The Sunday School Teacher Who Taught Misfits Like Me About Jesus
Sometimes God brings people through our lives for a brief season who make a huge impact on our lives. It may be a one time encounter, or for weeks, months, a year or a few more, then they are gone. But they leave an indelible mark on our hearts that will change the course of our lives. I have had many. Today I will tell you about one such person in my life who was there for two years and set me on the right course for a spiritual awakening.
The Bible Story That Led to Relationship with God
As a child, I had a vibrant relationship with God the Father. My maternal grandmother, whom we called Mama Dolly, was a Christian Scientist (which is neither Christian nor science, but a cult) and a great storyteller. She would take me in her lap and tell me all kinds of children's stories, never using a book. She also told me Bible stories. There was no theology, just the telling of the story. There was one particular story that was life-altering. It led me to a relationship with God. Here's the story:
Then the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, "Here I am!" So he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." And he said, "I did not call; lie down again." And he went and lay down. Then the Lord called yet again, "Samuel!" So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." He answered, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." (Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him). And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. Then he arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you did call me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, 'Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel answered, "Speak, for Your servant hears." 1 Samuel 3:1-10.
It was all about God calling to Samuel personally and Samuel responding. It was intimate, personal. And so by four or five, I was talking to God constantly in my thoughts. I didn't think to myself much, it was always thinking to God. He was a rock to me as I weathered the storms of life, a comforter, and a friend. I loved Him dearly and I knew He loved me.
The Road to Disillusionment
My mom took us to my grandmother's church. In Sunday school we would sit at a round table and the teacher told Bible stories, followed by questions and discussion. I was riveted every week to those stories. There were plenty of pauses to chastise the wiggly prankster boys at the table. These interruptions frustrated me no end. Since I was quiet as a mouse the teacher would say to the boys, "Why can't you be obedient like Lori?" I wasn't very popular but I didn't care.
One summer my best friend Lynda invited me to Vacation Bible School at a Baptist Church in Tacoma, the town I lived in. I remember very little about it except it was wonderfully fun. What is prominent in my memories is a song we sang. I only remember the chorus:
Jesus is the way, the only way to heaven.
The only way to heaven for you and me.
The way (echo) the way
Yes, the way,
Jesus is the only way to heaven for you and me.
I remember at the culmination of that magical week we sang that song, along with others, to our parents in a little program. I remember vividly standing on that stage with such joy in my heart.
I didn't understand it all but seeds were planted.
As I got older, theology came into the picture and I became very confused. We read very little about Jesus in Sunday school and what they did say made no sense. I asked once if it hurt when Jesus has nailed the cross and if he bled. The answer was "No, God would never allow His Son to be in pain or bleed." And yet the truth was there in black and white. And since Christian Science does not believe in sin, the purpose for Christ dying on the cross was omitted.
While this was going on I got involved in Brownies. While working for our religion badge, we were taken to many places of worship and given a talk by the leaders of what they believe in. We went to a Catholic Church, protestant churches, a Synagogue, and I don't remember what else. All I know is that it confused me because they all said their way was the only right way.
When I was around eleven I got so confused I rejected God, quit praying and did life on my own. I immediately felt His presence leave me. It's not that He moved, I moved. He was there always, but our communication was cut off by my rejection. I didn't really care much.
Also that year we made a major move to southern California.
While the Weed Was Passed, Another Seed was Planted
Fast forward to age fifteen - 1971. The Vietnam war was still going on, as was the hippy, free love, sex, drugs and rock and roll movement. But there was another movement that was running rampant throughout southern California - the Jesus Movement. It was one of the last great American revivals.
I was sitting with a group of friends on a hillside at Hillcrest Park in Fullerton, California, smoking weed. As we passed the joint around, three hippy Jesus freaks came up to us and asked if they could tell us about Jesus. We listened politely. They ignored the joint, the sounds of our inhalations, the stench of our exhalations, and the intermittent coughs. They talked right through it all. There was something different about these hippies. They exuded an unspeakable joy. I don't remember exactly what they said, but their message about Jesus and their joy and love for us drew me in. They invited us to church the next day. No one wanted to go but me and one other girl. I remember going home and telling my mom all about it and she was excited for me. But I never made it to the church. My friend had a car issue and couldn't go. I did not have access to a car. My disappointment was great, but soon I forgot all about it. But a seed was planted.
The Radiant Jewel
By 1978 when I was in my early twenties I was married with two little boys. We put them in preschool at a local Baptist church, not because it was religious, but it was the least expensive preschool in town. They always had pictures of Jesus, Bible stories, and Scriptures in tow when they came home. Sometimes they would talk about what they were learning. At one point I was convicted that I should be taking more responsibility in giving my children some sort of religious training. As I pondered that a hunger welled up in me to know God once more. But I didn't know who God really was, which "religion" was the right one. I continued to take the boys to the Baptist preschool but I was receiving no instruction so I figured some religious exposure is better than nothing for them. But I found myself on a quest to find some answers for myself.
I started by going to a Sunday service at a Christian Science church. It felt so familiar that a warmth rose in me, but I had no idea what they were talking about and it stirred up memories of the turmoil I had felt when I was an eleven-year-old child. I decided at the very least to take my boys to Sunday school at their Baptist church. After I delivered them I would go sit in my car and wait for Sunday School to be over. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to go to the church service. There was a fear about it.
