“I’m a middle school math teacher.” When I share this fact it is usually followed by looks of “you’re crazy!” followed by a “bless your heart” comment. I love how God uniquely gifts us with different passions to serve Him in His kingdom. I love that I get to spend my day with awkward adolescents and watch them grow up.
Four years ago, I moved back to the Bellingham, WA area. I had taught for six years at two different Christian schools, but was feeling the call to move back home to be by family. I came without a job but with an overwhelming sense of peace that God had something in store for me. I never would have imagined that His plan would have me teaching at a local tribal school. My entire academic career both as a student and as a teacher had been in Christian schools, Christian education was all I knew. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about how I would have to hide my faith. The thing is that was just a big lie that the devil was tempting me to believe. I did not have to hide my faith at all. God brought me to this tribal school so that I could be His light in a dark place.
For the first two years of teaching at the tribal school I would say I survived but did not thrive. I wondered what had I gotten myself into when the students were talking about how long each one of them had spent in juvie. While my childhood was not without hardship, I always had a safe place to live, family that loved me, and most importantly a relationship with God. Many of the students had never met their mom or dad because of substance abuse and incarceration, and at times some of them were living on the streets. I felt that I could not relate to my students at many different levels. I also did not boldly share my faith, I felt I had to tone it down or I might get in trouble.
Before my third year of teaching at the tribal school, God reminded me of the importance of prayer. That is when I invited friends and family to be my prayer warriors, praying for my students and me. There is nothing that compares to the power of prayer. Now all my students know that I am a Christian and they ask me all sorts of questions about Jesus. Students who used to persecute me for my faith now respect me for it. Students who had terrible living situations are now in a more stable environment. Students who were suicidal are stronger than they have ever been. My prayer warriors have never met my students. They do not know the names of the people they are praying for but God knows and God hears their prayers. One colleague told me that my classroom is different, “Students succeed in your class more than in any of their other classes, they are more respectful, and the atmosphere is peaceful.” God is good!
Here is a snapshot of what I recently shared with my friends and family: It was a hard week for me. Monday morning I received the news that one of my student’s mom had passed away over the weekend. Her mom had ongoing health issues but no one expected her to go this quickly. The girl who lost her mom is a student who brings me so much joy; a few weeks ago I shared about her, as she is one of the students who always asks how my day is going. Monday was a rough day as my heart was broken for the mourning family and my other students seemed to care less. The class that this girl is part of wanted to talk about nonsense right after I had announced their classmate’s mom had died. I was so frustrated with those kids but then I realized those kids don’t have a mom figure in their lives. So many of the students I teach were abandoned by their moms when they were babies so losing a mom means nothing to them. I am thankful that God gave me that realization and could replace my frustration with compassion.
All week this family had been on my mind and in my prayers. Friday, the day after the funeral, my student came to visit during lunch. I gave her a big tearful hug and at one point during the conversation I expressed that I was surprised to see her at school. She responded that she really just wanted to come to see me and another teacher. I can’t help but marvel at God’s hand in all of this. This student started at the tribal school part way through the school year; I’m not sure why she transferred from the local public school, but now I know why. I trust that God wanted her here, surrounded by people who love her. There is no mistake that the two teachers she wanted to come get hugs from are the teachers who profess their love for God.
I am continually humbled by what God is doing through me. I teach one of the toughest populations of students and I am loved by them. I am real with them and they are real with me. By hiding my faith, I would not be able to be real with them which would drive the students away. We are drawn to Jesus for His grace, hope, and love. I know my students are not drawn to me but are drawn to Jesus who lives within me.