Sunday, April 12, 2015

Letter from Harrisburg--On Passing On the Faith

Warm flame of faith starts with the smallest spark

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
APRIL 12, 2015

Let’s pray for my cat,” Sophie said one Sunday in a worried little voice. “She’s going to have kittens soon and I’m afraid she’s going to have them in the woods where I can’t find them and it’ll be raining and stuff.”

I added to my list on the back of the church bulletin — “Sophie-cat-kittens-woods-rain?”

“But you do know,” I said, “that God made cat moms to be smart about finding a warm, dry spot to have their babies, right?”

Yes, she knew that. But she still looked worried. What good was a cat mom’s warm spot if Sophie couldn’t find it? So we prayed about it.

We also prayed that Logan’s cow would soon have her calf and it would all go OK. And for McKenzie’s smashed finger and Weston’s smashed toe, and for Annika’s sick dad, and Abby’s grandma with the bad heart, and also for Annika’s family, needing a house to move into soon.

I agreed to teach this Sunday school class because I love this age, and after a year of teaching adult women, I needed something less intense, requiring less study.

It was a different kind of intensity, I found out. Ten-year-old boys have an astonishing ability to both talk and move, all the time. Every subject requires a clever comment, usually involving hunting. Or hitting.

For some reason, the girls are quieter, except for whispered comments that I’m not supposed to hear.

While I could sometimes fill the time with stories, I found I couldn’t get by with studying less. Ten-year-olds pounce if you don’t know what you’re talking about, like the time I tried to explain the lineage of the Old Testament royalty by assigning identities — lining up Ahab and Jezebel the wicked king and queen, then Ahaziah their son, Athaliah the super-wicked woman who usurped the throne, and Joash the child snatched to safety by his aunt Jehosheba.

Soon I was so confused that the kids had to align the family tree themselves.

We study a series of booklets called quarterlies with lessons designed to take the students through the entire Bible in about five years’ time.

This means I teach not only the happy, easy stories of creation, David and Goliath, Jesus’ birth, and feeding the 5,000, but also stories of obscure kings, bloody battles, and judgment for sin, all in King James version.

I try not to think too much of the heavy responsibility of passing on the faith. It seems an impossible job for a 50-something minister’s wife with a long and sometimes anguished journey imparting the truth, like a sandwich in a paper sack, to squirrely 10-year-olds.

Can I really give them something that will guide them through their future moral dilemmas, inevitable griefs and crises of conscience? That will comfort in sorrow and turn them toward wisdom and away from foolishness? That will make them a benefit and blessing to the world they’ll be part of?

I’d like to teach the Mennonite particulars as well, which are obviously needed, based on the emphasis on solving problems by punching someone.

And all in a half-hour on a Sunday morning.

Of course it’s impossible. But somehow it happened with me growing up; the adults in my life contributing a story here, a prayer, an unexpected kindness, and one day I was grown up with not only a vague faith in God’s existence, but a living flame that filled and illuminated all of life.

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus once said. “But with God all things are possible.”

So I tell stories, move the most talkative kid to the seat beside me, jot down the prayer requests, hope for a miracle, and distill the lesson into one basic thought that applies to them, for real, right now.

“God is with you, all the time.”

“Always tell the truth.”

“Suffering is better than sinning.”

“Do the right thing, even if you’re afraid.”

They lose their place in the Scripture passage, ask for another story from when I was little, dig in purses for Chapstick, and elbow the next kid because they need his pen.

I keep on.

I also laugh a lot, such as the other Sunday, when Tyler was reading from Second Kings about the prophet Elijah.

“He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his lions.”

“Loins,” I corrected.

“Oh,” said Tyler, and added, “I wondered.”

And last year, when one of the boys was reading aloud about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. “Shall a man enter the second time into” — he stopped suddenly. “ ‘his mother’s WOMB? And be BORN?’ Is this rated R?”

I dissolved in laughter and reached for a pen.

The boy’s neighbor nudged him. “She’s writing it down.”

You bet I was.

Logan’s cow had a beautiful all-black Holstein calf. The toe and finger are healing. Annika’s family is still looking for a house to rent. The grandma is going in for tests on her heart. Sophie is still worried about her cat.

How strange is God’s Kingdom, where an old-fashioned mom with bifocals talking about ancient prophets and praying for that young girl’s still-pregnant cat just might be a little part of the miraculous spark that slowly grows into a flame of faith, warm and glowing and alive.


  1. If I didn't believe this from the bottom of my heart -- that what happens in Sunday school can affect eternity in the heart of a child, I would have given up long ago. Thank you for saying this so well.

  2. This will make another excellent story in your next book. :)

  3. Thank you for the encouragement to keep on. sometimes I wonder how much it is doing to invest little bits of time in the lives of children. But I am ever so thankful for all the kind folks who invest in the lives of my children. we all need each other. Hats off to those "under appreciated" S.S. teachers!

  4. I've also been a Sunday School teacher for many years. One of my favorite stories is when a 5-year-old asked why Christians can't have multiple wives. "It's just so hard to choose," he sighed. :-)

  5. Some of the deepest questions come from these bright little minds and they so need care and knowledge. Bless you for being one of those willing to do so!

  6. I'm thinking these 'happenings' are what will help them remember the 'nuggets' tho... Years ago the lesson was on suffering. They were supposed to think of some way they'd suffered. The Teacher (my Mom) finally said that she'd stumbled over her little trampoline thing in the dark and fell. Comment from a very dry humored little boy- 'Did you bounce a lot?'