From third grade through my junior year of high school, I attended a small Christian school inside a Baptist church building. I became immersed in a fundamentalist culture that made my own Free Methodist evangelical church culture seem downright liberal. During my time at the school, the basketball team switched from wearing basketball shorts to wearing baseball pants that reached between our calves and ankles, because we played even more conservative schools whose administrators viewed shorts as immodest. My school’s principal became enraged when some of my friends sang along with a slightly upbeat version of “Away in a Manger” by popular Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman; the principal acted like he had heard a death metal song with satanic lyrics.
The school occasionally accepted a student transferring from public school. Sometimes the transfer happened because the student got into trouble in public school. These transfer students had a cool factor that appealed to my sheltered classmates and me. Especially during our teen years, we enjoyed asking the transfer students about the foreign world of public school we witnessed occasionally (but not always realistically) in TV shows and movies. I remember one student being asked which of us would be able to survive in public school. The prevailing theory was that most of us would be bullied and beaten beyond recognition inside a public school.
Then my senior year of high school began with my transfer to a large public institution (at least large compared to what I was used to). If I had stayed at the Christian school, I would have graduated in a class of five at a school with fewer than 100 students total from kindergarten through high school. The public high school had nearly 400 seniors and 1,600 students.
In my high school classes at the Christian school, I alternated between three classrooms. Because of additions to the public high school over the decades, the building had a confusing maze of multiple hallways and levels. I was surprised to find no doors on the bathroom stalls (an unsuccessful attempt to prevent students from smoking there). Instead of a principal upset about contemporary Christian music, I had a teacher who swore and quoted rap lyrics. My textbooks sometimes conflicted with my Christian worldview.
I wasn’t quite an Israelite in Babylon, but I definitely felt out of place. I stopped wearing my letter jacket from being a Christian school basketball benchwarmer, and my right hand was now missing my class ring with the Christian school’s name on it. While my new classmates were dealing with senioritis, I was learning my new school like a freshman and trying to make new friends among people who had known each other for years.
Thankfully, I connected with Student Venture — a group of fellow Christian students. Instead of attending wild parties on Friday nights, several of these students and I gathered to pray. At the Christian school, my friends knew how to talk like committed Christians in front of teachers and parents while quietly rebelling and hoping for a taste of public school partying. At the public school, my Christian friends eagerly dedicated themselves to living out their faith in front of teachers and classmates who didn’t necessarily care or agree. In the public school setting, my faith grew in a way I had not expected.
The fish-out-of-water experience of my senior year was just a mild glimpse of exile. I still returned after each school day to the same home that had been my family’s residence for seven years, but people in exile typically must deal with being uprooted from their homes and communities and often their families.
With this issue, Light + Life continues its yearlong Bible journey by looking at what it meant to be an exile in the Bible and how we can apply this knowledge to our walk with God today. According to our partners at the Bible Project, “the exile was the watershed moment of the Israelites’ history on which the entire Bible gains its significance” (fmchr.ch/exile). Keep reading as this month’s authors share their insights from the Bible and their personal experiences.
Last month, Light + Life added a new name at the top of our masthead (the staff list on the preceding page). Please join me in welcoming Brett Heintzman as the magazine’s new publisher, one of many duties he holds as the new communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA.
You may have first met Brett and heard him speak at the National Prayer Summit (as I did) or a regional prayer event through his role as associate director of the National Prayer Ministry. You may know him as the author of the books “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths” or “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” (both available at freemethodistbooks.com). Or you may be reading his name for the first time.
Brett formerly served as the pastor of the Jamestown (New York) Free Methodist Church, and much of his ministry experience has involved leading worship through music. Brett is passionate about helping God’s people pursue holiness together.
I’m looking forward to reading Brett’s future contributions to this space and other sections of the magazine along with the new perspectives he will bring to the denomination’s communications efforts. Please keep the entire Light + Life team in prayer as we continue this magazine’s 151-year legacy of helping readers in their Bible journey.
Jeff Finley is the executive editor of Light + Life.