Reflections on teaching and why I sought a new platform

“You’re a bad teacher!”

The moment those words were spit in my face, I knew that my days in formal education were coming to a close.

She’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes

I used to be one of those kids that asked my grade school teachers for extra worksheets before summer break so that I could force my younger relatives to come to my bedroom turned classroom for play school. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would eagerly blurt out “Teacher!” before they even finished the question.

It didn’t take a spiritual gifts test for me to realize that my gift was teaching.

Even when I reached college, while everyone was changing their majors and reinventing their life missions at least thrice, I stuck with teaching. I may have bounced between interests in kinesiology, sociology, cultural anthropology, and English, but my goal was always to teach.

Finally, I settled on English (though I was more interesting in writing than reading). It seemed like a good fit.

During my courses in the college of education, I was the student that skipped to the board and stood in the splits when I taught my peer reviewed lessons and was described by the instructor as being “loosey goosey”. Making lesson plans was exhilarating and being able to construct lessons that students actually liked was a fun challenge for me.

Here, there, and back again

Then student teaching happened.

I was placed in a school with teachers that had been there a long time and didn’t really have an interest in being there much longer. Of course because of that, they had very jaded attitudes and no qualms about passing their negative opinions onto all of us student teachers. I tried to ignore it and focus on the students (I ended up making lots of great connections with the kids, some that have lasted to this day), but nevertheless, I became very disillusioned. By the time I graduated, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a teacher anymore.

It took less than five months in that atmosphere for my hopes of being a teacher to wither away.

Still, I had to make money once I moved back home, so I figured I’d substitute teach. One sub job in particular turned into a part-time position, which soon became a full-time gig. Slowly but surely, working in this new setting brought me out of my funk, and I began to love teaching again. For four years I came to know and love so many students, and I put lot of effort into building relationships with them. Incoming seventh grade girls were invited to my house for facials or craft parties, I took the majority of my female students out for lunch on the weekends (until I couldn’t afford it anymore, then I just had them come to my classroom for lunch), and I ensured my classroom activities were student-centered rather than teacher-centered. I had so much fun with those kids, so much that during one teacher evaluation the principal told me I acted more like a youth pastor than a teacher.

I didn’t think that was a bad thing.

I loved teaching and I’d like to think that my students enjoyed being in my classroom.

Some of my favorite people in the entire world.

Some of my favorite people in the entire world.

The turning of the tides

Even so, I didn’t feel as though I was “called” to stay there for a long time or to be a teacher in that kind of setting once I left. I just wasn’t sure when the change would happen or what I would do afterwards. An altercation with a student’s parent, based on a total misunderstanding, was a crippling blow to my self-worth and really became the catalyst in confirming the notion that maybe being a school teacher just wasn’t for me. So much good had come out of my experience at the school and leaving my kiddos was hard (their school pictures are part of our living room decor here), but by the end, I was tired.

It was fun while it lasted.

When we first moved to Kenya, Ray suggested that I apply for teaching jobs here, and I refused to the point of tears and accusations that he didn’t really love me. My teaching experience hadn’t ended extremely well, so I had no desire to go back into that field, especially in a new setting where teachers are supposed to be strict disciplinarians (they still cane here). I’ve never been great at being professional or maintaining a strict teacher-student distance in the academic setting in the States, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut it here. I told him my days of teaching were over and that I wanted to find something else to do with my life.

Finding a new sense of purpose

When God gives you a gift, I don’t believe it ever dies. (Tweet this)

You may be able to sit on it for a while, but sooner or later it will come out in some form or fashion. Through all my experiences, good and bad, I’ve learned that just because I have the calling to be a teacher doesn’t mean that I’m called to be in the academic setting.

I use my gift when I write, I use it when I lead Bible studies, I use it in conversations, and I’m most definitely going to use it when it comes to The Joshua Blueprint, our fledgling organization that will be partnering with children’s homes to provide access to arts and media training. We’re currently in the process of building curriculum, which I’m actually really digging, and then once we get started, I’ll be able to engage with kiddos in a classroom setting once again.