Then one day, while waiting in my car I noticed a man in a slot in front of me doing the same thing. A middle-aged woman came out and went up to his car. He opened his window and she leaned in with her arms on the door and began talking to him. I knew exactly what she was doing, she was inviting him into the church. I could see him shaking his head and after some pleading she said goodbye. She suddenly saw me and headed my way. A sense of apprehension fell over me. "Oh no, she's coming after me now." I was embarrassed to be caught. But what could I do? I opened my window and she leaned in as she had with the man. She invited me to come into her Sunday school class. I didn't know there was such a thing as Sunday school for adults. I agreed because I didn't have the nerve to refuse such a kind and loving woman. But butterflies were going crazy in my stomach.
When I got into the room I was struck by the hodgepodge of people in it. One was her teenage son, another was a teenage boy who clearly had behavioral issues (I was later to discover he was the son of the man in the parking lot). He was very immature for his age. There was a young woman near my age, a middle-aged person whose gender I do not remember, and perhaps one or two others I simply don't remember. It felt like a band of misfits. I guess what I mean by that is that we were all lost and confused and this precious woman took us in. She did not ignore and shun us as most people had.
Who was this delightful, determined woman? Her name was Jewel Taylor and she was indeed a Jewel. Every Sunday morning I went to her class full of misfits and she shared the gospel with us, we read Bible stories and received lessons on them. The teenage boy with behavior problems was a challenge but she never got ruffled. She treated him with the utmost patience and respect. It got to the point where I couldn't wait until Sunday morning arrived.
Though Jewell taught us the gospel and other biblical truths, it was sinking in at a very slow rate. I was there because of the love she poured out on us (I'm tearing up as I write this) and because I was riveted and intrigued by the Bible stories and discussion. One day I was invited to the church service but can't remember who invited me. I'm not sure it was Jewel, but the point is I went. I was sitting next to the preschool teacher of one of my sons, jammed into the middle of the pew. I couldn't tell you what the pastor preached on but it was powerful and my heart was filled with yearning, curiosity, and anticipation. He was a passionate and dynamic speaker. At the end of his message, he gave an invitation to come forward to receive Christ into our hearts. My heart was throbbing so powerfully I was sure the teacher next to me could hear it and it almost hurt. I wanted to go so bad but didn't because I didn't want to be conspicuous, I would have had to climb over people to get out, and no one else was going up.
Sometime after I started going to Jewel's class, I met another Christian woman named Connie. We worked at a small school for developmentally challenged children. I was a teacher's assistant. The teacher I worked under had to leave the job and Connie took her place. We were close in age so she was relatable. But I was blown away by her devotion to God. She was so energy charged, passionate, and unbelievably joyful about Jesus I was quickly drawn in. She told me the same gospel as Jewel. We became very close friends. She did things with my family and she and I did a lot of fun things together, all the while freely telling me the truth about Jesus and the Bible. Between Jewel and Connie the dots began to connect and I finally understood. My prayers for truth and relationship with God had come true and I gave my life to Christ - November 18th, 1979. I remember feeling peace after I gave my heart to the Lord. The next morning in my commute to work I was effervescent with joy and I honked and waved at people all the way (I'm weird, I know). I rushed into the classroom and spewed out my decision to Connie. She squealed with glee. I can't recall if I had told Jewel or not but she knew at some point.
Connie was trying different churches in the area to find one that fit for her and I left Jewel and the Baptist church behind (except for the preschool) and joined Connie at a Calvary Chapel just down the road apiece from the Baptist church. I was hungry, fired up and devoured the Bible. My prayer life exploded. I had God back but in a more complete way. The questions I had as a child were being revealed and that missing piece, Jesus, had made me whole. And Connie was a gracious, patient discipler.
Jewel, My Jump Starter
I marvel at the journey's God takes people on to find him. Mine was amazing. I love that God used the Bible at every stage of my journey. I am exceedingly grateful for the love my grandmother, my best friend, the hippies, Jewel, and Connie had for me and that they delivered the message that I sought.
When I think of Jewel, I am reminded of the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14. A man planned a great banquet and invited many people. When the banquet was ready he had his servant go to the people invited and tell them to come because everything was ready. But the invitees made excuses and didn't come.
The man throwing the banquet was mad and told his servant to invite the poor and the sick. The servant said he had already done that but there was still tons of room left. So the man told the servant, "Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that my house may be filled."
Jewel went into the highways and hedges (and parking lots) seeking out people to fill God's house. I am thankful that I was one of them. Spiritually, I was a dead battery. Jewel was the jumper cables and God was the power. Jewel gave me the jumpstart I needed to find my way to God again.
I had the blessing of reconnecting with Jewel many years later when my family visited southern California one summer (we had moved to Washington state a few years prior). She and her husband took me and my little boy Jake (our bonus child I had later in life) to breakfast and a walk on the beach. Jewel was still teaching Sunday school to lost people hungry for something more. I am so grateful I had the chance to fill her in on my journey and thank her for the major role she had in bringing me to faith in Jesus Christ.
© 2019 Lori Colbo