Tim scanned the parking lot as they approached the over-sized front doors. Four police cars in a row with a sheriff’s car at the end. They were clearly no longer on the grounds of a tidy Christian school as many of the previous weeks had contained. This was Tim’s favorite—the unlikeliness of a public school. He grinned to himself and held the bulky front door open for Lynn with Chico following on her heels. They approached the reception desk and Tim removed his cowboy hat.
“Hi, there. We’re here for Mr. Goldman’s History class. Tim and Lynn Tuggle.”
The secretary smiled pleasantly and retreated to a back area after greeting them. A minute later she returned with a taller man in a business suit who opened a side door to usher them back into the office area.
“Mr. Tuggle, welcome to Hunter Huss High School.” He gave Tim a sturdy handshake. “I’m Sam Alps, the principal.”
The three greeted each other and mingled before introducing them to more of the staff milling around. The bell rang to change classes and students shuffled through the hallway in front of the main office.
“Well, let’s make our way down to the classroom, shall we?” Mr. Alps said as the hallway became quieter and the students fewer. They rose to follow him out the door and the sheriff appeared next to him to provide a fuller escort. Winding through the halls with the sheriff by his side, Tim oscillated between the feeling of honor and the looming of a court conviction.
They approached a classroom doorway and Mr. Alps greeted the teacher just inside. A man his same height came out to greet them.
“Tim Tuggle?” he said enthusiastically, shaking his hand. “Mike Goldman. Pleasure to meet you.” The principal and the sheriff said goodbye and walked back the way they had come.
Tim introduced the man to Lynn and Chico and explained Chico’s role in their ministry as the teacher knelt down to pet him.
“So have you given your life to Jesus?” Tim asked the teacher, expectantly.
“Well,” the man started, still stroking Chico’s ears. “Here’s my take on this…” he stood up and faced Tim, crossing an arm and placing a hand underneath his chin as though philosophizing. “I feel like if you’re a good person then you’re going to do okay. I’m not really sure that I believe that there is a heaven or a hell.”
His answer took Tim slightly aback. He was the one that initiated them coming to share their story with his class after Kay Kay wrote a report about them. He had assumed he was at least a believer in Jesus.
“Well, there is,” Tim stated. “You’re going to find that out one of these days. There truly is a heaven and a hell.”
“Yeah, I need to make one stipulation in your presentation—we can’t really talk to the students about religion or about God. So if you could just keep it to the facts of your experiences, that will be most appropriate.”
The political correctness doused in unwavering friendliness was unpalatable. Heat slowly rose up into Tim’s face and he forced his frustration back down where it came from. How is this man going to invite them to come and speak to his classroom and then tell them they can’t talk about God? What else is there to say?
Without waiting for much of a response the teacher ushered them into the classroom and asked Kay Kay to do the honors of introducing them. She rose from her desk and approached the front of the room, flashing them a bright smile on the way.
“I met this couple last fall when they spoke at my church and they have quickly become some of the most important people to me. They are staying in Shelby for the winter and after all the time I have spent with them nearly every weekend, it’s safe to say that my life is completely changed and I’ll never be the same again. I’m so excited you all get to meet them today and hear some of the stories that have changed my life. This is Tim and Lynn Tuggle and Chico, their Red Heeler.”
Mr. Goldman gave them a hearty hand-clap and the students half-heartedly followed suit. Tim and Lynn stepped in front of the class and Tim snapped his fingers twice, signaling to Chico to lie down in front of him.
The room fell silent in anticipation of the cowboy couple’s first words. The hush revealed the stark contrast in the room of opposing kingdoms and Tim wondered if this fortified wall could be brought down.
“Good morning, kids. Today, we want to tell you about how a trip across America on the back of a horse has changed our lives forever.” He paced slowly a few feet back and forth as he addressed the classroom and settled into a groove. “In 2010 God spoke to my heart to sell everything we owned and to ride across the country asking people to pray for our nation, the military, and the leaders in our government.”
Tim held nothing back. There was no fear in telling them the complete truth of their story. They weren’t concerned about getting asked to come back; they were much more concerned with reaching these kids.
