Message Tab

Teachers’ life-witnessing in public schools

First in a three-part series

 

A Georgia radio talk show host regularly thunders away at public schools: “This nation would be better off if responsible parents would all make a vow to remove their children from government schools as soon as practicable,” he says.

Teaching in the public schools for believers is not a job. They teach because they are called. In a statewide limited survey of Baptist public school teachers conducted by the Woman’s Missionary Union and this writer, respondents stated they teach in public schools because the Lord called them to. One teacher whose husband is a Georgia Baptist minister says, “I am just as much called of the Lord to teach in the public schools as my husband is to minister in our church.”

 

Incredible field of ministry

Georgia’s public schools are an incredible field for ministry. Enrollment last year totaled 1,544,000. And the schools have a definite international mission flavor. Approximately 600,000 state residents are foreign born. In Gwinnett County alone up to 120,000 speak a language other than English at home.

Yet, given current legal and school policy restrictions, is it not impossible for teachers, though dedicated, to fulfill their calling in this mission field?

If judging the mission by the standard of what once was and comparing it to what now is, the answer would be, “No, there is no way.” For example, when I was in elementary school, we had Bible reading and prayer during homeroom. In high school, my pastor, Jesse Hendley, preached an evangelistic sermon in a chapel service. That was what once was. But what once was will not be what is.

This does not mean public schools are legal fortresses barricaded against any access to the Gospel and New Testament ethic. For while multitudes of Christians have been wallowing in a state of ire over public schools, the Lord has been busy. He has been calling an innumerable host of believers to be on mission with him in the public schools.

Without knowing it, these teachers have adopted the model of the international missionary serving in a country that by law prohibits the public proclamation of the Gospel. They were admitted officially to such country as teachers, computer experts, agriculturalists, physicians and they perform these tasks with dedication and expertise. Unofficially they are in the “country” as missionaries.

But how do they do it? What are the appropriate ways these teachers have discovered to be on mission and ministry with all the restrictions on religion in public schools?

 

Living models

First, they live the Gospel. They model the ethic of Jesus. Thereby they are doing precisely what the first and second century church did.

Roman authorities could repress the verbalization of the Gospel. They put preachers in jail. They exiled John to Patmos because “of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” But no Roman law, sword or jail could silence “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” that was heralded through the way the Christians lived the Gospel and practiced the ethic of Jesus. Baffled, the authorities researched the Christians. They found that Christians are people of love. When cursed, they bless. When insulted, they respond with gentle words.

The Gospel being proclaimed through the life-witness of Christian people, the pagan temples emptied and the communities of believers continued to be filled.

How are Christian public school teachers bearing witness to the Gospel when they are restricted in verbalizing it? The same way those early Christians did. They are living it. How they live and how they love are producing a powerful, effective witness for Christ. Listen to some of the teachers:

“Knowing that I could be the only Jesus some children will ever meet, I strive to be the teacher that children describe as compassionate, loving, fair, and joyful.”

“I teach high school and many students that I have taught become pregnant out of marriage. I have tried to show love and support in spite of the problem – to show that Jesus loves them and the child they are going to have. I try to give advice. And I have provided many necessary baby items after the child is born.”

“Helping students who are behavior problems when most others have given up hope is one way I have tried to show the light of Christ.”

“I have had many students who are from very low income homes. They need supplies and so much love. Christ has put them in my life to love and take care of. This is such a witness in His name.”

Through these God-called teachers, “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” are alive and well in the public schools. Christ is being made known.