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They Might Be Angels
by Bob Chochola
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When will Jesus find you?

"You have come up to the lakeshore,
Looking neither for wise nor for wealthy.
You only wanted that I should follow."

Too often even good stewards of our Lord Jesus Christ have their relationship with Him backwards, believing it is they that took the first step to seek God’s love and mercy. This kind of horse and buggy thought is understandable when you consider how many Christian people subscribe to the notion, as a popular bumper sticker slogan states - “I found Jesus” - and never consider that maybe the exact opposite is true. Maybe it is God that finds us?

In our modern culture of putting the individual first it is hard to face the possibility that we don’t find Jesus. He comes to us and calls us by name, sometimes in our deepest despair, sometimes during our greatest triumphs, then asks us to leave our boat on the shoreline and seek other seas. He will uproot us in times of our own worldly comfort and prosperity to put us upon a different path to do His work. He will tear us down and challenge us to follow the path He has chosen for us. He will turn us completely upside down and we can be resentful of that, but it is His will and His way of reaching us.

“Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time, ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.’
This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’ The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.
…When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, He changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction He had threatened.” Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Recall the story of Jonah who tries to flee his calling by sailing to another country, but God sends a storm and Jonah gets thrown overboard. He is then swallowed by a giant fish that spits him onto the shore to save him from drowning. Interesting how God puts Jonah on the right path: a storm to throw him into a raging sea, then a fish swallows him. The images in this story reveal how God works. His way isn’t often easy to understand when the end result is not yet in view.

In anger Jonah carries out his task but hopes the people of Nineveh, the very people God sent him to warn, would ultimately be destroyed. God comes to Jonah again scolding him saying that it was His desire that all people come to know Him.

“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’” Jonah 4:1-3

Jonah was right! God is filled with unfailing love, slow to anger, and ready at any moment to save His people from the storm. It’s difficult to understand His methods – His purpose. Who would fully understand a God that works this way? The message is to trust and follow Him – to be ready to answer His call when it comes.

I am a substitute school teacher. If that news didn’t send a chill of empathy down your spine: I teach middle school kids. Yes, the hormones rage every day and the struggle to grow from child into young adult is in full swing – maybe never so apparent as in the “test” that comes my way with every new group of students bent on flexing newfound independence and inevitable pier group expectations on someone they don’t know and often think they don’t have to respect.

Let’s just say I earn a modest paycheck and have the emotional bumps and bruises to show for it. That’s not to say I can’t hold my own when faced with thirty rowdy seventh-graders wondering upon first sight of “the sub” whether they can send me running out the door screaming if they go the extra mile of unacceptable behavior. But I don’t scare easily.

There are some subs, I’ve heard, that do abandon their post. One I know of was fired for losing control and striking a child. I don’t expect to ever be pushed that far by seventh grade kids. I am, after all, an adult and certainly don’t want to even let-on that I am the least bit frazzled when I’m in the classroom facing their angst.

Eight months prior to my new endeavor I was steeped in my own eighteen year career. Comfortable, or so I thought, and heading down the road to professional success. Or was I? Then God came to me and turned-over my boat. After being spit onto the shore without a job and bills piling up, I decided to listen to Him, albeit like Jonah – reluctantly. I fought it and wanted to have my way even though it was clear, or at least it should have been clear, that my strategy was not working.

When I finally decided to abandon my ways and follow Him to seek new seas, good things started to happen.

“Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where He preached God’s good news. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ He announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the good news!’ One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed Him.
A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called to them at once, and they also followed Him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.”
Mark 1:14-20

It is difficult to understand how a single man without children can succeed as a school teacher, but He does work in mysterious ways. I ponder the question too sometimes. I do enjoy being around children – I have helped raise a few. Yes, even those kids that push me to the limit in the classroom sometimes help me understand God’s plan for my life. In fact, the most difficult beginnings can often end in very close-knit relationships that blossom into rewarding experiences.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
Ephesians 3:20

Kathryn, Jojo (short for Johanna), Sean, Shane, Austin, Derrick, and Mario are beautiful special needs children in the LINC program in the public school system where I teach. I have come to know them quite well. Each of them, to varying degrees, has a disability that prevents them from routine school participation (even in a special education inclusion classroom) without some extra help. Rather than traveling from classroom-to-classroom with the rest of the student population, these children use the LINC classroom as a “home base” where they get that help. A couple of these kids, however, stay in the LINC classroom all day long and cannot participate in a regular classroom situation. The goal, however, is to get them there (if possible) as soon as they are ready.

