Public school prayer warriors
School employees from teachers to janitors are asking God for mercy on their colleagues and the students they serve
Looking back at the first 12 years of her teaching career at a public elementary school in Norwalk, Calif., April Reutter mainly remembers one overwhelming feeling: exhaustion.
Reutter’s fourth-grade students, many from broken families and troubled neighborhoods, carried heavy emotional baggage into the classroom, which affected their behaviors and attention span in class. Reutter felt like she was pumping hard in a triathlon trying to meet all her students’ physical, academic, and emotional needs—preparing them for the next grade, catching up to the latest curriculum, listening to their problems—all the while maintaining classroom discipline and order. At that time, she was leading a small prayer group with some other Christian teachers but didn’t gain much from it because they were “all exhausted together.”
So she quit teaching and enrolled in seminary to pursue her lifelong dream in doing cross-cultural missions. But all doors closed on her. One day, she was substitute teaching her former students, chatting leisurely with the kids and planning a pizza reunion, when a boy suddenly stood up.
“You’re different. What’s different about you?” he declared loudly.
Startled, Reutter responded simply, “I’m interested in you.”
The boy began to clap, and soon the entire class roared with applause. Reutter said that’s when she felt God tell her, “April, this is your community. This is where I want you.”
Reutter returned to full-time teaching in 2008 with a new mindset: Teaching became not just a job but a calling to cross-cultural missions, what she’d always wanted to do. The teachers’ lounge, once a soul-draining place for her because of the other teachers’ constant complaints and foul language, became a ministry room for her to share her faith. She openly talked about the miracles she witnessed on her mission trip to Mozambique. When she noticed colleagues looking forlorn or worn out, she unhesitatingly asked if she could pray for them. They always said yes.
Another female teacher soon joined her in prayers. Every morning they walked around the school grounds and placed their hands on students’ desks, teachers’ chairs, and even the copy machines, praying for God’s protection, peace, and presence. Teachers began inviting them to pray over their classrooms. Within three years, six teachers who used to complain all the time in the teachers’ lounge left. Three new Christian teachers joined the staff and helped start a Bible club in the school.
Seeing the fruits of her prayers emboldened Reutter to ask God for bigger things. She cold-called every church in Norwalk and invited them to a citywide gathering to pray for the city. Five churches responded and about 50 people attended the first annual “Pray Norwalk” gathering in 2009. Each year, the number grew to include the chaplain of the sheriff’s department, the school district superintendent, several city council members, and the mayor. At the last Pray Norwalk event, Reutter’s first-grade students took the stage to talk about why they love Jesus. That’s the power of prayer, Reutter said. Prayer can transform an entire school and city.
And it’s not just teachers who are praying. Ray Hinojos, a custodian at Temple Academy, an elementary school in La Puente, Calif., leads a prayer group of about eight custodians. They name specific teachers, students, and classrooms, praying for salvation for the unbelievers and encouragement for the believers.
As a custodian, Hinojos sees things others don’t. Every morning, he’s the first to arrive on campus grounds to pick up the crushed beer cans, used condoms, and drug paraphernalia left behind by teenagers in the neighborhood. In the hallways, he sees the purplish bags under the sleep-deprived teachers’ eyes and knows what they’re going through: That teacher has a sick husband, this teacher has a son who tried to commit suicide, that young teacher has lung problems.
He also hears the disgruntlement among other custodians and janitors who feel undervalued at the bottom of the staff hierarchy.
“People think all we do is clean, and maybe we even have that attitude about ourselves,” he tells them. “But let’s have a different outlook about our jobs.”
Hinojos accepts that he has a different set of duties and level of impact than teachers do but believes they’re fighting against the same “darkness” in their school.
“We’re like Aaron and Hur,” Hinojos said, referring to the two men who held up Moses’ arms as he prayed for the Israelites while they battled against the Amalekites. “Aaron and Hurr couldn’t do Moses’ task. But what they could do is support him in his role.”
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