A student telling me that it just doesn’t matter anymore because he’s going back to jail. A boy shaking on the floor overdosed. Another boy sitting in my office drunk. A girl revealing that she had been abused by a close family member. Another girl coming to school with new clothes, and new bruised marks. A student requesting to go to the local clinic during school hours. Students struggling with gender identity. Students staying at shelters, garages, motels, and group homes. Students living with no more hope and attempting to take their own lives. Students ready at any moment to fight and hurt each other – guy on guy, girl on girl, girl on guy, 10 on 7, and sometimes even to the point of getting stabbed or shot at.
This was definitely not what I had in mind when I first became a math teacher 13 years ago. Now as an associate principal at the same urban, public high school, I have the privilege and responsibility of leading and loving these students every single day. I write these accounts with a heavy heart because there are real faces and names behind each of these narratives. You may have experienced an aspect of this pain in the past or may be struggling with it now – please seek help in the local church and with the appropriate public agencies. I am not writing as an expert on how to counsel through these issues today, but as an observer of this crazy pain every day at school, looking to the Word of God for hope and comfort.
At the beginning of each day, I stand at the front gates of the school saying “Good Morning!” to every student who walks through. Despite their varying degrees of hardship, most of the students wake up every morning ready to learn in class, graduate first in their families, and pursue successful college and career pathways. One thing I know, they are resilient. However, for some students, I can’t help but wonder what is going on behind that “Hello” when resiliency starts to break down. They are crying for help, some cursing loudly in anger and others suffering quietly inside, trying really hard to make it through the day and through life on their own strength. When I stopped assuming what was going on and started listening to them, I realized that every student has a real story to tell, struggling with issues of the heart and desperately seeking help. Is education or financial stability the answer? Or having a father in the home? What about taking on the fight against poverty or racism or social injustice? Yes, to an extent, but ultimately no matter our past or present, no matter how deep the pain or sin, the answer is reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ alone.
We have sinned against our perfect Creator, Almighty God, and deserve the punishment of death. Yet Christ, God’s only and perfect Son, suffered and died on the cross in our place. Those who confess their sins to God, ask for forgiveness, and put their faith in Jesus Christ are reconciled to Him. Through reconciliation — in Christ alone, there is full forgiveness, identity, contentment, healing, protection, joy, shelter, hope, and eternal life. This is the same exact precious truth for me and my students. Jesus Christ is the answer.
Every day, I am learning how to love and care for the students by remembering Christ’s love for me on the cross. Here are three (of many) lessons learned from working with the urban youth in how I ought to love those who do not know the Savior yet.
- Love them with impartiality. No matter the race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, age, personality, or whatever it may be, every eternal soul is in need of reconciliation to Christ.
- Love them in practical ways. Meet them where they are at and listen carefully to what they have to say. Be genuine and have integrity.
- Love them by sharing the Gospel. No one is beyond the reach of God. There is true reconciliation and healing in Christ.
Amidst all the intensity at work, I am constantly learning and trusting that God has me exactly where I need to be today, breaking up fights and all, and I will strive to work excellently for the Lord. The weight and burden that some of my students face each day is great, yet it is an undeserved privilege to share the peace and joy that can be found in Christ, our true hope, and witness firsthand His saving work in the lives of the urban youth.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).