One day, in an attempt to get my students to take a good look at their self-worth and to honestly assess their talents, I “converted” the classroom into a crippled space shuttle and told the students to imagine they were frightened crew members whose lives were about to be snuffed out. To simulate the inside of a powerless shuttle, we darkened the classroom, lit a candle, and huddled together in a tight circle. As teacher, I was “commander in charge,” and it was up to me to make some quick, sound decisions. I knew there was no hope of recovering the mission. Most of us would die. Two, however, could be spared by boarding a small emergency shuttle back to earth. How would we decide our fate? Democratically. Each person would be given the chance to tell his crew members why he should be one of the two selected to return to Mother Earth. Then, after each crew member had “campaigned” for himself, a secret ballot would be taken, with each voter promising to put all popularity aside and to cast his ballot for the two people who could most significantly contribute to the welfare of the home planet.
As the candle passed from student to student, responses varied. Penny* giggled nervously, shrugged her shoulders, and said she needed to go back to help her mom with the younger kids. Mark pleaded earnestly for a chance to return and make a difference by encouraging young people to work harder in their studies. Carl promised, if given the chance to return, that he would do his utmost to spread the good news of Jesus’ gospel message. Most entered pleas on behalf of family members back home who really needed them to return. Joe’s response, however, was anything but typical. It broke my heart when, with bowed head, he announced in a very low voice, “I don’t deserve to go back. I don’t have anything to give.” His solemn pronouncement stunned us all. We were aware of Joe’s extreme sensitivity and shyness, but none of us realized, until that awful moment, how little he thought of himself.
“Oh, God,” I prayed in agonized silence, “make something good come out of this.”
And then it happened—the final student’s response that made the whole experience worthwhile indeed. Jacob, receiving the candle from Joe and holding it close to his face, thought a long while, smiled, and began, “I have many gifts to offer. I could make a difference if I was allowed to return, but I want to forfeit my seat on the shuttle and give it to Joe. I know who I am, but he really doesn’t know himself very well. He deserves a chance to go back and find out who he is and what he has to offer. So, if anyone votes for me, I want you to know that I’ll let Joe go home in my place.” With that, he handed the candle back to me.
What could I say? In a moment, my agony had changed to ecstasy. My interior tears of grief were now tears of joy. The votes were quickly cast, and as I counted them, I was overwhelmed by the students’ responses. Everyone voted for Joe. The smile on his face told me that my prayer had truly been answered. Joe was beginning to believe that maybe he did count after all.
*All names have been changed.