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From Reluctant Readers to Inspired Disciples: The Power of Missionary Stories in Lutheran Schools

For three years, I have incorporated both The Bulletproof Missionary and The Despicable Missionary into my 7/8th grade Discipleship class. The goal of the class is to take the head knowledge provided by my students’ years of religious instruction at our small, private, Lutheran school and implement that knowledge into all areas of their lives, with the intention of

continuing the efforts of Jesus’ Great Commission - to make disciples of all nations.

Throughout their lives, my students have been asked about what they can do to share God’s love. Usually, they answer along the lines of the classic Sunday School answers. “Give someone a Bible.” “Tell them Jesus loves them.” “Invite them to come to church with you.” These are of course right and good answers sure to please any Sunday School teacher, but in practice they can be much more difficult to execute. What should I say? How do I say it? What if the response isn’t positive? Will that damage my relationship with the person I’m trying to share it with? Unfortunately, it is all too easy for us to allow our worries to impede our evangelism.

These books, which so clearly and honestly capture the reality of hardships endured for the sake of Christ, have helped my students grow more confident in their ability to speak up on behalf of their faith, and view the challenges of their own lives through a clearer lens.

When first assigned, many of my students’ reactions followed the basic stereotypes of middle school reading assignments. “Ugh! Another book we have to read!” “We have to pick one or the other?” “I don’t like being forced to read.” The idea of reading about mission work did not initially hold tremendous group appeal.

However, as they read more and more about the injustices faced by Victoria in dominantly-Muslim Pakistan in The Despicable Missionary, or the desperate struggle of Shang Ik in war-torn South Korea in The Bulletproof Missionary, they grew to be more and more enraptured with the characters and their stories. Through that engagement, I was very pleased to hear how their attitudes changed.

“This one is like, good for us.” - 7th grade boy

“It’s actually one of those school books where I’m like, ‘I’m glad I read that.’” - 8th grade girl

If you have ever conducted reading projects with middle schoolers, you’ll know that this is enormously high praise.

As we read, we focused on identifying the key, defining elements of each chapter. How did what happened in the last few pages affect the story as a whole? Was this a struggle or a success for the characters? How did that event change their life, perspective, or story? Through group discussion and development of core ideas, my students discovered not only how God once worked in the lives of the missionaries, but how He continues to work in theirs.

“Now I have a better understanding of how fortunate I am to be able to learn about God every day.” - 8th grade girl

“Victoria’s story has helped me to think about not being ashamed of my faith, and to help everyone even if I don’t believe what they do.” - 7th grade boy

“No matter what happens, God will always be there.” - 7th grade girl

“We should not be ashamed of our faith and it doesn’t matter if someone looks different, has different beliefs, or is “lower class,” we should still help and care about them.” - 8th grade girl

“It can bring us closer to God and also help us understand the people around us.” - 8th grade boy

As we near the end of our reading, we will reevaluate our idea of discipleship. Does sharing God’s Word mean passing out Bibles, extending church invitations, and reciting Jesus’ parables? Of course, but they are far from the only ways that God is working! Never forget the significance of a kind word, a warm hug, an invitation to a meal, grace-filled conversation, or even a long hike. Such things powerfully impacted Victoria and Shang Ik’s walk with Christ. I pray that God will find equally quiet and beautiful moments for all of my students and the lives they touch. I pray also that when the world feels loud and ugly, they will remember the words God once whispered to Shang Ik on a cold, lonely mountain in Korea.

“And lo, I am with you always.”

What greater comfort can there be?

Brady Wisniewski

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