How God-Moments Build Community
My life did not begin here in Lancaster County. I was born just north of here in Lebanon County. My home seemed in the middle of nowhere with a wooded mountain sloping up behind our home, rolling out into pastureland and fields below us. I grew up spending hours outside playing in the creek that ran along our pasture, working with my 4-H project animals which I showed every summer at the fairs, and helping my dad in his shop working on cars, trucks and motorcycles. I lived in a farming community where most of my friends went to one of three nearby churches and we all went school together at the local public elementary school.
But in 3rd grade things began to change for me. It was the year my baby brother was born. My parents wanted my next-to-younger brother to get better learning support, and so, with financial help from my grandparents, they decided to pull us from public school and send us to a small, private, Mennonite school here in Lancaster County. Suddenly I was pulled from my neighborhood friends and was forced spend my days with a whole new community. Not only were there new friends, but there were new ways of doing things, new ways of learning things. I now had Bible class every day. I began memorizing long passages of Scripture, like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians, several of the Psalms, like Psalms 139. I had to wear long dresses to school every day. Things were different.
But what I entered changed my life forever . . . for it was in that school community where I began to formulate, more personally, what Faith was. We were invited to put into practice the verses we read and learned in the Bible. Every morning we prayed with our teachers for each other, for our families and for our school. We even prayed for people around the world. In fact in my first year there, we collected soap for Cambodia and sent it to MCC. It was for the refugees who fled the genocide by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s. I had no idea then that one day, as an adult, I would go to live in post-war Cambodia.
Many students and many adults talk about middle school as being the worst years of their school life. But if I am honest, my middle school years were my favorite of all. Because my school was small, we could get through our lessons quickly and then spend more time doing lots of fun things outside of the classroom.
One was producing our own yearbook. Some of the pictures I’m showing you today come from different yearbooks over the years I was in that school. I love to watch our yearbook staff here at LMMS because it brings back many fond memories of producing a yearbook when I was in middle school. But we did not have computers back then. We took the pictures, developed the film and then worked to develop the photos and paste them onto big graph-paper sheets. Here is a yearbook that was produced when I was in 5th grade. For some reason they put a picture of me with my friends sitting in homeroom singing with my guitar as the cover for that year!
We also ran a greenhouse all year round growing poinsettias for Christmas and Spring flowers for the school auction. There were some years we had a horse club where students could go to a nearby farm and learn how to care for and ride horses. We got to go ice-skating on the farmer’s pond each year in the winter. We planted flowers around the school and painted outdoor buildings. Our choir went to different churches on Sundays to sing and we even came down here to LMH for the middle school choir festival. As classes, we got to know one another quite well and enjoyed working, playing and learning together.
We also spent a lot of time learning how to worship together, sing and pray. There were a number of us who liked to write our own music and poetry and would share them during devotions. I didn’t realize it then, but the fact that I was part of a school community where Faith in Jesus was central, impacted my life dramatically and helped prepare me for the next step of my life in high school.
When I graduated from 8th grade at that school, my grandparents could no longer help pay for our education. So instead of coming here to LMH with many of my friends, I needed to return to public school. My life was taking another dramatic shift and I was very nervous about returning to a much larger school where I only knew a few friends from my church. For the first time I was able to process the fact that I was going to miss my friends from middle school, not just because they were my friends, but because they had become my support and encouragement over the years. My classmates all prayed for each other before graduation, that we would feel the presence of Christ go with us, no matter what school we would go to. I continued to pray for that as I found my way around my high school.
I very much enjoyed my years in high school. I had lots of friends. I was part of lots of fun activities and extra-curriculars. But when I graduated from high school, I did not feel the same bond with my class as I had felt with my middle school class. There was something different. And to this day I have much less interest in reconnecting with my high school classmates as I do with my middle school class. Members of my middle school still enjoy connecting with one another. What was the difference?
I come back to the word, “community.” We talk a lot about community here at LMS, and for good reason. But community is not something that just happens, it is something that is built. And I would say that a community built on a common faith in Jesus, practicing the love and care he had for others makes all the difference. Me and my Christian friends in high school still enjoy getting together too – we became a caring mini-community within our public high school.
I like to say it’s the “God moments” that make the difference. I had lots of God moments, every day in my middle school years. I felt the love and care of my school community as my classmates and I learned how to express encouragement, pray for each other, work through conflict, extend forgiveness and find ways to serve others together. We became very close through these practices. God-moments are when people extend the love of Christ to each other in thoughtful, surprising and practical ways. Let me tell you about some God moments I’ve seen in the last few weeks.
• Last year our middle school put together health kits for people in Haiti following the earthquake and many students went to visit with elderly folks in local nursing homes. Those days were filled with God-moments, when we worked together to serve and care about others.
• Students have been helping each other clean out lockers and look for missing books. They are sharing their time and energy, the love of Christ, in a God-moment.
• I recently heard a couple voices of encouragement to a student asking if she was ok after being ridiculed and laughed at in the hall. Those encouraging words were a beautiful example of extending love . . . that was a God moment.
• Last week, two students welcomed someone from another country into their day, one from China and one from France. Those days were filled with God-moments, sharing love and respect across cultures.
• The quiet prayers of classmates for someone who is afraid her life-long pet won’t be there when she gets home from school are precious God-moments.
• Students sharing prayer requests for parents, family friends and neighbors are amazing God-moments.
• I saw students helping each other up in sincere kindness when they fell during skating or sledding recently. Those were God-moments.
• I heard the voices of students expressing care for a frustrated teacher after a class that was difficult. Those were God moments for that teacher.
• God moments include cheering for all participants in the talent show and standing in respectful quiet while a student performs a Korean dance.
These are holy moments. Moments where we show our care for one another. It is how we build community and make school a place that is different, a place where love is put into practice, where we can feel safe, especially at a time in our lives when our self-confidence can be quite fragile.
More than anything, I want you to feel like you are part of a middle school community that loves you and cares for you. I want middle school to be a fun and enriching time of your life. Not everything was easy for me in middle school. I learned a lot about how to be a better friend and more caring. And so this is a time for you to learn too, skills of kindness, honesty, encouragement, peacemaking, gentleness, goodness . . . all the character traits that show that the Holy Spirit of Jesus himself lives in you and in your friends. This is an opportunity for you to live a new life and make Faith something that you can carry with you no matter where you go.
My prayer for each of you and for this school is that the peace of Christ be all around us, over us, under us, within us, so that our school community and classes can share a bond that goes deeper than we could ever imagine possible.
Lord Jesus, may it be so.