Reflections on my eight-year season at Legacy Christian School
“And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” ~Mark 1:17
Since early childhood, I’ve learned to respond to names and titles other than the one I naturally refer to myself as. I naturally identify and introduce myself as JR. That’s what my parents and siblings have called me since birth. But beginning from my elementary school years all the way through the end of high school, I was “Julian” to my classmates and teachers, as that’s the name that appeared on the official student roster (in case you care, “JR” is short for “Julian Raymund,” and I just didn’t want to be that “Oh, call me JR” new kid). When I launched into pastoral ministry, “Pastor JR” became the official call-name, at least for folks from the church even though I still introduce myself as JR till this day (for whatever reason, I never found “Pastor JR” to be smooth-sounding; “Pastor Julian” would’ve sounded better). When I married Kathy, I received the wonderful nickname “Hubby” – much to my delight (she hasn’t called me “JR” in over 12 years). When Jayden and Emma started talking, I learned to respond to “Daddy” and “Dad” with a pride and endearment that I still can’t fully describe. When I received my doctorate degree, some began to reference me as “Doctor JR Cuevas,” which I honestly don’t like. When I worked as a personal trainer and sports coach, “Coach” was the hat I’d put on. But I would’ve laughed early on in my career as a minister had you told me that I would ever have to get used being called “Mr. Cuevas.”
That’s exactly what would happen on August of 2013, when I began working at Legacy Christian School.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t expect to be called Mr. Cuevas; I didn’t want to be called that. I say this without any embarrassment or offense, but rather just simple short-sightedness in God’s providential orchestration of life history. I first began working at Legacy Christian School because I needed a job. That’s it. After a sudden traumatic fallout with the church where I was pastoring in the summer of 2013, I was desperate to financially provide for my family of four. During my interview with Legacy, I told them that I didn’t see myself at that time being involved in Christian education in the long-term, though I was open to the Lord’s leading. Thus, during our back-to-school night, I made sure that all of the students and parents knew (whether they cared or not) that I was previously a pastor. Frankly, after a hard-earned M.Div and 5 years in pastoral ministry, I wanted to be known as a pastor – not a teacher. I tried to limit my season as a teacher to 9 months by candidating for an out-of-state pastoral position toward the end of the academic year, which ended up falling through at the last minute. In May of 2015, upon being offered a full-time pastoral position at Grace Bible Fellowship (now Creekside Bible Church), I did resign from Legacy on wonderful terms (see my “Farewell, Legacy Christian School” entry from back then). The days of Mr. Cuevas had come to an end, I thought, and I was ready never to be called that again.
It’s now June of 2021, and I’m still called Mr. Cuevas till this day.
I may have planned to hang up that name in 2015, but the Lord once again directed my steps otherwise. I’m still a full-time pastoral minister at Creekside Bible Church today and yes, I still respond to “Pastor JR” (I still insist on introducing myself as JR, and I still refuse to be called “Doctor”). But in 2017, I accepted the opportunity to return to Legacy as part-time faculty. My initial resignation, it turns out, would be more of a 1.5 year hiatus. I would once again be called Mr. Cuevas by students and colleagues. This past Thursday, on May 27 of 2021, I had my final day as a Legacy employee in light of my family’s prospective plans to make our long-awaited move to Hawaii this summer for the gospel ministry. This time, the resignation is a resignation, and not a hiatus. Only, this time, I’m not ready to stop being called Mr. Cuevas.
Being Mr. Cuevas at Legacy meant a lot of things. From 2013 to 2014, it meant being the high school Math and Science teacher. From 2014 to 2015, it meant being the middle school Math, Science, and English teacher along with being the volleyball coach. From 2017 to 2019, it meant being the middle school Bible teacher. From 2019 to 2021, it meant being the middle school Bible teacher, Assistant Principal, boys counselor and mentor, and athletic director. Without a doubt, the Lord allowed me to fill a multi-dimensional niche that I thoroughly enjoyed, as I get easily bored with the monolithic. But at some point, I embraced the name “Mr. Cuevas” not because of the variety of duties, but because of the depth of ministry that was expected of me from the students of Legacy who have only known me as that.
