you in good health?”

“It’s Friday, Dr. Zockoll.  Do you and the missus have plans for the weekend?”

There was one little hitch in their stint in my classroom, however – both were doing miserably grade-wise.  I initially attributed the early poor quiz and test marks to beginning-of-the-year adjustments, or even a case of examination yips. Soon, though, I realized that they were not grasping the Koine Greek vocabulary, the books of the Bible, or even simple Scriptural themes.  They were not lazy; this was a serious problem of understanding even the simplest concepts.

As I was returning quiz grades, Karen frowned at yet another ‘F’. Lisa looked at her poor showing and choked.  “I just can’t get this.  The doctrines, the Koine Greek, the apostle stuff.   I try, but I can’t.”

“Yes, you can, ma’am.”  I said.  “The Scripture is fantastic – and the truths are so powerful that I’m not going to let you bypass what God is trying to say to you.  I will help you in every way I can, but I assure you, you can get this.”

Karen set her jaw.  “And we will.”

In the coming weeks I noticed a tandem endeavor of a slow climb up the mountain, but not in a Sisyphusian way.  The two girls were not just straining at the educational process for the sake of routine, or even mere grades. They really wanted to learn the Bible.

On one occasion Karen’s hand raised in class.  “You used that Greek word brephos when you talked about an unborn child.  Could that be applied in an argument against abortion?”

“Yes, Karen, it could,” I said.  “In fact, we will be talking about just that application next week.”

“Good,” she said, nodding her head.  “I have a friend who is a Christian and is very confused about this issue.  I want to learn as much about this as possible.”

On another occasion it was Lisa who leaned forward with a question:  “I see that the writer John wrote the book of Revelation from a cave, and yet he was supposed to be imprisoned.  Was the cave covered with bars?”

“No, but he may have been covered with chains.  Besides, Patmos was a prison colony island.  There were guards, and you must remember, this man was around 90 years old.”

She was visibly shaken.  “Chaining a 90 year old man just for preaching the Bible.  I would have tried to storm the island and free him.  Do you think anybody tried to help him escape?”

Her imagination led to a good discussion. In fact, both Lisa and Karen would ask numerous off-the-wall questions that would always begin with “Now, this may sound like a stupid question, but…”  Yet I never felt they were trying to get attention or stall time.  They genuinely wanted to understand.

They asked questions from all angles.  Boaz sent food to Ruth – why not  flowers as well?  That’s what a gentleman would have done.

Where do you think the toilet was on Noah’s ark, or did they just go over the side?

What appearance did Lucifer give himself when he tempted Jesus?  Because Jesus already knew what he looked like…

Their in-class participation was phenomenal. They were scoring high marks in that area.  It was just these exams, and a huge one was coming up in three days.  “I’m not a very good test-taker,” sighed Lisa, shrugging her shoulders.

“Ma’am, do you want to go on to college?” I asked.

“Well, yes.  certainly,” she replied.

“Do you think you will be tested there?” I continued.

“Y-yes…” She was thinking.

“And,” I pushed, “Do you think those tests will be easier than what I’m giving you now?”

“No..” she answered.

I teased. “Do you think those professors could in any way be kinder than I could be?”

She grinned and shook her head.

“So why don’t we take apart these problems one by one and see where the intimidation factor is – and then pulverize the fear, okay?  Lisa, ‘God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.’ You were not given a gift of learning to be afraid, but you were given a gift to excel intellectually and spiritually in the Bible.””

Karen came over and put her arm around Lisa.  “We’ve got some serious studying to do.  Pray for us, sir.” And she yanked Lisa right out of the room.

And so the day came.  Lisa entered with red eyes.  I could see that she had been crying.  Karen’s jaw was set.  I could see that she was angry.  I slid the test papers to each student and Karen grabbed hers.  “Let’s do this,” she growled.  Lisa pulled hers toward herself with a shaky hand.

The minutes went by.  The clock ticked. The bell rang.  I collected the papers.  That night I graded them.

The next day I passed back their test papers, folded, not saying a word.  Both girls opened their papers almost simultaneously.

To this day I can remember the word that described their smiles.

Radiant. 

Karen looked up and nodded proudly.  “A 91 percent.  I made it. I made it.”

Lisa was ecstatic.  “I made a ‘B’, Dr. Zockoll!  An 89!  I got a ‘B’!”  I won’t say she hugged the paper, but she came close.  She looked around the room and grinned a million-dollar smile that was so magnificent that it came close to persuading me to march to the office and sign a ten-year contract for no pay.

Radiant.

Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for the memory.

It’s great to get back into the classroom.

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