These halls are so familiar. I walk extensively through them most days of the week, and today is no exception. I have learned the ins and outs of the complex labyrinth that makes up this building—a place that some would see as a refuge, and others consider a prison. To me, it's the mission field. Looking across this infrastructure of hallways, it's almost hard to believe that within half an hour they will be overflowing with throngs of people, each one trying to get somewhere, making it increasingly difficult to navigate to one's destination. Right now, however, the halls are not crowded, but contain only a handful of scattered people. It is early; the school is practically empty.
Empty like the souls of the people who walk through it.
More people are beginning to arrive now. I look towards the front entrance and scan the multitudes for familiar faces. I recognize several. Many of them would say I'm a friend; a few might see me as an enemy. But that's okay. What they think about me is not nearly as important as what they think about the One I serve. Who am I? I'm nobody important. I'm nobody, but I'm also everybody. I will become everyone and anyone I need to become to complete the task that has been set before me.
I can see it in their faces. Suffering and despair, concealed behind masks of indifference and contentment. Countless lives engulfed by complacency, enslaved by that horrible addiction to sin. Souls searching desperately, crying out for meaning, for some sort of purpose to their sorrowful existence. Far too many times I have turned a blind eye to the darkness that consumes this place and infects everyone around me. For too long have I withheld the answer that they seek, intimidated by the consequences to myself that would result from offering them a glimmer of hope in this corrupt and twisted world.
No more hiding. The time to act is at hand.
I hear my name and turn around to meet a hand laid flat in front of me. It is the hand of Brian van Doren, connected to the same body that bears the straight brown hair and the ever-present smile. I meet his hand with my own, clasping in a familiar greeting which I will probably repeat several times throughout the day. We both ask each other how we're doing and it turns out that we're both doing well. Such is the preferred method of greeting of a lot of my friends.
Brian van Doren is a friend of mine. But a lot of people could make that claim; he's a popular guy, and he has a lot of friends. Not only does he have a lot of friends, but he also has a good reputation due to his amazing athletic skills and above-average grades. Some people would say that he's an all-around good guy.
But nobody is good, I
remind myself. Not even Brian van Doren. And it's great that Brian
has all these things going for him, but I know that academics,
athletics, and even friends will have very little relevance in the
light of eternity. Does Brian know that? And if not, then why have I
not told him before? I'm not totally sure why, but I can't keep
living in silence. I've got to talk to him.
My thoughts are cut off by his words. "Hey, I've got to go make up a test. I was absent last week, remember? But I'll see you later, in science class."
His words are a bit of a disappointment. But I can't let them be a discouragement. He's right—I'll see him later. I'll talk to him then, and it will be about things a lot more important than the general small talk we usually carry on.
He walks off—not a wasted opportunity, but merely a postponed one. And perhaps it will lead to another, for as he moves on, I see someone else behind him, chatting with her clique of friends, many of whom I have befriended as well. This is Lauren Crane, a friend who I've gotten to know through our theater class. I've known her to be both theatrical and dramatic at times, but overall, she's fun to work with. Some of our mutual friends have suggested that she and I would go well together, but my concern with her is not quite so ordinary, and for a much more profound reason.
As I approach, I am greeted by Halley Garvey, another member of the same crowd. Lauren notices me and says hello as well. It's interesting; Halley and Lauren both seem to be in the same boat, so to speak. They're both nice people, both with an adequate level of popularity and a certain likable quality to them. Furthermore, they both know me to be 'religious', and from talking to them, I've learned that they each have had something of a religious background or belief as well.
The difference is that I know that that's not going to cut it. Lauren, especially, is active in expressing her views, and some of the things she supports are those that I know to be morally wrong. Call me intolerant, narrow-minded, or whatever you want to, but I'm just following the rules which have been laid down thousands of years ago. Sometimes the truth hurts, and the hurtful truth this time is that both of these friends are doomed for eternity.
But not if I can help it.
"Good morning," I say casually. "Have a nice weekend?"
"Yeah, it was okay," Lauren says. "You?"
"I did," I answer, and immediately I recognize the opportunity. I decide to utilize it and elaborate. "I had an okay weekend. Worked, hung out with friends, went to church…"
"Church," she repeats. "I used to go, when I was younger."
"That's cool," I say. "Any chance you might come back some time?"
