From the Front Row

by Jay Wriedt

It is no secret that being in the front row is the best place to be. Whether it’s a sport’s game, a theatre performance, or your child’s kindergarten play, the front row is not only ideal, but the placement changes your whole experience. Simply put, you are more engaged, less distracted, and more focused on what is ahead. I have found the same concept to be applicable in my life.

God has called me to the front row to kneel before Him in obedience so that I can clearly witness His grace and miraculous hand playing out in my life story.

My journey to the front row did not come easily. It took the death of my brother and an intervention from God. On December 31, 1995, my brother David died in a car accident. That same day, at that exact time, I narrowly avoided a car accident that could have cost me my life. I had been drinking; he had not. A week before his death, David told me that Jesus transformed his life by replacing his depression with joy. David had surrendered his life to God; I had not. Now, just days later, sitting by my dying brother, I cried out to God, “Why David and not me?” I asked Him for a sign from heaven that heaven was real and that my brother was there.

God answered me the next day. I came home from the hospital and my wife Lynn told me that she had the most amazing experience the previous night. As she said this, tiredly I glanced out the window and noticed a hawk fly onto a tree branch ten feet away and stare directly at me. Lynn proceeded to tell me that when sleeping, she suddenly had woken up, felt an overwhelming sense of peace and heard my brother’s voice! Dave told her, “I am all right. I am in a great place. Don’t worry.” As my wife finished the story of this miraculous gift of peace from God, the hawk flew away!  What a sign from “the heavens!” Amazingly, we found out months later that my cousin in Washington, D.C. had heard the same message from my brother on that same night and saw his face. God lovingly answered my simple prayer.

This transformational experience marked the beginning of obedience to the Lord Jesus for Lynn and me. Our lives began to change as the Holy Spirit patiently began the process of transformation within us. Jesus inspired us to serve in youth ministry and at one point, co-lead the middle school ministry at our church. We dug deeper into His Word, consistently studying the Bible with others in our home. Our careers changed. Lynn left a career in technology to spend more time with our children and serve the pastoral staff at our church. I left the business world and entered into the world of education. Originally I had planned to teach in a public school, but God made it evident that I was to teach in a Christian school. I had planned to teach science and math, but God’s will was for me to teach Biblical Studies, facilitate a school-wide weekly chapel and lead a yearly missions experience for the graduating 8th grade class. With each venture into obedience, I was able to trust God more and experience the richness of staying focused before Him in the front row.

Numerous times this has led me out of my comfort zone. One night God woke me up and told me to invite a student forward and pray over her in chapel. This was something I had never done or even considered before. This girl was in a wheelchair, unable to walk. I shared this plan with my administrator, and he said that if it was God’s plan, we better follow it. With chapel starting in 10 minutes, I knew I needed to speak with her mother. Stepping out of his office, I found her mom standing right there! With tears in her eyes, I received an excited, “Yes!” Even though I was nervous, I asked the young lady to come forward at the end of chapel. I shared with the student body that God had asked us to pray for healing. Eager students volunteered to lay hands on her, and we prayed. Then we waited. Nothing happened, and the young lady had to be helped back into her wheelchair.

Of course, I was disappointed. The “why” questions invaded my mind. However, the next morning the child’s mother told me that while at the doctor’s office the previous day, they received miraculous news. The young lady’s displaced hip was now in its socket and the knotted muscles were straightened out. The doctor had no explanation. As a school, we celebrated. Two years later she was able to live out her dream of playing volleyball!

God has continued to ask me to step out in faith. Two and a half years ago, He asked me to become Head of School at Eastbrook Academy. At the time, our school had lost our entire management team, with the exception of the Director of Admissions. There was a turnover in leadership on the school board as well. I had neither experience nor education in School Administration. With these thoughts in mind, I knew I had much praying to do. Before revealing my decision, I would love to share more about the Academy.

God brought me to Eastbrook Academy (EBA) seven years ago. The school is truly remarkable and unique. EBA is a classical Christian school, founded so that both city and suburban populations could unite to experience academic rigor and diversity. It began seventeen years ago with a vision that has blossomed into a thriving school of 390 students from K4 through high school. It is a diverse school with fifty percent of our student body coming from the state voucher program and fifty percent through private pay. Our students represent 50 different churches and 25 different zip codes. Under God’s direction, we now educate both city and suburban students with no compromise of high expectations.

Our students have performed extremely well on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, consistently scoring in the 90th percentiles across all curriculum disciplines.  Our ACT five-year average is 26 with a 100 percent participation rate. In addition, 100 percent of our high school seniors have graduated, all have been accepted into college, and all have attended or are attending college. The Washington Post recognized EBA as the Number 1 most challenging high school in Wisconsin. We have a committed core of families who support the mission of the school. We also have a strong partnership with Eastbrook Church and collaborate regularly with the Pastoral staff and Church Council.

Our teaching staff is seasoned and dedicated to the mission that God has laid out for us. We are blessed to have five staff members who have a pastoral background. We are committed to prayer, which is part of every meeting, conference and student interaction. Our philosophy is to “pray first.” We work in a collaborative environment, utilizing each other’s gifts, as well as serving each other.

So when I was asked by the school board to be Interim Head of School through the summer and fall of 2012, I agreed after much prayer. As the search for a new head progressed, God closed doors on potential candidates. Yet, all the while, God filled the open management team positions with gifted people already in the Academy, as well as a few from outside. Through prayer, servant hood and sacrifice, God assembled a solid and unified management team. Our core families remained committed to the vision and church leadership supported us. The search for a new Head of School remained unfruitful, and with the previous school year’s success, I was offered the position.

Before accepting this opportunity, I wanted to be absolutely clear that it was God’s will for me. I asked four friends from across the country to pray for discernment regarding a decision I was making, but gave them no background details. One former colleague had a vision indicating that I should accept the position. God then affirmed this vision through Scriptures given to the other three friends. With that in place, I said yes and have been blessed to participate in God’s work at EBA.

Presently, God is leading me to trust Him on a deeper personal level. The day after accepting the position, I discovered through a routine physical that I have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. However, God provided confirmation, as well as encouragements from numerous individuals have helped me to move forward in faith. I am trusting God to daily enable me with energy and wisdom to fulfill my commitment to Him and the school. I will continue to humbly sit in the front row of grace, my eyes and attention focused on the Savior and Provider of all.