Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Teacher’s Heart

Peaches, a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, teaches The Greatest Journey and has also started a neigborhood church.

Peaches, a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, meets with U.S. volunteers to celebrate God's work in Jamaica.

The Greatest Journey teachers in Jamaica are sharing the Gospel and discipling children.

I think most people would agree that teachers are among the world’s greatest unsung heroes.

This is especially true of The Greatest Journey volunteer instructors we met recently in Jamaica. We had the privilege of sitting in on a few of their discipleship classes at inner city churches in Kingston.

Tourists who come to Jamaica to enjoy a tropical paradise won’t be disappointed. But just a few hour’s drive from the island’s top scenic attractions are ghetto communities where life is no “day at the beach”—places like Trench Town where reggae musician Bob Marley grew up.

Life isn’t just hard here, economically speaking. It’s also dangerous. Robbery, illegal drugs, and street fights are all commonplace. It’s not an ideal environment for children to grow up in, and some don’t make it to adulthood. Yet that is where we were introduced to two of The Greatest Journey teachers—in the trenches.

A Mission in the Trenches

These teachers told us they are on a mission. They want to take the streets of Jamaica for Jesus. They are not letting anything or anyone stand in their way.

Peaches enjoys teaching The Greatest Journey discipleship lessons.

Peaches enjoys teaching The Greatest Journey discipleship lessons.

Peaches is a dynamo inside and outside the classroom. Ten years ago, she shared with one of our Operation Christmas Child staff her vision to plant a church in this community. At the time, she was a single mother of three with no resources.

When that same staff member contacted Peaches this year, he was thrilled to learn she had followed through on God’s prompting and helped start a neighborhood church. Services are currently being held in a space that was formerly used for a small outdoor theater.

Peaches was teaching lesson four, “Our Greatest Friend,” on the day one of our teams visited the church. Her passionate, engaging teaching style helps ensure no child will snooze during her classes.

“God is interested in you, your friends, and your family,” she told her students.

However, I think it was her personal testimony—and the raw frankness with which she shared it—that grabbed everyone’s attention. You see, Peaches came from these mean streets and has the emotional battle scars to prove it.

Children received The Greatest Gift Gospel booklet with their shoebox gifts.

Children received The Greatest Gift Gospel booklet with their shoebox gift.

She did things earlier in her life that she’s not proud of, such as dabbling in gambling. Her husband was abusive. When he left her, she didn’t know how she would make ends meet to take care of her three children.

One day the anger roiling inside propelled her toward the place where she knew he had taken up residence. She hadn’t thought through exactly what she was going to do to him. She just knew she wanted him to pay for the pain he had caused her.

But something happened along the way to his house. Peaches never made it to her estranged husband’s residence. She was literally stopped in her tracks by—of all things—a street revival that blocked her path.

God got her attention in an unmistakable way that evening, and Peaches returned to her home a changed woman.

Now happily married to her second husband, Peaches is driven by the desire to point others to Jesus Christ so they can experience redeemed, redirected lives, too.

Sanctuary from the Streets

That same heart for children was evident in the life of Michelle, another The Greatest Journey teacher at a different inner city church. Michelle leads a children’s Sunday school class, but she is not a teacher by profession. She works as a trainer at a KFC restaurant in Kingston.

Children are thrilled to receive stuffed animals in their shoeboxes.

Children are thrilled to receive stuffed animals in their shoeboxes.

I was horrified when she told our team that five of her students in The Greatest Journey class have lost their fathers to a violent death on the streets. One was an 8-year-old girl who witnessed her dad’s murder. She was so traumatized that she dropped out of school for a while.

In December, she and other kids in the neighborhood were invited to church for a special Christmas celebration. It was here that the little girl received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, and she came back to participate in The Greatest Journey discipleship classes.

Michelle explained that the church has become a true sanctuary for youngsters who hunger for hope, who want someone to confide in, and who need to know that their lives matter. For this little girl, the classes helped her open up about her grief and experience healing. She is one of four children in Michelle’s class who have received Jesus as their Savior.

Simple gifts bring great joy.

Simple gifts bring great joy.

“This is the place where we can give the children love and teach them that they can rise above every circumstance,” Michelle told us. “Jesus is with them and will help them stand strong.”

There’s another reason Michelle can relate so well to the emotional struggles of her students. Her own family suffered a devastating loss years ago when her 16-year-old nephew, her sister’s only child, was stabbed to death. At the time, they were unsaved. Since then, her family has found comfort and assurance in Christ, and He is the One who helps them stand strong in the face of adversity.

Now Michelle wants to do everything she can to ensure that these kids have a fighting chance for a better life as they follow Jesus.

“I love teaching the children and want them to know Jesus as their Savior and their best friend,” she said. “We are praying for our children and standing with them.”

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