Monday, March 9, 2009

Oral reports

Every once in a while, I pull back and analyze what I’m teaching the children. Just how important are the subjects and assignments I give them in their future lives?

Chemistry is a valuable subject with important concepts – but most likely they won’t be balancing equations very often after this year. French may well come in handy – not here, but on a mission trip to West Africa. Trigonometry? After the SATs, I doubt they’ll use it much. I sure don’t. And while history is great general knowledge, it’s not a critical skill. Besides, you can always look up dates.

English, a subject I wasn’t wild about in school, comes out on top as the most important single subject we’re covering. Conveying your thoughts and ideas in grammatically correct sentences is a skill you use every day. English isn’t just literature or grammar exercises or vocabulary lists; it’s the way you write someone a note, even the way that you speak. So with that in mind, I came up with a new assignment:

In the magazine I gave you, read one article thoroughly. Take notes (a list of facts). Before devotions tonight, in your words, tell us what the article was about. You should speak at least two minutes.

I gave each child a different Christian magazine that I receive from various mission organizations: World Vision, Send, and The Voice of the Martyrs. I wasn’t expecting a formal report, just an account of the major points of interest, something one might convey in a conversation rather than a formal report. But it’s good practice for future public speaking.

The day I gave the oral report assignment, a friend came over. Leanne stayed late enough into the evening that we included her in our devotions. And part of devotions that day was the oral reports. I hadn’t intended the kids to deliver their reports in front of an audience outside the family, but this opportunity came to us. Despite some protests and embarrassment, I insisted that they present their reports. It seemed to me that God had orchestrated this audience. Perhaps Leanne needed to hear something in one of these reports.

The first report, which Jacob gave, was a touching account of how the president of World Vision, once a wealthy CEO of Lenox, became the president of World Vision and had his heart broken by a visit to a child-headed household in Uganda. He challenges us to renew our commitment to the gospel and offer yourself to God: “Use me; I want to change the world.”

The second article, which Larissa delivered, was about a man in India who went to live in a cave after his life fell apart. He came to accept Jesus through the compassion of a Christian who heard his cries of frustration echoing in the mountains.

The third story, which Alexandra hesitantly presented in front of our guests, was the most powerful. Leanne’s brother came to pick her up just in time to hear this last report. This The Voice of the Martyrs article was about Li Ying, a woman jailed for being an editor of an underground Christian newsletter. She is serving a 15-year sentence. Through Voice of the Martyrs, she has received 8300 letters of support. When asked whether things had changed for her after receiving the letters, her brother said that they had – they had gotten worse. The author asked whether people should stop sending letters, but the brother replied no, the loss of support of Christians worldwide would be more painful to his jailed sister that the beatings the prison officials inflict upon her.

We ended devotions with a prayer for Li Ying. Because of her faith in Christ, she’s enduring something that none of us in the room could imagine.

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)