When my youngest son was in second grade, our church needed Sunday School teachers. So I volunteered to teach, and was paired with the father of another boy in the class. The father’s name was Mark; our sons had known each other since they were in toddler nursery together.
Mark and I taught Sunday School together for three years. He held the firm belief that Sunday School should be fun. Our class became known as the mutant class – we zigged when the administrators said zag. Not impressed with the standard curriculum, we’d often create Sunday School lessons from scratch. We’d alternate teaching, and then Mark would handle the competitive games (the prizes were usually candy) and I’d do the word games, usually pitting boys against girls.
The big event for our class was the camp-out, held in May at the end of the Sunday School year. Mark would manage the entire event while I did whatever he told me to do. It involved about a dozen tents for the Saturday sleepover and parents volunteers. It was sleeping in tents, games, horseback riding, a worship service on Sunday morning (which Mark put me in charge of, including the sermon), campfires, and – what was likely the highlight of the weekend – the mud pit. Mark would fill a hollow place in the dirt with water, and then there would be a competition for who could be the best mud king and best mud queen.
As you might expect, the boys loved the mud pit. As you might not expect, so did the girls.
The third and final year we taught together, we had a new student join us. Her family was new to St. Louis and our church. She was painfully – painfully – shy. She was tall, taller than most of her classmates (including the boys). She spoke very softly. She had been placed in another Sunday School class but it hadn’t worked well – she spent most of her time crying. So the Sunday School director, who usually considered Mark and I somewhat suspect, moved her to our class.
She didn’t immediately come out of her shell, but she did stop crying. She watched everything the class did but rarely participated herself, except for some of my word games and Bible quizzes. We also had the children memorize the books of the Bible, and she did really well with that.
One day after class, her mother told me and Mark that she was seeing a transformation underway in her daughter. She liked coming to Sunday School, and she was often waiting by the car for the family to drive to church. “That’s never happened before,” she said. “She’s always dreaded church.”
And then we started talking about the camp-out, spending the night in tents, the campfires and the games. The class was wildly enthusiastic. With one exception. Our shy girl was terrified. She had never spent the night away from her parents, not even with family. But we kept talking it up. She finally asked if she could come and not spend the night, and we told her that was perfectly okay.
So she came. Her mother drove her to the park, confiding in me that she had hidden extra clothes in the car trunk in case the girl decided to stay overnight. It helped that the other girls squealed as soon as they saw her arrive and dragged her off to the games.
Her mother came back at dark, and her daughter told her she had decided that she would like to stay, that the girls had found her a spot and a sleeping bag in one of their tents and, more importantly, she didn’t want to miss the graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate S’Mores.
She spent the night.
On Sunday after our worship time, came lunch and the grand finale – the mud pit competition. Imagine coating yourself head to foot with as much mud as possible. The kids had a blast.
As parents arrived to pick up their children, I was helping to hose some of the mud contestants. Our shy girl’s parents drove up, and began looking for her. When they didn’t immediately see her, worry began to cross their faces.
“She’s here,” I said. “In fact, I think that’s her coming now.”
They looked up to see an approximately five-foot-plus log of mud running toward them.
“Mother!” she screamed in absolute delight. “I am the Mud Queen!”
Her mother burst into tears. So did her father.
Teaching those three years of Sunday School was the best unpaid job I ever had. In fact, it was likely the best job, paid or unpaid, I ever had.
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Photograph by Kevin Casper via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.