She shrugs. "Once in a while I do. But not much. I'm not really sure if I believe in that any more…"
This statement hits my heart like several loaded guns, totally emptied all at once. At that moment I want nothing more than to tell her what to believe in—not to force her to believe, not to be rude and arrogant about it, but to point her to the One I serve, the One who has so drastically turned my life around for the better, and the only One who can save her. I think, 'if I could just tell her, and if she would just believe—'
A sudden tap on the shoulder quickly turns me away from her and around to see whoever has come up behind me this time. I look up to see the tall, friendly figure of George Callahan, greeting me with a friendly smile, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of his girlfriend, Betty. Lauren is momentarily pushed to the back of my mind; in that one moment she has already moved on to other friends. George instead intrudes on my present thoughts, which is fine, because I know that he needs my concern and my prayer almost as much as Lauren does.
I've known George for about four years. He became my friend when I first moved into the school system, and though we haven't always kept in touch since then, we have maintained a certain level of friendship. From the beginning he said he was saved, and I always hoped and prayed it was true. In recent months I had begun to think that it most probably was, as I had seen George take a greater interest in spiritual things and in learning about the Lord. I had been glad not only that the example I always try to set seemed to have had a good influence on him, but also that he was clearly becoming more serious in his faith.
And then he threw it all away.
I hardly know Betty Goldman at all. I think I've talked to her maybe once or twice in my life. But when George began going out with her, he stopped coming to church. It was easy to see that the focus he had previously been putting into God was now going directly to Betty. And, like I said, I don't know Betty, but I don't think she's saved, and I don't think she's having a positive influence on his life. Maybe I'm in no position to judge, but you can tell these sorts of thing when you watch a person's life, and I really think that the things I can tell in her are fairly accurate. This relationship is not good for George. But whenever I've brought it up with George, he shies away from the conversation, unwilling to address the issue.
"How's it going, George," I greet my friend, shaking his hand. I say hello to Betty too, out of courtesy. "How was church this weekend?"
"Oh, I didn't actually get to go this week," George answers, with only the most miniscule tinge of regret detectable in his tone. "Betty and I went to see a movie. Next week, maybe."
"Yeah, maybe…" I say, unsure of how to continue.
"I'd like to stay and talk, but I've got to get to my locker," he says, motioning to the full, heavy backpack that he doesn't want to have to carry around for much longer. "I'll talk to you later today."
The two of them walk away. So be it. To be honest, I hadn't really been looking forward to following through with that conversation. Even though it's still important to maintain contact with George and to try to be a good example with my life, I don't think that vocalizing my doubts about Betty, with her within perfect earshot, would be the best way to go about things. Maybe someday, but it won't be today. For now, I've just got to keep praying. And, come to think of it, I've got to get to my locker, too.
I turn the corner from the main hallway and into the math hallway, where my locker is located. And, as always, I pass people on the way. Hurting people, desperate people, and people who need someone to guide them.
As I walk, I pass by even more such people. I don't know everyone at my school, but the first one I recognize is Tara Rosen. We don't greet each other; I don't actually know her very well, and have had a few brief conversations with her throughout the course of the school year. She may not have even notices me just now, but I don't pass by her without noticing her and feeling a pang of sadness. For even though she's not my closest of friends, I have talked to her and been around her enough to know that she willingly gave up her virginity long ago. As saddening as this truth is, even more so is the fact that this sort of thing is hardly uncommon in today's world, a world that has been continually deceived by the empty promise of satisfaction in a cheap and twisted imitation of love.
I should talk to Tara next time I see her; pray for her, at the very least. I actually have talked to her about the Lord before. She claims to believe, but her actions don't reflect it; another trend that, unfortunately, is nothing new to me. For such people, I am called to question where they will end up at the end of their lives. I think I know the answer, and it isn't a pleasant thought. I've got to make an effort to change that.
I glance back one more time. Tara is now at the opposite end of the hallway, too far away for me to reach her right now. Besides, she's found someone to talk to already. I look closer; her companion is Amy Highton. Another tragic case. Her mom has had cancer for over a year and is currently in critical condition. Sometimes it's hard for me to find compassion, because I don't know her well or her mom at all, and we hear about all the people who are sick and dying so much that one can become numb to the horrible reality. Even so, compassion is there inside of me, and so is the desire to help her, to somehow encourage her or cheer her up even a little bit, just enough to make a difference.
Mental note: pray for Amy and her family. And tell her that I'm praying.
I have now arrived at the end of the hallway, where my locker is located. Waiting for me is a small group of guys who know where my locker is and were apparently waiting for me to arrive. Why were they waiting for me specifically? Am I a close friend to their group? I am a friend, but no more so than anyone I have already greeted today. No; they wait for me probably because they have no one else to wait for.
