Monday, June 12, 2017

An important lesson from a terrible story

As I wrote in February, God has coordinated now as the time for working on primary school material, starting with literacy. We did quite a bit of praying and research to find where to start. We wanted to find starting material from before the 1920s, both because then it would be out of copyright and available for use, but also because that was before many of the modern flaws in education took root. We found the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, which were highly praised and used for many years across America. We were impressed with the rigorous way it builds up reading ability, and pleased to see its designs to teach students good moral lessons from a Christian perspective. We began reformatting them for use in Africa.

Near the end of the first reader, we came across this lesson:

O, what a sad, sad sight is this! A boy with a dunce-cap on his head! Why does he stand there, in front of the school? What has he done? He is a bad boy. He talks and laughs in school. He loves to be i-dle, and does not leam his les-son. Does he not look bad? All the good boys shun him! Do you think a good boy can love a bad one? Can his teach-er love him? I think not. No one loves a bad boy- No one can love those who are bad. This boy tries to hide his face with his hand, for it is red with shame. Can you see his face? Do you see how he tries to hide it with his hand? Poor boy! I hope he will be good, and nev-er have to wear a dunce-cap a-gain. God loves those who are good. If you would please Him, you must al-ways be good and kind.

Oh, my! How did William H. McGuffey, an ordained Presbyterian minister, come to write and publish something like that? How could he have overlooked that God loves us while we are sinners? And if Jesus commands us to love our enemies who do us real harm, surely a teacher can love a troublesome, but helplessly young, pupil! Perhaps this was added after his death by others who worked on the series; I don't know.

We rewrote this story quite a bit to emphasize that God loves us no matter what, and we are to love each other no matter what, although sin still brings shame and consequences. But I take this instance as an important lesson for me as a missionary to remember: we Christians, even professional teacher/ministers, can have huge blind spots in what we say about God, places where we should know better because the Bible clearly states the truth. But somehow, we have a tendency to read over the verses that don't fit with our preconceived notions. A lot of missionary training involves looking at the "blind spots" that have hurt mission efforts in the past, when missionaries doggedly stuck to their preconceived notions they weren't really biblical. Of course plenty of training highlights successes of missions as well, but this I find an important reminder to have humility, to plead with God regularly to give us His wisdom and direction in what we teach and how, that we may not lean on our own understanding.

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