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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chapter 4: BE FILLed Forever

            Rachel Snowden.  She was the one who had fought with her brother one Sunday and forgot her Bible, but got a starring role in spite of it.  All because her name was “Rachel” and the story was about Jacob and Rachel.  That must have been more important than breaking Mr. Casey’s number one rule: bring your Bible.  After all, he was the one who had started “BE,” short for Bibles for Everyone.  Mr. Casey took delight in that acronym, which he punned with the project’s motto: “To BE, you need a Bible!”  Every few years, the church held a benefit to raise funds for Bibles for the sanctuary, the classrooms, and every member, third grade on up, who didn’t already have one.  Mr. Casey’s love for kids and his commitment to projects like BE made him so popular everyone called him Mr. C.  Jasmine couldn’t wait to join his fifth grade Sunday school class.
How could Jasmine have forgotten fifth grade?  Not just forgotten it, but buried it.  Now the memories roared back to her like a waterfall.  The year had started out on a low note when Jasmine wanted to know why Noah would let God drown the world, and then it raced up and down wildly like a roller coaster for the rest of the year.  Some weeks, Jasmine was very good and Mr. C very pleased.  Like the week when God asked Abraham to sacrifice  his son and Jasmine did not say Abraham should have refused.  She did not say the order wasn’t fair because Isaac was innocent.  Why should Isaac be killed?  Tortured, even, for doing nothing wrong?  No, Jasmine was a good girl that week, and she didn’t say any of that.  Instead she said, “Abraham must have been very brave.”  Mr. Casey smiled at Jasmine, gave her his glimmering eye, and said, “That’s right, Jasmine, he must have been very brave.”  On weeks like that, Jasmine  found herself at the top of the coaster, elated on her high.  Other weeks, she came crashing down again -- like that week when she wanted to know why God commanded Joshua to commit genocide, or that week when she asked why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart and then send ten horrifying plagues -- ending with the deaths of innocent children, no less – to the people because their leader’s heart was hardened, and hardened by God Himself?  On weeks like that, Mr. C gave her the “just like Eve” scowl.  Some questions, pure and simple, were off limits.
            Perhaps Jasmine could have coasted through the ups and downs more easily had she not liked Mr. Casey so much, even almost worshipping him.  Not only had he been the one to start BE, but he was also the mastermind behind Jasmine’s favorite program, FILL, her community’s summer lunch program for low income children.  As a social studies teacher at the middle school, Mr. C knew many of the middle schoolers were on the free lunch program.  He then learned a third of kids at the church’s neighborhood elementary school received free lunches at school, and well over half qualified for either free or reduced lunches.  As one with a big heart, he wondered, “What do those kids eat in the summer?”  And, as one with a big drive, he decided to do something about it. 
            Jasmine learned of his vision from her third grade Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Watson, just after receiving her third grade BE Bible.   Racing with even more excitement over Mr. C’s newest idea than over her new Bible, after church, Jasmine breathlessly told her mother all about FILL.  “He already has a name for his idea? Splendid!” her mother replied.  “For Food Increases Life Lunch program,” Jasmine replied.  “He likes how his two program acronyms go together.”
            “BE Filled!” exclaimed her mother.  “I’m voting yes and think FILL might just pass.”  Jasmine was curious.  Did her mother already know about the program?  “Did you know I’m a deacon and on the committee that decides projects like this?”  Jasmine glowed at her mother’s support, but she also wondered, “Why would anyone vote no?” 
“A ‘no’ vote doesn’t mean objection to the idea, Sweetie,” replied her mother.  “FILL is a big project for a church our size.  It means offering our kitchen, raising funds for equipment, recruiting volunteers, engaging the community to help, and rallying the entire church to get involved.  Most people voting ‘no’ like the idea, but aren’t sure we can pull it off.  They’re worried we’ll get families excited and then let them down.” Jasmine nodded.  Hopes given and then dashed could be even worse than never getting hope. “But isn’t that why we’re taught to pray and trust God for help to do His work?”  Her mother smiled, “That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”  Then, a month later, her mother
announced the church’s approval of FILL, for the upcoming summer.  Smiling and winking at Jasmine, she added, “We’ll need some volunteers – both big and little.”
            That’s where Jasmine and her mother spent every Thursday for the next two summers.  The first year, they served food, and the following summer, they graduated to what Jasmine considered the best job of all: baking bread and cookies.  Each Thursday that Mr. C came, at the end of FILL, he passed Jasmine his signature smile, eye twinkle, and wink.  Code for “Excellent work.”  Sometimes, he even added, “Nice going, Jazzie!”  Mr. C was the only adult to use Jasmine’s favorite nickname.  Other adults called her Jasmine, and only her very best friends called her “Jazzie.”  When Mr. Casey used this name for her, she knew she must be, to use his favorite phrase, “in his favor.”
            The first time Mr. C called her Jazzie in fifth grade Sunday School was the week the class dramatized Jacob and Rachel’s courtship.  That morning, Rachel Snowden’s little brother had thrown a fit, and she and her family raced out quickly to make it to church on time – but without her Bible.  Mr. C started with his distinctive scowl: part scowl with head set away, nose crunched, forehead wrinkled, eyelids squinted, and his eyes cast to the side, and part tease with a faint smile.  Since he really liked Rachel, his faint smile turned to a wide grin while he pulled out one of the classroom Bibles and gave it to her.   Then he gave her an extra twinkle and said, “But you won’t need it yet, Rachel.  Today, you’ll need this script.”  Handing her the first script, he added, “And you have one of the important parts, the part of Rachel.”  
Conveniently, the class also had a Jacob, who was given the second script.  These two might have begun with the starring roles that day, but it was Jasmine who ended as the star.  After playing out the courtship drama, Mr. C asked the class what they had learned.  Remembering Isaac’s courtship of Rebekah, Jasmine compared their stories. “If I love someone, I want to catch him quick like Isaac.  I don’t want to wait forever like Jacob!”  The class laughed.  Mr. C nodded, “Jacob waited very a long time.  Did any of you catch how long he had to wait?”  Eager to please him, Jasmine piped in, “Fourteen years!”  “Right!” he affirmed.  “He didn’t wait quite ‘forever,’ did he?  He waited fourteen years, which, to Jacob, was ‘but a few days.’”  “That’s forever!” John objected.  Jasmine spoke up again, “He served but a few days equaling fourteen years equaling forever!”  The class cheered.  Mr. C smiled.  To his class of eleven year olds, fourteen years might as well be “forever.”  “You have me there, Jazzie!” he replied, elating her with her favorite nickname.  Then he praised her even more when he added her time-frame into the memory verse: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed but a few days because of his love for her, and then he served another seven years, equaling forever!”

             Now Jasmine was a fifth grade teacher herself.  How could she help her students feel as elated as she felt on that day?  She could follow in many of Mr C’s footsteps -- his heart, his drive, and the twinkle in his eye -- and she could throw in a love of curiosity.  No off-limits questions.  She and her fifth graders, she vowed, will BE FILLed forever with curiosity.
© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.