Kathryn takes a guitar class every morning and physical education every afternoon. Sean is restricted to a wheelchair, but with the assistance of a special education teacher, takes science and other courses in a regular classroom. Derrick goes to classes every day and is a little more independent, but checks-in and spends time in the LINC classroom too. Mario, Shane, Jojo, and Austin are in the LINC classroom all day long run by the LINC instructor. That’s where I come in.

I step-in when the LINC instructor cannot be present and when she has mandatory training that can last several days at a time. I have had the opportunity to experience these special students for extended periods of time – two and three day assignments rather than a typical one day substitute gig.

A funny thing happened when I took this assignment the first time: a major connection. Mario, who resists doing math (sometimes violently) with the regular teacher, loves to get out his math workbook and work through problems with me. Emotional outbursts that he frequently displays (e.g. he becomes violent when the regular teacher asks him to brush his teeth after breakfast) are far and few in between when I am around. The Assistant Principal even pulled me out of another class once and asked me to “work my magic” with Mario on one of his bad days. I had him laughing in less than ten minutes – he was completely past the incident.

Jojo does not speak. Nor does she make eye or physical contact much. A smile is rare. She needs assistance using the bathroom. Her emotions run a wide spectrum from anger to playful, but they can be hard to read. At the end of my second day she came to me with a huge hug and looked at me with beaming eyes that spoke volumes of love to me. She has hugged me this way every time I’ve seen her since and she holds my hand in a request to walk her to the school bus. I’m told she rarely takes to anyone as quickly as she did me.

Austin is autistic. Other than the regular LINC teacher and special education teacher, he can be a handful for anyone, let alone a substitute teacher. He’s distant and does not adapt to new situations or people very well. The last time I was assigned, Austin and I took a walk together on the outdoor track – something he loves to do every afternoon, but not with anyone he is not accustomed to walking with. He actually said “C” (as I am known as “Mr. C” by many students) and so we walked together for the first time. As we did Austin took my arm. Then he pulled my hand up and onto his shoulder. He does not like being touched at all. It was another day and another breakthrough – for Austin and me.

The story goes on in extraordinary fashion. Shane rarely shows emotion, or speaks, but greets me with a huge smile, hug, and a resounding “Hi, Mr. C!” every time I see him. Kathryn hurries to get the seat next to me in the cafeteria so we can talk about the rodeo during lunch. Mario and I constantly joke with each other about playing bingo and laugh to the amazement of the staff. Such a miracle has earned me a call back every time the regular LINC teacher has a day off and has inspired me to seek state certification into the LINC Special Education program.

I want to be a special education teacher. I should say, “I’m called” to this very specific post. And it appears I may be quite good at it. Who other than God could have led me to this new sea? I am now a “fisher of people” and quite convinced I’m seeing the face of God in every child with whom I connect – particularly the LINC students. They might be angels.

“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realm.”
Ephesians 1:19-20

Where are you right now? Are you sailing along on a calm sea, or are you fighting trough rough waves in a storm? Have you landed on a beach wondering what comes next? Are you ready to abandon your boat to seek other seas? If God calls you, will you hear Him? If He seeks you out to do His work, will you be ready to answer the call?

Seize the power and do what He calls you to do. It is nothing less than a miracle that He does call us each by name. It is up to us to pick up our crosses and follow. This requires living the Word of God and following the path upon which He leads us. We may not understand at first what is being asked of us, or why it is being asked, but over time we must learn to trust God. He will show us the way.

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