It’s been exactly one week since the news. Someone I held in high regard died. His name was Jeremiah. Jeremiah Small. He was a dedicated Christian, profoundly humble and deeply caring for other people. He was one of those uncommon types who saw every person as an end in themselves. When we talked together, he talked to me, not at me, and listened in the same manner. He had the qualities of a keen listener. That is probably what made him such a great teacher. He taught at a Christian school in Sulaimaniah, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan. He was on his sixth year, teaching History, English, and the like. Jeremiah was wildly popular with his students. They were crazy about him, because he was crazy about them. This teacher poured himself into his teaching and his students. He didn’t aim to just give facts. He aimed to inspire. And show people the goodness of his God he loved so dearly and the awe of God’s world. I could go on (two further articles from World are here and here). But it ended.
On the morning of March 1st, a Thursday, Jeremiah was opening up his class with a prayer, his pupils in front of him as normal. He thanked God for a beautiful day. Before he could finish, one of them pulled out a pistol and shot him three times. I hear he died with his hands still clasped together. The student then shot himself, and also died shortly thereafter. To this day no one knows why he did it. No note, no clues, nothing.
It is so senseless. It shouldn’t have happened. His existence was important. Men like him are rare. Teachers like him are very rare. Why? It’s as though it left a hole in the world that shouldn’t have been there. The atmosphere itself seemed to disrupt over it. Within 24 hours of his death, a winter storm blew into Sulaimaniah. Frigid wind screamed down from the Kurdish mountains Jeremiah loved so much. Cold snow tumbled down from the frozen sky, thunder and lightening grumbled in displeasure, and grey clouds brooded over Kurdistan with their gloomy presence for several days.A winter storm so late in the year is strange. From ancient times, strange events are reported to accompany the death of great men, from Julius Caesar to Jesus Christ. Truly, a great man did pass from us.
One thing that made Jeremiah great is his love for forgiveness. He saw himself as a much-forgiven man. I keep hearing how whenever he realized his wrongness on something, he didn’t tarry to apologize. Sometimes he wasn’t even wrong. I found he grew up in a family where apologies and forgiveness were highly prized. His parents and some of his siblings flew out to Kurdistan to bury their son and brother. The memorial service was filled with an unusual quality, for victim of a murder – forgiveness. The teen’s family was invited to the service. Mom, brothers, and his dad all voiced the same anti-bitterness medicine. Dad said this was a momentary act by a confused young man, and repeated his goodwill towards the family. When they left the podium, the teen’s father came to the front and embraced them. I’ve never witnessed anything like this. It redefined love and reconciliation.
But its touching benefit was for the living. That day they buried Jeremiah. I regret I wasn’t able to attend that one, needing to go back to my place of work.
Regrets are haunting. I have many. I wish I had a chance to get to know him more. We were both so busy. I had hoped to see him during the Nawroz holiday now upon us, where all the schools in Kurdistan let out for two weeks. So much for that. Yet I can hear his deep, kind voice saying those pleasant things if I concentrate.
I don’t know how much of this post is nonsense. This is grieving. I just miss him. I will miss our authentic conversations. The way he was with kids. His smile. His voice. Everything. Times that I’ve seen him run through my mind like a movie. Tragedy like this makes you think. Death means “over” in our experience. The dead are gone. No more of their presence and all that goes along with it.
But two thousand years ago in the mourning of another dead man, Jesus told the mourners he himself was resurrection and life. Those who believe in him will live again (John 11.25). Tall claims. But what hopeful claims, no? These humanist platitudes of “death is a part of life” and “at least he lived (once)” are idiotic to me. How is that hopeful? May as well say nothing. Put a bow-tie on a rotting eel. Hope doesn’t accept death as the victor. Hope means death isn’t the end: Those who die can go right through death and out the other side to a new kind of life, one that is eternal. Jeremiah firmly believed in that hope. His conviction was that his dead bones will rise yet again. That’s what made him the person he was. He believed he had a heavenly future. So he lived as though he were a heavenly man.
A memorial video made by a student
I’m reading a book right now called With by Skye Jethani. It has to do with how we live our lives in relation to God. I really like it and think he is mostly dead-on. But I got to wondering how little I know about the guy who is writing these things. So, I got on his website and read his bio. Ok. But I don’t really know him. How does he actually live his life in relation to what he is writing? Does it work in his life? How does he eat breakfast, treat his family, counsel people in hardship? Can I see it rather than read what he tells me?
Reading an author isn’t enough for me anymore. Alot of times I want to ask him or her a question about what I”m reading. I want to live with the author, follow him around, and see how he lives his life, if he practices what he preaches.
In Academia, we know the rule that you always interact with the person’s ideas, not attack the person. To say, “well, Professor A’s idea, X, is bad because Professor A is a jerk and treats his students unkindly” is the logical fallacy Ad Hominem, against the man. You keep the private life separate from the ideas your discussing.
But while this is the academic rule that must be followed in any discourse, we cannot totally divorce the whole person from his ideas. Our lives run on ideas. If we behave badly, there is some bad thinking in their somewhere. And when an author is telling you in his book how to live your life, the question of how he lives his own life becomes all the more important. There are too many manipulators and predators out just to make a buck. I’m skeptical. I’m looking for authentic books written by authentic people.
After I read Michael Eaton’s book No Condemnation, which is now among the best books I’ve read, I began really thinking of how I could get to Kenya and help in his church. What a thought! Being the assistant of a such an authentic thinker/pastor/theologian and following him around. Yeah, I’m crazy, but don’t tell me you don’t have crazy wishes too!
That said, I admit you can learn quite a bit about a person from reading their books, especially books on life. From reading Skye’s book, I think he really believes, lives, and thinks about what he is advocating. That said, I do wish I could hang out with him for a while. If, by some chain of unlikely events, I become an author, I would want to do just that – have interns, assistants, or whatever and incorporate them into my life. People to help me at work, live in my home, eat my dinner, and be mentored. But like I said, I’m just another guy with crazy wishes.
This past weekend I went to a training session held by Go Corps, an organization dedicated to connecting students with mid-term missions for 2 year stints. It was hosted by Biola University and about 20 staff and students from various campuses across the country attended, including Wheaton, Colorado Christian University, and Trinity International.
It was a great time and I really felt recharged. I’m so impressed with the quality of the men and women I met. Anyone who makes broad generalizations about how Christians are hypocrites need to meet people like these. They are authentic individuals who love people dearly and have already given up many things in their lives for the sake of the call of God. They intend to give up even more. Oh, and anyone who generalizes Christians as joyless and dour should meet people like these! I laughed harder than I had in a while. This is all just a testimony to what God can do in one’s life. Who but a magnificent God can turn naturally self-centered, pitiful human beings into such genuine, loving, others-centered men and women? That just hits me.
GoCorps is a legit organization too. They break down the biggest barriers to students serving overseas so you can go to the least-reached and poorest people on the globe. Their website is http://gocorps.org Check it out!