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Teaching can be messy

August 2, 2018

1This is the second day of Teacher In-Service training here at Grace Christian Academy.  Everyone’s jotting notes on how best to understand the directions on emergency janitorial calls, access to payroll, out-of-class specialized learning, further professional development and day-to-day business operations. All faculty members – elementary, middle and high school – have gathered for multiple workshops and information seminars so that we may learn both new resources and re-hash the things we’ve forgotten over the summer.   We’re being prepared.

And fed.

We’re getting real good food.

I’ve been asked more than once today:  “Are you excited about school starting next week?”

And my answer is “no.”

Don’t judge too quickly yet.  Let me explain through a lesson I learned years ago.

My mind goes back many years ago when I spent the summer as a team leader of a middle school Christian camp in northern Ohio.  It was a great outreach; we had a huge ministry to the children all over the state, many of whom would come free of charge, thanks to generous sponsors.  We workers settled into our various cabins early in June and sat down to the Orientation Week that prepared us for the kids who would be coming to the camp very soon; the pre-camp workshops were packed with college-age young people who were  eager and energetic.

Doug was assigned to head up one half of the camp.  They would be designated the Navy.  I was to be in charge of the remaining cabins; my team was the Army.  We each went to our respective sides of the camps not only to do more training but also to become better acquainted with the counselors who would be working alongside us.

Twenty-one year-old Matty was a young slim man with brown-rimmed glasses, an engaging smile and a sparkling enthusiasm of the summertime adventure to come. He, by far, was my most outgoing team member.

His girlfriend had told me earlier in the week about his excitement.  “Matty has been preparing for this for months.  He was the first applicant for the counselling job.  You’re going to see an all-star leader this summer!”

He came up to me, fairly bouncing in his happiness.  “Brad, I can’t wait for them to arrive,” he gushed. “I’ve done all the assignments that you said were necessary, but I did some extra stuff, too.  Wanna see it?”

I was intrigued by this fellow’s excitement.  “Sure, Matty.  What’s this poster here?”

Matty beamed.  “Hey, I had an idea to make a secret code and put the whole decoding instructions on my poster.  And this,”  he pointed to a small placard above the doorway, “this here is the slogan:  We never quit.  We always conquer.  Like it?”  I nodded.

He held out his hand in a sideways twist.  “I invented something else.  Look at it.  Here’s my secret handshake.”  He continued to show me songs he had written, prizes he created and other cabin-members-only items that would make his small team of eight kids especially unique.  Now, through the years, I had seen quite a few creative people, but Matty’s excitement added to his ingenuity.  I had to admit, I was impressed.

He kept bumping into me all week in the lunch line or near the swimming pool with the same words:  “Can’t wait until they get here.  This summer, I’ll have the best cabins this camp has ever seen.”

Matty was happy, excited, elated, and even jumpy with anticipation.

Right up to the day that the kids set foot on the campsite.

I’m not going to bore you with details about how it all started, but things went sour for Matty from the first hour.   The kids, well, they didn’t like him.

Not one bit.  Almost from the first time they met.

At dinner that night I stepped outside and I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was Matty.

I turned around.

“What, Matty?”

He looked at me with a deep furrowed brow.  “That’s it.  I’m heading home.  I’m done.”

I was stunned.  “This is the first day of camp, man.  We’re understaffed as it is.  You can’t go home.”

He jerked his thumb back at the dining room.  “They jump into mud.  They shove each other and burp out loud.  They didn’t clean up the lunch  table.  They sass me back.  They don’t listen to my Bible teaching.  I’m through, I tell ya.”

I looked over his shoulder at his kids at their dining table.  As they wolfed down the food, they cheerily waved at me and glared at the back of his head.  They got along with everyone else.  Except Matty.

I took him to the side.  “Matty, that’s the very reason you’ve been called to this camp ministry.  This is what all the instruction and counseling and preparation has been about.  These kids need you to help them.  They need Christ.”

He snorted.  “They didn’t tell me they were gonna be like this.”  He shuffled back into the dining area and sat at the edge of the bench but didn’t look at his kids.

He lay outside the cabin that night and slept.  On night patrol, I found him and sent him back inside.  I glanced around the cabin. The kids were asleep.

No poster.  No placard.

He never bothered with the song or handshake, I later discovered.

Matty hung on for the rest of the week, finally grinning – as the kids left the camp on the bus.  No amount of my counselling  – or anyone else’s – could get rid of his sour disposition.

It was within the next week that, in a fit of rage over an unexpected rainstorm, he left his kids on the other side of the camp, ran down the trail and burst into the front office.  I am not making this up.  With a roar of rage and a leap toward the desk, he swept all of the papers off of the desk, strewing forms and receipts all over the floor.

The administration relieved him within a few days.

You see, Matty was excited.  But not prepared.

That’s why emotions are very secondary right now.  Not all things will be in apple-pie order this year.  I must be ready for the messy times, times of students’ emotional imbalance and unpredictability.  Times when students are disheartened or even angry.  Romantic relationships and sports disappointments.  Misunderstandings between friends or a problem from home that is carried into the classroom.  Fear of loneliness. Fear of death.

What do these have to do with a Bible teacher?


God above, strengthen me.  I know that if my heart is not spiritually prepared and empowered by the love and guidance and direction of the Lord God Himself, this is a wasted effort.  I will be a run-of-the-mill teacher puttering kids through a required class in a very nice private school.

I know that the Holy Spirit can give me proper words, set my mood, soften my emotions, give me boldness at the right time.

It’s not just buoyant happiness.  It’s a Christ-glorifying determined ministry within four walls of instruction.  That ministry comes in accordance to the will of God for the precious soul of every student who comes through my classroom door.

Am I getting excited?

I am getting ready.

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