From the Desk of the Chairperson…
"You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."John 15:16
How witnessing can change lives (especially your own)
As you may know, I teach at an inner city high school in New York. Many of my students face challenges that most of us have been lucky enough to avoid. One of these students, “Andy” recently shared with me that his mother had committed suicide. I was heartbroken that Andy had to carry this with him, but honored that he trusted me with this information. Both as a professional and a Christian, I now had the responsibility to see that Andy got the support and counsel that he needed.
The same day I learned Andy’s secret, he sent me a message on Google Chat. The message said, “Amen! That’s powerful stuff!” He was referring to my chat status, which was a quote about the courage and strength that Christ seeks from His followers.
Suddenly, I was in a serious bind. As a teacher, I must pay careful mind to the separation of church and state, as I should. It is important that young people learn to respect all faiths and beliefs. And yet, I felt like my hands were tied.
I wanted to share my faith with Andy, since he was obviously addressing it in a meaningful way. It was clear to me that he was looking to connect and to be comforted. But by law, I can’t talk about religion with my students unless I am teaching them facts. We’ve covered just about every religion from animism to Zoroastrianism. But, I cannot speak about God in a personal way, so that I am not “endorsing” one religion over the other. In other words, I am not allowed to do what Christ asks of every Christian: witnessing my faith.
But what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to tell him I couldn’t talk to him about “that stuff”? Was I supposed to risk my job to answer a calling from God to be there for a kid who had lost so much? Or was I supposed to turn it into a lesson about religion and make sure to add a disclaimer -- something along the lines of, “Yes, Andy, Christians do believe in the power of God in times of need– as do Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus (but more than one), and then there’s Buddhists and Zen Buddhists and…”
In the end, I did none of the above. While I contemplated my next move (and maybe my fate), Andy changed the subject to homework and we moved on. I think my hesitation sent the message. He probably realized that I didn’t know how to respond.
I learned an important lesson that day. Christ will give us opportunities to witness that are challenging. It is up to us to rise to the occasion. Looking back, I probably could have just asked Andy questions about his own faith. Part of witnessing is getting others to reflect on their own relationship with God. I let that chance pass, but if it happens again, I’ll be ready.
Witnessing is not an easy thing to do in our secular world, but it is something we are called to do all the time. Some of us do it without even realizing. It may be wearing a cross in the workplace.It may be answering a curious classmate’s questions about your Armenian Christian identity. Or it may be more blatant, like the situation that I faced with Andy. And you may not always know how to witness without feeling weird about it, which is okay. Being a Christian isn’t supposed to be easy. Interestingly enough, the quote that sparked this whole thing is from an ACYOA document from the 1960s that reads:
“Christianity is not a religion for the timid, for it takes courage and strength of conviction to resist that which is comfortable, convenient and traditional in favor of God’s will…”
The same applies to witnessing. It is not an easy thing to do, and it certainly may feel uncomfortable at times. But we must do it, because it is what Christ asks of us. And it is through these experiences that our own faith will grow. Andy’s life may not have changed that day, but mine did. Thinking about what to say to him made me realize how important my faith is to me, and that I must be willing to stand up for it. I look forward to more of these challenges in the future.
How have you witnessed your faith lately? Share your stories with us on Facebook by clicking here or by visiting our ACYOA Facebook page and clicking on “How have you witnessed your faith lately?”under the “Discussions” tab.