One of the luxuries of becoming a teacher straight out of college is that you already have roughly 16 years of “in-school” experience to draw from. There have been countless times in my three years of teaching middle school Bible at the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB) when my teaching was directly influenced by a previous experience – good or bad – as a student. One of those instances was Valentine’s Day of this year, a day when – fittingly for the holiday – God showed me his love in a surprising way.
I will always remember English class on Valentine’s Day 2008, which was my junior year of high school. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, our teacher decided that she would spend the majority of class telling each student what she loved and appreciated about them. I remember expecting something vague, like “You’re always kind to everyone,” because I preferred to stay in the background, and I didn’t feel like teachers paid all that much attention to me. Then my teacher said,
“Brian, I love that you don’t see people on a surface level… when you see people, you see their souls and their deepest spiritual needs.”
I was shocked, because it was true… and not only had she recognized that, but I had never realized that about myself, nor had I ever stopped to think that it was significant or unique. It was a simple sentence, but it still stands as one of the most important things that anyone has ever said to me. It made me feel noticed and appreciated for who I was as the deepest level, and it motivated me to continue seeing people as souls that needed Christ.
So then, as Valentine’s Day approached this year, I remembered my English teacher’s words and decided to give the same words of personalized love and appreciation to my own middle school students. However, the class that I was teaching that morning was seventh grade. While the majority of our students at ICSB are from American missionary families, seventh grade is composed mostly of Hungarian students, and while most of them speak English fluently and a few of them are Christians, it still makes for a very different and sometimes challenging class dynamic. Nevertheless, after two years of teaching them, I had learned to love and appreciate things about all of them.
Mostly because they are middle school students, it is often difficult to hold their attention in class for more than 15 minutes without changing activities. I went around and spoke into each of my 20 seventh-graders for 35 minutes, and it was silent. Every student was locked in and listening, nodding in agreement as I would talk about their classmates. Students I addressed would listen – some making eye contact and some avoiding it – and reactions ranged from smiles to quiet tears. I was already inwardly praising God for what he was doing through this, when they shocked and blessed me in a way I had not expected. As we finished with 10 minutes until the bell and I began to transition to other things, they protested, “we didn’t get to say anything about you!”
Have you ever felt like the time, commitment, and sheer work you put into your ministry is unrecognized at best and unprofitable at worst? I don’t think I’ve met anyone in ministry who’s managed to avoid this nagging feeling. Granted, God does not promise that we will be appreciated and praised for our work in Him; in fact, we are to often expect the opposite (see Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:5-8, and Gal 1:10)!
As a teacher, I don’t expect to hear daily appreciation from students, but it can be exhausting to pour my heart and soul into them over long stretches where it seems they simply do not care. There are a few students who I can count on to encourage and affirm my teaching, but it often happens that those I fight for the most are also the ones who don’t show appreciation.
Before my seventh-grade students asked to share what they loved and appreciated about me, I wasn’t sure if they had even really considered what I did for them. (At one point towards the end of the fall semester, after I had prayed for reduced stress in teachers and students, one of them had asked, “Mr. Dicks, how could teachers get stressed?”) However, I sat and listened for ten minutes as every student raised their hand and shared something they appreciated about me, as a person and as their teacher. Some personal favorites:
- “I feel like when you teach, you’re not just talking through notes. It feels like you have a message from God that he wants you to give to us.”
- “You talk to us and treat us like individuals, not just like a bunch of the same students.”
- “You are willing to change plans or do extra work to help us learn better.”
And so, on a day when I planned on showing love to my students in an intentional way, they – and likewise, God – surprised me with their love towards me. They shared their words out of their own love, but God used them to love me in His own way, affirming my investment in the ministry he had given to me.
I believe we can all learn two major truths from this.
- Make it a habit to tell others what you love and appreciate about them, especially in regards to the work in which God has called them. Do it in a way that is intentional, personal, and sacrificial.
- Pay attention for ways in which God loves you through the words and actions of others.
He does not promise that we will be loved and appreciated by the world around us, but he does promise that his love will never leave us.
By: Brian Dicks, Serving in Hungary at ICSB