Education, evangelism and extremism

Educators influence children. There’s no doubt about it. Frankly, all relationships are mutually influential, however slightly. We are born for relationships and we grow through the interactions they provide.

When I was an elementary educator, I had the opportunity to positively affect the lives of many children, teachers and parents. One of the lessons I learned was the importance of understanding the other’s point-of-view. Before I could seek to educate or influence someone toward a different direction, I needed to understand the direction from which he had come.

Jimmy had frequent angry outbursts in his kindergarten classroom. The teacher phoned me near daily to remove him from her midst. I’d half-carry him down to my office, where I’d attempt to “reason” with him. Never mind that five-year-olds have limited ability for such higher-level thinking.

Rather than lecture Jimmy, I learned to begin with questions. Did you have breakfast this morning? What did you eat? Who brought you to school today? How was the car ride? What time did you go to bed last night? You get the picture.

Oftentimes students misbehaved because their basic needs were not met. Other times students misbehaved because the expectations for behavior at home were vastly different from the expectations at school. Many times it was both.

Home for some is a place of fighting for your rights, expressing your feelings without regard for others, fending for yourself, and tucking yourself into bed. For some, love is a four-letter word, the subject of sarcasm or of avoidance altogether.

But God made people to lovingly relate to Him and to others for His glory. When we are not in these right relationships, there is unrest. When people grow up without love, in cultures of disrespect and even violence, they become naturally bitter. The Word teaches that a root of bitterness will grow, and often result in trouble. (Heb 12:15)

Students who ended up in my office weren’t always without love, but many were. I had to show these students over time that I would respect them, trust them, nurture them and hear them. These are things you do when you love another, and sadly, these were things many children had never experienced when they set foot in the schoolhouse. But miraculously, when these students experienced love consistently, eventually love conquered hate and hope trumped fear. These same screaming kids became shining lights on our campus.

Our planet is God’s schoolhouse. It is here we have the opportunity to actively participate in the learning adventure of knowing God and His perfect ways. Jesus came to show us, and the Holy Spirit, to guide us. The work of the Spirit brings true love into the hardest hearts. He crashes through the brick walls of our souls with warmth and acceptance.

A young man in Romania named Bogdon experienced such a transformation. He is from what is known as “The Valley”, a rough area in which basic provisions and loving relationships are scarce. Bogdon is a leader in this community, but a different kind of leader than he once was. As a child, he learned lessons of hatred, selfishness and abandonment. A former user and abuser, Bogdon lived a troubled life, springing from a root of bitterness and pain. But through the faithful prayers and work of a missionary, Bogdon finally received love. He realized his lack of love and his resulting hateful ways; and he turned to God. Now Bogdon serves as a community liaison for H.I.S. Bridgebuilders, reaching and teaching people in this same community with the love of Christ. He was re-educated with the love of the Lord.

This is the work of evangelism, and as believers in Christ, we are all called to this work. We each bring different gifts to the table, but together we are to take the gospel of love into the world. We are messengers, announcers, educators teaching the good news of Jesus Christ. As such, let us remember the value of building relationships with others, seeking to understand their backgrounds and show them love regardless. Isn’t this Christ’s example? If God can change the heart of a violent man in Romania, surely He can change the heart of any man, regardless of origin, background, family, religion, culture or country.

Evangelical Christians today are increasingly lumped into the category of extremists. Some consider us a cult, others, disingenuous. We are listed by some alongside terrorists as one of the major threats to American democracy today. Many see us as hate-mongers rather than love-givers. May it be only extreme love that others see in us, and may God use it to open the doors of hearts around the world.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

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