"How's it going, guys," I say, extending my hand to be met by the hands of Dustin Light, then Evan Hadley, and finally Tommy Gunter. These guys are not very popular in the eyes of most of the school. Every time I meet them, I try to take off the blinds that cover the eyes of most of the school, and sometimes creep into mine as well.
They are friends with each other, and with me, but I rarely see them talking to anyone else. These are the nerds, the uncool, and the secluded. My heart fills with compassion for all the years they've spent on the bottom of the social ladder—a metaphorical ladder which, ideally speaking, should not exist, but seems to dictate our lives all too often.
"It's going okay," Evan answers.
"Yeah, same here," Dustin says, his face cast towards the ground. I don't usually see him looking happy.
I turn specifically to Tommy Gunter. "How are you doing, Tommy?" I ask him.
"Good," Tommy says in a voice that might sound strange or unintelligible, but which I have gotten used to hearing from him, just like I've gotten used to monosyllabic answers. Tommy is mentally handicapped, which sometimes makes me see him as even less cool, to which I subsequently become disgusted with myself for judging a person based on his social status and mental capacity. I remind myself that Tommy is a kind, sincere guy who considers me to be his friend. I need to be his friend, because he really needs some good friends. More than that, he needs the Lord, just as much as anyone else does.
As I spin my combination and begin transferring books from my backpack to my locker, I try to strike up a friendly conversation with the socially challenged trio. "Have a nice weekend, you guys?"
"Yeah," says Tommy.
"Sure." From Evan.
"I guess so," answers Dustin with a shrug.
I can feel it in their words, by their auras, the attitudes they emit. There is monotony, emptiness, and absence of joy. They dislike school and love for video games. Their lives have no purpose, no meaning, no love like the love that I know from the Lord. I so want to ask them about church over the weekend. Not just church, but the One who church is all about, the One who can give them so much more than this. I know that Dustin isn't much for 'religion'. Evan goes to church occasionally; Tommy came with me once, though frankly I'm not sure how much of it he understands. I've told him the basic things, such as that Jesus loves him very much, but was his affirmative response one of true childlike faith, or merely blind agreement?
I decide to go for it, as I did with Lauren. "Any of you guys go to church this weekend?"
"No," Tommy answers.
"Uh, I was kind of sick," Evan explains.
"Nah, church isn't my thing," Dustin tells me.
I try to think of the best response to that. I don't want to let it slide, but I know I don't want to be condemning and force it upon him.
"Hey, I gotta go to the cafeteria and get breakfast, Dustin tells me. "I'll see you later."
It seems that a lot of people this morning have left like this. Is it coincidence, or are people avoiding the truth? I don't voice my suspicions. "Okay, see you," I tell him. As he walks away, Evan and Tommy follow wordlessly.
I shut the door to my locker, carrying various books and binders that I'll need for the first few periods. Time to head towards my classroom and drop my stuff off. As I walk, I glance quickly into each classroom I pass. This early, a few of them are empty; most have only a teacher and one or two students. Nearing the end of the hallway, I notice in one of the classrooms one lone figure, the site of whom always catches my attention. This person is a tall, bespectacled, middle-aged man. He is famous, arguably infamous, at our school, and is known to the majority of the student body. Yet he is not a student. This is Mr. Stanton, Room 212, freshman World History teacher.
Ask any freshman at our school who the toughest teacher is, and ninety-nine out of a hundred will undoubtedly say Mr. Stanton. The material of his class isn't actually that hard, but his strict rules for turning in homework and his zero tolerance policy for violations of the school handbook have made him quite notorious. I had his class when I was a freshman, but even those who've never had him know him by reputation. Contrary to popular belief, I wouldn't classify him as a mean teacher. Strict, certainly, but not mean. Despite the barrier that sometimes seems to separate students and teachers, especially teachers of his caliber, I try to see him as I see everyone else: a valued individual, but in this case, an individual who desperately needs salvation.
World History is connected with religion. And, though I wouldn't classify my faith as 'religion', religion sometimes does concern me. By his own admission, I know that Mr. Stanton is not a very religious person, and goes to church only a few times a year. Through the eyes of the world, this wouldn't be much cause for concern. In the eyes of God, it could cost him his soul. I look through the window on his classroom door and I see Mr. Stanton sitting there at his desk, his head turned downward towards unknown papers, his facial expression devoid of emotion. Yet I know that beneath his strict, tough, and sometimes intimidating exterior, there is a person, just like all of us students, who has had a life and has witnessed joy and sorrow and love and death. This is a man who desperately needs a savior.
