Thursday, July 29, 2010

This summer, I have been reading St. Augustine's Confessions - albeit in fits and starts, a little here and a little there. Amid the just-for-fun books such as Xenocide and All Creatures Great and Small (quite delightful after graduate school), the record of Augustine's spiritual experience comes back to haunt me and to challenge my own spiritual growth.

Perhaps the most memorable vignette so far involves Augustine's mother, Monica - grief-stricken over her son's slide into heresy and his impending move to Rome, a symbolic move away from the Christian faith of his Carthaginian childhood. Augustine remembers that she follows him down to the wharf as he prepares to leave for Rome, that she guesses he is departing even though he lies and tells her he is only seeing off a friend. As Augustine slips away in the middle of the night, Monica is up praying desparately for her son's return - a prayer that God denies.

Augustine, however, does not conclude that God denied her prayers out of spite - something that cannot be attributed to our God. He does not conclude that God does not desire to provide for her nor even that God wished her to suffer through this period of division from her rebellious son - this final conclusion one that would perhaps be similar to conclusions that some contemporary believers draw. Augustine writes that God "saw deeper and granted the essential of her prayer", that He "did not do what she was at that moment asking, [so] that [He] might do the thing which she was always asking" - bringing Augustine to salvation, something that only happened once he reached Rome.

As believers, we notice when God apparently fails to answer prayer and we conclude that perhaps He knows that what we ask would not be good, or perhaps He wishes us to experience a period of suffering - both acceptable, and often true, conclusions. At a deeper level, however, perhaps God does not answer prayer, not because He wishes to deny us something, but because He wishes to grant us something good. Monica's desire that her son remain in Carthage flew in the face of her deeper & greater desire that Augustine be saved, and so God denied the one and answered the other. As human beings, we have many desires - for a job to pay the rent and grocery bills, for specific direction in every decision, for peace in our relationships with others. Although these desires are all good, as Monica's was itself good, these expectations may well hinder what should be our deepest desire: that we grow closer to God and become more like Him. And so, when God denies our everyday desires, we can rest assured that He is working to bring about those things that we truly desire most.

My plans were, of course, to arrive in the Czech Republic this August - to teach literature there, supporting the work of the local missionaries and mentoring my students in their relationship with Christ. This prayer God denied. What the succeeding months will show is what greater prayers He is answering through this one denial - prayers for those in Prague, and those of us here in the States, and our individual relationship to Christ.

In more specific news, I have seen 3 new monthly supporters join my team - bringing my support up to just under 40%! Additionally, I have received my Czech visa (I just need to send off for it through the mail). My hope is to be in Prague in January, thereby finishing out the school year & these steps show good progress. Thanks to those of you who are supporting me through prayer and finances at this time.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In recent news:

1. My support level reached 27% yesterday - hurrah! Although this is good progress, it is (of course) not enough for me to purchase my plane ticket & leave for Prague just yet. Please be in prayer as I continue to discover who God would have to support me.
2. I accepted a job at Kansas State University, teaching writing and literature there for the fall semester. No word on what happens after the fall (with any luck, I'll be in Prague), but until then, I'm looking forward to using this time to prepare financially for my missions trip and especially to work on my educational skills.
3. Finally, I promise not to regale you all with a theoretical justification of English - important as that is! Today's post is a story.

Many of you know that I taught Introduction to Literature at Kansas State University last year. Although I enjoyed teaching at KSU (and will be returning for the fall semester), I did feel some of the discomfort that comes from being a Christian in a secular environment. Last semester, however, was different.

Many of last semester's students were religiously skepticial, preferring to espouse animal rights or mixed-up ideas of justice or heroism or faith. There was one student, however, who was a believer. About five weeks into the course, she turned in a paper about hope after death, and I suspected. A few weeks after that, we had a chance to talk one-on-one (she was considering changing her major), and she told me her faith was important to her and that she was a believer - actually active in one of the student ministries on campus.

As the semester progressed, we had a chance to discuss her concerns about changing her major and the abilities she demonstrated in my class. I offered to pray for her, and she expressed her gratitutde. I also noticed her effort to speak up and defend her religious perspective in the class. Her presence in the class was an encouragement to me (as I hope mine was to her!) - a neat opportunity to experience the mentoring student-to-teacher relationship that is sometimes difficult to reach at KSU, and a good preview of what I look forward to at the Christian International School of Prague. Many of you have heard me say this before, but it's still true: in education, the relationship and not the facts matter. A teacher should support her students emotionally and spiritually as much as possible, not just academically - which is what I aim to do at CISP.

What do you think? What makes the teacher-student relationship a success, besides academics? How do you know you've 'made it' as a teacher?