“Today, if money was no object, and you didn’t have to figure out how to achieve it, what would be your biggest dream for your ministry?” My husband asked me that question a couple of years ago, and I brazenly blurted out “For Shpola Orphanage to become a first-class Christian school.”
I find it so interesting, to see how God connects everything together! At the beginning of 2016, I thought that God had given me this new idea of a Teacher’s Triangle – a 3-way link between teachers at Shpola Orphan school, Sophia School, and Christian teachers in the USA. I wrote about this new ministry idea recently in this post but frankly, my idea had not gotten off the ground. Our team got to know the wonderful staff at Sophia School when we conducted a camp together, later that summer. Then, in the fall, when our dear Alina from Shpola Orphanage had her facial surgery in Cherkassy, students from Sophia School visited her in the hospital. Alina invited them to come see her in Shpola. So, in Spring 2017, a drama troupe from Sophia School came to Shpola Orphanage and together the 2 schools performed dramas, dances and songs for each other. Relationships between the two schools were budding at last! And students from Sophia School and Shpola Orphan school attended summer camp together at Kompas Park!
But, how can we link the teachers together, I wondered?
God gave me that opportunity this week, by inviting Sophia School teachers and Shpola Orphan School teachers to attend a week-long teacher training course on “The Fundamentals of Christian Ethics.”
Originally, when the Association of Christian Teachers in Ukraine asked me to sponsor this summer elective course (approved by the Institute of Education), I wasn’t very interested. At Hope Now, our ministry is focused on orphans, family and community and we try not to dilute the ministry with projects that might get us off track. And even though I was a teacher at a Christian school, and I think the course is valuable, I knew that it didn’t have much to do with our focus…especially since I knew Shpola teachers never attended this course in the past, and I knew that they would not be available in summer to attend any training sessions.
In August, the Association asked me again if Hope Now would consider sponsoring the Christian Ethics course, and I was surprised because it should have already taken place. They explained that it had been postponed until fall break because they had no sponsor to pay for the course. (Other courses at the Institute of Education are funded by the government, but because this course is an elective, the government will only allow it if a sponsor provides the funding.)
Hummm… I wondered aloud if Shpola teachers would be on fall break like the other teachers in the region, during the proposed course dates. I was told, there is no way Shpola teachers would be given permission to attend even if they were available. I wanted to know, why not? The general opinion was that they thought the Director would never allow his teachers to attend a Christian training, and even if he did, the Shpola teachers would not be able to implement Christian pedagogy into their state-run classrooms.
I felt that God was getting ready to work things out. I explained that in order for Hope Now to sponsor this program, it would have to include Shpola Orphan School teachers. Disappointed, the Association said it would never happen. I said it wouldn’t hurt to ask the Director, and I would go to Shpola the next day to invite them. They said it would be a miracle if the Director gave permission AND if the teachers were free to attend during the proposed course dates.
Well, we have a God of Miracles! Not only did the Director say yes, he gave his blessing and allowed 7 teachers to attend! He even moved the dates of their fall break! Hope Now agreed to sponsor the teacher training, and I also encouraged the Sophia School teachers to attend and God gave us the chance to link the two groups of teachers together over this week-long training.
This past week, the teachers discovered methods of teaching Christian ethics in Ukrainian culture, spiritual and moral direction & theology, biblical studies of the Old & New Testament, Christology and practical ways to implement these ideas. In addition, Shpola Orphan School teachers and Sophia School teachers have become friends and allies with much in common. We have broken bread and prayed together, gone on fun excursions and have made promises to help one another implement Christian ethics in the classrooms.
Today, when I closed the training, I read Romans 12:6-8. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement;
I confessed to the participants that I didn’t think I was a very good teacher. I discovered that teaching is hard — in fact it was the hardest job I ever had. Why? Children all learn differently. Parents are difficult. Administration is demanding. There is much preparation before the first bell rings, and a lot of work after school grading papers & preparing lessons.
But I loved being with children one on one. They are more vulnerable, than in a crowd. I reminded the teachers that they can make a huge impact. They can influence student’s lives for good. Children look up to them. They can be powerful witnesses. Take the time to work with kids one on one.
Maybe my gift wasn’t teaching, but I was good at encouraging. I encouraged students in my classroom. And colleagues, administrators, parents and children one on one.
And these Ukrainian educators can be good encouragers too. Even if they ARE good teachers as well! And who knows? Perhaps Shpola Orphanage is on her way to becoming a first-class Christian school after all. Now, I just have to figure out how to get the USA teachers involved…