Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remembering the Fallen


Mr. Schmitt, Willie Lemon, and Katrina

Today was a remarkable day. The remarkable event took place in church. It was not a stunning sermon, or a remarkable hymn from a large choir, or a massive celebrative service in a stadium church, or just about any of the things we silly self-concerned Christian people associate with greatness, or being on the winning team, or part of the "cool church".

What moved me to tears today was hearing the love of a teacher for his students; a simple love founded out of love for Christ. Students from New Orleans, now scattered about the country by Hurricane Katrina.

Matthew Schmitt, who now lives in LA with his new wife, taught junior high for two years in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New Orleans. Matthew was asked to share with our congregation his journey of sadness, searching, finding, and hope over the past two weeks. Matthew read to us a deeply moving email he had sent to his friends describing the anguish he has felt over the past days, not being able to locate so many of his former students, and the emerging hope he is finding through finally locating students and old friends.

Matthew also brought along two photo albums from his students. Each photo included a note from a student, thanking him for being their teacher. I have never seen anything like it. Let me explain why.

As my Blog title indicates, I live a sheltered life in the suburbs of Los Angeles. We bought our home here because the schools are academically among the top 10% in California. The biggest problem in our junior high typically deals with tardies, bad language, and an occasional troublesome teen. In New Orleans, as in many inner city schools, its an entirely different universe in public education; one of managing deep family problems, coping, chronic under-funding, barely getting by, and daily struggle just to communicate the very essentials to kids. It is hard, very hard to be a teacher, let alone a good teacher.

It seems that Matthew Schmitt made a profound impact on his students, and he will not be quickly forgotten. The photo above is of Willie Lemon, one of Matthews students, and it's theme is in keeping with so many of the notes from Matthew's students. Willie writes:

"I have always tried to get rid of you; but you stuck by my side. You helped me a lot. But I did not know. But now I understand you did everything you can do for me. You have shown me the way."

Matthew Schmitt, be not discouraged. You have performed a noble task. You taught well by the example of your persistence. What you did for two years in New Orleans was not in vain. You have shown the way.


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