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  • Dr. Jackie Minor

EVERYDAY OCCURRENCES: Opportunities to Change a Life

Sometimes the Lord gives us a glimpse into something wondrous. He provides chances in life to view familiar scenes through new eyes, eyes that see beyond the present to future possibilities. What better place to experience such events than in a school? I was recently reminded of something I already knew—teachers can impact the future of children in ways we can only imagine.

Schools are changing. While much remains the same, education continues to evolve. One major change I don’t think I really anticipated but witnessed not long ago had to do with the influx of refugees. I felt a huge tug on my heart as I listened to leaders describing their efforts to welcome and assimilate numerous children who had been dropped off with their families at a local hotel. Many were coming from Venezuela or Syria with only the bags they could carry. These children, grades K-12, would start school the following week. I couldn’t help but think of my seven-year-old granddaughter. The amount of stress these children must be experiencing is unimaginable.


Knowing this situation created a backdrop for my thoughts as I entered a classroom of third graders. There was a heightened buzz in the room as the students transitioned from their desks to the carpet. A young boy of Middle Eastern descent caught my eye. His big brown eyes and slight smile were striking. You could sense a tinge of orneriness in his demeanor. Every experienced educator knows exactly what I mean right now! As the teacher called for attention, the youngster offered his prediction of what was to come. At this point, the teacher could have been frustrated by his interruption, but she was not. In fact, she gave him the floor as he proudly exclaimed the directions without error. This earned him five minutes of free time, which he promptly claimed. You could tell he was quite proud of himself, and his classmates seemed to be proud of him as well. I caught myself smiling from ear to ear.


I realize this isn’t an unusual experience for teachers. However, for some reason, God used this common classroom occurrence to remind me (and you) of the impact we can have on children’s lives. I found out this young boy had been in the country for less than one year. His transition has not been easy. There have been many bumps along the way, but he has made great strides. However, would this child have been negatively impacted if this teacher had responded differently? What if she had chastised him for interrupting, embarrassed him in front of classmates, and removed him from the activity? Would that have influenced a nine-year-old boy who is trying to navigate his way in a new country? Would it have changed his attitude, his desire to learn, and his view of himself? Could it impact his future? Most likely it would.


As I thought about the hundreds of refugees flooding our schools across the country, I couldn’t help but think of the opportunity Christian educators have to change the trajectory of these children’s lives. It is so important for us to resist the urge to see these students (or any other child) as burdens. I fully acknowledge the role of educator has expanded. Plates are full and overflowing, but we must remember these children have had no choice in their current circumstances. They most likely are frightened, unsure, and worried. We may not be able to fix everything for them, but like the classroom teacher I observed, we can show kindness, compassion, and acceptance in our common, everyday occurrences. We must also encourage our students and colleagues to do the same.


You might be surprised to know the Bible has much to say about this topic. The Old Testament refers to strangers, sojourners, or foreigners as those from other ethnic groups who chose to live with the Jews in Israel. We use different terms today, but God’s Word provides instruction on how we are to treat those who are considered refugees or immigrants. How can we partner with God to change lives through our everyday occurrences?


Show Empathy

“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9


Have you ever been mistreated because you were different? Have you ever been left out? Do you remember what it felt like to be a stranger outside of God’s kingdom? Have you ever had to suffer? Tapping into these feelings is the first step toward having empathy toward immigrants. Empathy isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. To be empathetic is to be so sensitive to someone’s situation that we feel what they feel.


This may seem impossible; nevertheless, Peter charged Christians to be tenderhearted, courteous, and compassionate toward others (1 Peter 3:8). Jesus was our best example as He was always sensitive to the plight of others (Matthew 9:36). Empathy changes lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to display empathy toward others, especially toward those who are marginalized. If you struggle with showing empathy, ask God to help you see others as He does. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can change lives when we show empathy.


Be Inclusive


In the early chapters of the Old Testament, there were various instructions in the Law that made sure foreigners were included. They were to be treated equally and included in the community. Here are a couple of examples.


· Foreigners were to be included in festivals and celebrations mandated in the Law (Deuteronomy 16:14; 26:11).


· Some of the tithe that was collected was to be used not only to feed priests and their families, but also to help provide food for foreigners, widows, and orphans (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).


As believers, we are no longer under the Law, but the principles embedded within the Law are still applicable to us today. Students coming into our schools from outside the U.S. are going to be exposed to many different cultural practices; some of these will be religious in nature while others will be secular. Let’s welcome these children into our culture with open arms. Provide explanations, ask questions, seek input from parents, and be inclusive in the everyday activities we conduct in our classrooms.


Being inclusive can also involve hospitality. Taking care of others is a mark of those who follow Jesus (Hebrews 13:2, 3 John 1:5). Some of our students will be in need of basic necessities. While schools often have programs to help, we as educators may have to be an advocate in this area.


Just imagine the message we send to children and families when we go overboard to include them and make sure their basic needs are met. Not only are we showing them Jesus, but we are also changing their future.


Demonstrate Love


Agape love isn’t a feeling; it is an action. Sometimes we have to do what is right even when we don’t feel like it. I know this verse is very familiar, but it is worth reading again!


Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7


Notice the word feel is not present in these verses. Love is, love does, and love endures. Agape love is active. This love recognizes the value of each child (Genesis 1:27). This love guards against prejudice. This love puts others first because He first loved us.


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34


I wonder how many children have never experienced this type of love? What a privilege we have to show the love of Christ to those children and families God strategically places in our lives. We have no idea what the future holds. We have no idea how God will take a simple act of empathy, hospitality, or love to impact a child’s future.


What we do know is God can use everyday occurrences to change a life THROUGH YOU!

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