That’s my heart.

I love the thought of being my own boss when it comes to this organization and being able to engage freely with the kids without someone telling me I’m not being professional enough. Yes, I can be professional when it comes to leading board meetings and whatnot, but I can also teach while dancing across the classroom and let students learn the way they like to learn, because JB is all about creativity and letting creatives be creative, which generally can get messy. The best part is that the Head of our ministry enjoys the crazy creative process we go through to create personal expressions of worship, and He is more eager to engage with the kids in the process than I am.

I can’t wait to get back into the classroom and watch my students create.

It feels so good to have my heart for teaching feel alive again. It’s been quite a journey getting here, but I finally feel like I’m where I belong.

If you haven’t already, be sure to “like” our Facebook page to stay updated on what we’re doing with JB. You can also read my post on our first scouting trip to Kitale to get some more background information.

My culture, my crutch: it all comes down to love

If Ray was married to someone of his own culture, he would never have to have “intense discussions” with his wife about the dishes, but since he’s not… let the games begin!

My culture, my crutch

Ray and I were warned early on in marriage to be realistic about our shortcomings as individuals and to be careful of blaming everything on cultural differences. In intercultural marriages it’s very easy to blame your negative attitude or bad behavior on culture and completely disregard your responsibility to do something about it. Just because it’s a cultural belief that you’ve held since childhood doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should take precedence over doing what you know is right.

Because the premise for this entire blog site is to share how my husband and I deal with our cultural differences, it’s clear that culture has made a huge impact on our lives. What hasn’t been clear to me is how to transcend all the recurring issues that stem from holding too tightly to cultural expectations. There are times when culture can feel a lot like law, and it becomes difficult to keep from holding it in higher regard than we hold each other. Next to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and advice from spiritual leaders, culture is one of the more dominant factors in our decision making process as a couple, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.

It all comes down to love

I’ve shared before about how I desire to adopt a heavenly culture instead of swearing an allegiance to my own or even to my husband’s culture… and that’s about as far as that went. I made the statement, felt it was profound enough to give myself a pat on the back, and walked away from the laptop without any plan of action to make that my reality. Seven months later I’ve come full circle, and this time I aim to finish it right.

When I speak of a heavenly culture, I’m talking about a culture where love is the norm. It is deeply embedded in every relationship, every action, and every motive of the heart both spoken and unspoken. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best places to find an explicit list of what the manifestation of this culture looks like. People who are of a heavenly culture are patient, kind, they don’t envy or boast, they’re not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs, they don’t delight in evil but rejoice with truth, and they always protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Every culture has its stereotype, but this is the stereotype of those who belong to a heavenly race: they act justly, love mercy, and they walk humbly with their God.

If I really am an ambassador of heaven or an alien to this world, I should be living by the standards of my primary culture, my heavenly culture. To set this culture of love in our household means that I should serve my husband without expecting him to do a single thing in return for me. It means that I lose the right to nag about the dishes he leaves in the sink and he loses the right to complain if I don’t wash all the dishes before the ants come to do the job for me.

We’ve been doing it all wrong.

Removing the yoke of law from our marriage

In every conversation we’ve ever had about household responsibilities, we’ve relied totally on cultural expectations. I am supposed to wash the dishes because I’m the wife. It’s my job, as is everything else in the kitchen. Yes, that’s the norm for his culture, but sometimes knowing that it’s my job or my duty can cause me resent it, and honestly it can make me resent Ray when he reminds me that I’m slacking on my responsibilities. But if we operated under the norms of our heavenly culture, there would be no need for either of us to nag each other, because we’d naturally pick up the slack (without keeping record of anyone’s failures), and if we’re truly loving and serving each other to the fullest, there shouldn’t be much slack to pick up.

One of the love reminders I've put around the house to remind us of home.

