April 10, 2020

The God of Second Graders

On the Friday before Easter I was counting to 20 in an attempt to keep my temper. The entire week I’d been telling my squirmy second graders about Passion Week for Bible class. Every day their behavior had gotten worse. Now it was Friday, and I wanted to tell them about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We were 15 minutes into school, and already I had confiscated two toys, written three names on the board, and lost half my class’s attention to notes, drawings, and whispered conversations.

I stopped talking. My students didn’t notice. I was so frustrated. I was frustrated with my kids, with Palau, with myself—mostly myself. I was a bad teacher. Of course, I wasn’t really a teacher, just a college student. I didn’t expect to do a good job teaching. I did think I might be a good missionary, though.


I’d always had this mental image of missionaries in the middle of the jungle doing medical work all day, having meetings and Bible studies, evangelizing and baptizing, then dying there and being buried by people who loved them. Years later, everyone in the entire region would be Christian, and they would say it was because this person came and sacrificed for them.

I didn’t really want to die on Palau. I just wanted to be remembered for what I’d done. Ha! My students didn’t even remember that I was standing in front of the classroom.

Right then I prayed what may have been the shortest prayer ever prayed. Help! I wasn’t angry after that, but I still didn’t know what to do, which was funny, because I was doing something. I turned around and started writing names on the board. By the fifth name, my kids realized what was happening. “Teacher, I wasn’t talking!” they protested. “Teacher, why?”

I didn’t know. At least one of my girls started crying. After I turned back around I was facing 22 silent and attentive children. I didn’t know what to say. “Do you deserve to have your names on the board?”

Did I just say something? Am I still talking? Apparently I was, pointing out the classroom rules. “Were you sitting quietly in your seats?”

A few confused nods. “Were you listening to Teacher?”

Now they just squirmed. I worked my way down the list and didn’t stop when I came to the end. “Have you disobeyed your parents? Have you been mean to your brothers and sisters? Have you thrown rocks at animals? Have you lied? Cheated? Stolen?

“Do you deserve to have your name on the board?” They all said yes. I waited for myself to start talking again.

“Can any of you erase your own names from the board?” Well, no. Their names would be up there until the end of the day when they endured their punishment and went home.

A Teaching Moment

“Do you know what sin is?” I asked. Silence. “Sin is when you do something wrong, like what I just talked about. Sin is when you do something God doesn’t want you to do. It’s like getting your name on the board. Do any of you know what the punishment for sin is?”

The students were afraid to answer by now, but they were pretty sure it was worse than staying after school and talking to Teacher.

“The punishment for sin is death—forever death.” Teachers shouldn’t tell their students they’re going to die! my mind screamed. I’m going to hear from their parents about this. But by the time I started paying attention to myself again, I was saying, “God loves us very much. He doesn’t want us to die forever, so He sent His Son, Jesus, to live with us. Jesus never sinned. He never got His name on the board. But at the end of the week that we’ve been talking about, angry people killed Him. They were upset that He’d never sinned and that He did so many good things for people.

“Jesus didn’t deserve to die, but He took our punishment for us. So now, if any of us want to have our sins erased, all we have to do is ask God and He’ll do it, because of what Jesus did for us.

“That’s not the best part,” I continued. “You see, two days after Jesus died, God called Him from His grave, and now Jesus is alive. He lives in heaven, and someday, when we go there, we’ll be able to talk to Him and thank Him for what He did for us.”

With the most amazing shock I’ve ever experienced, I realized that God had used me; not because I was a super missionary, but because I knew I needed Him.

“How many of you want your names erased from the board?”

They all raised their hands. I erased all their names that day, and I was so thankful to know a God who speaks to second graders.


Jen Dickerson missed overseas missions so much after graduating from Union College that she served as a missionary to Japan. This article was originally published in Adventist Review on July 25, 2006.