I knew from the time we met his parents that he was going to be trouble. They were people of class, professionals immersed in a number of business ventures and advanced education, and no time for a problematic teenager. They basically begged us to let him come. Their son was out of control, and they were out of ideas. We were their last hope.
“It was either come here or go to the army,” he later told me.
Usually we don’t take juniors or seniors as new students because they have a harder time adjusting to the program, both academically and spiritually, and often they are negative influences on the younger students. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt we should give him a chance, so I told his parents to bring him out for an interview and a placement exam, and we would make a decision based on the results.
When he unfolded his lanky six-foot frame from his parents’ pick up a few days later, he not only confirmed my previous trepidations, but promptly increased them! His application said Whaddy Alejandro, but he made it clear that he goes by Alejandro. He was a few months away from 18, and he carried himself as one accustomed to receiving as he wished. His wild and penetrating dark eyes exuded self-confidence, and an overall disdain for authority.
“He talks to us like he thinks he’s our equal” one of the other teacher’s later remarked.
The exam we gave him was a long one, with sections from all the major subjects. A couple hours later he finally finished. He failed the test miserably, and I had the excuse I needed not to accept him. But as much as I wished to avoid the problems that I knew awaited us, I still felt strangely compelled to give him a chance. This could be his only chance for something different. My interview with him confirmed my impression. Though quite abrupt in speech and manners, he seemed to be sincere, and expressed his desire to change for the better. We decided to take him, but with the condition that he would be on probation for the first three months.
Alejandro arrived for school a day late in a pickup truck loaded with a full-sized bed just for him and a quantity of other novelty items that the UETIRG dormitory had never seen before. He had a quick mind and an avid appetite for books. He could already understand and speak English moderately well, skills he picked up at home by watching English movies and television. It quickly became apparent that he would be a leader among the boys, and some even began to call him “Teacher Alejandro.” The first lesson he had to learn was respect for the authorities, and it took him a couple of weeks to change his habit of calling his teachers by their first name only.
And then the episodes began. First there was the copuazu fruit he stole from the neighbor to use for one of his class assignments. Later there was the stolen bread. That shenanigan, which he confessed was “foolish and completely unnecessary” cost him the school hike and campout. And then I discovered he had loaned his Philosophy homework to classmates for them to copy. Surprisingly, he never tried to hide or lessen his guilt, but confessed freely. I wasn’t quite sure if he did so from a sense of honesty, or because he was proud of his actions. In any case, it was nice for a change not to have to listen to the desperate lies and excuses that most students proffer in the vain hope of escaping their consequences.
“Well,” I told him. “You know what the handbook says about cheating in class or helping other students to cheat. For the first offence I will have to give you a zero on this assignment and we will notify your parents about what happened. Obviously this kind of behavior doesn’t help your classmates learn anything, and besides that, it is dishonest.”
“Do you really half to call my mom? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I’m sure you don´t, but that is exactly what we are going to do!”
“You don’t understand. Every time she gets a call from my school she freaks out because I either hurt myself or hurt someone else or vandalized school property.”
“Well, I’m sorry you’ve trained her to respond that way. I guess you will just have to start doing some really good things so we can start calling your mom about something positive!”
Fortunately, Alejandro´s mom did not faint or have a fit, and Alejandro promised there would never be a like incident again, a promise he seems to have kept so far.
Despite all of the headaches, gradually we began to see changes in Alejandro.
One day during free time I was working with another student, Alejandro showed up and started working with us.
“What are you doing? Looking for work?”
“I thought I’d give this missionary service thing a try!” He replied. His voice was sincere enough, so I looked at him to see if there was any trace of sarcasm in his expression. There seemed to be none. Later when we began planning this year’s mission trip for the mid-year vacation, Alejandro signed up to go.
I think it was about a month before the mission trip when Alejandro came to my house and asked if I had any Bibles for sale.
“You don’t have a Bible yet?”
“It’s not for me. There’s a lady that our group visits in km 21 that wants a Bible.”
“Oh, I have a few Bibles left that were donated for evangelism, I can give you one of those.”
“No, I want to pay for it. I want it to cost me something. You know what I mean?”
“I can charge you, that´s no problem.” I winked.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “There’s just one problem. I don’t have money. And I don’t want to ask my parents for money. Do you have any work I could do?”
“Oh sure, that can be arranged!” And so Alejandro worked, and the next Sabbath presented the earned Bible to a surprised señora!
But we weren’t the only ones to notice the changes occurring in Alejandro. At the first parent-teacher conferences of the year, Alejandro’s grandmother was so happy she cried. “It is so good to see him doing well!” she said. “He is content here! Thank you so much for what you have done for my grandson.”
“Praise God,” I said. “It’s not us that have made these changes in Alejandro. God is the only one with the power to work these kind of miracles!”
Lately, I’ve seen Alejandro during mealtime, or in other spare moments, studiously pouring over The Great Controversy.
“I can’t understand why they don’t teach this stuff in other schools! It’s just straight history!” he enthused when I asked him if he liked what he was learning.
“I’ll tell you why, it’s because it’s history that the Enemy doesn’t want anyone to think about! So you are enjoying the book? It is a really good read, one of my all-time favorites! ”
“I’ve been talking about it so much that the boys in the dorm gave me the nickname ‘Whaddy Wycliffe’!”
“That’s a nickname to be proud of!”
“I know! The sad thing is, if I introduced myself like that to anyone in town, they would just say ‘Nice to meet you.’ Nobody would have a clue who Wycliffe was!” he shook his head. “Yeah, they even wrote ‘Whaddy Wycliffe’ on my plate. The good thing about that is when someone sees the name it makes them curious and they ask and then whether they like it or not they end up learning about Wycliffe, the morning star of the Reformation!”
Alejandro is clearly proud of his new nickname, as he has written it in big letters across his three-ringed binder that he uses for class.
When the pastor made a call for potential baptismal candidates to come forward after the baptism we had in the creek on May 2, Whaddy Wycliffe was the first to respond.
A week or two later while we weeded watermelon we had another conversation.
“I’ve been thinking about baptism. I need to have some changes in my life before I take that step though.” He told me. “I don’t want to be like so many people who get baptized and then just keep living the same as before!”
Whaddy Wycliffe is still quite in the rough, but God is clearly doing beautiful things! What a privilege it is to not only watch God transform a life but also be able to collaborate with Him in the process! My life will never be the same for it either!
“It is the nicest work ever assumed by men and women to deal with youthful minds. The greatest care should be taken in the education of youth… to call forth the high and noble powers of the mind. Parents and school-teachers are certainly disqualified to properly educate children, if they have not first learned the lesson of self-control, patience, forbearance, gentleness, and love. What an important position for parents, guardians, and teachers!”
Fundamentals of Education 15.1