In the center of the room were several trapezoid tables, put together in a circle. A larger table sat in the center of the circle. On it were baskets and trays of shells, rocks, a pine cone, a bird's nest, sea creatures and other specimens of nature. Each of the outside tables -- the trapezoids -- provided desk space for two children and each held two sets of Sunday School essentials: a Bible, a promise book, a cup with crayons, pencils and other school supplies, a stuffed animal, and a crown.
This is the second grade Sunday School classroom, and Myrlene Grant is the teacher. She spends most of her days at the church, preparing and praying for her weekly hour with her kids.
Myrlene has been teaching second grade for seven or eight years. I thought maybe she'd been a school teacher too, but she said she had just always loved kids. She raised three children of her own (she now has 12 grandkids too) and worked for the state as a home health aide. It's that love of kids that propels her and keeps her coming to the classroom most weekdays and teaching every Sunday.
Looking around at her very busy room, she told me, "Kids learn better when there is a lot to engage them, much more than in a sterile environment."
And there's plenty to engage kids in this room! Every nook and cranny is used to store or display visuals that will stir the minds of seven-year-olds as they gather each week to learn more about God as revealed in scripture, in creation, and in Christ. As it would soon be the second Sunday of Christmas, they would be talking about the wise men and, if time permitted, they'd be dressing up and carrying gifts of gold to the nursery, where they would find a baby swaddled and waiting for them.
Pat, who just married my niece Amy, has a girl in Miss Myrlene's classroom. "When we were talking about Mary and Joseph I said, 'It's so exciting when you're planning for a wedding. I'll bet Bella knows about that! But when there's a baby coming, suddenly you have a whole new set of concerns.
"'Did you know that Joseph had the right to take Mary into the middle of the street and have people throw stones at her until she died? He had a really big decision to make. What do you think he decided?'
"It was the end of the class, and I told them good-bye and we'll talk about this next week" she told me. "It was something for them to think about during the week. One boy left the classroom saying, 'I think Joseph had people throw stones at Mary.'"
Most of these kids have heard the stories of the Bible all their lives, Myrlene told me, so she tries to bring the stories to the kids in ways they can really grasp.
"Don't tell me you never fight with your brothers and sisters," she tells the kids. She isn't too interested in their "Sunday School answers," but wants them to learn to interact with the Bible in their daily lives.
She showed me the sign-in sheet. "Instead of having an attendance book, I have the kids sign in. And each week I ask them a question related to the last week's lesson that they can answer as well. See these crowns?" she asked. "They each get a crown at the beginning of the year. The jewels represent each week that they come to class."
Besides learning the books of the Bible in the second grade (they will each receive a Bible at the end of the school year) and getting an overview of scripture throughout the year (that's why the creation items are on the center table just now. "We get to Abraham by Advent, and after that we do Noah's Ark and the room fills up with stuffed animals.") they focus on God's promises. That's where the promise books that are at each child's place come into play.
Each week they get a new worksheet or two to add to their promise books. They might fill in the blanks, or solve a puzzle, or draw a picture as a reminder of the scripture that they are studying.
And always, calling out to them from the whiteboard, are the truths of scripture that the children are being exposed to week after week. And as they leave the room, still they have God's Word to take with them.
What a rich blessing the second graders of Chapel by the Lake in Juneau receive from their year in Miss Myrlene's classroom. She is planting in them scripture and its practical application that will be a strong foundation for them for the rest of their lives. This dear woman, with no formal training but a deep love for kids and for the Lord, coupled with an attitude of availability, is impacting children for eternity.
Thank you, Myrlene, for your example.