The Sutherland Patrol Boys
I had a strange dream last Saturday evening. It was a flashback to when I was in 7th grade and attended Sutherland Elementary School on the south side of Chicago. There were all kinds of activities and most of us wanted to be recognized for the groups that we were part of. When I was in sixth grade, I joined the German Club when I was offered the chance to take the foreign language the last three years of grammar school. Miss Urland, the school counselor, was our German teacher and I was led to believe that it was quite a badge of honor to be invited to participate.
I was all excited about it until the hard work actually started of having to learn a foreign language. Then, as much as I tried to keep up appearances, it wasn’t as glamorous as it had started out to be. While it is true that I stuck it out for three years until I graduated, it wasn’t easy to stay the course and finish what I had started. There were other groups as well. There were sports teams but I really wasn’t cut out for those activities. I am one of those guys who is built more for comfort than for speed, if you know what I mean. And after eight years of being the last one picked for a team in gym, it got pretty discouraging to think that I would never be part of a winning team.
I was blessed to be one of the smarter kids in the class and at the end of eighth grade, I was the class valedictorian, but that didn’t get you too many friends in grammar school. It was much more important to be cool that to be smart back then, and I wasn’t one of the accepted kids. I even remember being locked in a part of the playground back when I was in the third or fourth grade.
So imagine my excitement when Miss Wilke, our gym teacher, announced that she would be selecting the school patrol boys for the beginning of seventh grade after summer vacation. Now I don’t know that patrol boys still exist, but back then, it was quite an honor. The idea was simple. Patrol boys stood at street corners and made sure that students heading to school or returning home were safe as they crossed the streets around the school. Very few people took the bus – most of us walked. On the busy streets, the patrol boys were actually accompanied by school crossing guards – generally ladies who wore uniforms and were able to hold up signs to stop traffic. It was pretty neat stuff. And the best part of the whole thing was that the patrol boys got to wear a white cotton “belt” that went around their waste and across their chest. It kind of reminded you of some sort of military decoration and when your work was completed, there was a special way that you could wrap it up and hang it from your own belt – like a trophy. Boy, how I wanted to be one of those patrol boys.
I waited all summer long for the list of those who would be called to be patrol boys when the fall semester started. It was a huge disappointment when my name wasn’t on the list. I mean I was crushed. There were maybe 16 boys in all – a combination of 7th and 8th graders. My friend Tom made the cut – he was a shoe in from the beginning. And Ray, another of my friends, looked great in his new crossing belt. I was jealous and now I would have to go a whole year before I would be able to see if I made the eighth grade team – although the odds were against me. After all, most of the “newbies” were seventh graders.
I was asked to “sub” several times during the fall semester and then, at the first of the year, all the patrol boys received new bright orange belts. Now they were the talk of the school – those orange belts looked great even when they hung at your side during school hours. To cut to the chase, those called to be patrol boys were the neatest group in the school. Being in the German Club paled by comparison. I was envious of people in all these different groups – and I wasn’t one of them. Seventh grade was a long year for me.
Fast forward one year and it was like a miracle – I got to be a patrol boy for eighth grade. I received one of those new orange belts and everything. But as I reflect on the whole memory, it became evident to me that the reason I was chosen was because nobody lived near me and a certain busy street, Western Avenue, had to be covered. So that’s why I got the nod – it wasn’t too cool any more – and I didn’t feel special. The verse for this evening highlights the fact that each of us has a specific call and is from Ephesians 4:11-12, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
In other words, we all have different callings and sometimes what we end up doing to attract attention isn’t what we were meant to do in the beginning. My encouragement this evening is that God has given you certain gifts, and a specific call, that is uniquely designed for you. My prayer is that you will follow your calling and realize that you are special to God – with a mission that only you can fulfill. So whatever it is, whether it is popular or not, it’s been divinely given to you. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…