This is the Bible History classroom at Hixson High School that tragically has one less student than a week ago. On Saturday night, August 18th, 2018, a Hixson man shot and killed his 15-year-old son, who happened to be a public school Bible History student in Mr. Quincy Harris’ Old Testament Survey class. The newspaper reports the father of this boy is being held in jail under a $1,000,000 bond and has been charged with criminal homicide.
On Friday, Mr. Harris’ classroom was filled with 34 energetic and bubbly Bible History students. However, on Monday one could have heard a pin drop as Mr. Harris broke through the silence to call the roll. This time, only 33 students responded. Additionally, on Monday morning, a student in the same class learned of the tragic passing of their younger sibling due to illness.
If you know a teacher or educational leader, you likely know serving youth these days in any capacity is not for the faint of heart. How is a teacher supposed to begin crafting lesson plans for students who are trying to process news of the slaying of a fellow classmate – let alone knowing their friend’s life was taken by his own father? What about the child who will go home to try to eat dinner with one less person at their table? How does one comfort these levels of pain, confusion, or fear? Quite simply, many young people in our schools are dealing with tough circumstances. Where is their hope? It is times like these that we are grateful for the presence of Bible History teachers in 25 Hamilton County Schools, who can show students where to turn to find hope when they’re hurting.
Hixson High School alumnus and Bible History teacher, Mr. Quincy Harris, in addition to having two degrees, has 7 years of experience in the U.S. Air Force as a Military Policeman, a Criminal Investigator, and a Hostage and Crisis Negotiator. Mr. Harris’ experience in the Air Force has therefore uniquely positioned him to be able to help his students talk through and process situations of acute grief. He is familiar with the consequences of heinous crime, and he is also able to openly point students in his public school classroom to passages in the Bible from which they can draw comfort and hope in times of grief. It’s likely, that for a while, the start of class will feel like no ordinary roll call; however, how beautiful it is that Mr. Harris can invite students to open the the Bible, which is no ordinary Book! Psalm 30:5b reminds us, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Last Thursday's news was the kind of news that really does a number on one’s heart. One story many of us in this community have been following is about a beautiful young 14-year-old boy and his step-grandmother who lost their footing while crossing a creek hiking in the Grand Canyon. Both were swept downstream and have been missing ever since. I can’t even wrap my mind around the level of pain this family must be going through. There are just no words.
Another news story on the very same page was about a young 15-year-old girl, who was allegedly kidnapped by a much older man, was missing for over a month, and who has now been found and rescued. Again, how can one put into words what her family and friends must be feeling knowing she has been found, is alive and safe, and will be coming back home?
I have wrestled in my spirit knowing how to process these two stories sitting side by side on the same page, yet with such contrasting outcomes. On one hand, there are families, communities, and a school aching over what has been lost, and clinging to the hope of a miracle. On the other hand, there are families, communities, and another school jubilantly rejoicing over a missing teen who has now been found. Both scenarios are gut-wrenching, sobering, and so very hard to understand. How does one make sense of either narrative?
It is likely there are students in both schools connected to these two dichotomous scenarios who have unanswered questions, troubled emotions, and who are struggling to process difficult, mature concepts with minds and hearts that are still young, developing, and not equipped to deal with troublesome things of this nature.
Both stories are tragic in their own way and serve as a reminder that daily there are youth in all our schools carrying things in their hearts that are way bigger than they know what to do with. Many sit in their desks at school trying to focus on things they’re told are important, such as math or science, or verbs or pronouns, while trying to simultaneously process and cope internally with their own stories of hurt, pain, and loss. These stressors, from things in life that often don’t make sense, can manifest themselves in all kinds of ways in a young person’s life.
Many teens are learning at a young age that life can be tough, sometimes even cruel! The reality is that sometimes the circumstances of life, like these two perplexing stories, don’t begin to make sense and can feel really disturbing and confusing to our kids. Helping them process through some of their deeper questions about life, even at school, often becomes something they really need.
My youngest son happens to attend the same school and is in the grade below this precious boy who is missing. While the community has ached over this, it has been moving watching his school care lovingly for this family and for all its students as they try to process this tragedy. The school has provided multiple resources to help students work through their emotions and questions. As a school they have also prayed collectively and fervently for this situation and shared words from the Bible to bring comfort to the student body.
