This past week, I was reminded that we never know who is in our midst, or where those around us have walked. I have learned time and time again that those who come into our lives might be there for a reason, for a season, and not by accident.
I teach a variety of academics at the elementary school where I work. But in recent years, I have been trying to help students to develop skills of resilience as well. Many of the students I work with have seen and experienced things that would be difficult for the strongest of adults to deal with, so teaching resilience is of utmost importance.
Due to my assistant being out, a man who has been a substitute for some other teachers in our school and county was helping me this week. He struck me as someone who could help teach resilience and connect with my students, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.
I knew he was a pastor as he had told me that before. He only offered up the information when I was asking him about things and trying to get to know him a bit. That was a few weeks ago. When he told me he was a pastor I had said “That makes sense…” and smiled. He’s kind, patient, unassuming with the students. He goes with the flow and is intentional about making the most of the time with the students which helps me immensely.
Well, this week, I was just curious and during a break, asked some more questions. I wasn’t prepared for the answers. Nope, not at all.
He has an accent, so I asked him where he was originally from.
He answered a name of a country in West Africa. So I asked him what brought him here to the United States. He came decades ago to study at a university here in Shelby. After asking a few more questions, I felt the need to sit down.
It turns out that this quiet, kind, unassuming man is the son of a President of a country in West Africa. That’s a pretty big deal, being a president’s son. But you would never know it by the humility with which he carries himself and the way he interacts with others. I love that. But that is not all…Nope, that is just the beginning of his story.
When he was a senior at the university (again, in the US, very far from his home in Africa), during exam week, he got a call in the middle of the night. There had been a coup. His father, the president of the country, had been killed. His mother had been thrown in prison. There were many other mass casualties in the governmental overthrow of his country, including friends and family.
How does one even begin to process that? I don’t know. I cannot begin to imagine the grief he dealt with. But as a young man, he pushed through, took his exams, and graduated from college. He then went on to seminary and has been a pastor at the same church for decades. He decided to help out in the schools because he saw the need for men to be examples for young students.
As I looked at this man and thought about all he had endured, I asked him how…how he had endured this… He said the perfect thing. That it’s about taking steps, and doing the next thing.
His faith in God helped him immensely of course.
He said that as a pastor he had taken some courses in counseling and resilience as well. He said that years after it happened, he had to revisit the memories and the pain and deal with it at a whole different level. There’s a readiness for “feeling, dealing, and healing”. These things can’t be forced…and when we feel, deal, and ….eventually….heal…well, it’s pretty amazing how we can have a positive impact on those around us, and use even the worst of things to bring about the best of things.
The next day, I went on to research the history a bit more. I know that when there’s a coup, there are two existing views, and wanted to see the core beliefs and ethics of his father’s political stance. I was so not disappointed. His Dad had fought against corruption that came with people being in office for many terms, and even as president, had rallied for maximum 8 year terms. This man was also the first Black president of the Baptist World Alliance. Here’s more irony– he was the grandson of an American slave who emigrated back to Africa in the late 19th century.
It’s an amazing story, but what makes it beautiful and amazing is not that it happened, but the beauty of the response…Hate didn’t win. At all. The son of the assassinated President of this West African country now lives a beautiful life with a family of his own, a church congregation, and young children who he is teaching in various schools. Hate did not win at all. It’s just the opposite.
So often in society, people that are victims can stay victims… but this man chose a new level of victory. He didn’t let it keep him down. I love the quote by Lysa Terkeurst that says, “It’s impossible to hold up the banners of victim & victory at the same time” . This man didn’t try. He laid his burden down step by step and faithfully did the next thing. There’s freedom in that. Beautiful freedom.
I asked him to speak to our fourth graders about his experiences as well as to some of my students. Our media team is going to interview him, and hopefully we’ll get a history lesson that has come to life right before our eyes at our school….right there in our midst.
But more than that, I’m hoping that we can be aware that we never know who is in our midst, who is walking among us. This substitute teacher teachers at many schools throughout the county and he told me, “Yes, no one knows my story…” He faithfully and quietly does his job each day, just like so many others who have such value to bring to others through sharing. We might have a treasure trove of amazing experience, wisdom, and resources right in our midst without even knowing it.
Another cool thing is that stories shared can sometimes teach us as much about ourselves as they teach us about others. I’m so thankful for this man’s example and that our paths have crossed. I’m thankful for the example of so many others who quietly lead the way, and no matter what dark chapters might come into their lives, they choose to respond in a way that gives rather than takes, enlightens rather than spreads hate. I’m thankful not just for the example and inspiration, but for the way their actions are about humbly doing the next thing.
So, here’s a reminder that you never know who is in your midst and what stories they have to share that can so enrich the view. And…you never know…you just never know who is in your midst that might even need to hear your story. Take it from me, I’m glad this man shared his with me.
One last thought…when we bring our shattered pieces to the throne of grace, love wins. It always wins.