Inside Room 24
I was fortunate enough to spend Christmas 2015 with my family back in England. One of the many things I enjoy about taking trips to England is the plane ride because the time spent at 30,000 feet is usually very productive! I’m not sure if it’s simply because I’m stuck in a seat for nine hours, or because people are waiting on me hand and foot, but for whatever reason I tend to get a lot of writing done. The fruits of previous transatlantic plane rides have included my series on Catholic dating, the top 11 reasons why every man should learn to dance and, one of my personal favourites, the article which explains how the He-Man cartoon teaches transubstantiation.
This last return trip to the States was a little different, however. Rather than spending my time writing, I spent it reading. Over the course of this flight, I read Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist by Katie Prejean from cover-to-cover. The book is available through Ave Maria Press and Amazon, and hopefully after you’ve read this review you’ll go order a copy, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.
On the return flight to America, I had the entire row of seats to myself which made for a much more comfortable flight. As I write this review, I am once again on a plane, this time from New York City, and once again I have the entire row of seats to myself. Now, I’m not promising that if you buy this book it will automatically entitle you to extra leg room, but please allow me a few minutes to explain why I enjoyed this book so much…
Enter Room 24
The book focusses around Room 24, the classroom at St. Louis Catholic High School where Katie teaches Theology. At the beginning of the book, she explains that she came to the job with a desire not only to teach, but to evangelize, to inspire her students, to share her passion and love for Jesus and His Church. Over the course of the book’s ten chapters, Katie describes her early years’ teaching at the school, telling stories from the classroom and sharing some of the hard lessons she had to learn along the way.
I found this book a very easy to read and accessible. I practically read it in a single sitting, with only brief breaks between chapters for the flight attendants to serve me lunch and afternoon tea :-). The chapters aren’t too long and each has a very focussed topic. The text isn’t dry either, illustrated with copious anecdotes from life at the school. In fact, probably one of my favourite features of the book was the transcript at the beginning of each chapter of an exchange between Katie and one of her students:
Student: Miss Prejean, you don’t look so good today.
Me: Yeah, I’m not feeling well…
Student: Well, I was talking about your outfit, but I’m sorry you’re sick.
The book covers quite a lot of material over its 140 pages. It begins in dramatic fashion with an encounter between Katie and a student in her class who said he didn’t believe in God, later deciding that he’d prefer to read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins during her class instead. Using this incident as the launching point, Katie spends the rest of the chapter discussing how we can extend “an invitation to the Truth rather than forcing a point”.
There were other parts of the book which likewise didn’t shy away from difficult topics. For example, when speaking about prayer, Katie talks about how she wrestled with the illness of a close family friend who died despite being a wonderful person and having a legion of Christians praying for her. The section discussing burn-out and the toll of ministry life was likewise frank and honest.
The serious business of Heaven
If all this seems really heavy, please don’t let me give you a false impression of this book – it is peppered throughout with humour, such as the hilarious story of the time her students set up a Christian Mingle account without her knowledge in order to find her a husband!
Me: How do you make a hot dog stand?
Students: [Blank Expressions]
Me: Take away its chair!
Student A: Do you have any idea how lame you are, Miss Prejean?
Student B: Lamer than the guys that Jesus healed in the gospels!
There are lots of other really lovely stories within the pages of “Room 24”, such as the time when Katie’s Lenten resolution inadvertently inspired students to spend time in the school chapel before class. The subject of joy is explored in some depth since, as C.S. Lewis said, “…joy is the serious business of Heaven”.
My favourite part of the book was where she discussed how she handled students’ questions which didn’t coincide nicely with the lesson plan for the day. I have often come across a similar dilemma in leading Bible study when a tangential question is raised. As a leader, you want to get through the planned material in a timely manner, but you also want to embrace the enthusiasm and the curiosity of the group. Katie’s solution to this was great. She asked her students to set aside one page of their notebooks to write down questions as they thought of them. She then instituted “Stump Miss Prejean”. On one random class of the month, students would enter the classroom to the theme tune of “The Price is Right”, where they’d have the opportunity to ask her any and all questions, ranging from the nature of the Trinity, to how she styles her hair.
Just for kids?
During my time in the Church, I have done a little bit of youth ministry and subsequently I’ve got nothing but respect for those people who minister to kids and teenagers. Before I left England, I was a catechist for a Confirmation class. I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night sweating and screaming, haunted by the memories of trying to minister to teenagers…
One of the things that I liked best about this book was that, although it is set in a high school, what Katie teaches is applicable to many situations in life. This is more than just a book for those who wish to teach in high school or evangelize teenagers. If you want to hear some funny stories and learn how to become a better witness to those you meet everyday, this is the book for you.
“…being a ‘classroom evangelist’ allows me to introduce the Way, the Truth and the Life to every person that steps into Room 24 with a passion and vigor that can transform the world.
Change the word “classroom” to whatever you like: business office evangelist, grocery-store-aisle evangelist, or complete-strange-in-an-elevator evangelist.
Those of us with the opportunity to witness to our faith, in every setting and at any moment, must remember that at the heart of evangelization is Jesus Christ…who wants to meet us, love us, and transform us. This book is a snapshot of how that “meeting Jesus” has played out in a classroom full of fourteen-year-olds and how the principles learned there are applicable anywhere”
– Room 24, Katie Prejean