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Making disciples among the unreached
     

Teacher Interview

Tags: Alaska, SEND North, Discipleship, Education

Why did you become a teacher?

It was love of adventure and travel and God’s divine intervention that led me to teaching. I said, “Here am I. Send me.” And God sent me to the Philippines to teach in an ex-pat Christian school. It was then that I discovered my gift was teaching as I fell in love with every aspect of the teaching process.

 

How did God lead you to your current position?

Once again, my sense of adventure led me to come to Alaska to learn to fly in the summer of 2004. At the time I was teaching in North Carolina and was invited to join a building crew to build a church in Kazakhstan for one month and then come to Alaska after that to learn to fly.  How could I refuse? My instructor was a veteran Bush pilot and missionary with SEND as well as the former area director for Eurasia. Upon finishing my private pilot’s license the following summer, Dwayne King asked if I’d consider coming to Alaska as a Bush teacher/missionary/ pilot.  My first response was, “I’ll think about it.”  However, one month after returning to North Carolina, I felt God’s calling on my life to serve in Alaska.  At the time I was single and had always envisioned going on the mission field with a family, but resolved: if this is God’s calling then what am I waiting for?  I was convinced that this decision meant I was surrendering the desires of my heart to be single for the rest of my life and I was willing to make that sacrifice to serve God.  Little did I know He had an amazing godly husband waiting for me in a remote village in Alaska.

Upon making my decision to move to Alaska, I contacted SEND International and was set up for an interview in February the following year so that I could begin my support raising.  I purposely chose to move to Alaska and just do substitute teaching in a village so that I could experience a winter in Alaska without feeling like I was trapped. I ended up doing two years of long-term subbing before God opened the door to our present location where I’ve been under contract for nine years.

 

What is the process for becoming a teacher in a village?

 Since I already had a teaching license in another state the process for obtaining an Alaska state license was somewhat easier.  The licensing process requires a lot of paperwork and even some additional testing that wasn’t required for my previous license. The state of Alaska also requires 3 credits of an Alaska history course as well as 3 credits of cross-cultural studies.  Most school districts are eager to fill openings so they will hire a teacher as long as they can show proof they’re working on the Alaska state licensure process.  Other than the State licensing process, find a job is fairly easy these days and the options are quite abundant so doing your research on the various districts and locations is highly recommended. Many districts just want a warm body but offer little support, and some villages have a high turnover rate and are likely the roughest villages because of lack of consistency.  Even though God may be calling you to Alaska and He will never leave or forsake you, you still need to choose a location that offers spiritual support because the village can be a very dark and oppressive place, both in a literal and spiritual sense.  The goal of SEND is not to see how many missionaries we can get in and out of a place, but for their missionaries to have the opportunity to be in a place long enough to make disciples.  In the village it takes about 4-8 years before there is the opportunity to speak truth into people’s lives and even glimpse this kind of life change. Therefore, choosing a village to teach in takes much prayer and consideration when your intent is to be there for the long haul.

How is teaching in Alaska different from teaching in the Lower 48?

My first year I would describe teaching in Alaska to be like herding cats.  There are a lot of independent, free-spirited kids that lack structure and you’re trying to gently enforce order to accomplish some semblance of formalized learning. I would describe my classroom as “managed chaos,” with six grade levels in one classroom. This is somewhat easier with the younger kids who just love having attention and desire some sense of consistency. However, when it comes to teaching middle school and above the common themes of apathy, lack of motivation and little drive lead to youth falling into addictions.  Finding ways to inspire and motivate these students is the challenge.  Unfortunately, living off the land and supporting yourself with hard work, is often not enough to keep generations from giving into drug and alcohol addictions which in turn lead to abuse, neglect, and suicide.  The hope we have in Christ is the light that shines in the darkness and is what we bring into the cultures we live and teach within. 

Most villages are so small that it is impossible not to know what is or has been happening in the lives of my students, and this, too, is a difference in teaching in Alaska.  Teaching is not an isolated event in your day, or a job to go to and then leave at the end of the work day.  It is all consuming because your job is in the middle of your life and everything else around you is consumed by it.  Ministry as a teacher is non-stop, life on life, discipleship because you are witnessing to the children from the moment they walk into the building (often way too early), to the end of the day when you’re pushing them out the door to gain a little sanity, which then carries over into your evenings when they knock at your door to come visit. Finding boundaries is the biggest challenge with teaching in Alaska.

 

What are the advantages to being both a teacher and a member of SEND North in a village?

Having support is the biggest advantage to being a part of SEND North in the village. I know that at any given time I can call on my SEND family to encourage me with a phone call, a visit, or even helping me get away from the village for awhile. If ever I am feeling lonely, depressed, or isolated, I know that all I need to do is send an email or make a call and SEND will be there to encourage me and offer the support needed.  If I am struggling with how to handle a situation or not sure how to navigate the culture, SEND can lead me to resources or training that will better prepare me.  Just knowing that I have other family and co-laborers in Christ who are going through the same struggles and knowing I’m not alone in the trenches helps bring me the support and encouragement I need. 

 

What specific challenges have you had in your current position and in your village?

 Addictions are the biggest challenge to my current position. The addictions that paralyze the people in my community trickle down to affect all aspects of life in a small community.  In addition to that, I do not have administration that resides in my community, which adds additional duties to my already busy teaching load.  Discipline issues, staffing problems, maintenance trouble, paperwork, and lesson planning for multiple grade levels in all subjects, pull me away from the classroom.  If I have special needs students, I don’t have an on-site trained professional to refer them to. I have to address those needs as well.  Not all schools are the same and some villages are set up differently where these resources are available, but most don’t.  These challenges often lead teachers to decline membership an organization like SEND North, because they believe it will only add to their paperwork and accountability; rather membership should be viewed as a place to receive support and help.

What advice would you offer a teacher who is praying about teaching in a village/joining SEND North?

Prayerfully consider where God is leading you, know your limitations and weaknesses, and ask God to lead you to a location where you can come alongside others who will compliment your weaknesses. Begin thinking through how you will recognize and establish healthy boundaries for your Spiritual well-being; think through how you will continue to feed yourself when you don’t have a healthy body of believers surrounding you. Allow the administration within SEND North to guide you and let the Holy Spirit work through this organization to lead you to a location where you can use your gifts and talents for His Kingdom’s sake.