Today was our first day back to school. It was filled with students rushing through the hallways looking for the right class, teachers cramming their short term memories with each student’s name (and his or her unique way of spelling it), and principals, counselors and secretaries scrambling to fix schedules, collect fees, and put out any other fires they find. And no, there was not really a fire during our very first period on our very first day of school- it was only an untimely malfunction of the fire alarm. I’m happy to say that we all survived.
I am starting my ninth year at WCMS and am a 7th grade math teacher (go ahead and groan). One of the many things I have learned is that twelve-year-olds are ALWAYS interesting. During the last class of the day a few of my students were struggling to hang on. I knew they had been through countless hours of teacher introductions, seat assignments, and paperwork so I was trying my best to quickly finish my classroom housekeeping. To my surprise I looked up and saw one of my students taking off his shoes and setting them on top of his desk! ‘Why in the world does he think that is okay?’ I thought to myself. I gave him a strange look and started to tell him that it wasn’t appropriate to take his shoes off in class. My thoughts must have been clear as day because before I could even finish a student in the front row pointed down to my own feet. Without thinking I had stepped out of my shoes (the first time in months wearing something other than flip-flops) and was standing there barefoot. What could I say? I chuckled and apologized to the young man who must have been feeling the same way I was. I politely asked him to put them back on and assured him that I would do the same. As he began to move to get them back on I was shocked to see THREE other students reach to return their feet to shoes as well! Could there possibly be a better reminder that someone is always watching the things I do? It is scary for me to realize how often I am setting an example for others.
This funny situation has me thinking about all the things I have watched other people do and in awe at the lessons I have learned and knowledge I have gained because of it. Many of the things I do, I do because I saw a parent, sister, friend or teacher do them. I won’t bore you with a list of all the examples I am thinking of, but I am sure you can come up with a million of your own. It leaves me thinking about how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by older, wiser, more experienced people. And this train of thought leads me back to the people of South Sudan.
The people that live in this new-born country do not have nearly as much access to older, wiser, more experienced people. Not only has the country been at war for much more than a quarter of a century, but more than 75% of the population is under 18. How does one learn the importance of saving a little bit of money each week for a rainy day? Who is there to show them the outcome when a goal is set and a plan is followed through with? Who do they look to for an example of how to be successful? These questions make my heart hurt.
I am glad to have seen, though, that Steve and Diantha Hodges are working to help create some of the answers to these questions. For example, Steve is working regularly with a young woman named Joice. Soon after they began working together, Joice asked Steve for some help with her own finances. She told him that before she realizes it, her entire paycheck has disappeared. She said she keeps trying to save, but cannot figure out where all of her money is going. Joice has a problem very similar to my own. Steve sat down with her and helped her to create a budget as well as a booklet that she can use to write down everything she spends money on. Each week they sit down together and look over the booklet trying to find ways Joice can save money. Though these concepts may seem rather basic to you and I, it’s a probability that there were few other than Steve that could have led Joice this way.
Joice is not only working on her personal finances, but is also helping Steve with business training for pastors in the United Methodist Church. Together they spent 25 hours training six pastors to manage a small business. Each pastor was helped to choose a business that could be profitable, create a business plan, and set both short and long-term goals, among other things. At the end of the training each was given a very small loan (less than $100) to be used to start their business. Steve and Joice continue to work with the pastors as each of them get their businesses underway. In my opinion, the neatest part of this story is that Joice will be leading the training for the next group of pastors! This way they training can be conducted in Kakwa (her native tongue) and the trainees have a person from their own community to look up to. Their hope is to expand the program to assistant pastors, UM women and youth, and teachers. Oh the power of having someone to follow!
My phone rang this evening and when I answered I heard the somewhat squeaky voice of my 7-year-old nephew, Noah. “Lizzy,” he said, “I was just wondering, where are you going to go to do God’s work next?” I think it’s very easy to overlook how much people pay attention to the things we do. I think it is even easier to neglect to realize how much people need an example.
If you would like to find out how you can contribute to Pastors’ United Methodist Microenterprise Program (PUMMP), please contact Steve Hodges at firstname.lastname@example.org