I was struck by the reporting of an incident in a New Jersey charter school a couple weeks ago. A nine-year-old boy was trying to open a water bottle with his mouth when the cap became lodged in his throat. When he wasn’t able to cough it out, he ran to his teacher, Ms. Jenkins, who immediate took action and performed the Heimlich maneuver which dislodged the bottle cap and made it possible for the young boy to breathe again. What a relief! Thank you, Ms. Jenkins for your quick response, for your well trained action, and for BEING THERE!
In my 45 years of Lutheran education ministry, I have never taken for granted the presence of teachers, administrators, aides, volunteers, and other professionals who are always “there” with students. Readers will be well aware of many emergencies such as the once described above, but I was also thinking about all of the ways that “being there” have had dramatic impacts on children in more subtle ways. Teachers are present to calm frustrations, settle arguments, counsel worried teens, pray with grieving families, and celebrate the many joys experienced every day. Students remember those things.
Lutheran schools are packed with situations where “being there” is especially important for staff members when “being together” means making important decisions, planning for new directions, sorting through family distresses, praying for congregation struggles, and reacting to times of crises, even pandemics that last over two years. We have learned how to “be there” even when not physically present, when relationships, love and Christian compassion are as critical as ever.
Leaders of congregations, early childhood centers, elementary and secondary schools are increasingly facing the challenges of “being there” in the midst of growing societal and political pressures that have never before been experienced. New questions arise each day about what it means to be in ministry to families and individuals who have very different backgrounds and expectations of our schools, yet have more need than ever to hear and feel the love of Jesus in their lives. What does “being there” mean when the very definitions of family, gender, and prejudice are being questioned and challenged around us? How do we make sure we are equipped to make a difference when we ARE there?
The nine-year-old New Jersey boy was very blessed to have Ms. Jenkins, his teacher, be THERE when he had such an immediate need. I imagine he and the other students are even more appreciative than ever of Ms. Jenkins being THERE every day. I can’t even imagine the consequences of her not being there at the time. I am concerned about our lack of willingness to “be there” sometimes for the families that need us most in many communities around the world. I pray for God’s strength and guidance as we extend our reach.
Ms. Jenkins’ humble comment regarding the young boy’s potential disaster was “He can’t talk so I just turn him around and I perform the Heimlich maneuver and here we are.” Here WE are indeed … called by God to be ready for anything, to boldly meet the challenges, and to “be there” to share the love of the risen Savior with all people.