Last Monday, I did something that I never ever dreamed I would do. I found myself sitting in a pew at First Baptist Church in Durant, MS. This is the church where I grew up. I was sitting there on Monday, June 25, staring at a wooden casket holding the earthly body of my 37-year-old brother Trae.
While attending his funeral was not in my plans, I know that God has His plans and I trust them. I don\’t always understand them. Being there at the funeral, with everything going on, I felt comforted by being "home." It was so nice to be back in the church that helped shape my love for children’s ministry.
As I entered the church fellowship hall before the visitation on Monday, I knew that I would be greeted by several ladies from the church who helped prepare a meal for my family. What I did not know was that Mr. Terry would be there. Mr. Terry was one my third and fourth grade Sunday School teachers. To be honest I don\’t remember a lot about what I learned in Sunday School. I mean, I know that I learned something, but that isn\’t really what I remember. I remember the relationships. Mr. Terry, his wife Mrs. Donna, and Mrs. Betty taught my class. One day, they took our class ice skating in Memphis. This was my first trip to Memphis and certainly my first time ice skating. I also remember that Mr. Terry always prayed for the afflicted on Sunday morning. It was a while before I understood what afflicted meant, but it always stood out that he remembered to pray for them. When the visitation started, I stayed toward the front of the parlor to welcome our friends and family who had come to offer condolences. I also was trying to keep an eye on my sweet Mom and Dad who were grieving the loss of their son. It wasn\’t long that I was standing there until Mrs. Donna and Mrs. Betty appeared in the doorway. How neat it was that all of my third and fourth grade Sunday School teachers came to my brother’s funeral.
I remember that Mrs. Donna always took attendance and Mrs. Betty led the songs in Sunday School. I also remember that I looked forward to getting an Adventure pamphlet (now magazine) so I could read it in case big church was boring!
Both ladies gave me big hugs and told me that they loved me. It wasn\’t long until I looked up to see Mr. Plez had come into the parlor. He reached out his arms and gave me a hug. He told me that he was praying for me. Mr. Plez was one of my first and second grade teachers. I remember in his class a few things. He would let us drink coffee that we would get from our parents\’ Sunday School class and one day, John Mark spilled his coffee on himself. Mr. Plez drove a blue car and I remember that he calmly told John Mark he would taked him home to get changed since JM’s parents weren\’t there that day. (This was, of course, the days before heightened church security!) I also remember that at Christmas we had an aluminum Christmas Tree that we would make garland for. I forgot to get a picture of Mr. Plez!
A few minutes later, sweet Mrs. Jan came in the door. Mrs. Jan was the director of our fifth and sixth grade Sunday School class after Mrs. Helen Smith passed away during my fifth grade year.
It was in Mrs. Jan’s class that I learned the books of the Bible. I remember that Mrs. Jan was very faithful to Sunday School and she is still teaching children’s Sunday School. Unfortunately, many people have moved away from Durant and Mrs. Jan just has one child in her class. So different from when I was growing up. Mrs. Jan always taught the Bible study during Sunday School and then she would teach the girls in small group.
Next, Mr. Buddy came through the doors. Mr. Buddy is a dear man to me even before he was my Sunday School teacher. His wife, Mrs. Lynn was my second grade school teacher. Mr. Buddy was also my fifth and sixth grade teacher. He taught the boys\’ small group. Every year, throughout my children’s Sunday School experience my teachers would make a huge impact on my life by being at church faithfully and always being excited to see us. Mr. Buddy was always so much fun.
In total, I had 8 Sunday School teachers from first through sixth grade at FBC Durant. One of those teachers passed away while I was in her class many years ago, and another teacher couldn\’t be at the funeral. So, out of seven teachers, six of them were at my brother’s funeral. That’s 86% of my teachers!
As I thought about it, I realized they weren\’t there because they had been my brother’s teachers because they never taught him. We moved to Durant when Trae was going into seventh grade. It was because they loved me and my family. We were a small, close-knit community and my teachers had relationships with my family. They loved us.
As you think about your own experiences as a kidmin leader, what are you investing the most time in? Is it getting to know the kids and building relationships with them or is it calendaring the next big event? Big events stand out in my mind, but not necessarily what happens at them, but who was there. For me, I will never forget that my Sunday School teachers loved me enough come to my brother’s funeral over 20 years later!
Awesome article, Jeff!! It’s neat to sit down and reflect on our lives when we were the ages of the kiddos that we minister too each week. It sure has my mind reeling too as I’m recalling those who helped shape my life too. Thanks for sharing. Still praying for your family in the days ahead.
Jeff, you are so right about the comfort and love provided at FBC Durant. I am so glad that wonderful people vested their time in ministering to my boys and because of that I was able to raise/rear three precious sons who love the Lord. I am so glad that you got to see these wonderful people and get pictures of them. It was great to be at a place where you knew that God would work through his people to bring the comfort and encouragement we needed. Our son and your brother, Trae, would have been so very pleased by the whole service. I am praying for you and Bobby as the times ahead will be very hard. I love you, Mama