Among Adventists, we often hear people saying, “I got a call . . .” or “We got a call . . .” to work in a different part of the home country or overseas. Most of the time, there is a tone of great satisfaction in people’s voices. However, what happens when a person is “called” to stay in their own town and to work in a secular setting—and a very challenging one at that?
In mid-2014, an assistant principal at Moree East Public School (MEPS) asked me to apply for a full-time job. MEPS is one of the 15 Connected Communities schools in New South Wales. It has a high percentage of Aboriginal students and it was a challenging school. I remember some friends asking where I was going when they found out that I was leaving my old school. When I said I was going to Moree East, the conversations stopped.
I had been working at MEPS as a casual teacher and later taught two days a week from mid-2014 to the end of that year. I was wanting a full-time job where I would have my own class because I had to maintain my accreditation to continue teaching for the Department of Education. And it would be wonderful to work with some students for the year! I applied for a teacher position and before the end of the year, I was given a Years 3-6 girls’ class for 2015—the dreaded class! This was my first class and it was not only a composite class but also a two-stage class. I was thankful to God for giving me the class, but I was not at all confident that I could teach the students. I prayed to God every day for His guidance as I worked with this class of girls.
Every teacher had a student learning support officer or SLSO to help them. My first SLSO left for maternity leave at the end of term 2. I was given another SLSO and we got along with each other well. Together we got to know each girl. For example, there was a gorgeous girl in my class who often arrived at school late and without having had breakfast. My SLSO and I worked out a little tactic. When this girl arrived in class, I would call her over to me to check quietly whether or not she had eaten breakfast. Then I looked at my SLSO and she looked at me. I gave my keys to the girl and she and my SLSO went to the canteen to get some toast or cereal. Unfortunately, my SLSO was taken from me when the office needed to replace somebody else.
I cared for the girls by myself but I knew I wasn’t alone. God was with me every step of the way. There were challenging moments and very challenging moments. There were also “What am I to do?” moments, but God and I worked together calmly. The weeks passed quickly. As the school year came to a close, the girls did a marvellous thing for me on our class party day. They wrote on the whiteboard, big and bold in red, “You are thebomb.com Miss Henley.”
In 2016, I had a straight Year 3 class. I was very thankful because Year 3 was my favourite class when I did my prac teaching. One of the students had been diagnosed with ADHD and some other health problems. He was quite bright as well. However, he had some physical traits, which most of the other students found undesirable and he struggled making friends. At the beginning of the year, I found that my personality was clashing with his. He didn’t seem to understand my facial expressions and, sometimes, when I talked to other students, he thought I was telling him off. As a result, he would get mad and churn out long lines of bad words. During sports lessons, he would walk away from the class. His playground behaviour was uncontrollable and I was tired of hearing stories about him, both from staff and other students. I prayed for patience and wisdom to deal with this student and asked God to help me build up a rapport with him.
I began to see little changes in him towards the end of term 3. As the year drew to a close, I asked all my students to contribute something for our class party. They all volunteered to bring different things. On the party day, this special boy gave me five packets of “Jumpy’s”, saying, “Here Miss. I felt bad to not bring anything so I spent my $5 lunch money to buy these from the canteen to share with everyone.” I was so excited that I made a big thing out of it in the class and shared the great news with many colleagues at the end of the day.
I had this special boy again the following year. He grew so mature over the summer holidays. Some people thought it was his medication but I disagreed. One day, one of the boys copied the way his uncle walked. I told him to look away, but he said to me, “It’s okay, Miss. Unfortunately, my uncle does walk like that.” He now also participates in sports. He is running faster than a few of his classmates and has formed friendships with a couple of boys in my class. It’s so rewarding to see God bringing him this far.
"When we decided that we were staying, peace filled our hearts beyond words."
Recently, my husband and I thought about moving closer to the coast where there is a bigger church and to be closer to our family. Another reason was that our son will be in high school next year. We wanted him to attend an Adventist school and build friendships with his Adventist peers. We also wanted to get away from “church work”. Yes, you heard it right. We’d worn ourselves out and we needed a break—a really long break. We were ready to go but then something happened.
We thought about the time when I first came to work at MEPS. When I took up God’s call, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But He helped me all the way. It was a privilege to be working with children from dysfunctional homes, who are uprooted from place to place, who are not cared for properly and who are not disciplined. I was called to be with these children five hours a day—to teach them how to read and do maths but, more importantly, to impart some values. Also, every Friday my husband teaches Scripture to my class. He has done this for two years now. The children are well-behaved and they have grown attached to him. When he was unable to come they’d ask, “How come Mr Henley doesn’t come anymore?” Recently, a few colleagues commented that my husband is the only consistent Scripture teacher in the school. The new principal has recently hired him to do coding lessons with a group of students. When we both could be in this exciting, nameless ministry, why do we want to leave?
So God led us to thinking things over. God told us that we don’t need to worry about our son. He is God’s son too and God will take care of him. He has given us the abilities to help our son get to where he needs to be someday. There is a Christian school in town that offers the education our son needs. Besides, how can we abandon the children God has sent our way? And how can we abandon our small church family?
When we decided that we were staying, peace filled our hearts beyond words. We know full well the challenges, but we also are assured that our Saviour is strong—He is able to carry us through any situation. After all, how can we claim that we trust God if we quit on Him when things get tough—really tough?
Peempahn Henley is a primary teacher. She writes from Moree, NSW, where she lives with her husband, son and cat.