Monday, May 24, 2010

5 Lessons for the Bowbells Graduating Class of 2010

On Sunday, May 23rd, 2010, it was my honor to present the Bowbells Music Booster Scholarship Award to one of my graduating seniors, along with sharing with them some final words at the commencement ceremony. The following are the five lessons I shared with them:
1. Most importantly: When it's time to check out, be sure you know where you're going. The only way to know for sure is to talk to the one who makes the decision on your final destination. (What I wanted to say was: "Be sure you know where you're going when you die. Without Christ everything else is meaningless.")
2. You will come across situations where there is definitely a right or wrong choice to make. If you know what's right, there really isn't a choice to make. Like music on a page with notes and dynamics, articulations and phrasing, just do it. If you aren't sure or need help in doing so, know there is no shame in asking for help. (I would have like to have added "pray for guidance") Admittedly this is one of those things that is easier to say in a word and can be more difficult to exercise in practice.
3. Size and numbers do not dictate your success, you do. You may be from a school that is small in size, however, you are from a community that is big in heart.
4. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
5. You'll probably come across this one alot: Just because what you can do won't necessarily make a difference, doesn't mean you still shouldn't try. What may seam like impending failure in the worlds eyes might not be what God has planned for you to accomplish in those situations.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From Music Education to CEF

ME RIGHT NOW v1.0 For the past three years I have been a K-12 music teacher for Bowbells Public Schools in Bowbells, ND. I have really enjoyed being a teacher here and have really enjoyed getting to know my students more. It has been a wonderful job and together the students and I have accomplished some fantastic things: We re-established a solid athletic band which added to our pep band games, we started a marching band which gave the school local and regional recognition, US sentator Byron Dorgan nominated our Eskimo Marching Band to represent the state of North Dakota in the 2009 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C., our choir program has progressed greatly where students are feeling more comfortable singing out which includes being able to hear all of the men sing!, and our band program has progressed to where we have been able to perform standard band works such as "Variations on a Korean Folk Song" as well as Gustav Holst's "First Suite in E-Flat".

Over the past year and a half some things really began to gnaw on my mind. I heard elementary students talk about their favorite parts of movies that I knew were R-rated films that were loaded with sexual inuendo, telling jokes to each other that are inappropriate regardless of age, I've had conversations with students from the Methodist and Lutheran (ELCA) churches who were confirmed making statements such as "I hope I'm good enough to get to heaven" and "I'm not sure, but I think I'll have done enough good stuff that God will let me.", and this really saddens my heart, I know of instances at our school where younger elementary students were playing house and said "You be the mom, I'll be the step-dad and you be the step-dad's girlfriend."

Parents take their kids to church on Sunday and Wednesday night for youth group a and confirmation and think their job is done. After all, they've been baptised already and once their confirmed they're going to heaven right? Broken homes are commonplace, divorce has no shame, father's don't lead their families and church attendance has become a thing of tradition where someplace the message got lost between the older generation and the younger generations. Work hard, be a good person and all will be well. Please understand that I am not judging, it's mearly an observation.

On June 10th of 2009 I was informed by my wife's mother on my cell-phone while I was on my way to Belfield, ND to spray oil sites that my wife Kim was on her way to Minot, ND to give birth to our twin daughters Signe and Brynja. (Yes, with a name like Leif and daughters named Signe and Brynja you could easily guess that I'm of Norwegian decent) Prior our twins' arrivals my wife and I had been preparing to be parents. She was raised Baptist and I was raised in the Alliance (Christian and Missionary Alliance) but many of my doctrinal views are Lutheran. We spent a lot of time in conversation and prayer about Baby Dedication and Infant Baptism. Baby dedication was an easy decision. Infant Baptism was another story. We prayed, searched the Bible, listened to online sermons and read several books including Ole Hallesby's "Infant Baptism and Adult Conversion".

Our daughters were both dedicated and baptised. In both instances we were asked questions before a congregation of friends and family in regards to our biblical duties to our children. Kim and I had to verbally answer questions like "will you see to your daughters Christian education?" and the like. Now, Kim and I meant what we said each time when we answered "yes", and as we continued answering the questions a realization struck me with such conviction. It's my duty as a father to make sure that my daughters understand that we are sinful people who deserve hell, so we need Christ because salvation comes from Him alone. If they reject Him, I must do everything I can, take every opportunity that God gives me to witness to them until I know that they know that they are saved, even if it's to my dying breath. That really hit me hard. I don't say this to make anyone think that I think I'm some kind of super-Christian, because I'm not.

So I worked with my students day after day, teaching them how to excel in music and found myself attempting to "infiltrate" the learning environment with Christ. I know that He alone saves and I know that supposedly many of my students know that, but I was really having doubts as to whether or not they knew for sure if they knew Christ. "I hope I'm good enough to go to heaven." As I was loving my infant daughters I began to realize how much I cared for my students. As I was prepping and researching Christ-centered materials that would be age appropriate for my daughters as they grew I found myself looking for opportunities to witness to my students.

