Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45–47 ESV
A pastor once asked three of my children the meaning of this parable. My two older children, having learned about the story in Sunday school, both replied that the pearl is faith—it is worth giving up everything and seeking after it because faith connects us to God, giving us hope and the gift of heaven. That’s a positive interpretation, reminding us of the First Commandment to trust in God above all things and to seek after His kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
My younger son, however, answered differently. He said that the rich merchant is Jesus, and we are the pearls! Such wisdom from a first grader!
I believe his interpretation best fits the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, the rich merchant who owns all and is Lord over all, seeks after the lost—those buried in sin. He intentionally left His throne to seek after the treasure—those whom He loves—and He spared nothing, not even His own life, to purchase His beloved treasure from sin, death, and the devil.
I think that is how God wants us to identify ourselves: His dearly loved treasures. Our worth and our value come from His view of us, even as we are covered in the dirt of sin and unable to dig ourselves out of the mess of living in a sin-filled world. He seeks us out, pays the price, and sends His spirit to wash us clean and dress us in righteousness so that we sparkle and shine for His glory.
Worldly Treasure Seekers
In the country of Sierra Leone, West Africa, a multitude of treasure hunters have been seeking after a temporal sparkling treasure: diamonds. The West African soil is full of these precious commodities, and many have given up everything, even their own lives, to obtain these gems. Sadly, outside companies and investors stole or hoarded most of the treasure, leaving the majority of the population in poverty and civil distress.
This has been a common problem in many developing countries. The sought-after treasures vary from gems to natural minerals to oil to cheap labor. Looters come, often promising rewards and benefits to those living in the land, but ending up stripping them of their resources and creating great economic and political strife. The real treasure in God’s eyes—the people and children who live there—are only vehicles and tools used to mine the treasure; then, they are simply tossed aside and left behind by the greedy treasure hunters.
Our worth and our value come from His view of us, even as we are covered in the dirt of sin and unable to dig ourselves out of the mess of living in a sin-filled world.God’s Treasure Seekers
For 50+ years, our LeadaChild mission has been to reclaim God’s true treasures by supporting Lutheran schools and after-school programs in several impoverished countries, seeking to share the love of Jesus with children through the gift of a Christian education. During our first years of support, our primary focus was to send funds for student scholarships and program support to make it possible for children to attend. During these past few years, we have added an important element to our mission: leadership and teacher development. The reason for this new initiative follows the Great Commission’s goal of building the kingdom of God.
If we truly desire to lead children to the realization that they are beloved treasures of Christ, we need to embrace the critical and valuable role of local teachers and leaders. God has chosen to work through these called educators—these specific means—to deliver His blessings and favor upon children. Next to parents, teachers serving in our Lutheran schools become the hands and feet of God that search out His precious treasures.
Lutheran Teachers: Mining in Fields of Hidden Treasures
The teachers who serve in developing countries vary in their levels of professional educational training. Some have college degrees, while others may have the equivalent of a tenth-grade education. Most are underpaid, even by local standards, yet they continue to teach and lead children toward better opportunities in life and toward a closer faith relationship with Christ.
These humble teachers also possess many valuable traits, and throughout the years they have taught me several important lessons. First, they possess teachable spirits. They are eager to learn about effective teaching strategies and ways to share the Gospel with children—and they put into practice what they learn during educational workshops! I have had the opportunity to lead undergraduate and graduate level classes for educators at six different universities. While it is pleasant to work with American educators, it’s a great joy to work with those who make their meager living teaching in classrooms with spotty electricity, wooden benches serving as desks, extremely limited teaching materials, and well-worn blackboards. They are not seeking out a comfortable work environment with the latest technology and data-tested materials. These teachers are hungry for ways to improve the ways to teach, and they are deeply appreciative of fellow colleagues who assist in their personal development.
These teachers are hungry for ways to improve the ways to teach, and they are deeply appreciative of fellow colleagues who assist in their personal development.Second, they understand flexibility. As a former school administrator, I like efficiency and orderliness. I like plans and schedules and being on time. However, these traits can also stifle us if we make them the goal versus the means to reach the goal. In learning environments that are constantly changing (the power is out for the day, the government decides to close schools and businesses at a moment’s notice, etc.), flexibility becomes the greater and more blessed trait than the ability to stay on schedule, and flexibility leads to creative ways to accomplish the goal of student learning. Instead of dwelling on the inconveniences that regularly show up, these flexible teachers learn how to adapt and move forward.
Finally, along with the traits of flexibility and teach-ability, they understand honor. In our current American culture, we are quick to judge those in authority—especially if we don’t like the results or if the decisions go against our wishes and desires. It seems everywhere we turn, we evaluate everything and everyone through survey after survey after questionnaire after every news commentary. Evaluation can be very worthwhile, but in our culture, “valued opinions” have turned into a way to shame others.
As I have spent time with pastors, leaders, and teachers working in developing countries, I am impressed (and humbled) by the way they protect the reputation of others. Instead of complaining about the weaknesses and the mistakes of others, especially those in leadership positions, they are careful to protect them with the words they choose to speak.
Filling Up Their Tool Boxes
As we learn from our dedicated colleagues, we also have available tools and ideas that can assist them with their professional development. Since many teachers receive little training in basic, yet effective, ways to teach, we’ve made it our goal to lead ongoing workshops in ways to manage a classroom, develop lesson plans and assessments, assist students with various learning abilities, and participate in positive group dynamics. We spend a great amount of time talking and consulting with leaders and pastors about important strategies for their schools.
- How do you see yourself supporting LeadaChild?
- What would be the greatest challenge you think you would face in teaching under the limitations faced by educators in developing countries?
- How do you teaching goals align with the goals mentioned in the article?
At the heart of all of our LeadaChild workshops are outreach and discipleship, helping educators create Gospel-rich environments of learning. We emphasize, demonstrate, and practice activities such as worship in chapel and prayer, sharing Bible stories, memorizing Scripture and the Catechism, singing hymns and Christian songs, integrating God’s Word and truth throughout the curriculum, and modeling the life of a child of God.
Maybe the best part of our workshops for teachers focuses on them. As they hear about our God who is a loving creator, redeemer, and faith creator, we remind them that they too are precious in God’s eyes, that He sees them as prized treasures, worth giving up everything to make them His own. When they realize their own value in God’s eyes, they clearly see the beautiful gems sitting in their classrooms and eagerly join the mining expedition for God’s kingdom!
Dr. Philip Frusti is a former Lutheran school teacher, principal, and professor in the Concordia University System. He currently serves as executive director of LeadaChild, a recognized service organization of the LCMS.
Pearl photo © iStock/Skystorm. Other photos courtesy the author.
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