One of the love postings I’ve put around the house to remind us of home.

Side note: I know I just posted a blog about serving with the knowledge that one day you will receive a return on your investment, and that’s still true, but I’m just saying that love can understand the reality of the “you reap what you sow” cycle and still say, “Even if I don’t receive a return, my time serving was well spent.”

Dishes may seem like sort of a trivial application for the love culture, but this principle applies to all areas of marriage. In this particular area we were trying to strategize about how to go about dealing with the dishes: I do them on the weekdays and he does them on the weekends, but we are responsible for doing our own dishes as we use them, unless you take the dishes for the other person into the kitchen, then you wash both, and blah, blah, bliggety, blah. Isn’t that gross? Coming to the realization of how love removes the “need” for law, shuts down the whole conversation. Forget all the guidelines and amendments, just love each other and it will naturally balance itself out. I’ll show honor to my husband and fulfill his expectations of me without having to beat myself up so much about my shortcomings as an American trying to fit into Kenyan culture.

Just as Jesus came to remove the yoke of law from our necks and offer himself as the purest demonstration of love, when we seek to love, the pressure of cultural law is lifted.

Love fulfills everything. Love covers all. Love never fails.

Working together for a great cause

All has been quiet on the blogging front for some time now, but for good reason. Ray and I were back in western province the last few weeks to spend some time working on a project with his grandparents in Bungoma, and to do our first short documentary for some missionaries in Kitale.

We worked our first real job together and lived to tell the story.

Is this really happening?

When Ray and I first got married, I never even suspected that this would be a career we’d pursue as a couple, but here we are starting our own little Wasike Creations business, and we’ve not only successfully completed our first job, but we’ve already got another big job lined up! God has really taken us into an area where neither of us feel totally qualified, but the whole process has literally been thrilling. So often throughout the recording and editing sessions, it was all we could do to just cling to one another and ask, “Is this really happening?”

Prior to all of this, Ray especially had a fear of moving to Kitale because he knew that with the work we want to do, we would be around each other 24/7. We tried that once when we lived in the States, and it was disastrous. We fought all the way to counseling and back, and it scared the bejebus out of my dear husband. He honestly couldn’t see how we could possibly stay married if we ended up in a position where we were working together all the time. Looking back, I have to agree with his logic. We weren’t mature enough or ready for it then, but our season in Nairobi has really helped us build an appropriate foundation for the work we need to do in Kitale and for being together all the time, so now we have no excuse.

Divine connections and strategic orders

The last time we were in Kitale we got connected with Bill and Patricia Cornell, the founders of Vision for Africa Ministries. They’re missionaries that have been serving the people of Kenya since 2001, and over the past few months they have become dear friends and incredible spiritual mentors to us. Whenever we leave their home we feel challenged and inspired to pray and love harder. While we were visiting with them the first time, they shared tons of stories about their ministry and told us that with the quick expansion of their reach, they needed to raise funds so they could serve their students better. Our offering to help was the beginning of everything.

They had $100 left in their pockets and they gave it to us to plant a seed towards the work we would do for them. No amount of self-doubt in our own abilities could keep us from working on their project at that point. They knew God connected us for a reason and were willing to invest the last amount of money they had in us. Of course God always rewards acts of faithfulness like that, because the next day they received an unexpectedly large donation, and we got our bicycle, equipped with brand new training wheels, pushed into the beginning of a new life assignment. When we got home we began dreaming and scripting and planning, all the while feeling twinges of excitement at what lay ahead.

Step by step, day by day

Ironically enough, Bill and Patricia live and work together 24/7, so they were great people to work with on this first project, because they gave us great insight on how to work together whenever we would hit rough spots. Here are a few things that they either shared with us or that we gleaned from the experience:

  • Clearly define your roles. This is one of the most important things to do before you begin working together. Ray films and directs, and I interview and edit. For the most part, knowing what each person is responsible for takes a lot of pressure to micromanage off of our shoulders. To allow him to do his own thing with his role shows that I trust him and I believe in his talent, which really emboldens him to do his best. There may be times when we switch hats and he’ll ask me to direct and I’ll ask him to edit something, but it’s imperative that you wait for the person to ask so you don’t step on his toes and squash his creativity.
Documentary Interview

Interviewing Bill and Patricia.

