Joyce Briscoe

During a recent talk with one of my daughters this testimony came up. I thought I’d share it again.

She stood before an adoring crowd on national television to tell her story. She was the recipient of a Disney award for outstanding teachers. Comedian Robin Williams introduced her to the audience. She had come fresh from a controversy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She had shown the movie, Last Temptation of Christ to her gifted history students. When word leaked out that she used the movie for a history class, Albuquerque’s Christian community spoke up in protest. During the award ceremony Mrs. Briscoe noted how some Christian leaders had risen up against what she had done.

She was talking about me.

It was a case of mistaken identity. I was working in radio in Albuquerque at that time, at KLYT, a Christian music station. I knew nothing of what Mrs. Briscoe had done. After my show for the morning was over I received a call from a reporter with the Albuquerque Journal wanting to know why I was protesting Mrs. Briscoe’s actions.

I had no idea what she was talking about. 

As it turned out, the reporter had mistaken me for a colleague at another radio station who made the issue part of his morning show. After I let her know that wasn’t me, she asked, “What do you think of the issue?” Like a dummy, I answered her. The next morning the front page of the paper reported on the controversy with significant space dedicated to me saying that I wanted a meeting with the teacher to discuss what she did. Funny, I don’t remember saying that, but it was too late. My phone started ringing that morning with concerned Christians asking me to share their frustrations with Mrs. Briscoe and “do something” about what she had done. Others called to thank me for taking a stand.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Later that week I had a meeting with Mrs. Briscoe at La Cueva High School along with her principal. It was a cordial conversation. There were no attacks in either direction. Just calm discussion about what she did and why. It was clear that Mrs. Briscoe was a talented teacher and knew her subject. She made a bad choice, but it didn’t mean she didn’t excel at her work, which clearly, she did. I asked her, if she wanted to show a movie about Jesus’ life, why didn’t she choose something that was more accurate to the life of Jesus? She responded, “If I did that, do you know what kind of trouble I’d be in?” 

I invited her on my radio show to explain to the community what she did. She appeared twice and even though we strongly disagreed they were respectful conversations. After I asked her for a third appearance she said, “No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I think I’ve said all that could be said.” Just before hanging up she paid me a nice compliment. “You’re not the person the media has made you out to be. You’ve been fair with me and given me a chance to voice my opinion and I appreciate it.” We hung up, never to speak again. She continued teaching for a few years, then retired. She spent part of her retirement volunteering for the ACLU working on promoting issues that most Christians would see as an attack on their faith. Sadly, in 2006, Mrs. Briscoe died in a tragic car accident having never really considered the claims of the historical Jesus.

Why do I share this story?

In no way do I share this memory to boast, but to make a point. It’s 30+ years later. I’m sitting at my desk at Cru headquarters in Orlando, Florida. I lead a global project to place the JESUS Film on television in every city on earth with local TV stations. Remarkably, God, through his own will, has given me an opportunity to reach more people through a movie about Jesus, in one year, than Mrs. Briscoe could ever have hoped to reach by teaching in her entire lifetime. Last year (2017), over 101 million people heard or saw the story of Jesus through radio and television around the world. In fact, between now and 2025 we intend for this project to see 1.3 billion engagements with the story of Jesus. 

How ironic. And here’s my point.

Did you know that God often turns our early experiences on their heads to show his glory and give us reason to praise him? Consider what God did to David. David’s family considered him so unimportant that they didn’t invite him to a dinner with the prophet Samuel. Yet, God made David the king of Israel and before he took the throne, Samuel was a trusted counselor.

How about the Apostle Paul? God took him from being Christianity’s chief persecutor to being its chief advocate. Where Paul once tried to destroy the church, he ended up building it and giving the church some of its most important theology and apologetics for the faith.

Some would say that Jesus’ life before age 30 was unremarkable. He was an unknown. But from 30-33 he was the most remarkable man who ever lived and his life has changed more lives than any in history.

My friend, your life, though you may be young or unknown, may right now contain the seeds for what God intends to do with your life later. Every experience you have now may be the breeding ground for God’s work through you later. I am amazed that God took me from a job I loved in local radio to where I am now. And even as I say that I feel like a neophyte, wondering how God will accomplish the goals he’s given me. But as I look at my past and see God’s faithfulness, I know without a doubt that he will accomplish that on which he has set out and even use someone like me to do it. How about you?

What has God built into your life? What passion for the Gospel consumes you? How do you see God using you? What foundation is he building in your life? Take heart and be courageous. Whatever trial you face now contains the elements of victory that you will see later.

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