As Mr. Cuevas, the students expected me to formally teach them in the classroom, and teach I did. From Bible to Chemistry to Biology to Geometry to SAT Prep to Algebra to Pre-Algebra to English to Physical Science to History, I had to teach whatever the students needed me to teach. From lectures to lesson plans to tests and quizzes to homework, I was your traditional classroom instructor. Nothing fancy; nothing innovative. Simplicity and strictness were my forehand and backhand. I worked hard to teach well, so that those in my class would come to expect nothing less than good quality teaching.
But I would quickly realize that the students would expect much more.
As Mr. Cuevas, the students expected me to set the parameters of what they were and weren’t allowed to do on school grounds, and expected me to enforce them justly without partiality. They expected me to spend breaks and lunches with them – always asking me to give an explanation whenever they would catch me leaving campus for another meeting (which I always found both hilarious and endearing). They expected me to help clean them up when their classmate spilled soda on their uniform. They expected me to have a backup plan when they would privately reveal to me that they were hungry because they had forgotten to pack a lunch. They expected me to explain to them whether certain phrases or gestures were inappropriate and the rationale behind such. They expected me to show excitement over the brand new sweater they were wearing or the new sports helmet that they had recently purchased. They expected me to watch them as they sported their newly developed half-court shot, and to play football or frisbee with them during recess, even if it was just for a few minutes. They expected me to be nurse them back to health when they would suffer from heat exhaustion or sprain their ankles during P.E. They expected me to explain to them whether I thought their suspensions were just and what they needed to do to move forward. They expected me to give my perspective on the person toward whom they were developing romantic feelings. They expected me to explain what it is that I saw that was good not just in them, but in their classmates. They expected me to open up my classroom or office for them to hang out when their parents were running late for pickup, and to have snacks and drinks available. They expected (with parental permission) me to take them out to lunch on special occasions or after special achievements. They expected me to shoulder their burdens didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else but would share with me for no other reason than, “because you’re my teacher.” They expected me to remain next to them when they broke down in tears sharing struggles that they couldn’t quite figure out how to express or overcome. They expected me to communicate honestly when they would ask me what I believed were their strengths and weaknesses. They expected me to act when another classmate acted in such a way that assaulted their dignity. They expected me to give them a pat on the back and ask them how they were doing whenever they would approach me, stand next to me, and remain standing there. They expected me to teach them how to effectively communicate with their parents when conflicts at home would arise. They expected me to put down what I was doing, no matter what I was doing, whenever they came into my office and said, “Can I talk to you about something?” They expected me to chaperone their field trips – even the out of town trips – and would demand for an explanation from me during the times I couldn’t. They expected me to give them real, honest answers when they would ask me questions hard, pointed questions.
The students at Legacy expected me to care for their souls.
It is an endeavor of unsurpassed dignity, perhaps only by that of parenting your own children. I didn’t realize it at first. But at some point, I became cognizant of the dignity, and began to carry out the endeavor willingly. Then, at some point, I began to do it instinctively. And then, at some point, I realized I wanted to do it permanently.
When Jesus first called His disciples and told them that He would turn them from fishermen to fishers of men (cf Mark 1:17), those men had absolutely no idea what it would practically entail. They knew they’d be laboring for the souls of people and not for worldly profit, and that’s it. Over the next several decades, their individual ministries would take on a specific and definite shape. And that’s how it still works today with Christ’s ministers. He calls us to be fishers of men, and we respond to the call in faith. But He does not reveal what kind of boat we’ll be fishing from (the specific ministry institutions), what kind of fish we’ll be catching (the specific demographics of people), and what specific body of water we’ll be catching them from (the specific geographical regions where we’ll be ministering) at the time we respond to the call. Every faithful minister will testify that though their mind had planned their way, the Lord directed their steps and shaped their ministry in a manner they simply did not expect (cf Proverbs 16:9). This is precisely the case for my ministry as a Christian school educator and administrator.
It is for this reason that I am utterly thankful for my eight years as an employee, minister, and affiliate of Legacy Christian School. As Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” As my time here has come to an official close, I can’t even begin to express the depth of gratitude to the administration, faculty, parents, and students who make up this gem of an institution. But more important than how a man is blessed from a season is who a man becomes as a result of it. And it was during my season at Legacy Christian School when I became Mr. Cuevas.
And that isn’t ending anytime soon!