Sam and a Really Old Book

I have this student…

If you know any teachers, you hear this phrase often.  There are the students that tear at our hearts.  The ones that we are sure can make it.  They just have obstacles, and it’s hard, really hard,not to help them, just to watch.  This student of mine, who I will call Sam, is one of those for me.  He’s LD and comes from poverty, but I have watched since his freshman year, and he’s come a long way.

Anyway.  Our school requires students to do Accelerated Reader.  They require kids to pick books out of the library, read them, and pass a computerized test on them.  Each student has to accumulate a certain number of points per nine weeks.  The points are a big part of their English grades.

This is pretty hard work for the kids I serve.  See, most of them read independently at the third to fifth grade level.  Their reading is very slow, so slow that it interferes with their understanding.  Sam and I have been reading books together since his freshman year.  He’s a senior now.  This time, we are reading The Cross and the Switchblade, which is the true story of pastor David Wilkerson’s working with gangs in New York City.

I tried to get a Sam to read this book with me last spring to fulfill a non-fiction requirement, but he sort of opted out of school for about three weeks, so that went by the wayside.  The problem, as I found out later, was that he found out he was going to be a dad and was a little overcome by it all.  He’s back now, though, and that’s what counts.

This is the way Sam and I read books.  I read.  He listens.  It’s a joy to do this with Sam as compared to some of my other students because he really does listen.  His eyes are always open.  He chuckles at the appropriate places.  He gets it, if you know what I mean.  He passes the tests and gets his points, too, which is always an added bonus.

This particular book has raised some questions and required some explanation on my part, explanation which (gasp!) requires me to talk about religion so that he can understand the book.  David Wilkerson was a Pentecostal minister.  Sam wanted to know what that was, so we segued into a discussion of what Pentecost is.  Turns out he had been to a Pentecostal church service but left because he didn’t understand the dancing and the flags.  Anyway.  I explained Pentecost.  Sam listened. And I prayed, as I have been praying, for the Lord to reach this boy that I know can make it.I didn’t have to explain the Gospel message at all.  The Gospel is clearly presented when Wilkerson leads Buckboard, the president of a gang called the Chaplains,  and Buckboard’s vice president, Stagecoach, to Christ.

A little later on in the book, Wilkerson is offered shelter in the home of Vincent Ortez.  Since his finances were limited, the pastor had been sleeping in his car.  I asked Sam what he thought about that.  The book covers a time period starting with 1958.  I pointed out to Sam that in 1958 I was three, and I tend to think of those times as being both simpler and safer.  Sam didn’t.  I asked him how he thought Wilkerson had stayed safe when he slept in his car, and his answer was what assured me that he was indeed listening and that, as Scripture says, God’s Word does not return to Him void.  What Sam said was, “He didn’t need a gun.  His Bible was his gun.”  So true.  And spoken by a boy who does not yet, as far as I know, acknowledge Christ as his Savior.  But he is, thanks be to God, listening.

The Cross and the Switchblade was published in 1963.  The paperback Sam and I are reading is probably that old.  I have to be careful when I turn the pages so it won’t fall apart.  It’s not a book that kids would generally pick for themselves.  But it is reaching Sam.  He’s not in a gang (as far as I know), but he does need Jesus.  His baby will be born in December.  Life’s about to change for him a LOT.

The story is reaching others, too.  I had been reading portions of it to Sam in a room where the teacher has a prep.  On Friday, the teacher offered his room because we hadn’t gone.  The teacher was in and out of the room as I was reading, but he’s been asking questions as the story went along.  Just as the bell rang and Sam and I were leaving, he stopped me.  To ask if the gang members in the scene I was reading had stolen the offering.

The Cross and the Switchblade is a good story, although kids today would probably think it moves too slowly.  I picked it for Sam initially because he liked The Outsiders, so I knew he liked stories about gangs and survival.  He’s hearing that part, but he’s hearing far more.  My prayer is that he hears enough to accept Jesus as his Savior.  I can’t personally pray with him because, you know, we are reading in a public school.  The plan of salvation is laid out in the book, though.  I’ll continue reading.  God is faithful to do His work.

This post is a part of Spiritual Sundays.  If you want to read more posts, click here.

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9 Responses to “Sam and a Really Old Book”


  1. 1 Clif August 23, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    This is a really old book. But because I am old I have read it and I saw the movie with Pat Boone in it. I have followed the ministry of David Wilkerson since the time the book first came out. This is an excellent post. God bless you for the work you do to advance the cause of Christ and bless the lives of others.

  2. 2 Charlotte August 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I remember when this really old book first came out. Everybody was talking about it and they eventually made a movie about it. It is a powerful book and I’m glad you read it to Sam. I think this may be the way God has of reaching his heart. I’m praying for him. Thank you for sharing this story with us.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

  3. 4 Sally August 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I read this book when it first came out, and I saw the movie. You see, I’m almost as old as Cliff!

    • 5 Becky August 23, 2009 at 7:00 pm

      I didn’t use to think this, but now I think it’s a good thing that older generally comes with wiser. Evens things out some, don’t you think? 🙂

  4. 6 Carol August 24, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Hi Becky,

    I think it’s great that you are able to read Sam The Cross and The Switchblade in a public school. Do you have the freedom to pick some of the books that you read? My son is 14, and he still likes me to read to him. He does read on his own, but it seems like he gets more out of it when I read to him.

    Have you ever read any of Frank Peretti’s books? He does have 2 that are more geared toward teenagers that my two kids really like. They are Hangman’s Curse and Nightmare Academy. They have read these ones on their own, and I have read them outloud too. Hangman’s Curse was made into a movie, but it’s so much better to read the book. If you’ve never read these books, I would recommend them.

    Just a homeschooling moms 2 cents worth. 🙂

    • 7 Becky August 24, 2009 at 5:25 am

      Hi Carol,

      I appreciate your suggestion and will look for the Peretti’s books. I have read some of them, but I did not realize that he had written some geared toward teens. Our school library does have Christian books, but so far I have only seen those by Francine Rivers and Jeanette Oke. Sam would be intimidated by the length of the Rivers books (that and I only have snatches of time during the nine weeks to read to him) and the Oke books are girl books, you know? I will let you know what I find.

  5. 8 Andy Helsby August 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Thats encouraging news. I wasn’t born when the book was written but I did enjoy reading the book – Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz is also a good book – this time from more of the gang member side of things. Makes a good companion read

    • 9 Becky August 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

      I liked RUN BABY RUN too. Our school library has it, but it is not an accelerated reader book. I work with kids who are LD or DH. Generally they don’t read if they don’t get credit for it.


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