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Life lessons from great teachers

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Teachers are dear to my heart. From my public school teachers to seminary professors to my own father, I’ve gathered pearls of wisdom from all of them.

My dad – who was a secondary school drama teacher – taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Dad’s community musical theatre productions always seemed like Broadway spectacles to me. Now, that same work ethic carries over into all areas of my life.

And from my high school French teacher, I learned that humour can go a long way. Parsing French verbs always seemed a little more manageable after Mr. Traboulay regaled our class with stories of his imaginary student named Patti O’Furniture.

From my seminary professors, I discovered that the Bible is much more than a dusty collection of outdated ideas – it’s a living, active book. I recall many “ah-ha!” moments as our class translated 1 John from the original Greek under Tim Geddert’s tutelage.

A place of honour

Education, especially Bible training, has always been important to Mennonite Brethren. “The MB family was born in Bible study and nurtured through Christian literature and Christian education,” write Connie Faber and Lynn Jost in Family Matters.

Christian education has cultivated biblical literacy, undergirded discipleship, and strengthened community ties. Over the years, MBs have started seminaries, universities, colleges, and Bible schools. In fact, many argue that MBs changed the landscape of Canadian Christian education, particularly in the Prairie provinces, with some 17 Bible schools flourishing until the late 1960s.

And at the centre of learning are teachers. They are the people who shape, mould, encourage, challenge, inspire, and transform. They are men and women who help us integrate learning and faith, and teach us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). They are people in whom the message of Christ dwells richly, as they teach and admonish with all wisdom (Colossians 3:16). And they mustn’t be taken for granted.

Wisdom more precious than rubies

This month, as we turn our attention to MB educational institutions, we’ve asked some Canadian conference staff members to share their nuggets of wisdom passed along by treasured teachers over the years. Ponder and enjoy!

◊ I have a 1973 Nike basketball poster that says, “There is no finish line.” It was given to me by my coach, Bruce Enns, and has followed me around from office to office for nearly four decades. It reminds me that God is never done with me. And, no matter whom I work with, God isn’t finished with them, either! In my previous roles as teacher and principal, I had the opportunity to encourage many students with that poster.—Norbert Bargen, CCMBC human resources director

◊ In theology class, professor J.B. Toews repeatedly reminded us that “it’s the Who, not the how” that’s of utmost importance when interpreting the biblical creation account. J.B. taught me the important principle of questioning whether I’m asking the right questions when approaching any Scripture passage. —Ben Wohlgemut, Ontario Stewardship representative

◊ There’s a piece of advice my dad gave me that I find myself quoting surprisingly often, particularly when facing decisions while the heavens seem silent: “You can’t steer a ship that’s not moving.” In other words, don’t twiddle your thumbs too long trying to figure out the right move; start doing what’s in front of you and make course corrections as wisdom dictates.—Karla Braun, MB Herald associate editor

◊ When I asked a trusted friend and teacher for his advice on how to avoid burning out in ministry, he looked me in the eye with intensity and said, “Say no to something once a day just to keep in practice!” It’s hard to do, but great advice when everyone wants a piece of you.—Dwayne Barkman, Harvest Saskatchewan director and C2C regional director, Saskatchewan

◊ As I look back on my educational “career,” I note the difference that teachers made when they told me what I could do as opposed to what I couldn’t do. Words that challenged and encouraged me had dramatically different results than words that put me down.
—Conrad Stoesz, Centre for MB Studies archivist

◊ I once asked retiring pastor Rueben Baerg how I should approach my studies to prepare for becoming a pastor. His response? Treat study like well-digging. Some stop digging as soon as they hit water; the result is a shallow and oft-short supply of water. Wise well-diggers reach a vein of water and keep on digging; the result is a deep, plentiful, and sustainable well capable of producing water long after other wells run dry.—Ron Toews, CCMBC leadership development director

◊ My college professor, Henry Krahn, would routinely pause during lectures to gaze intently into his students’ eyes. There would be silence, and then he would declare, “All truth is God’s truth. So explore, grow, take risks! God will be found in the most unexpected of places.”—Ed Willms, Ontario conference executive director

◊ My Grade 6 teacher wrote the following in my autograph book at the end of that school year (and, yes, I’m dating myself by admitting to the autograph book):

Good, better, best
never let it rest
‘til the good is better
and the better, best

—Vicki Dyck, Stewardship accounting clerk

◊ When I was a teenager, my dad used to tell me, “If you want to be an adult at night, you have to be an adult in the morning, too.” Those words have stayed with me and fostered a sense of responsibility for my actions in all walks, including my faith.—Karen Hume, CCMBC Winnipeg office facility coordinator

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