As the plane touched down, I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window. My eyes brimmed with tears. “Liz! We’re here!” Jess grabbed my arm, tears already spilling from her own eyes. “We are finally here!” As we got off the plane, we squealed like school children, noticed the men with AK-47s, and immediately covered our mouths with our hands.
I gathered my team of fellow students, secured our 28 checked bags—most of which contained donations—and then began a glorious month in Uganda.
Gordon College, where I am a junior, commissions about 15 mission trips each year. This past summer, I was blessed to lead one to Uganda, where we worked with an organization called Village2Village. V2V sponsors children—mostly AIDs orphans—and it was there I met some of the most beautiful kids who were defying the odds by refusing to drop out of school.
As an Elementary Education major with an English as Second Language concentration, I have, as long as I can remember, had a deep love for children, especially those in under-resourced areas. That made this trip a dream come true. We worked with two schools in different parts of the country, and I learned about drop-out rates and what these students truly need. We talked about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which considers how an outsider might come in and help significantly without hurting the community. My education not only taught me about ABCD, but also to see how it can be put into practice.
During my freshman year, I observed a 4th grade classroom in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts, once a week. Ninety percent of the school’s students are on free or reduced lunch plans, and almost 75% of them live below the poverty level. Here, I was able to meet the kind of students that I want to work with in my career, beginning by student teaching there next year!
Experiencing this kind of training helps me to realize that a career is so much more than the work I do from 9 to 5—it is a kind of calling. It is something God has placed deep inside of me from before I could understand it or put it into words; something He is creating me to be. As God molds me into becoming a teacher, He is also guiding me toward becoming a teacher to those whose needs surpass my own, but whose knowledge is irreplaceably valuable.
In college, I have learned what it means to develop communities based on the needs of those people in those communities, not based on my head knowledge. It isn’t, I’ve learned, about coming in and knowing all the right answers. It’s all about a willingness to listen before trying to help them establish a better life. Whether I’m serving people in Africa or in Massachusetts, I desire to step back and see how people, especially my students, will come to me with unique lives and complex ideas of the world that I can learn from.
With this knowledge, I can throw in a few of my own ideas, and, from there, work to bring about God’s kingdom and his plans to completion.