The Learning Tree

by Courtney Roes
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

On a cold February night back in junior high school, I was at a church lock-in, an all night youth gathering where the doors are locked for everyone’s protection. We were having a lot of fun but after midnight a few of us began exploring. We finally found the janitor’s supply closet. It’s amazing how many rolls of toilet paper you get when you buy in bulk.

With our newly acquired ammunition, we decided it was best for us not to be inside where there was adult supervision. It was very convenient that next door to the church there was a house with a huge oak tree. The branches just begged to be holding something up and we had the perfect solution. Soon we were throwing our white streamers back and forth creating the largest and whitest belated Christmas tree.

The Learning Tree Suddenly the floodlights of the house came on. There stood the owner of the “Christmas tree,” dressed like every shepherd I had seen, in a bathrobe and carrying a stick. Well, his stick was actually a rifle and we were not the flock he wanted to keep. “I know the pastor of your church and I am going to call him first thing in the morning.” We weren’t really worried about him telling the pastor as long as the pastor didn’t know which parents to tell. So we ran.

One thing we hadn’t realized was that during a “lock-in,” they really do lock the doors. You can get out but you can’t get back in without a key unless you knock on the door until someone comes to open it. We were cold and scared. About that time, one of the youth leaders, Tommy, had noticed that some of us were missing and started outside without his jacket to look for us. When he saw the expression on our faces, he let us inside and said he was going for a walk.

After a while we noticed Tommy had not come back. This time we grabbed our jackets and a leader, and went out looking for Tommy. As we circled the church, we came to the area where you could see our “Christmas Tree” but it was no more. During Tommy’s “walk”, he had climbed the tree in the cold and had taken down all the toilet paper and put it in the trash can. Tommy later got really sick because he had been out in the cold that night, but there were no questions, no lectures, no screaming calls to our parents.

Tommy’s actions that night had a lasting impact on my life. I learned how to respect other people and their property. I didn’t learn it through a series of lectures but I learned from watching Tommy. Even today, I have this habit of picking up little pieces of trash I see on the ground and putting them in my back pocket — just like I had seen Tommy pick our trash out of the tree that night.

Originally published as HeroicStories #187 on Dec 8, 2000

Audio Credits:

  • “WinterSolsticeNight” by daveincamas via
  • “classroom activity” by hutsvoid via
  • “running hard surface” by bevangoldswain via
  • “Girls Laugh, Giggling” by Nightingale Voicebox via

3 thoughts on “The Learning Tree”

  1. When it comes to young people, actions do speak louder than words. Everyone talks and talks ands talks to teenagers. I believe they tune it all out because they think they have better answers. It takes experience and the passing of time to teach them differently.


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