For well over thirty years I have worked with children and youth either as their Sunday School teacher, Preschool Director, tutor, Elementary, Junior and Senior High School Teacher, substitute teacher, Children’s Minister, and youth leader. I told someone recently that I have worked as a teacher with all ages from babies through to College and Career. God gave me a passion to teach, and I have been blessed to do what I love to do these many, many years. Still, after all these years I find that there is still more I learn from the kids than they learn from me. That is just one of the many ways God humbles me.
In this season of my life, (as a Junior High School teacher, grandma, mom to three adult children AND published author), I work closely with youth everyday. I have a dynamic group of students who keep me on my toes with questions and insights, and who keep me laughing with their exuberance and sparkle.
Working in a Christian school definitely blesses my life because I can openly share my faith with my students and we can have great theological discussions that not only challenge them but challenges me!
I often remind my students that they should boldly proclaim their faith and stand up for Jesus around their friends, however I too struggle with being bold. Sometimes I need a reminder that we must have a sense of urgency when we witness to our friends…it is literally a matter of life or death. Do we truly understand that?
Years ago a passionate seminary student, gave one of the most profound talks I had ever heard to our youth group at church. Trevor looked out over his youthful audience, took a deep breath and then held up a plastic bag. Swimming inside the bag filled with some water, was a little blue fish. Trevor called him, “Little Joe” and proceeded to tell us how Little Joe was a breed of fish that thrived in hot springs. From B.C. to Alberta, hot springs abound, so we were immediately intrigued by this knowledge. Trevor said that he had heard that when the fish is removed from the hot springs they tend to change colour if put into cooler water, but the fish will return to it’s natural colour if it is once again returned to hot water. He said he’d like to test that theory, and proceeded to place the bag with “Little Joe” in a pot-like kettle that he then plugged in. While waiting for the pot to boil, Trevor proceeded to talk to the students about Heaven and Hell.
Now, admittedly try as I might to concentrate on Trevor’s discourse, my eyes were constantly drawn to that pot of water. And as the water began to boil, I heard gasps from several girls. “He’s going to kill that fish!” one girl whispered to me. I started to have visions of students going home and describing to their parents what transpired at youth group that night. I already envisioned irate parents and phone calls and traumatized students never wanting to come back to church ever again. As the water boiled, more and more students lost interest in what Trevor was saying and I finally spoke up, “Enough is enough, Trevor! Save the fish!”
Trevor calmly unplugged the boiling pot, looked down at the “Little Joe”, and then said, “Little Joe didn’t change colour.” Thud. He didn’t need to say more. I was mortified. I dreaded to see the carnage!
Trevor calmly turned and faced the youth, “We’ve been talking about Heaven and Hell. For those of you who have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you know that at the end of your life you will join Him in Heaven. However scripture tells us that for those who turn away from God, they are eternally separated from Him and that is what we call Hell.” Trevor then expounded on what Hell is described as like in scripture: “The fire of hell” (Matt. 5:21); “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41); “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46); “fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48); “in hell…in torment” (Luke 16:22-24).
Trevor looked over his audience of young listeners. He had everyone’s attention. “As much as you were worried about Little Joe being boiled alive in that pot of water,” and he lifted a bag and we saw with great relief Little Joe swimming contentedly in the bag, “Little Joe was never in that boiling water.”
He showed us how he had switched bags without us knowing it. I gasped at his slight of hand, and then the room was so silent you could hear a pin drop.
“As much as you were worried about a little fish being boiled alive,” Trevor repeated, “how much more should you be concerned about your friends facing eternity in hell? Doesn’t this give you cause to think about being more bold about sharing your faith with everyone you know?”
That evening in our small groups, the girls were a-buzz about “Little Joe” and I was able to share the gospel as openly as I had ever done before with the girls. The following week another vibrant speaker gave a clear gospel message at the midweek meeting that built upon what we had discussed the week before. As a result when the invitation was called, 8 students went forward for the first time and prayed to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior. Three of those students were from my Gr. 8 small group. Many more youth rededicated themselves to sharing their faith with their friends. The following week, 7 more students went forward wanting to follow in believer’s baptism.
And to think, it all started with a fish!