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While I walked, he shouted at me.

March 6, 2018

7I can recall the noise he made as we walked.  The more silent I became the louder he became…

I am often asked about my most precious memory in my years in the classroom.  There are many, but perhaps the most touching recollection I have was one that actually was outside of the classroom.

Chad was a senior but was not ready to graduate.  I don’t mean that in the sense of academics, for his grades were more than adequate.  It wasn’t a scholastic problem.  It was … well, a troubled spirit within him.  I noticed it, other teachers noticed it, students noticed it.  At the time, he was not a student in my class, but a number of compassionate students approached me about the problem they saw.

“Chad’s deeply troubled,” they’d tell me.  “He wants to talk.  He said he wouldn’t mind meeting you about it.  Do you have any free time?”  I didn’t have any open hours, but both Chad and I shared the same lunch time.  I made contact with him and we agreed to meet.

At this particular school, lunch is carried on both indoors and outside.  The school borders a nice stand of trees and the scenery is great during the spring, so Chad met me on the side lawn, eschewing any lunch.  “I want to talk,” he said, frowning. “I have a real problem with the idea of a God.  I want to get it off my chest.”   I could tell the agitation was strong enough that he could barely sit.

“Let’s walk,” I suggested.  He nodded.  So we trudged a path around the perimeter of the school as he talked and I chewed on an apple.

He began to shout.  “People always want a label.  Okay, you want a label?  Call me an atheist,” he yelled.  “I just don’t get this God thing!  Atheism’s the only answer I have, what with all the problems of God in this world, in the face of all the evil and the deceit within man…”  He went off on a litany of arguments, flailing his arms in the air.  We circled the building, step by step.  Occasionally, he glanced at me. I could tell that he expected a blow-by-blow debate.

“Chad,” I finally said, “you’re half-expecting some cliches or well worn anecdotes in order to ease each concern.  I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to incubate these arguments and we’re going to take them one by one, until you are completely satisfied.  So keep talking. Or yelling.”  And so he did.  Yelled, I mean.

And I kept eating apples.

For days and weeks, we paced that yard – I’m surprised we didn’t wear a pathway into the grass – while the sympathetic students respectfully ate their lunch and kept a distance so that Chad could have his privacy.  He steamed, huffed, swore and ranted.  Each time, however, the agitation eased up a little bit.

I cannot tell you how many apples I ate during those walks.

After two weeks, his shouting toned down significantly.  He wanted to discourse now. I walked through the Scriptural answers that Chad could research and scrutinize.  Lap after lap we would walk the pathway, discussing each concern deep within his heart.  We went over the prophecies, cosmology, morality, Romans chapter 1, C.S. Lewis, Einstein…

“Ah,” he said, waving his hands one day.  “I’m not an atheist.  Agnostic is a better word for it.  I’m just not sure.”

“Well,” I said as we rounded a corner of the building, “let’s talk until you’re sure.”  He responded with another avalanche of questions, and yes, complaints.  Theology, theodicy, Darwin, Goethe, Pascal, John 3:16, immutability…

After two weeks, when we met, he glanced across the yard and shoved his hands in his pockets.  “I guess you could call me a theist,” he said with a set jaw.  “Argue as I might, there’s no reasonable way to think there’s not a God.  Can we walk?”  And so we did. And the discussions were just as passionate and deep.

A week later, he strolled over to me and we fell into a pace again.  “I’m seeing some light.  I’m … well , things are becoming clearer. ”  We talked. Eschatology, cults, missionary Nate Saint, salvation…

Then Chad didn’t want to walk anymore.  He didn’t show up at lunch time.  I didn’t see him for over a month.

Then on the last week of school, he stopped me in the main lobby of the school.

“I want you to know,” he said, looking directly into my eyes, “that I’ve put it all together.  Things fell into place after I sorted them out.  I became a Believer.  What I mean is, I accepted Jesus Christ.  I let Him take me over.”  He grabbed me and gave me a bear hug. We both cried.  “I’ll miss you,” he said.

It registered deep in my heart that day that a large part of a Bible teacher’s reach often extends beyond the classroom.

It could include a little stroll around the grass.

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