When I was about 23 or 24 years of age, word got around at my church that there was an urgent need for someone to teach the 4th grade boys’ Sunday School class. It was the middle of the yearly cycle and the previous teacher had decided that this group was too much to handle, so he had quit. Suspecting that others more qualified than I had already stepped forward to fill the job, I nonetheless called the person in charge and, wouldn’t you know it, the position was still open. Could I begin that Sunday? Well, I suppose so, though it seemed to me that these boys were going to get the short end of the stick, given the fact that I was a raw young man who had no experience.
When I met with the fourth grade director, she told me what would be expected and then proceeded to discuss each of the thirteen boys that would comprise my class. One by one she talked about their pluses and minuses. She told me how far along each was in their understanding of Christianity. She told me about their families and how supportive they were in the boys’ spiritual growth. Then she paused, heaved a great sigh, and said, “And then there is David.” With that introduction, she told me that he was from a broken home, and how he was poorly motivated to learn about God, and how he was consistently the cause of great disruption week after week. She had no words of advice regarding the best way to handle him. She merely looked at me, young and enthusiastic and naïve, and said, “Good luck, you’ll need it.”
On my first Sunday, I eagerly greeted each of the fellows as they trickled into the small room at the end of the hall and I coaxed them to tell me about the things they liked to do most. Naturally I heard stories about baseball and soccer and about their favorite movies and about the prior teacher that none of them liked. I remarked to myself that they were not such a bad group at all, but they were quite well behaved. Then suddenly I heard the door hit hard against the wall as it was pushed open. And there stood David.
Slightly shorter than the rest, he weighed easily twenty to thirty pounds more than each of the other boys. Though he had just arrived at church, his wrinkled white shirt was already untucked and his hair looked like it had not seen a comb in days. Immediately the rest of the group became loud and rambunctious and for the remainder of the hour, I tried to play referee as we somehow stumbled through the lesson.
Two or three weeks of the same went by, so I decided that it was time for me to pay a visit to David’s home. When his mother answered the door at their small wood framed house, I introduced myself as David’s new Sunday School teacher. She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and said, “I sure feel sorry for you!” I walked into the living room where his grandmother was on the couch knitting and when I gave her the same introduction, she had a similar reaction. “I heard the last teacher quit, and I don’t have to guess who it was that ran him off.”
David was in his bedroom, so I made myself at home and peeked into his doorway. When he saw me, I was caught off guard by his response. He ran to me and gave me a grand hug! “What’re you doing here?” He was so excited he could hardly contain himself. “Well, David, I came to see you.” He had been fiddling with some fishing lures, so he almost fell over himself to pick up his prized lures to show them off. We talked about his few times of fishing with a relative, then the subject switched to school work, then to baseball, then to his pet cat. I distinctly remember thinking that he had surely known few moments when he had been treated with a patient, accepting manner. There I was, a rookie teacher who only had a few contacts with him, but he was acting in a truly dignified and considerate manner. This boy had great potential, and he knew that I knew it, and he was honored that I took the time to visit with him.
I won’t say that David became a perfect angel in the following Sunday School classes. He still spoke out of turn, and he still knocked Roger over the head with his Bible, and he still teased the girls when we had joint assemblies for singing. But he was definitely different after that visit. He always had to have the seat next to me, and his behavior was definitely less rowdy. I was his friend and he wanted to please me. He actually read his lessons in advance a few times and gave occasional serious answers to my questions. When the boys promoted to the fifth grade department, wouldn’t you know it, there was a teaching vacancy there, so I promoted right along with them. Over the months I took the fellows bowling and we went to a Texas Rangers baseball game and we played some pick-up games of softball. Always David was by my side, and though he still needed correction, he was growing spiritually and getting along better with his peers.
David and his friends would now be in their early forties and I pray that he has continued to search out the Lord for His guidance. I’m not sure how much he remembers about that young teacher of his fourth and fifth grade years, though I’d like to think that he can recall having a more positive feeling about going to church.
I know that I learned a grand lesson during those days that remains with me to this day. All the high minded theological concepts in the world will not penetrate a young person’s mind if not accompanied by a genuine willingness to accept the person right where he is. David did not realize it then, but truly I was the student as I let him teach me how a spiritually needy person cannot grow without an arm around the shoulder.