An hour later, after demonstrating a relationship with Jesus through Tim’s relationship with Chico, he wrapped up the presentation by praying with the class. As the prayer ended the teacher immediately stood and made a beeline straight out of the classroom. Tim and Lynn exchanged a glance.
The bell rang, but no student budged from his seat. Hands were raised with questions and comments, others engrossed in examining the business card Lynn had passed out to each of them. Tim was diligently writing down several avid prayer requests when Mr. Goldman returned to the classroom with two teachers following behind him. Lynn hid her nervousness with a cordial smile as she nudged Tim with her elbow. He looked up from writing in his notebook. Mr. Goldman walked up to Tim with tears in his eyes.
“Will you go tell their classes what you just told mine?” he said, motioning to the two women standing slightly behind him.
Tim swallowed the rapidly forming lump in his throat. Lynn’s eyes widened at the unanticipated proposition and she let out a soft chuckle.
“Well you bet we will,” she responded for him, smiling at the women who smiled back eagerly. The group shuffled out of the classroom, the horsemen still reeling from the unexpected turn of events.
The two teachers combined their classes into one classroom with students lining the walls and pulling in extra chairs while some sat on the floor. Recognizing the extreme grace upon this opportunity, Tim fought back tears. The presence of God was so palpable in the room and in complete defiance of his former frustration and obvious miscalculation of the unlikely tenderness of hearts that were before him on this day.
The next hour held much of the same as the previous. Sharing stories of miracles, supernatural intervention, divine appointments, etc. Many faces offered blank stares much like in the previous class. Tim noticed a particular girl standing at the back of the room with her arms folded across her chest, leaning against the wall and appearing to virtually pass out from sheer boredom. She was dressed in all black with dark lipstick and thick eyeliner darkening her eyes. Appearing to be anything but their biggest fan in the room.
As the storytelling came to a close and Chico made his debut, Tim opened up the floor for questions. The stone wall of silence persisted for several seconds before a young man on the far side of the room stood at his desk. He had large gauges in his ears and a spiked collar around his neck. An unlikely candidate to speak up, let alone to stand while doing so. He locked eyes with Tim and hesitated a moment before speaking.
“Wow,” he started. “That was the most powerful thing I’ve ever heard in this school, and you guys have totally changed the way I look at God and how I think about Him.”
Suddenly a dam broke in the classroom. The boy’s confession diffused a fragrance of permission throughout the room and the former silence gave way to a low rumble of affirmative concurrence.
“This was the most inspiring story,” the boy continued, looking around at the overflowing classroom. Several other students rose from their seats, talking over each other with wonder and awe at the impact of their stories. Some even clapped. There were floods of prayer requests, growing more and more transparent and vulnerable with each one. Shedding tears over broken family life and sickness and fears. By the end of their time together three students had given their lives to Christ.
The bell rang to release them to lunch and they slowly trickled out after many hugs were shared. Tim sat down to complete the rest of a prayer request when Lynn noticed the girl still standing at the back of the room, the only one remaining. She slowly began to walk towards them, her sober expression having morphed from boredom to sadness. Lynn met her gaze as she walked up to them and sat down next to Tim.
No one spoke. She looked as though she could burst into tears.
“I need you to pray for me,” she almost whispered.
“What do you need prayer about?” Tim asked softly, matching her meekness.
“I don’t want to live,” she began. A tear escaped the corner of her eye. “I’ve attempted suicide several times. I hate my life. I hate my family.” Streams of tears fell down her cheeks like rivers. Her eyes stayed locked on Tim’s. “I want to die. And I need prayer.”
Tim and Lynn each grabbed one of her hands and without another word, bowed in prayer. They counseled with her for a few minutes after the prayer, encouraging her with the word of wisdom God laid on their hearts in that moment. After a long embrace with them both, she left the classroom with a more hopeful countenance. The teacher rose from her desk and approached them, now the only three left in the room. With tears in her eyes, she lightly touched Lynn’s arm.
“Even if I lose my job, all that was definitely worth it.”