Nan started teaching the junior high class when I was in 8th grade. I was pretty jaded on church youth programs, having just endured a Big Island youth group trip where I felt like I had been thrown to barracudas, and had learned to swear in defense (a habit, unfortunately, I've never broken).
Nan announced that we would study the book of Revelation, humbly protesting that she was a boring teacher who only knew how to plod verse by verse.
And then she opened to Chapter 1.
And I was hooked.
Although I can't remember many specifics from back then, her pedagogy taught me far more than any details about lamps or dragons or lukewarm churches. Here are some of the most important lessons:
- The Bible is complex, there are many ways to look at each passage (Nan often gave 5 different ways scholars saw certain things), but if you dig hard and stay with the text, good news inevitably follows.
- Questions are at the heart of vibrant faith! Nan welcomed questions, and when she didn't know the answer, went home to look up potential answers. One time a kid asked about heaven and hell. All us "churchy" kids snickered at his ignorance. But Nan took him seriously and came back with everything the Bible said about heaven and hell. Turns out there's not that much and it isn't so simple after all.
- God is good! And you don't have to throw out your brains to believe in Him!
- Trust: Nan trusted us and she trusted God. She didn't pound dogma or "right" thinking into our noggins. Instead, she provided options for how we could consider things and said, "Pray and see what God tells you." Wow! Encouraging 8th graders to make good decisions after prayer--now that's trust!
When I moved to China in 9th grade, Nan sent a care package from the Sunday School class for Christmas. She included small ichthus/fish earrings that somehow didn't get stolen by the Chinese postal service. I wear one of them in my left ear to this day. But far more than gold earrings, being remembered and nurtured as I stumbled through culture-shock and geometry in Chinese meant the world to me.
When I returned from Beijing, to my joy, I learned that Nan would still teach my class and she continued with us through 11th grade. (By my senior year the church decided to spread the wealth to other ages, despite my complaints)
Several times in those years, when I ran across a Bible passage that made no sense whatsoever, I called Nan. Each time, she spent a couple hours away from her two sons and husband and on the phone with me. For someone who said she was a humble teacher, she always knew the troublesome passage and how various scholars interpreted it.
Over the years, my penchant for questioning got me in trouble and sometimes rejected by believers who didn't like being challenged. But when I looked at those who judged me, versus folks like Nan who encouraged me, it was easy to decide whose opinion I cared about and who I wanted to emulate.
If I've ever ministered in a way that's brought the same lessons to students and faculty, and I sure hope I have, it's because Nan's teaching has altered my spiritual DNA.