Moved by Compassion: A Heart for World Missions
Red Checking Pencils
Eric Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine. Send comments and observations about ONE to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What do you want for your birthday, Mom?”
(Mom smiles) “Honey, you know what I want.”
(Son scowls) “No, Mom! What do you really want?”
(Mom sighs) “I really want red checking pencils!”
(Scowl deepens) “But, Mom….”
The conversation took place every year as my mother’s April 15 birthday approached. And every year, her answer irritated me more. I didn’t want to buy my mother red checking pencils. I wanted to buy something special—flowers, a necklace, a new watch, a novel—anything but those goofy pencils.
I resented the pencils. They represented countless hours my mother spent on weekends grading papers. They represented the hour of sleep I lost because she insisted on getting to school early, so she would be fully prepared when her class arrived. They symbolized the hundreds of kids who competed with me for my mother’s affection over the years. Why would I want to buy her more pencils?
As an early teenager, during one of those years when nothing is simple and everything is frustrating, I lashed out at my mother’s answer. “Mom, I’m not buying pencils. You know I don’t want to, and I don’t know why you always ask for them. I wish you weren’t even a teacher.”
Instantly, I knew I had said the wrong thing. Her face crumpled, and tears started down her cheeks. I tried to apologize, but I could tell my words had hurt her deeply. The moments stretched while she composed herself enough to reply, “Eric, have I ever told you why I am a teacher?”
She went on to explain that teaching was more than a job. It was her mission field, her ministry—the job to which God had called her. “Every day, when I walk into the classroom,” she said, “I look into the face of children who need Jesus. I’m not a missionary serving in some village across the world, but I have a mission field in my classroom. How could I give teaching anything less than my best?”
Her words burned deeply, and suddenly I saw the red checking pencils in a whole new light. No longer were they mundane tools of an elementary school teacher’s daily routine. They took on eternal significance. And for 28 years, my mother used them to write the story of the Savior’s love across the hearts of her students.
Today, those red checking pencils still affect the way I think about life and work. As an editor, I see ONE Magazine as far more than words, phrases, and pictures. I pray that its message carries eternal significance.
As you read this issue that challenges you to find your role in world evangelism, I hope you ask yourself, “What are my red checking pencils?”