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Todd and Lisa Beamer: Sunday morning heroes

By Scott Harrup

"In the normal course of events, presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the union," President George W. Bush said as he opened his speech to a joint meeting of Congress on the evening of September 20, 2001. "Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people. We have seen it in the courage of passengers who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground. Passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer."

Todd Morgan Beamer was a heroic passenger on United Airlines Flight 93. As the details of the lives of victims of 9/11 came to light through the tributes of friends and loved ones, the public soon learned that Beamer, 32, was an account manager for Oracle Corporation. They learned that he left behind Lisa, his wife, and sons David, 3, and Andrew, 1, when he risked everything to prevent his flight from becoming another weapon in the hands of evil. But few people knew about another part of Beamer’s life, a role that was vitally important to him — that of a Sunday school teacher.

Todd Beamer’s last recorded conversation has become world famous.

"Our Father who art in heaven …," he prayed over a cell phone with an operator on the ground.

"Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.…" Words written some 2,000 years ago quieted fears and brought determination to a man who recognized that his decision could impact thousands of lives.

"Deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Then, with the conclusion of the prayer taught by Jesus Christ, who had sacrificed himself so others could live, Todd turned to fellow passengers. "Are you ready?" he asked. "Let’s roll."

"Let’s roll." Let’s do what needs to be done, no matter the cost. Let’s lay it all on the line for a cause greater than ourselves. It is a call to action well-suited for every person committed to sharing the gospel.

Few environments are better designed for personal evangelism than the Sunday school classroom. When Todd and Lisa Beamer moved to Princeton, N.J., seven years ago, Princeton Alliance Church soon became their church home. Within months, the Beamers were asked to teach the senior high Sunday school class. They gladly accepted.

"We knew that this was a very important ministry that was going to have lifelong implications for our students," Lisa remembers.

The Beamers threw themselves into weekly ministry, not only in their Sunday school classroom but also in the day-to-day lives of their students.

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Natalia Lentini remembers Todd Beamer as a multi-faceted role model. "He taught me what a dad was supposed to be like, because my parents were divorced," she says. "He showed me how a man of God acts toward his kids and toward his wife and toward other students."

"If you’re passionate about God," says Rebekah Langone, "you’ll be passionate about other people." She looks back on heart-to-heart talks the Beamers would have with their students. "They understood what we go through as teenagers," she says, "and they wanted to make sure that we knew they were there."

Langone helped the Beamers care for their children the summer before Todd died. "He would come home so tired from work," she remembers, "and he’d ask you how you were." The question was never an empty inquiry. One night, Langone says, Todd talked with her for four hours about issues impacting her life. His flight to California the next morning made no difference in his concern for her need.

Todd Beamer did not wake up one morning and decide he could face a life-or-death confrontation with terrorists.

"What set Todd apart and what made him really ready to act with courage and to act with faith and to act with character that day," Lisa says, "is because he struggled every day to make those good decisions and those good choices that would lead him to be closer in his relationship with God and more able to step out in faith when he needed to."

Sunday school played a key role in Todd’s personal growth even before he became a teacher.

"I think Todd’s first experience at church was probably when he was about 2 or 3 weeks old," Lisa says, "and went through the whole Sunday school program in the churches that his family found themselves in. I think when you’re a little child and you start in Sunday school, you learn a lot of the stories. Especially a lot of the Old Testament stories — Noah, and Adam and Eve, and Moses — and it takes a while until you’re able to put those all together."

As Todd grew up, Lisa says, those stories from Sunday school ceased to become just stories, but became models for life. Bible study became a part of Todd’s daily life as well. He spent a lot of time studying the Bible with friends who met each Friday morning. They talked about how God’s Word was relevant to their lives and how it applied to all of the demands they had as Christians and as people in pursuit of excellence in all that they did.

"For our family," Lisa says, "the Bible serves as kind of a blueprint for how we interact with each other, for how we interact with our peers and our families outside of our little nuclear family, for how we spend our time."

For Todd, that blueprint helped him make sense of all the demands on his life. Family and friends remember him as someone who worked hard but made sure that his work never overshadowed his relationship with God or his relationship with others. And that commitment to relationships carried over every week into the Beamers’ Sunday school class.

"He cared about us," says Jonathan Leonard. "After class, he’d come up to me and ask me how basketball was going. He actually took the time to get to know me better. He cared about what was going on in my life."

That kind of compassion complemented a reputation for integrity that validated the lessons Todd taught.

"The stuff that he taught us — he lived it," Leonard says. "He practiced what he preached."

To follow the example of Todd and Lisa Beamer — and the tens of thousands of men and women who stand before Sunday school classes each week — does not require a graduate degree in theology or a teaching certificate or an impressive personal resume. It just requires a heart burdened for the spiritual needs of others.

Sunday school teachers need to see their classroom as a mission field. They need to see their students as their friends. They need to see that fun and fellowship can create an environment in which lives are forever changed.

"If I had a chance to talk to Sunday school teachers and give them some advice or give them some ideas from my experience," Lisa says, "I would just tell them that they don’t know what sort of impact they’re having and to keep on persevering even when they think they’re not having an impact. We’ve had so many kids come back and say that a specific lesson or a specific illustration that one of us made stuck with them forever. We never knew that that was going to happen, that that one kid needed to hear that on that day. And that’s not really up to us. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to really take what we have to offer and really use it in someone’s life."

Sunday school. In the hands of teachers dedicated to the Spirit’s leading, it can be a life-changing force. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to roll?


Scott Harrup is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

E-mail your comments to pe@ag.org.

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