  • Recognize when you need help and ask for it. Even though each person needs some autonomy, you have to be careful of compartmentalizing too much. Just like in marriage, you’ll find in work that you each have certain strengths and weaknesses. Most likely your talents combined help to balance those weaknesses out, so why not utilize that? Yes, I’m the editor, but Ray understands Adobe Premiere much better than I do, so if I try to be a lone island, I’m going to be the one everyone points to when the ships sinks.
future photographers

Some local kids wanted to see what Ray was seeing while we shot.

  • Be willing to receive correction from your spouse. There will be times when your spouse reviews your work and he won’t think you did as great of a job as you think you did. Don’t argue about who is right, just let him show you what he thinks would be better and then decide from there. Sometimes I would suggest a change to something Ray did, so he would change it, we would see that it wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be, and we would go back to his idea. Sometimes you just have to give the other option a chance before you discuss so you are both in a better position to decide what works best. Just be sure when you’re correcting your spouse to speak with all manners of gentleness and love. Don’t let your titles or workspace cause you to treat your spouse like an underling.
Forcing a smile at the end of a recording session.

Forcing a smile at the end of a recording session.

  • Know when it’s time to take a break. Ray and I would shoot all day and then go into the office and work on editing late into the night. Around 2am we would find ourselves arguing over stupid stuff quite a bit, at which point I would promptly send Ray to bed while I kept working. By the end of the week we had worked out a schedule where he worked until 4:30am while I slept, and I worked through the rest of the morning while he slept. Surprise, surprise… no more fights. If you feel the tension between you rising, don’t force it, just take a break.
  • Pray together before, during, and after. This is something the Cornells told us. We had talked to them about fighting while working, and they came into the office and encouraged us to pray with each other. There’s always something calming about praying together as a couple. It also helps you focus on the bigger picture, what God wants from you and what He wants to do with you, as opposed to the problem at hand.

 

Bill helping Ray with sound.

Bill helping Ray with sound.

  • Let work be work and home be home. We were staying with the Cornells the entire week that we were in Kitale working on this project, so we practically lived in Bill’s office and basically only came out whenever Patricia called us to eat.  Once we left the office, we didn’t really talk about the project, we just focused on building relationship with them and enjoying one another. Bringing the stress of work into your personal life really adds some serious strain on your relationship and you don’t want that thing looming over your head as you try to live your life. Leave it alone, go do what you need to do, and you’ll be surprised that your perspective will have changed by the time you come back to work.
  • Have fun. Though making these videos was tough work, Ray and I made a point to have fun. While we were shooting Pastor Raphael, we took a minute to be all kissey kissey in the road, and a guy on a motor bike came by and was like, “Get off the road! This is not the place for romance!” (insert childish giggles). While we were exporting the first promo, we went outside and did a photo shoot in the very first African dress Ray got for me. I normally hate it when he wants to do photo shoots, but this time it was a welcome break. We even stopped once and I grabbed a guitar while we sang worship songs loudly and badly to let off some steam. After twenty minutes of that, we were refreshed, happy, and ready to get back to work.

African dress

snuggle buddies

This was only our first job, so we’re by no means experts on this topic, but because things ultimately went so smoothly for us and because I’m a writer, I was taking notes of everything we did. So this isn’t just a self-help list for you, but it’s a reminder for us of how to work together once things really get going. Hope it helps you as much as it helped us!

Remember, “teamwork makes the dream work”.

#teamjesus

The promo for VFA’s YouCaring fundraiser (please check it out and help them get the word out by sharing)

The full 15-minute documentary