When the first period bell rings through the halls of Mountain View High School, twenty-some-odd students shuffle themselves through the door of Mr. Schrader’s woodshop class. Wood and metal scraps wait on countertops, the smell of sawdust lingers from yesterday’s projects, the chatter of teenagers creates an energetic buzz, and suddenly his room is filled with possibility.
Aaron Schrader has been teaching at Mountain View since 2010. He has taught a variety of subjects from Government, to U.S. History, to Student Body Leadership, but his love for carpentry and woodworking has always kept him tethered to woodshop. Having spent years in the contracting business, and countless hours making and selling custom woodwork pieces of his own, being a woodshop teacher seems to suit this tall, modern-day lumberjack quite fittingly. But his obvious talent and skill isn’t the main reason Aaron comes to work every day. He is passionate about the next generation of young people coming up behind him.
Before teaching, Aaron was a youth pastor at Westside Church. Westside Youth (formally named “Oneighty”) was just launching in the Fall of 2000. Over 600 Middle School and High School students showed up for the grand opening of this youth group and numbers remained in the hundreds for months after. A “success” by many a church measure, but after a few years, Aaron couldn’t help feeling that there was something missing for him inside of this calling.
“Youth ministry was fun and has some really great things about it”, he remarks. “It’s awesome to have the freedom to talk about Jesus, but at the same time, I wanted to work with the kids who were never going to step foot in the church.”
As a youth pastor, Aaron remembers how discontent he would often feel at the fact that he had roughly three hours a week to meet new kids, build meaningful relationships with the those from the weeks before, and then teach them about the truth and love of Jesus.
“I used to see a couple hundred kids on a weekly basis. That was good. Now I see almost a thousand kids every day for four years. I’m sure it’s the wood-worker in me, but I’m all about efficiencies so I can look at it pragmatically and see that, for me, [being a teacher] is the most efficient way to do what God has called me to do.”
Aaron admits that his way of thinking is more black-and-white than others’. It’s how he’s able to create a beautiful, well-crafted armoire or dining room table, or even fix the plumbing or electrical problems in his own house. He understands that in woodworking, there’s a right and a wrong way to do something and that difference will show up in your finished product. This systematic approach is similar to how he approaches mentoring, and in some respects evangelizing, within the confines of a public school system where being “on mission” isn’t always as black and white.
“You have to be patient and clever with planting seeds in this sometimes-volatile setting. In a public school, you don’t just get to say whatever you want, especially regarding your faith. You have to find a way to weave The Truth into what you speak. What I say is compartmentalized, but, if I’m doing it right, who I am is not, and hopefully my kids can see that.”
In the public school system, the topic of faith can often be hostile. With so many lines drawn and laws created, being a teacher and a Christian has not been without obstacles for this High School teacher. Aaron knows that because of his faith, there are those who are waiting and listening for him to say something that might get him in trouble. With responsible and respectful awareness to his job, he has seen the Holy Spirit do miraculous things in the lives of students and their parents, within the confines of these man-made lines. It’s in those moments that Aaron remembers that Jesus cares more deeply for these students than he ever could, and for this reason, he is grateful to be exactly where God has called him to be.
The faithfulness of God throughout his life is Aaron’s greatest testimony. The Lord’s continuous provision and unwavering steadiness has proven true for him time and time again. Through different jobs and career paths, different cities and states and seasons of life, the faithfulness of Jesus has always been the thing Aaron can fall back on with full assurance and trust.
“I can look back at the course of my 37 years and see the Memorial Stones of where God was in my life at that time and what he did, and say ‘He is faithful.’ If you put your faith in Jesus and if you walk with Him, He will be there with you, no matter what… I have tried to live my life being faithful to [the Lord] and He has demonstrated his faithfulness in return.”
This “stone” of God’s faithfulness is Aaron’s sturdiest ground to stand on. It is subtle but strong in his untiring faith, the way he lives out his life, and teaches his students. He knows that he will probably not witness kids raising their hand to accept Jesus in the middle of his classroom. Instead, he sees the fruit of seeds planted in subtle, yet meaningful places. He sees them when he receives countless graduation party announcements from seniors requesting him to be a part of their most proud achievement in life thus far. Seeds are present when he walks into a restaurant and a former student, now with a family of their own, comes up to say “Hey Mr. Schrader!” They are planted when a parent reaches out to him for help with their kid when they don’t know where else to go. For Aaron, it’s all about relationship and being there when it matters most.
In a society where leaders, friends, fathers and teachers are often failing in presence and character, how beautiful that God would instill in Aaron a desire to be faithful in the lives of the next generation, knowing they will become the much needed models to their own kids. Aaron would say his motivation is only because he has seen the Lord be true to him. That’s exactly how God designed this “system” to work; our journey in relationship with Him becomes our loudest speaker, our sweetest song, and the lighthouse that leads others to see who Jesus can be for them too.
Written by: Stephenie Webb || Photos by: Erica Stubblefield