One of the songs indelibly impressed upon my memory as a fourth-generation Adventist who regularly attended Sabbath School is “A Sermon in Shoes.” It contains these lines:
“Jesus counts upon you to spread the gospel news,
So walk it, and talk it, a sermon in shoes.”
For the past 23 years I have been employed as a public high school history teacher. Not long after I started I realized that teaching in a poverty--stricken school district was God’s mission field for me. That song often reverberated in my head, especially when confronted with the challenges of low student motivation, disinterested parents, mediocre teachers, and limited funding.
A sermon, Lord? Really?
Fortunately, having a prayer partner buoyed my spirits when tough days caused me to question if this was where God wanted me. We prayed for me to have a Godlike spirit in the classroom, when I cannot openly talk about Jesus. We prayed for difficult students by name, those who unknowingly scream for me to give them some “mama love.”
But recently I prayed that the Lord would use me to lead someone to know Him and become a Seventh-day Adventist.
That fall I saw Helen in the hallway between classes. We smiled and spoke to each other, and I asked if she was a substitute. She was a retired principal from a neighboring district and was substituting to earn travel money to see the world. I asked for her phone number, so that I could request her as a substitute in my classroom when I had to be absent.
When she gave me her number she went on to say, “I’ve been watching you. There’s something different about you.” She apparently could tell that her comment caught me off guard, because she went on to say, “I mean in a good way.”
We both laughed and she asked, “Are you a Christian?” I told her I was, and she asked, “What denomination?”
“I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.”
Without missing a beat, Helen stomped her foot on the ground and said excitedly, “A Seventh-day Adventist! I’ve been wanting to know how I can become a Seventh-day Adventist.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Not wanting to overreact, I calmly responded, “Well, I can certainly help you with that.”
She had no idea how excited I was. Imagine: me, a preacher’s wife; a former Bible teacher; a public school teacher wondering if I was making a difference.
I went home that afternoon asking the Lord to show me how to win her to Him His way.
The Holy Spirit whispered to me to invite her to have lunch in my classroom the next time she came to substitute. On the day we scheduled lunch I brought spaghetti and salad. I brought real plates, real utensils, and real glasses, not paper products. It was as if the Holy Spirit had said, “Make her feel special.”
Helen was elated. She couldn’t believe spaghetti could taste so good without meat.
Next the Lord told me to give her a Christmas present. So I gave her a CD of pianist Sam Ocampo playing classic hymns as only Sam can play them. She loved it!
I was then impressed to send her Message magazine, but I didn’t tell her that I was sending it to her. One day, after substituting for another teacher, she popped into my room and said, “You’re sending me Message magazine, aren’t you?”
“Do you like it?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it!”
In June, with the school year nearly over, I ran into Helen in the faculty lounge. The Holy Spirit said, “Invite her to hear you speak at church in two weeks.”
So that’s what I did. I asked if she would like to go to church with me. Doing the “Helen stomp,” she stomped her foot and said, “I’d love to go to church with you!”
Inasmuch as I was the guest speaker, I was concerned that she not be by herself. So I invited a dear Christian, Andrea Smith, to come to church with us and sit with Helen throughout the service.
The Lord blessed us that Sabbath. Members of the Capitol City church embraced her; the food at the potluck after church was good; and the Word that the Lord had given me fed her heart. As we drove home from church Helen said, “God is calling me to higher ground. I’ve been a Baptist all my life, but I can’t stay a Baptist with the knowledge I have now. It’s time to go to higher ground.”
Once again that still, quiet voice spoke to me. I asked, “Would you like to have Bible studies?”
She stomped her foot and said, “I’d love to have Bible studies.” Knowing that I was going to be away most of the summer traveling with my husband, I asked Andrea if she and her husband, Ron, would give her Bible studies. Andrea gladly consented.
I received a text message from Helen that July, asking if I would be in Stockton at the end of August. I was there to see Helen get baptized at the Mayfair Seventh-day Adventist Church by Lanston Sylvester.
A sermon in shoes. It’s a catchy tune. I’m glad I never got it out of my mind. “So walk it, and talk it, and teach it, and preach it, a sermon in shoes!”
Audrey Weir-Graham lives in Stockton, California, and travels around the Pacific Union Conference with her husband, Ricardo.