Dear Pastor Jerry,
Thanks to Pine Creek Church for once again sending us a great team. In fact, I think this is the best team you have ever sent. No one on this team has emotional issues, no one is fighting team leader authority, and for the most part, no one is out there doing their own thing!
I do need to reiterate that we need flexible people. So many things happen or change without notice, without explanation. For example, we were promised we’d be housed in a lovely new building, but instead ended up in much older dorms. Our housing is fine, but it is not new, it needed to be cleaned, and it’s rather cramped. We were told we’d have at least 15 students in our classes, but some of our teachers have only six or seven. This works, but it can be disappointing to a team member who brought 15 token gifts and now has to take some home.
As I’ve written to you before, “This Is Not America (TINA)!” If your team went to a university in your own town, there might be unpredictable changes, but usually there would be an explanation – in English. It is harder when they are dealing with another language, a different climate, and a culture that sees no need to explain why something changes – or the explanation is just too complicated to grasp.
One of the increasing needs for flexibility is in the area of technology. The team is accustomed to very good internet connection, mobile phones that work well, and the latest and greatest in all technology. Many are teachers by profession and they keep pace with changes and upgrades.
Welcome to life in a different country! Yes, we have internet in our dorm and on campus, but it often decides to snooze in the middle of an email or a Face Time visit with family. Like our students, we love our smart phones. We make our students park their phones before class so they won’t fiddle with them, but we are just as prone to using our phones for everything. Unfortunately my smart phone and my computer act a little dumb because so much is blocked here.
Yes, we also have “smart desks” in the classrooms, but they don’t sync with the latest software and the building is prone to power outages. Just this morning the whole third floor – ten classrooms – was suddenly without power, and all the carefully prepared power point instructions evaporated. Our teacher trainer was walking down the hall and said that ten teachers simultaneously stuck their heads out of their doors and said, “Help, my power point just died!” All assumed it was the smart desk because, well, when was the last time you lost power in the middle of a class?
Only one teacher had a backup plan in her pocket – a paper exercise that took no electricity. She’s an experienced teacher at home and she knows she always needs a rabbit to pull out of the hat in an emergency. We suggested this a dozen times during orientation, but until it happens no one really believes us.
Then there’s Craig! Doctorate in Education, experienced, highly qualified. He’s a good man and he has a passion for students that can’t be matched. His class loves him. But he’s also pretty high maintenance because he’s so educated that he assumes he can figure life out himself. He bought a slick, sleek, new lightweight computer before he left so he could travel light. Only problem is that it doesn’t have the older style ports to plug into the systems here. Fortunately we were able to find a dongle online with the help of our local teaching assistants and he’s now up and running. What he thought was going to be a wonderful new technology became a time-consuming task for us, and a frustration for him.
He also assumed he would use his US phone on international service, even though all our orientation materials said that would be costly and probably impossible. It is far easier to pick up a SIM card here, remove the US card, and put in the new one for the duration. All in all, we probably spend more time pulling Craig out of difficulties than anyone else on the team. Most are difficulties that could be avoided if he’d just ASK for advice before running off on his own to do something. I love the guy, and we want him to keep coming, but how do we get him to believe that the workers who live here might possibly know more about the system than the guy who just got off the plane?
I confess that sometimes I get impatient. The teams coming in see “today” but I remember “yesterday.” They see problems with smart desks, while I remember that up until last year we weren’t allowed to touch the smart desks and everything had to be written out by hand. They see a less than perfect dorm while I remember much worse accommodations. They talk about hauling laundry up and down stairs to a washing machine while I remember – only a couple of years ago – washing everything in my sink. They complain about the poor internet quality in their room while I remember walking blocks to get ANY internet at a café.
I’m working on my patience quotient!
Anyway, that’s where we are today. We’ve got an excellent university English program going because you sent us a teaching team. We can’t tell you how valuable it is to our long-term witness here to have your team who are kind, gracious, godly, and winsome. I sometimes think the happiest month of the year for our boss, a dean here, is the month he has your team on his campus. He gets to laugh and joke and relax. We have no ulterior motives and we’re not examining him. Instead the team showers him with love and praise because he does so much for us. That’s not what he normally gets!
Your team is here to teach English and they are doing a great job doing that, but in a more global sense, what they are doing is demonstrating the love of God by teaching in extreme heat and humidity, less than ideal living conditions, and sometimes frustrating technology – mostly without complaint.
In short, flexibility may be the most operative skill needed to invite these people into the Kingdom.