This man deserves a place in our Hall of Fame, the high school principal thought. His excitement grew as he continued to review the list of accomplishments that accompanied the nomination one of my fellow graduates had sent him.
Learned an unwritten indigenous language. Developed an alphabet, taught the native people to read and write in their own language. Practiced basic medicine, including dentistry, and taught hygiene. Translated part of the Bible into the language. Speaks four languages. Authored three books. Inspirational speaker in 400 cities in 20 countries.
Whoa! No one in our current Hall of Fame has done anything like this! he thought, and put my nomination on the short list.
Meanwhile, over a thousand kilometres away, two of my granddaughters were struggling with their algebra homework. As I saw their tears of frustration, I tried to comfort them by saying, “I was never any good at algebra either. I took the course twice and still didn’t pass. One day I was so discouraged that I broke down and cried right in class. So embarrassing!” I felt bad for having passed on my defective algebra gene to these granddaughters.
So what does this have to do with the nomination to my high school’s Hall of Fame? Everything, it turns out.
When, a few weeks ago, the principal did a routine check of my course transcripts, he discovered that at graduation time I had been three credits short—the algebra course—and that I had, therefore, never officially graduated. Never mind that since then I had taken courses at five universities and had even lectured at some, I was technically a high school dropout. And, since only graduates were eligible for consideration to the Hall of Fame, he reluctantly pulled my nomination from the short list pile and dropped it into the trash.
When my fellow graduate told me the story of my rejection, I gave thanks that God chose Jo and me to serve Him in Bible translation and empowered us to do some amazing things for Him. Or more accurately, that God did amazing things through us. (It also helps to be a Dutchman with a typical healthy self-esteem.) For these reasons, I didn’t really need the Hall of Fame ego boost.
In the fifty-six years since my non-graduation, I have been profoundly grateful that other people excelled in math and developed the airplanes, vehicles, computers and electronic gear that my work, life and ministry depend on!
Not graduating from high school will definitely keep you out of your school’s Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t automatically mean you are destined for a life of failure. Here are some statistics on highly successful people who for one reason or another were unable to graduate from high school: 25 self-made billionaire business people, 10 Nobel prize winners, 14 USA Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, 12 USA Congressional Gold medal recipients, 28 British knighthoods. And the one I like best, 55 bestselling authors!
This incident perfectly illustrates the fact that God creates every human being as a unique entity. We all have strengths and weaknesses in different and complex combinations. We need to ask: How has God gifted me? What are my strengths? Then give ourselves over to God to live our lives, raise our families, build our careers, and develop our ministries for God using those strengths.
If we serve Him faithfully, He will someday say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:21 (NIV).
Or in the Popjes Paraphrase, “Come into My Hall of Fame!”