Sunday, September 2, 2012

inSignificant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World by Chris Travis

     Don’t think all black people are like this, the police officer said.  He squeezed me in a rough bear hug.  I could feel his bulletproof vest underneath his starched uniform shirt.  It was like being hugged by a tree.  He said these words to me, I think, because he was a black man, the principal of my school was black, and almost all the students and teachers were black.  He said this to me because I was the only white person around, and I was the only one with a swollen eye.  (pg.13)

     Chris Travis was the much loved and respected pastor of a church.  He and his wife decided to move to New York City where she could pursue a career in acting.  He decided that he was going to make a difference in children’s lives.  He chose to become a school teacher in the worst performing school in the city, deep in the heart of Harlem.

      I used to get nervous about preaching in a church... I used to actually feel anxious before standing in front of well-mannered church people who never throw things, never push you, never threaten to rape your wife.  I didn’t know what it was like to stand up in front of a crowd that openly hated me, gnashed their teeth at me, and said the foulest things you can think of to me.  I didn’t know how it would feel to see an entire class lunge out of their seats, energized by the simple, sadistic joy of watching one kid punch another.  And guess who stood between that classroom of students and the two who were fighting in the hallway.  (pg.13)

       Chris worked two years at this school.  The third year it was closed down.  In the two years he was there he learned a lot.  A lot about what God’s purpose is in our lives.  How He uses everything, including- or especially, the toughest times of trial to make our lives count.  To show us that we’re significant. 

        In the nine chapters of the book Chris discusses discovering what God wants for us, what  loving others really means, what it means to be a servant of God where ever you happen to be in life.  He shows how when we allow God to change our heart, and depend on Him in all circumstances He gives us spiritual gifts to use and impact others.  He concludes that whatever we do, it is not insignificant.

      Interlaced through out his message, Chris shares his experiences as a first year rookie teacher who went from crying on the subway home every night to an experienced no nonsense classroom manager the second year.  Applying the principles he writes about in these chapters, he became an expert teacher who got his kids to perform academically and improve.  He connects the principles he discusses in each chapter to how he applied these principles to his own daily life and how they worked.

     The end of the book has discussion questions for each chapter so a church group could use the book as a Bible study.

    What I found valuable about this book was that I, too, taught at a high minority, high poverty school for nine years.  My school wasn’t as bad as his but I daily fought high stress and depression and the sense that I wasn’t making any difference to anybody.  This book had me thinking that when we look at our lives from an eternal perspective, we are doing things that are making a difference.  I may never have won a “teacher of the year” award, but the love I showed my students and the work I did with them to make each and every one of them successful musicians did matter.

     After reading this book, I can appreciate how God used my teaching years as a time of testing and trial to “complete a good work in me.”  I am not the same self-absorbed, clueless person I was when I first began teaching.

    We may never know in this life time the difference we made in people’s lives, but God knows.  He knows and He sees-even if no one else does. 

    The only thing I would have liked to have read about were specific techniques the author used to manage his class.  He only tells us he was awful the first year and was effective the second year.  He doesn’t go into detail about what he did to become effective.  As an educator I would have found that information useful.

    All in all, this book will be an encouragement to all of us who wonder if we or what we do really matters.  Chris Travis shows that when we find our place inside God’s will, it all matters.
Chris Travis is the bestselling author or Unnamed and the pastor of Everyday Christian Church in Manhattan.  Before that he taught math at eh most dangerous middle school in the New York City public school system, Chris is a former atheist who met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and never looked back.  He lives with his wife in New York City.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Bethany House Publishers.

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