By Annette Agnello
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It started simply enough, I was in a classroom with some very bright high school students waiting for first bell when homeroom would end and first period start. Three or four young women were having a discussion, not about boys, or fashion, or the latest music, but about God. Two of the girls were witnessing about the Lord. The courts have things so messed up I couldn’t jump in and help with this most important discussion; I could only sit back like a silent cheer leader routing for God’s team.
The discussion went on and the class was nearly ready to begin when one of them asked me point blank what I believed. I was torn with stepping out and speaking my faith and getting fired for proselytization or saying nothing at all out of fear. I kind of copped out with an esoteric comment that really did not clearly speak to my faith. I simply remarked, “Everyone lives forever it’s just a matter of address.” I thought I was so clever, I thought I had dodged the bullet. I had answered the question honestly in a way that did not put my faith out there, after all some eastern religions have the same soul going on lifetime after lifetime. Granted my perspective was the Christian on instead of one reincarnation after another on earth I was thinking you go to heaven or hell a one shot deal based on one life’s choices.
Apparently the Moslem child in the classroom whose religion I had not known took it the way I did. If I had read the role really thinking the name would have given a clue of his possible religion. I would most likely have still said the same thing even if I had known someone of another faith was there, because I hadn’t said anything blatantly chriatian. Instead of putting the story in context of what was going on the young man went home and told his parents I had said he was destined for an eternity burning in the underworld with all the rest of the sinners. The parents called the school and the principal called me out of a class to face an irate father and his silent, submissive wife.
I eventually defused the situation by saying I didn’t really belong in that classroom at all, their teacher had been called away to take a phone call; probably her own run in with an irate parent. Since I was on my planning period I had been asked to sit in with the class till she came back. The call had come up suddenly and there had been no plans left. All I had to go on was the question I’d asked about what they were working on the day before. I told those who had not finished to work on the last assignment and gave the rest a kind of a study hall, to do something quietly. The conversation about God had ended; the books were open, the class was going fine when their teacher returned to give them the day’s real assignment.
I don’t know why I really changed the topic in the principle’s office. But after being lectured about the wrong I had been perceived as doing, I gave an example of different cultures from a woman I had met a couple of years before in a hospital in Crimea. Few words had been exchanged there; because the translator was in another room just as the teacher had been that day. But the woman in that hospital and I had reached an understanding in spite of a language barrier. The student had reached what I was thinking in spite of my carefully wording my response not to reveal my true feelings. This was as clearly as the woman who spoke only Russian understood my English words. I had tried so carefully to conceal my true meaning from the students I wasn’t aware at the time that I really had been trying to say you’re going to end up in heaven or hell.
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