We are wrapping up a series at Nativity called Lost Investment, about pouring into the younger generation, who will be the church of tomorrow. This series included a sobering look at our “iY” generation, a generation of contradictions–weaknesses and promise, amazing strengths and deficits placed upon them by their parents, teachers and mentors.
I recently read about our obligation to have both a Paul and a Timothy in our lives. Paul, the great evangelist, mentored a young man named Timothy. So, for us, a Paul would be a mentor, a leader who draws out the best in us and makes us want to honor God. A Timothy is the person who we pour into ourselves after we have benefited from the Paul in our lives. We lead our Timothys and are led by our Pauls.
My Paul is named Jerry. Actually, I called him Señor. He was my Spanish teacher throughout high school. But he was so much more.
Señor was an amazing man in his own right. He was the first black scholarship student-athlete at Virginia Tech (a hurdler and a runner). He has a lot of firsts, too many to list. You can read about some of them here. He is a husband and a father, a teacher and a school leader. He was a coach and an athlete. He was a great son himself to his loving parents, and continues to be a great son to his Heavenly Father.
To me, he was a teacher of Spanish, but more so, a teacher of life, who wanted his students to know they were loved, and that he loved God. He didn’t shove it down our throats (my throat was impenetrable at that time), but we knew he loved God. Even if we thought it was weird, we knew he was someone who could be trusted. We knew he would help us and lead us in the right direction.
He didn’t “God” us to death, meaning, he let us know what his faith was but didn’t judge us for not being of the same mind. Indeed, I always felt like he made a greater effort for those who were truly lost, to befriend them and comfort them. As it should be.
In high school, my existence was more perilous than most people knew, even more perilous than he knew. I swam sometimes 5 hours a day with weight training on top of that. I lived the sport. I was the sport. It was dangerous. He sensed it, but always let me knew he valued me as much more than a girl who could pay her way to college by jumping in a pool. He once told me he thought I could be a better runner than a swimmer. Anyone who has witnessed my running times knows that was a sure impossibility. Still, that was the kind of confidence he had in my generation, and he was never stingy with expressing it.
Señor would gently wake me up in first period Spanish class by staring his enormous head (and partial Afro-it was the 80s) right in my face until I opened my eyes. I would be hungry in the morning after my 4:45 am practices, so he often brought in popsicles and a great trail mix of peanuts and M&Ms, which we would eat between classes as we chatted about life and sometimes about God. He explained to me about his faith, even though I did think it was strange to be so over the top about someone you can’t see.
When I went to college, I wrote him letters (in Spanish) and he answered me (in English). He did a reading at my wedding, perhaps awkwardly sticking out as one of the few people of color at my wedding, and not a Catholic. It was awesome.
I miss him, and I just missed his surprise retirement party last weekend. But his life lessons have taken me through some real ups and downs. I will never forget his counsel.
He was like Paul in so many ways. He was brave and bucked the system when the system was wrong. He warned us, and sometimes sternly, when we were heading down the wrong path, just like Paul did. But even in those stern moments, we knew he loved us and that we were worthy of being loved.
This man is a huge part of the reason I am a Christian today. He poured into the young generations for over 30 years. He is a hero to me and thousands of others, even some probably unknown to him. He never considered us a lost investment, even if we seemed quite lost, kids of the 1980s–as a whole, quite a godless, rudderless bunch, it seemed to me.
And yet, by his continual witness, he never lets me off the hook. Even today, he is still challenging me, despite time and physical distance.
Who will I be a Paul to? Who will be my Timothy?
Who will be yours?