"Mr. Hamilton, you don't understand. We just want Billy excused for a little more than two weeks while we go to Cape Cod." "I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, we have a very strict attendance policy here, and I thought I made that very clear to you earlier. Besides, we're administering a special battery of intelligence tests during the second week of October. I'm afraid we can't make an exception for your son." This is not a fictitious example. A similar experience occurred with our oldest son. My wife, herself a teacher, talked to Nathan's teacher and offered to substitute for her so the tests could be given to Nathan. As it turned out, so many students missed the testing because of illness that my wife ended up going to the school after the Feast for a four-hour period and administering the tests herself! Similar trials are faced by thousands of parents each fall. While some are filled with "Feast fever," others dread the annual confrontation with public school teachers. Some face little opposition, while others must settle the matter in a court of law. As parents of two sons, my wife and I have had our share of problems with teachers unfamiliar with God's Holy Days.
Following are principles that can help parents through these trials and present God's Church in a positive light at the same time. Remember your first contact with God's Church? It took a lot of study and prayer before you understood God's Holy Days. Now, as a converted Christian observing God's laws, many people "cannot understand it, and they vilify you accordingly" (I Peter 4:4, New English Bible). But this reaction can be minimized or even eliminated. Remember that a primary reaction of human nature to something unfamiliar is fear. If a teacher doesn't understand what you're doing and feels threatened, he or she will lash out in self-protection. He or she is frustrated enough with overcrowded classroom and related problems. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Janet Hendershot of Fort Myers, Fla., mother of five, shared some sound advice in a letter to me. She suggested you contact your child's teacher early in the school year, several weeks before the Feast of Tabernacles. Be friendly (Proverbs 18:24) and request that a conference take place after school when no other children will be present. Let the teacher know you are willing to help him/her in any way you can to make his job easier. Ask for assignments for your children to complete. We always make our Feast trips educational, searching out the historical meaning of whatever site we attend. Our boys would then write an extra-credit paper for school. Our youngest son had a teacher for fourth grade who our oldest son had had for the same grade. About a week after the beginning of school, my wife stopped by after school. She saw Matt's teacher in the hall and commented that possibly they could get together sometime the next week for a conference. The teacher smiled and said: "If you want to tell me Matt will be out of school for two weeks, don't worry about it. He will learn more on your trip than he wilt in school. Our whole class will benefit from his paper and report." Mrs. Hendershot also suggested that you go to this meeting dressed in your best Sabbath wear. It's important to represent your family and God's Church the best you are able. Come to the point immediately, being pleasantly firm about your plans. (For more help, read "Your Child's First Year in School — Are You Prepared?" in the August Good News.) I might point out that some try to palm off the Feast of Tabernacles as an annual vacation. Later, when the subject of religious observances does come up, it looks like the "vacationer" is trying to hide something. Be up front with your plans.
Another problem I have observed is that some brethren are unable to explain the significance of the Holy Days, not even knowing (from memory) the main chapters of the Bible in which the annual Holy Days are mentioned. As the apostle Peter wrote, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (I Peter 3:15). In other words, dust off Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong's booklet, Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which? and be intimately familiar with the festivals we keep. Don't be embarrassed by asking for a special favor that you cannot explain why you want or need. If the teacher refuses to cooperate, don't back down. Instead, politely assert your rights. Go to the child's principal, or the teacher's supervisor. One important key to resolving this matter positively is obtaining good counsel from your pastor and from other ministers in your church or deacons and deaconesses who have been through the situation many times (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22) before you meet with any school official. If a special problem exists, your pastor may be able to accompany you to the conference. Don't overlook this help that God has made available to you. In summary, don't forget that "many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him [or her] out of them all" (Psalms 34:19). Humbly claim this promise of God's, that your children's teachers may one day say: "Surely this... is a wise and understanding people. For what [Church] is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?" (Deuteronomy 4:6-7). Just one more thing... Take time to plan your trip before you leave. Include museums and historical sites along the way. It's a great opportunity for parents to teach their youngsters about nature or how God has influenced historical events. One of our children's most memorable Feasts was when we lived in Washington, D.C., and our assigned Feast site was Jekyll Island, Ga. We went to the public library one afternoon to see what the island was famous for. On the way to the Feast we visited Kitty Hawk, N.C., where the Wright brothers, American pioneers in aviation, made the first successful flight in a motor-powered airplane. On the way home we went through Charleston, S.C., and visited Ft. Sumter. The capture of Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, by Southern sympathizers precipitated the American Civil War. Now this may mean Mom and Dad will have to do their homework too, before starting the trip to the Feast! But it will be so much more enjoyable for you all. Have a rewarding and educational Feast, both spiritually and physically.