The first time Lance Jackson taught Scripture at a one-teacher school west of Ivanhoe in outback NSW he asked the class to tell him what they knew about Jesus.
“They all looked a bit dumb … Anyway, I pressed the issue, thinking they were shy, but at the finish a 13-year-old girl up the back put up her hand and said ‘Look, I don’t think he lives anywhere around here but I’ve heard Dad talking about him,’” Lance recalls.
“It was an isolated area but what struck me was I’m less than 500km from Sydney and there’s a whole room of kids who don’t know who Jesus is.”
It is experiences such as this that have kept the 82-year-old Presbyterian pastor teaching Scripture for the past 61 years. The record shows that in that time he has brought the gospel of the Lord Jesus to children in 48 schools in NSW, three in South Australia, 12 in Queensland and two in Victoria, all in bush areas.
“That motivated me to just keep pressing on – because you had to really discipline yourself,” he says.
“I grew up in a climate and a church where you made a commitment for life and you didn’t rust out, you burnt out.”
Now based in Glen Innes, in the northern tablelands of NSW, Lance still coordinates Scripture for 18 classes in three local schools and the annual training courses. He also still works on a voluntary basis as a pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Glen Innes.
When Lance began teaching Scripture in 1954, he had to pass a three-month training course at the Sydney Teachers College, which involved presenting a demonstration class in front of a supervisor.
“It was a bit of a shock to walk into the room and discover that we weren’t being given special treatment; we were being treated like anybody doing the three-year teachers’ course,” he says.
Despite the strict assessment, Lance received no certificate or diploma, a fact that has been a bugbear for him over the years with the moves to compulsory accreditation.
One of the bonuses of the changes in Scripture delivery is that the NSW Education Department now requires a staff teacher to be in the classroom providing supervision, which can lead to productive interaction on the Bible.
Lance remembers an incident where a Year 4 teacher was surprised by the story of Abraham and Ishmael.
“We’d done the story about Abraham and Isaac and we’d covered the area where Abraham and Sarah decided that God must have forgotten them and so he had a child, Ishmael, by one of his slave girls. If you follow the story through you find that God assured Ishmael that he would be protected but that he would be a nomad and a wanderer and, of course, Ishmael is the progenitor of Arab nations.
“So you’ve got the rejected son of Abraham in conflict with the chosen son of Abraham and the teacher had never heard of that. She basically interrupted the lesson and said, ‘Is that all in the Bible?’ I said ‘Well, that’s where I got it from.’
“And since then she has been all ears. I notice sometimes if it’s getting a bit interesting I sneak a glance at her desk and often she’s there with her pen half way between herself and the paper listening carefully to the lesson.”
Because Lance moved around a lot, over four states, he has only twice met people who said he was their Scripture teacher. Both were in active ministry and declared school Scripture to have been a significant part of their introduction to the gospel.
“I don’t have any startling conversion stories, but the thing that’s hard to describe is the little cards from kids I’ve had every year, thanking me for teaching them through the year, thanking me for telling them about God. And so that’s very encouraging,” he says.
“My attitude is it’s a presentation. I have a responsibility to be faithful to my salvation and my testimony to witness to the Lord and the outcome is his responsibility.”
Lance says it’s important to view issues from the point of view of a child to stimulate a productive discussion.
“One of the things I’ve found kids are interested in is the question of sin. What is sin and how is it? I try to convey even with the very young ones the idea that sin is inherent; it’s not something learnt. I often ask a class to think very carefully about this: ‘how many of you have ever told a lie?’ ” he says.
He then asks them where they got the idea of how to tell a lie and why they tell a lie. Did their mum or dad or grandma ever take them aside and teach them the proper way to tell a lie?
“And they look at you a bit and are not sure if you are being a bit humorous or not and that generates a discussion,” he says.
“At the finish they are aware of the fact that they individually have told a lie and they’ve already broken one commandment, so are separated from a relationship with God. But a loving God has made provision for that.”
In his present class, he uses about 30 Bibles and trains the children to read them each week.
At the end of the year he offers to give the children a free Bible if they bring back a note of parental approval.
“Out of 25 in the class, usually 17 or 18 bring a note to get their Bibles,” Lance says.
“We’ve opened a Christian bookshop here in town and I give the children a note to take there and get a free Bible and that gets the parents into the bookshop.”
Lance’s SRE experience has been all in infants and primary, except for five years at West Wyalong, where he ran seminars for high schools.
One emotionally charged seminar was held on the morning after the 9/11 terrorism attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
In the classroom, Lance took the opportunity to ask the shocked students how God fitted into the events of the morning. Why did God allow this to happen?
“I related the story that we lost a child at the age of three to cancer,” he says. “We were about 32 then.
“When my wife was coming back up the street ten days later a lady in the town who has no interest in Christian things came up to my wife and said, ‘What’s your husband going to do now?’ And Daphne said, ‘I don’t understand what you are getting at.’ And she said, ‘Well, after losing your son your husband can’t believe in a loving God – he won’t be able to continue on as a minister. What are you going to do?’ Daphne was a bit taken aback but she said, ‘Well, that’s not the case at all because we’ve been discussing that our faith up to now has been like a skeleton. The sense of God’s presence in this time is just like putting flesh and blood on the skeleton.’ The woman just gaped and walked off.
“I said to the class, ‘Now, that to me is the way that Christians will loo
k at tragedy. The important thing is to know why we have tragedy in the world. It’s because of man’s disobedience to God’s rule.’ And that became quite a productive discussion because the young people had some substance to challenge a superficial assumption.”