Years later, a story of salvation still resonates

In the small basement room of Gospel Tabernacle of Parma, a volunteer teacher by the name of Melissa Tuttle was trying to corral the attention of a class of rowdy elementary children by promising to tell them a story.

Since every child likes to hear a good story, the class suddenly became all ears. Armed with her newest teaching tool, a flannel graph board, she began to show and tell about a shepherd who had lost a little sheep.

As the "flannel" shepherd put his "flannel" sheep in the fold at night for safety, he counted them and discovered that one was missing. There were 90 and 9 safe in the fold, but one was still out in the storm and darkness.

The teacher asked the students what they thought the shepherd ought to do. After all, it was pretty treacherous out in the night! Someone volunteered that maybe he would wait and go look for the stray in the morning when he could see more clearly.

 "No!" she said! Dramatizing with her flannel graph, she showed how the shepherd searched through the rocks, bushes and ravines--until he finally heard the bleating of his wounded, lost sheep.

This kind, elderly teacher lovingly described how the shepherd didn't spank of scold the little lamb, but pulled him from the brambles; bound up his wounds; placed him on his shoulders; and carried him back to the safety of the fold. She didn't make up this story. She was retelling this example Jesus had given on two different occasions: the first time in Galilee with a child on his lap (Matthew 18:10-14) and the second over in Perea as he sat eating with sinners (Luke 15:1).

Pointing to each little boy and girl in her class, Melissa said Jesus told this story to show the worth of each person.

With great passion, the teacher made the application. Jesus, like the good shepherd, came down from heaven into the brambles and bushes where we were trapped by our stubbornness and independence and went through incredible suffering in order to rescue us. She said the Lord suffered because he loved each one of us and believed we were worth saving! As she taught, her little class stared at that flannel graph board and imagined they were the little lamb on the shepherd's strong shoulders.

Story time was over and it was time to color the picture of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders. As the crayons skated across the picture, the simple, but powerful point of this story penetrated these children who came from poor families with limited possibilities. A sense of worth and the elevation of hope quietly hovered over each little child.

When the crayon art was finished, it was time for memorization so the teacher printed John 3:16 on the chalk board. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." She promised she would "tat" a book mark for each student who would memorize and recite that verse to her the following week.

The earthly remains of our dear old Sunday school teacher lay just inside the Parma Cemetery, waiting for the promised resurrection from the dead. But I was one of her little pupils who got the message that day: Jesus, thought I, a naughty boy in the middle of a a large family, was worth saving! I still possess and value the tatted-cross bookmark as a reminder!

Sometimes the best teachers are those who share the simplest, most profound principles with the smallest students!