Today I feel led to share a story that I picked up years ago from well known pastor and author John Ortberg. It’s Ortberg’s story put into my own words.
Miss Thompson was a 4th-grade teacher who had a student who was unmotivated, apathetic, and well behind the rest of the class academically. Actually, the only reason he was in the 4th grade at all was because his previous teachers had promoted him undeservedly. The student’s name was Teddy.
It didn’t take Miss Thompson long to reach the end of her rope with the boy, and her frustration began to come out by way of negative comments toward him. But no matter how much she scolded him or criticized him, nothing seemed to faze him one way or the other. He just took it all in silence. She began to suspect that he just didn’t have the mental capacity to learn.
In desperation, she decided to dig up Teddy’s progress reports from previous years and see if she could find something she could use to reach him. All she found, though, was the sad pattern that had brought him to his current state: “Teddy is academically inferior and in great need of help.” “Teddy has no dad.” Teddy’s mom is sick.” “Teddy is in need of professional counseling.” “Teddy’s mom has died.” “Teddy lives with his aunt.” Now the teacher understood her student better, but none of it gave her the answer as to how to help him.
When Christmastime rolled around that year each of the kids brought a gift for Miss Thompson. Teddy came in carrying a brown paper bag with the opening crudely taped closed. Something was obviously inside the bag, but it was anybody’s guess as to what it was. When Miss Thompson opened it she found that it was half a bottle of cheap perfume and an old bracelet. Basically, it was the tackiest gift she had ever received. She had enough sensitivity and courtesy, though, to make a good show of things for Teddy. She put a little dab of the perfume on her wrist and complimented him in front of the entire class.
At the close of class that day Teddy lingered around until the other kids were gone. This was something he had never done. He stood in silence for a good while until he finally said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother when she wore it.” Then he left. Miss Thompson cried all the way home that afternoon, and the following morning she walked back into class with a renewed sense of mission. She would make Teddy her personal project and pour more time, effort, and compassion into him than she had any other student.
And how did it all turn out? Well, Teddy passed Miss Thompson’s class. Then he went on to graduate high school. Then he enrolled in college and graduated from there. Then he enrolled in medical school and graduated from there. Every now and then along the way he would send Miss Thompson notes informing her of his progress. The last one came just prior to the ceremony for his graduation from medical school. The note read: “Miss Thompson, I am graduating soon. I want you to sit in my mother’s chair. You are the only family I ever had.” It was signed “Theodore Salvard, M.D.”
Ortberg’s point to the story was that you, Christian, are the only Jesus that some people will ever see. I’ll add in that this world is filled with people like Teddy, people who need someone who will put in the effort to understand them and help them. Perhaps the Lord will one day have you cross paths with someone like that. Perhaps it’s even already happened. That person might be a kid, an elderly person, a homeless person, or someone who is “the talk of the town.” I don’t know who God might have in mind for you to help. What I do know is that Jesus Christ came to serve others, including those who needed the most help. And I also know that if we, His people, really want to walk in His steps, such ministering to others has to be a major part of who we are and what we do.