I’m now in the middle of my second year teaching an energetic group of third graders. Our church offers a Wednesday after-school program, and last year I cautiously agreed to be a teacher. You can read a few of my initial thoughts here.
Looking back I can clearly see this was something I was being called to do, but I have to be honest. I didn’t immediately listen and step forward to help. After vaguely noticing a plea for volunteers in the bulletin it took a personal ask before I even thought about it. When you’re asked personally it requires an answer, and eventually I knew it should be yes.
As you probably know, JR and I don’t have any kids yet. I’ve spent most of the last decade learning about spreadsheets, theories, and economics at college and working with adults and animals on a farm. I used to volunteer more with youth programs in high school, but it feels like quite a while ago. As an almost thirty-something I wondered what I could possibly have to offer these kids.
Would they listen to me? Could I reach them?
The answers, as it turns out, are “Plenty,” “Sometimes,” and “Yes,” respectively.
Kids mostly want to be listened to, feel valued and secure, and have some fun along the way. Humanity, old and young, is very much the same in that respect.
I’m just one person in one church in one small classroom, but somehow teaching has actually made the world seem more hopeful to me. Instead of feeling insignificant I am reminded God is working through me every time I pray with my class or help them discover a new bible story. Sure, I may struggle with being patient, finding enthusiasm, and discipline at times, but God still wants to use imperfect me. If I listen he can lead.
This week during lesson time we learned about Jacob wrestling with God. My students all liked the action of the story, and the boys already immersed in youth wrestling especially listened well.
If you want to remind yourself of the story check out Genesis 32! Jacob wants a blessing from The Lord after they struggle through the night, and The Lord gives him something else too. Jacob gets a new name. Israel.
After the story I had each student pick a word they identified with from a short list. Then they were supposed to pick a corresponding name from a separate list. Lots of important traits like “truthful,” “generous,” and “kind” were listed, but I was happily surprised when two of the girls in my class chose “brave.”
There is no reason they shouldn’t pick brave, but for some reason I didn’t expect them too. I hope that word will stay with them through the crazy teenage and high school years.
I also had to silently giggle when a small boy who picked “strong” chose the name Gertrude. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was generally a female name. I grew up in a very Scandinavian area where women were still named Gertrude, but in this more German pocket of the state none of the kids cared or knew the difference.
These eight and nine year olds I see each week seem so young and yet old beyond their years all at once. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see your own children grow up that fast.
I hope and pray the simple lessons we talk about on Wednesday will reach these kids and their families. Maybe it won’t make a difference today or tomorrow, but I have faith that the seeds we sow will take root and start to grow.