EDITORIAL Perfect Salvation
Mission To Australia 1997
62nd North American Greek
Conference July 4-7, 1997
An Unexpected Reunion
Dreams and Visions: The Place for
Successful Living Through
An Unexpected Reunion
After vacationing for two weeks, our family returned home to find a record number of messages on our answering machine. Our post-vacation ritual finds us grabbing snacks and sitting in the family room listening to the phone messages (even before unpacking our suitcases). One message in particular stood out this time. It was an invitation to meet with my first-grade Sunday School teacher. She would be passing through in a few days and would love to see me. A smile crossed my face as I recalled my favorite teacher of all time. She was now 91 years old, and I hadnt seen her in nearly 40 years. Life had taken us different directions and separated us by over 2,000 miles. She represented a time in my life that is largely a blur. But, the methods she had employed at First Assembly of God church in Marysville, Washington, are as clear to me as if Id been in her class yesterday.
Sister Hagen (as we called her) chose to teach first-grade boys. It was her favorite age and gender. Perhaps it was because she had three sons of her own that she knew what to do to relate to us boys. At the beginning of the school year, she made canvas carpentry aprons for each kid in the class. Each apron was personalized with our names stitched at the top. If we were regular in our attendance, memorized Bible verses, and invited friends, Sister Hagen rewarded our participation with small hammers, tape measures, screw drivers and nails to fit into the appropriate holders in the apron. Our class was so motivated, the beginning of each class was like a hardware exchange. It must have cost her a small fortune.
To illustrate the topic of the lesson, Sister Hagen distributed styrofoam objects she cut on her jigsaw at home. When we discussed Jesus claim to be the Bread of Life, she brought miniature-sized loaves of bread she had baked just for us. Having pastored for nearly 20 years, I credit my first-grade Sunday School teacher as being the one who inspired me to illustrate my sermons with appropriate symbols. Her influence is what has given me a love for childrens sermons. I always have something in a paper sack I have brought from home. Kids track with an object with which they can relate.
As I anticipated my unexpected reunion with my former Sunday School teacher, I thought about how I could make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime meeting. What would I say? How would she look? Would I recognize her? What would her memories be of me? (Even though I was the pastors kid, I was far from perfect). Would she still have her faculties? Would I have to carry the conversation? Would this be the last visit we would have this side of heaven?
To my delighted surprise, Sister Hagen had hardly changed in her appearance. Despite macular degeneration of the eyes, she was still able to recognize me. Although she had not seen a picture of me since I was 12 years old, she had followed Gods leading in my life from a distance. She was agile and alert, and full of questions. How was my ministry going? How did I meet my wife? How many children did I have? How was my parents health?
As we sipped our coffee, I shared with her how the Lord had been at work in my life. I read to her a free-verse poem I had written that referenced my fond memories of her influence in my young life. Her eyes pooled as I expressed my gratitude to God for her part in my spiritual development. And then she said she had a story to tell me.
With a voice as strong yet gentle as I recalled it to be, she told of a time when she had asked me to teach the lesson. I was all of seven years old. Nonetheless, she gave me her adult teachers guide and a week to put my thoughts together.
How did I do? I inquired (not remembering this incident and somewhat embarrassed). Oh, you did a fantastic job! You really were prepared. Her reply brought a sense of relief (and disbelief). Had I really been that mindful of spiritual things at such a young age? How had Sister Hagen seen my interest and ability? Why was she willing to draw me out? Im still not sure I know.
When our reunion drew to a close, I paused to ask Gods blessing on the years He still had for her. She returned my benediction with one of her own. As we hugged and said good-bye, her smiling eyes gave no indication of the visually impaired condition with which she struggles each day. This time my eyes began to water. I walked to my car overwhelmed by the knowledge of what is unleashed when ordinary people are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share Gods love with children.
As I drove home it dawned on me that this meeting had been more than an unplanned serendipity. For both of us, it was a gracious gift from God. Sister Hagen was able to witness what had become of one of her more infamous pupils. I was able to recognize what a significant influence one middle-aged woman had had on my life because she had been willing to teach a dozen first-grade boys. In addition to using creative means to communicate Gods word, she had given me the opportunity early in my life to teach it to my friends. That was no doubt the beginning of my sense of call. Come to think of it, the year Sister Hagen taught me about Jesus was the same year that I walked the center aisle of that little Assembly of God church in Washington State to invite Him into my heart.