There are no “teachers” and “students” in the Allelon community. There are no “ministers” and “ministered-tos.” Distinctions like this become irrelevant when true community breaks out. We are all teachers and we are all students – if we have the courage to teach and the humility to learn. We are all ministers and we are all ministered to – if we are intentional about reaching out in love and aware of our own need to be loved. When community breaks out and the love of God changes our hearts, it quickly becomes apparent that any such labels are just walls that divide us from God and each other. And let’s face it: We have enough walls already. We are all in this together, learning to follow Jesus, seeking God’s kingdom, loving each other – together.
An example, you ask? Let me tell you a story about Poon, one of the most courageous eighth graders I know. This story starts several months ago, and just like every other good story from our community, it starts around a dinner table.
We were just pushing away our empty bowls, moments ago filled with beans and rice, and I was just leaning back in my chair, when Poon began to tell us about one of her teachers. Poon and many of her friends had begun to wear Christian bracelets and t-shirts at school. I don’t know why they started, but apparently, once they did, no one wanted to stop. So they continued wearing them and even began writing Christian buzz-words on their arms. Of course, like any fad, it got really popular once a teacher – we will call her Mrs. Smith – started objecting. Who knows what her objection was? It doesn’t really matter. Poon told me she was giving students ISS and detention for wearing those things and for writing on their arms.
Well, Poon was up in arms; and let me tell you, that is a sight to see. Poon is a poet, and she has no trouble making herself heard or understood – there is a special rhythm and style to her speech, eloquent in a unique way. This particular night, she had had enough of Mrs. Smith and was letting us all know just how mad she was. Apparently, with her natural leadership abilities, Poon was finding herself in a face-off with Mrs. Smith, whom she did not like and who did not like her. And let me tell you, Poon is not one to back down.
So, there we were. I did not really want to choose sides, but I also did not want to shut Poon down or fail to really listen to her. I let her talk it out for a while, and then I decided to do a crazy thing – talk about Jesus. They were wearing the bracelets, so how about it? What would Jesus do?
Poon rarely misses the irony in a situation; it only took a little nudging from me and the others around the table for her to see the contradiction in failing to show love to a teacher in defense of Jesus t-shirts (I wonder how many of them mentioned loving your enemies…). Mostly I just asked Poon questions, crazy “what if” questions that basically amounted to “What if you loved Mrs. Smith in such an extreme way that your kindness would be unmistakable and utterly disarming?”
Remember I said that Poon never backs down. Well I meant it – not from a fight and not from a challenge. So we challenged her. We challenged her to put her money where her mouth was (or in this case, where her t-shirts and Sharpies were) and to give the love of Jesus a chance to transform her relationship with Mrs. Smith.
Ok, fast forward about five or six months. It’s the first day of the fall semester, and Poon walks through the doors of her junior high. She is greeted by all her friends, and just like any first day, it is a day full of joyful reunions. But on this particular first day, two very peculiar things happened.
Another person greeted Poon that day, and she greeted her as a teacher would her favorite student. In Poon’s words, “Mrs. Smith came up and gave me a big hug!” That’s right. Love prevailed. All those months ago, when Poon decided to love Mrs. Smith instead of hating her, it completely transformed their relationship and the whole atmosphere in Poon’s class. I don’t remember exactly how Poon demonstrated love, but it was extreme enough that I remember thinking it must have given Mrs. Smith whiplash. And praise God, Mrs. Smith responded in turn.
The second peculiar thing has to do with a young lady we’ll call Tarsheka who just moved here from out of state. I don’t know exactly when it started or why Tarsheka decided to mess with Poon, but by the time I was sitting with Poon after her fourth day of school, she was on her last nerve.
Fighting is in Poon’s blood. She comes from a culture and background where if you don’t hit, you get hit. Unfortunately – well, actually, fortunately – the school district just instituted a new zero-tolerance policy. If you fight, you get expelled. So for four days she had been backing down, even though it went against her every instinct. Tarsheka was in five of her seven classes, and, to hear Poon tell it, was making her life a living hell. Poon said she was ready to blow and that unless her friend Mrs. Smith (remember her?) was able to change her schedule, Tarsheka was going to get beat up the next day.
Mrs. Smith did eventually change Poon’s schedule, and I don’t think that Poon and Tarsheka are friends today. But before her schedule got changed, Poon taught me something about loving enemies.
After school on that fourth day, when Poon was about ready to blow, I listened to her and commiserated with her, but Poon was not there for those things. She has a host of eighth grade friends who will do that. Poon came and talked to me that day already knowing what I would say. That is what is so beautiful: Poon wanted to be challenged. Of course, on some level she wanted to punch Tarsheka, but I think – and this is just my impression – that she really wanted something more.
So I challenged her again. We talked about the final verses of Romans 12. We remembered together her relationship with Mrs. Smith. And we wrestled with those “what if” questions. It didn’t take long before Poon was brainstorming ways to go out of her way in loving Tarsheka. She recognized that Tarsheka probably felt lonely and awkward, having just moved here, so she decided to say kind words to her and invite Tarsheka into her group of friends. Then we talked about the fact that Poon wouldn’t be able to genuinely love Tarsheka on her own, not in her current state. We talked about praying and asking the Lord to change her heart and give her love for Tarsheka. Poon decided she would spend time that night praying for Tarsheka and for a heart full of love.
The next day, Poon repeatedly showed intentional love to Tarsheka. It only took two periods before Tarsheka was no longer saying any mean things, no longer threatening Poon, no longer making snide remarks behind her back. They weren’t besties, but they were no longer open enemies. I personally wanted to see love reach its goal in that relationship, but I guess the Lord knew something I didn’t because by the end of the day, Mrs. Smith had changed Poon’s schedule.
I learned a lot about the power of love because of Poon’s courage to walk the way of the cross. And the beautiful thing is that this story is not over. Poon and I will both face countless situations in our lives in which we are forced to choose between love and what is easy or what feels good. We are both teachers and we are both students, but most of all we are both disciples, learning what it means to follow Jesus.