I was able to teach how to be better musicians, how to used music to get the crowd fired up to root for our teams. I was able to teach about "size and numbers don't dictate our success.....we do" and "just because you can do something doesn't mean you always should" and "just because what you can do won't make a difference, it doesn't mean you still shouldn't try". Our marching program had gotten our little community excited. We'd done the unthinkable when our small band of 24 raised 30 some odd thousand dollars in 6 months to represent our state at the National Memorial Day Parade. However, the day came when I realized that none of what we had accomplished meant anything if any of my students were going to hell.

I had heard of Child Evangelism Fellowship before. From what I gathered it was similar to Campus Crusade for Christ, but was on more of an elementary level as opposed to a college level.
When I was in college at Dickinson State University I was actively involved in Campus Crusade for Christ. I was worship leader for a year and half until I had to step down due to "husbandly" duties. I participated in the decipleship classes where we learned how to witness to people and would from time to time go out in groups across the campus to witness to students.

The parents of one of my students are the directors of the Northwest Chapter of CEF of North Dakota, the chapter that Bowbells is in. One day at school I was introduced to Todd, the father of my student. We probably talked for 45 minutes during my prep period. Turns out we knew a lot of the same people and had many of the same concerns for the students. Todd would later invite me to the church that his family attends when Kim and I realized that we would no longer be able to make the weekly hour and fifteen minute trek to Minot to attend the church we had been going to now that our daughters had been born. After church one day I was invited out to lunch with Todd's family. (I saw "I" because Kim was at home recouping with the girls) That day I started probing about CEF. Todd gladly answered my questions and said "You should really talk to my dad. I know they need a director in Eastern Montana." I didn't think I was in that place yet. People like my wife and I who have kids don't leave the safety of a steady teaching job to go into a full time ministry....

I continued to teach. Continued to pray. CEF. "Naw, that's not for us." More teaching, more prayer for my students. CEF. "Nope. that's definately not for us." More teaching, heart aching for the salvation of my students. CEF. "Ok God, I'm listening."

God kept on bringing CEF back to mind. Kim and I kept dismissing it. He'd bring it back again. Thinking back to that Sunday afternoon when I'd talked with Todd, Kim and I though that it was time I called his father Morris.

It was an interesting spot for sure. Kim and I both loved our jobs and loved working with our students, but we felt that God was leading us away from that. I'm a guy who is willing to take some chances if it's just going to affect me. I'm willing to be a bit daring from time to time. (I've been climbing up the ladders of grain bins at the farm since I was 5) But this decision wouldn't be just affecting me, it would also be affecting my wife and kids. Bach said it best. "Jesu Juva" Jesus help me.

After much time spent in the Word, in prayer, and close friends and family praying for us, I filled out my application for CEF. Time passes. "Leif," Morris says,"we just got your last reference in. Things are looking good." A tough decision came up. The only day that Kim and I would be able to meet with the Montana State Board for CEF coincided with Williston Band Day. I'm the guy who revolutionized the idea of marching at our school, and this is just one of those parades that the students and I should really do. "Jesu Juva." Instead of driving to Williston that day with a bus full of marching band kids Kim and I drove to Miles City, MT to meet with the CEF state board. The meeting goes well. "I'll give you a call on Monday or Tuesday" Doug, the state director tells me. He's very optimistic.

Monday comes. I'm prepping for a concert that I've got on Thursday, potentially my last concert, and Thursday is also the day that I either have to turn in a signed contract or have a letter of resignation turned in. Monday night I don't recieve a call. Tuesday comes. Kim checks the answering during lunch. "Leif, one of the board members left a message saying he'll call us tonight." I continue prepping for Thursday's concert. We get home. He calls. "Leif, I'm calling to say that we're happy to let you know that by unanimous concent we want to offer the director position of the Eastern Montana District." Wednesday morning I would turn in my and Kim's letters of resignation. I'd given my school board president, my high school principal and my superintendant a heads up that we might not be teaching the next year. They were bummed but understood. When I handed my letter to my superintendant, he looked saddened, but then he smiled and shook my hand.

I've had to do some very difficult things in my life. Telling my students that I was not going to be their teacher anymore is the single most difficult thing I've ever had to do. I love those kids. They were the first kids I ever had before my daughters were born. It was through them that God showed me how badly kids need Christ. I know that He wouldn't lead Kim and me away from them unless he had a better plan for both them and my family. So once I again I remember Bach, the great church musician and composer, and what we inscribed at the beginning and what he inscribed at the end of his compositions. "Jesu Juva" and "Soli Deo Gloria".

Jesus Help Me.
To God Alone be the Glory.