I recently received an invitation to visit the Christian Union meeting at a local school. The teacher in charge was kind enough to email me with a selection of questions that the students wanted to ask during the meeting:
Why do you believe in God?
Why do you have faith when there is so much suffering in the world?
How can you reconcile belief in God with science and especially evolution?
How can you trust the Bible?
Do you have a favorite bit of the Bible?
Does the hypocrisy of some people within churches lead you to doubt God?
The questions might seem a little daunting. However, during my years of teaching Religious Education, they all appeared in some form or other in examination syllabuses. With the exception of number 6, I’m well practiced in summarising the basic arguments and quoting the orthodox Christian beliefs about each.
As I read through the questions, I was reminded that school is a place where classrooms provide a safe environment to discuss such huge subjects. It’s easy for student and teacher alike to form strong opinions in isolation from actual experiences – both physical and spiritual. With this in mind, I was very pleased to read on through the email and find a sentence which read: ‘the format of the session next week will be roughly 5-10 minutes to talk about a personal topic of your choice – how you came to faith, stories of people you knew or an otherwise important time in your life where you saw God at work or walked with Him.’ I felt that this introduction to the session would give me a chance to emphasise that God is living, dynamic, far above and beyond all of our theorizing and classroom discussion.
And so I began with a story that I called, ‘The Best Christian Union’. I explained that I’d run a Christian Union (CU) in various schools between the years of 1993 to 2014. There was a multitude of good times and a couple of less encouraging times during those twenty-one years. Without a doubt, the ‘best’ Christian Union took place at Wymondham College. The normal weekly lunchtime CU meeting was underway, when we were interrupted by the college bursar. He told me that twelve Texan missionaries had unexpectedly arrived at the college. They were waiting in the reception area with various musical instruments. I went to investigate and discovered that their UK host church had delivered them to the College, but neglected to mention their planned visit to me! It was a big administrative mess up.
We took the missionaries to the College’s most popular outdoor meeting space – lovingly called, ‘The Pit’. A fellow Christian teacher ran from boarding house to boarding house encouraging the students to come and meet our surprise guests from Waco, Texas. To the astonishment of the fifteen or so regular CU members, several hundred extra folks came to see what was going on.
It seems amazing now, to think of that afternoon. The Holy Spirit moved in our midst. Row upon row of students and staff sat on the grass, transfixed as the Good News was proclaimed. We cancelled some of the afternoon lessons and the meeting continued until the end of the school day. The last minutes were taken by a time of prayer ministry. One boy asked for prayer for his foot – he had a severe infection that required regular fungicidal cream treatment by one of the house matrons. When the boy returned to the boarding house to have his cream applied, he and the matron discovered that the infection was completely healed. Praise the Lord!
The introductory story was finished and I drew my conclusion: our forthcoming discussion questions were important; our answers might be challenging, convincing, unconvincing, opinion altering, meaningless… but, an experience of God – however He may choose to manifest Himself – changes one’s life forever.