When we married, I thought that Michael and I would be expecting our first child by our first anniversary. Though we wanted a little time to enjoy being newlyweds, I could not wait to be a mom, especially a homeschool mom. After praying and hoping but only facing disappointment month after month, Michael and I accepted that the Lord had ordained a childless season for us and decided that I should take a teaching job for one year.
I was offered a job at a private Christian school. It would have been a great opportunity. I knew several of the families associated with the school. The facility was beautiful, and the faculty was a group of God-honoring people. It would have been a great place to teach. However, I just did not have a peace about accepting the position. I had that inexplicable feeling that there was somewhere else I belonged.
All through college, I had worked in the inner-city either completing practice teaching hours or in short-term mission work. That was where my heart was, and I knew that was where the Lord was calling me to teach. So, I signed an open contract with Memphis City Schools. A couple weeks later, I received a call from my principal (we’ll call him Mr. Smith) informing me that he wanted to interview me for a third grade teaching position at his school (we’ll call it Dilapidated Elementary School- DES for short).
DES was located only a mile from the Mississippi River, and my classroom was on the third floor of the school. The view from my room was incredible. I could see the Mighty Mississippi and the Hernando Desoto Bridge (Memphis’s iconic M-shaped bridge). The neighborhood surrounding the school, however, was not so lovely. DES serviced one of Memphis’s largest housing projects. Driving through the neighborhood to the school made my knees tremble. Seeing the school itself made me want to cry. It was almost 100 years old and was falling apart. Worst of all, there was no air conditioning. I don’t just mean no central air. There were no window units either, and if you have never experienced Memphis in August, let’s just say it gets hot!
I made it through the interview only to learn that it was merely a technicality. I had already been placed at DES and had no choice in the matter. I wanted to scream, cry, run… something, just not teach at this school. I called other principals in the system. Maybe one of them could convince Mr. Smith to drop me, and then I could teach at another school, an air-conditioned one. I come from a family of teachers and had contacts within other school systems call MCS and try to get me out of the contract. I discussed the matter with a friend who was a lawyer, but all to no avail. There was nothing I could do. I had signed the contract, and there was no getting out of it.
My faith wavered. Could I do it? Could I teach in sub-standard conditions? What about crime, gangs, drugs? Why didn’t I take the job at the nice, clean, AIR-CONDITIONED, CHRISTIAN school? But, I held to the promise of Php 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” and went to work at DES.
During the first week of school, my fears subsided, and my heart warmed toward the community. Then, I met a boy whom we will call Joe. We had club time every Friday, and he joined my science club. He was a good kid and a hard worker. One Sunday, I volunteered to serve at a local mission. I did not know where it was located when I originally volunteered and was shocked to learn it was around the corner from DES. I was even more surprised when I saw Joe there the morning I served. He was eight-years-old at the time and was responsible for walking his younger sister and cousin there each Sunday for what was their only hot meal on the weekend.
My friends, who had volunteered with me, and I sat down and talked with Joe. He ate his pancakes and scrambled eggs, thankful for a good meal. He assured us that Jesus is his Lord and that he was thankful for how God had provided for him and his family through the mission. Then he nearly broke my heart when he told me how thankful he was to have a teacher who cared enough to come and cook breakfast and how much he enjoyed being in my science club. That was the beginning of a very special friendship between us. He visited my classroom often, always wanting to talk about the Bible or how he could witness to his friends or better serve God.
I shudder when I think of how selfish I was. If you had asked me at that time to define "missions," I would have said reaching out to those around us, whomever we encounter, with the Gospel of Christ. But, when the rubber met the road, I was more concerned about air conditioning than I was the Gospel. Matt 9:37 says, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” How sorry I am that I almost missed taking part in that harvest because I was too concerned about creature comforts. How grateful I am for my infinitely wise God who sent me to DES to teach and in the process taught me a lesson I will never forget.