New school year brings trip down memory lane

Every August I watch as children, teens, parents and teachers prepare for the new school year. Preparations changed this year as they go back to new as-yet untested means of meeting together while maintaining social distancing. Nonetheless, the very thought of preparing for the new school year sends me for a trip down Memory Lane.

After I had been teaching for five years, I believed God called me to give it up and attend Moody Bible (MBI) in preparation for the mission field. Two years later I graduated from the mission program but was still no closer to the mission field. I accepted work as an instructor in MBI’s correspondence school.

Nearing the end of that year, a pastor from Kentucky came to my office asking me to come to the Kentucky mountains to take over his position as teacher of the local two-room school which served grades one through eight. That would free him for full time pastoral work.

I agreed and within a couple of months had purchased a 4-wheel-drive vehicle suitable for the terrain, loaded it and set off for my mission field.

Now, teaching was not foreign to me but teaching four grades and being “head teacher” were! Probably my first notion of being in a foreign position was when I was instructed to go to the county’s central education office to pick up my supplies.

Supplies? Books as needed, chalk and erasers for the non-existent chalkboard which I was assured would be delivered, coal buckets, water buckets, record books, and other sundries.

While in the office (more like a storage building) I noticed stacks of supplies already made up for various schools throughout this very rural county. Though there was only one consolidated high school, there were many one- and two-room elementary schools. Each stack of supplies held a paper naming the school it was meant for.

As the man in charge prepared my stack for me, I noticed other school names including Stidham, Elk, Short Creek, Confluence and many others. Cutshin, the wide spot in the road where I lived, wasn’t large enough for a school so those kids attended Big Rock where I taught.

But the name of one school in particular got my attention – Hell for Certain! Now, being the foreigner at this site, I simply couldn’t keep my mouth shut!

“Hell for Certain!? What kind of name is that for a school?” I was utterly appalled! No wonder Kentucky was always said to have the educational motto, “Thank God for Arkansas.” – simply indicating Arkansas was the only one of the 50 states to place lower in educational rankings than Kentucky.

“Hell for Certain! That’s a terrible name for a school.”

The man handing out supplies had a one sentence response, “Ever been there?” No, of course, I hadn’t and my mouth was closed. I could only leave the rest to my imagination and, in my 26 years of residency in the area, I never did get there. But the name did not conjure a pretty picture.

By sharp contrast, when I say or hear the work “heaven” I see a mind picture of peace and joy incomparable to anything I know. I’m SO glad that is my final destination. Is it yours?