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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Lifetime of Loving and Learning

By James Meredith
Sept. 29, 2013

Vivian Hock rises early on a spring Sunday morning. The drive to Bethlehem Church (Assemblies of God) in Richmond Hill, N.Y., will take more than an hour, and a classroom of energetic teen girls awaits her. She says a prayer as she makes her way to the door — just as she has done since 1939.

In March, Hock, 92, began her 75th year teaching Sunday School at this New York City church. Except for a short break during a year at Bible college, as well as some time off for the birth of her daughter, Hock has filled the role of Sunday School teacher without interruption, an amazing record of faithfulness spanning parts of nine decades. Over the years, she has taught primaries, juniors and now, for most of her classroom years, teen girls.

Lay ministry at Bethlehem Church has always been a big focus for Hock, as well as her family. She was elected Women’s Ministries leader for 30 years, and her late husband, Frank, served as Sunday School superintendent for more than three decades. Daughter Caryl has led the church’s Bible Quiz programs for 40 years.

But Sunday School teaching has been a central part of Hock’s life since age 17. She sees Christian education as uniquely important to the process of making disciples — and thus, to the life of the church.

“In Sunday School, they get the systematic study of the Word, and it’s the unadulterated Word of God that’s going to bear fruit in their lives,” says Hock. “While there are other valuable programs in the church, it’s not the same as digging down into the Word in a Sunday School class.”

Wes Bartel, director of the Discipleship Ministries Agency for the Assemblies of God, believes an emphasis on the Word is key to keeping a teacher relevant to her students over the course of years — or even decades.

“The Word of God is a timeless bridge between generations,” Bartel says. “Vivian Hock stays relevant because cultural changes happening throughout her lifetime do not alter what she teaches. God’s unchanging principles are true to every generation.”

Hock’s commitment to knowing the Word has led her to place a big emphasis on an often-overlooked discipline in the church: Scripture memorization. That encouragement to internalize the Bible has had a lasting impact on her students.

Lois Christiansen, a former student who has known Hock all her life, recalls her teacher spending entire sessions helping her class memorize a series of 10 verses on evangelism. Years later, Christiansen has passed that system on in her own Girls Ministries classes.

It is noteworthy that Hock has been able to connect so strongly with students now almost 80 years her junior, no small task in today’s fast-changing world. John Blondo, pastor of Bethlehem Church, says the key to Hock’s enduring success is profoundly simple: “She views her teaching as a calling and a ministry.” And that ministry places a premium on building relationships.

The emphasis on relationships took real-life form recently, when Hock became concerned the girls in her class weren’t building connections with one another as much as they needed. She collected their cell phone numbers and got the students’ permission to distribute the list to the class, instructing the girls to check in on each other during the week. She followed up with calls of her own to make sure it was happening.

The importance of connecting with students is something Hock takes seriously. Christiansen recalls her first Sunday in Hock’s class.

“She asked me questions about my likes and dislikes, what my room looked like, and the date of my birthday,” Christiansen says. “Later on, she remembered my birthday with a gift.”

Christiansen adds that Hock has been effective over the years because she shows how much she cares inside and outside the classroom. It’s an approach that reaches people no matter their age.

“I want to make sure we have a connection,” Hock says. “The key is to love the kids, and let them know you think about them and are praying for them.”

Talking with Hock, one quickly senses both her deep compassion for the girls under her guidance, as well as a sincere humility that gives God the glory for real results in the classroom.

“Teachers, like parents, try to show young people the right way to go,” she says. “But it is God who makes the difference in their lives. It’s God who leads them by the Holy Spirit.”

The fruit of Hock’s ministry is seen in countless lives at Bethlehem Church. She keeps up with many of her students, watching them become parents and even grandparents. She has helped some former students celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries.

During a Sunday service several year ago, the pastor asked all those who had been in one of Hock’s classes to come to the platform. It was soon overflowing with young and old who were discipled under her ministry. 

Today is National Sunday School and Teacher Recognition/Prayer Day in the Assemblies of God. Representing a multitude of committed Sunday School teachers across the Fellowship, Hock’s life offers a powerful legacy of faith, and one that continues to be built.

Blondo notes that Hock is an active and vibrant member of the church, involved in prayer ministry and Junior Bible Quiz, in addition to Sunday School. On many occasions she continues to drive herself to church functions.

Hock’s record of teaching, spanning three-quarters of a century, is virtually unsurpassed. She is quick to point out, however, that the role she fills is a worthy pursuit of every believer, young or old. There is no greater way to impact the life of another than by instilling within them the timeless principles of God’s Word.

Yet the thought of a personal legacy isn’t what motivates Hock. Her voice cracks with emotion as she reflects on all God has done in her classroom over the years.

“He must be the focus,” she says. “I give Him all the glory.”

JAMES MEREDITH is adult editor of Sunday School curriculum at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center in Springfield, Mo.

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