He's busy grading quizzes right now; I shouldn't disturb him now. I don't usually get to talk to him anymore, since I haven't had his class for two years. Rumor has it that he's either retiring or transferring to another school after this year, so I don't know if I'll ever have another chance to talk to him about such important things. But I used to talk to him, back when I had him as a teacher, and whatever happens, I know that I've done all I can for him.
My first class is chemistry; that's the next hall over. I come briefly through the main hallway to turn into the adjoining science hall. Still, my eyes take in everything and everyone around me, and they alert me to the presence of one last person who has caught my attention. He's standing motionless against the wall next to the water fountain, looking towards the ground. Coming to school and seeing him there every day, there is no question that his favorite color is black. It covers not only everything he wears, but also his hair, his fingernails, and, in a metaphorical sense, probably his heart. I know him mostly by reputation, though I have briefly conversed with him before. This is Lyle Leeds, the resident goth.
Something tells me that I should try to talk to him. As I approach, I realize that I have just mentally classified him as goth, something which I try not to do. I see him standing, scowling and alone, and do my best to look past the stereotype of the suicidal, antisocial guy who has an obsession with death. Lyle, too, is seen as a person, one who has probably had a hard life to have prompted such a love for darkness and a tendency towards self-seclusion. He looks like he could be one of the hardest to reach. But then again, you never know when looks will be deceiving.
"Hey, Lyle," I say, in an attempt to be friendly. In the past when I've attempted that, he hasn't responded well. Then again, maybe this time will be different.
"Hey," he says initially, and then turns around to see who had addressed me. Upon recognizing me, he frowns and asks, "What do you want?"
Okay, so he remembers me; after all, it's not the first time I've tried to share this with him. He seemed to dislike me from that point on, but I'm okay with that. He can think whatever he wants about me, as long as he listens to the message that is his only hope. That is all-important. That is what he needs. Knowing my mission, I feel a new boldness, a renewed empowerment to speak the truth openly. Forget my personal image; it's time to get right to the point.
I begin to speak. "Look, Lyle, I realize that you probably don't really care for me," I tell him. He nods, as if in agreement. "And I don't see why you should. I hardly know you, and I have no idea what your life has been like. But even if you don't like me, I'd like you to know that there's a God who loves you, and He's just waiting for you to go to Him so He can take your pain away and give you new life."
For a moment, Lyle is speechless. His face doesn't bear its usual scowl, but a look of bewilderment, surprise, or amazement. I am somewhat amazed myself; I had never planned or expected to say all of that. That was not me; a power far beyond me is at work in this place.
His expression is thoughtful; neither good nor bad, but neutral. For a moment I think I may have gotten through. Then his brow furrows and he turns back to me. "Yeah…so, are you done?"
My heart begins to sink, but I catch it in before it hits the ground. I feel like something's going on in him, even if I can't see it. "I'm done for now," I tell him. "But I'm not done praying for you, and I'm not done sharing the truth with the people who need to hear it." He makes no further comment. I walk off in the opposite direction.
Many of the people I pass claim to share the same faith that I do. But how many of them would be willing to take a stand, to risk their reputations for the chance to help another? How many of them would not be afraid to speak the truth of hope and peace and joy to the masses dying all around them? Too few. Far, far too few. Lord, please send out more of your faithful workers.
These halls are so familiar, just as familiar as the hurting and helpless multitudes that walk through them. I see Nick Comparatti, a sad and lonely individual who has been in continuous pain since the suicide of his best friend two months ago. I see Brendan Ditko, and I know him well enough to know that he carries a pack of cigarettes on him most days and uses them to poison his body and ruin his life, even though he hasn't gotten caught yet. I see Eric Derry, a fun and energetic guy, but a guy who lives what has come to be known as an 'alternative lifestyle'—a lifestyle which I still hold to be wrong and sinful, even if you call me narrow-minded. I see all of these people walking around, hopelessly, aimlessly, like sheep without a shepherd. The harvest is plentiful indeed.
The sound of several simultaneous conversations is interrupted by a loud, shrill beep; the bell for first period. Navigating the hallways, I make it to my first period class, where I take a seat next to Brian van Doren. School has started; it's time to get to work. And I don't mean the kind where you answer questions on a worksheet and turn it in for a grade.
"Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.'"
--Matthew 9:37, 38 NIV