Written October 2015
I step outside the school, under a soot-shaded sky seeping rain. I hear sirens for the third or fourth time today. I am unsettled but not scared. I haven’t broken the law; so, the sirens are not coming for me. They represent the powers that be that keep me safe. I could be afraid that they bear witness to an evil lurking close, but I know that I will not die before His time. Until then, I rest secure.
Still, I am unsettled. The sirens remind me of yesterdays. Was it really only four or so years ago that I secretly aspired to one day teach in a city school and be the one shining light in the lives of those students who come from broken, sin-infested homes? I glance at the town around me as I stride to my car.
I remember too, that afternoon a year or so later, when I left this building under a summer sun, while restless teens with straggly hair crawled over the property and roof. I was only a little scared then. After all, I was supposed to be here. They were the trespassers. Nevertheless, it pays to be cautious when you are outnumbered half a dozen to one. From behind the wheel of my car, I waved and smiled as I drove out the lane, wondering who loved them.
As I drive home tonight, I recall that bright fall morning when my co-teacher came off the school roof after rescuing a wayward blackboard brush and discovering a lunch-pail-style case with empty drug containers and a crack pipe. A few days later, obscenities were sprayed large on the brick wall of the school. I prayed then, “Give me this city.” I am still not sure if it is the “city” I wish to remain in for the rest of my life. I do not even know what exactly I meant by the prayer. “Give me this city.” I remain naïve but sincere.
The car wipers slash valiantly against the torrents and my mind settles on the arrest of the father of some of our students. I taught one of his children last year. This father breathes out threatenings against the church, the school, his children, his God. Yet, I am sure that he is most angry at himself in a life spinning out of control. I pray the Light will blind him, so that he can see and be saved. May his cell be a Damascus. I pray for his healing.
I enter another town, the one I call “home.” My car sweeps by the entrance to the trail I love to walk, revelling in the beauty of nature. Yet, it is the trail where a neighbour’s son committed suicide last week.
I wonder, “What do I accomplish in my small-town, Christian school?” Sure, I influence the lives of nineteen little ones this year, but they all have a father and mother who love them well. What am I accomplishing? An image flashes in my brain. A music friend of mine, hearing that I am teaching nineteen first graders, startles into a broad smile. Brushing a hand against his thick black hair, he exclaims, “Hats off–well, if I had a hat, I would take it off to you.” Gallantly, he would too, unworthy as I am.
And what is that story? A man walked by the seashore, stooping to pick up starfish and cast them into the waves. A stranger approached and protested the purposeless persistence. Yet, the man stooped again, stroking the spiny starfish squirming in his hand. He stated softly, “It matters to this one.” Yes, it matters to these nineteen, just as much as it would matter to any city child.
I begin to perceive what the Father has known all along. Small towns have big city problems. This temporary home is broken, sin-infested. Love is needed in all corners of the world. “So, give me this city, Father. It’s quite big enough for me.”