As for the young girl who was rescued, I know nothing about her school or how they have been helping their students process that circumstance. However, we are grateful that for 95 years students in Hamilton County public schools have been able to elect Bible history classes, through which many students facing hard times have shared that they have found hope and comfort in the words of the Bible.
It is likely that there are circumstances in each one of our lives we may never have answers for, or situations that may always feel painful or confusing. It’s also probable that at some point or another we will all be faced with something so tough it will take us to that place where all we can do is put one foot in front of the other as we cling to the hope of a miracle.
Knowing life at times can be so hard and sometimes may not make sense to us, we believe it is so important that students have exposure to the Bible and to the hope and comfort it can bring, especially during the times they need it the most. One Bible history student Janaria wrote, “The Bible can help you understand things in life. It can help you get through a lot of things you can’t handle.” Another young man in Bible history named Sean said, “The Bible was like a life map for me when I felt lost.”
Whether we pray or pause in respect for the pain of those searching for loved ones lost, or give thanks with those for a life that has been found, we can be reminded that people young and old for thousands of generations have turned to the Bible to bring comfort to the hurting and healing to the broken. Even though life won’t always make sense, we give thanks that because of the community’s gracious gifts to this public school Bible history program, this same book is still able to offer comfort, hope, and healing to students in our schools today.
Last week one of my sons broke his wrist. It still makes me wince to think about it. Anyone who has fractured or broken a bone can testify to the acute pain and discomfort that pulsates through one’s body when a bone breaks or when it's just not the way it should be. As his mom, naturally when I got the news, I wished so much I could have taken that pain from him and just made everything right; but I couldn’t. Now, my son’s entire arm is in a great big blue cast and while his wrist slowly heals he has to learn how to live with this fracture. Every moment of every day he is reminded that things right now just aren’t the way they should be.
Metaphorically, we can all relate to living with fracture of some kind. Every one of us carries scars from circumstances or people that have broken some part of us. This is certainly true for many students in our public schools today. Heaven forbid any children are experiencing physical pain, but all kinds of evidence indicates that many students are living with some level of emotional pain.
I recently asked one of the Bible history teachers what he felt was his greatest challenge. He replied, “The kids are just really hurting...you know...from their home lives.” This is hard to hear and should fill our hearts with compassion. Kids don’t deserve to live with hurt. No one really does. However, we don’t have to look far to know that pain is a reality of life many have to face every day. We live in a broken world infinitely filled with circumstances and relationships that just aren’t the way they should be. And, some of life’s toughest lessons are learning how to live, love, and move forward in spite of pain and fracture.
This is just one of the many reasons we believe Bible history electives are so important for youth today. The Bible is a book of hope we believe every child should have the opportunity to read. One student recently said, “Bible history brings joy to many disappointed people.” Wow! While we’re delighted that Bible history is bringing joy to this young person, we are left wondering what could be going on in a kid’s life that would drive him to reach for the word ‘disappointed’ to describe not just himself, but also other students around him? Another student shared, “Bible history is the only reason I get up in the morning because then I think today’s going to be a good day.”
All around us, there seems to be more and more empirical evidence that students feel their lives are just not the way they should be. Many feel fractured and broken and teachers see the side effects of this daily. How we wish we could take their pain away and just make everything right; but we can’t. Neither can we realistically remove all that disappoints a young person’s heart. Yet, there is something our community can do. Knowing life for many students in our Hamilton County public schools often isn’t the way it should be, we can provide them with the rare and unique opportunity to be encouraged through the study of Bible history in their public school classrooms.
Several weeks from now, my son will be thrilled to get that great big clumsy cast taken off his arm. Fortunately for him, his fracture will heal, his wrist will strengthen, and soon he’ll be enjoying life again just the way it should be. However, for those students in our public schools whose pain may never go away, and whose broken lives may never be the way they should be, our hope is that through Bible history classes they will be strengthened by the life-affirming narrative of hope and redemption that can bring love, joy, and healing to their hurting hearts.