So about this teaching stuff…

Given the title of my blog I realize it might be a good idea to write a bit about my epic “Journey in Teaching” on occasion. So here’s a super exciting update.

I started graduate school a few weeks ago. For teaching. This amount of information is evidently never enough for people so I’m forced to add, “I’m getting my Masters in Teaching High School History.” Sounds pretentious doesn’t it? For the record, I wouldn’t mind teaching Geography or African Studies either if the opportunity presented itself.

If your interested, I’m going to Lesley University in Cambridge, which is actually a really good school for education. Overall I’m enjoying my classes so far but one thing has become readily apparent to me in the first couple weeks. People talk about education all the time and everybody apparently has the secret “to fixing our schools.” In reality there is very little consensus about what actually works. And the things most decent educators have figured out that does work is typically not what is going on in  the classrooms of our precious youth. A little disconcerting to say the least.

I can come off as somewhat negative at times but in actuality I’m often more positive than people give me credit for. Being a Christian, surprisingly enough lends itself to this. Let me end on a positive note. Tonight in class and a couple times in the last week I have realized (not for the first time) that I really want to teach. I want to be a teacher. I want to be in the classroom with students doing my thing. Going over concepts and teaching thinking skills. Not a simple or easy or even glamorous job but it’s what I want to do and I think that is pretty sweet.

Advertisements

In Spite of Everything…

I spent 2008 interning for a Christian ministry in South Africa. Going to Africa had been my dream my entire life. To finally get out there and live it and see it was incredible. My ministry, Thrive Africa, was young and small compared to most, but it was vibrant and strong in the vision and work it was doing. In many ways the positive strength that exuded from Thrive became personified for me in one man, the co-founder. He had founded the ministry with his eventual wife 10 years previously. He was a big, smart, white South African. If God hadn’t got to him he probably could have played rugby or at least been a strong farmer like so many Afrikaans people are. He was without a doubt, a born leader.

To be honest it took me a few months to warm up to him. I was a small, shy American; he was the leader of an entire ministry. I worried I might say something wrong or stupid to him. I was afraid to engage him in casual conversation. A trip to Botswana a few months into our year however brought us together in fairly close quarters. I finally got to the point where I didn’t feel nervous around him. I could ask him questions, make jokes. I felt like on some level I connected with him better than almost anyone else on our missions base. Because of all this I began to soak in every word I could from him.

There were a lot of words. He taught us a class on leadership every week. He almost always preached at the church we had each week. He led a Bible study for the men on base during the winter months. I listened, I pondered, and I retained everything I could. At the time, he was in many ways the ideal Christian leader in my mind. Strong, but humble. Logical, but in touch with the spirit. Blunt, but caring. I still today quote things regularly that he told me. I even picked up one of his phrases he always said and now say it myself.

I returned home at the end of my year full of joy with all that had happened. However a few days later I got an email. The leader I had nearly idolized during the year had been cheating on his wife with one of the missionary staff. His wife had finally gotten him to admit to it. A few months later it was revealed that in spite of his wife’s wiliness to reconcile, to seek therapy, to make it work, he was pursuing a divorce. Everything was now up in the air.

Thrive, in the last couple years, has done an unbelievable job trying to move on and continue with their ministry. However their efforts were not enough to keep Thrive on sound enough financial footing. Today it was publicly announced on their website that Thrive is closing. I cannot tell you how shocked and dismayed I am by all of this.

I had the incredible opportunity to return to Thrive this past summer to see the ministry in action once more. I went out to dinner with the then director and some missionary staff who were nice enough to answer any questions I had about the situation of the ministry. Unsurprisingly, HE came up. And the director said something which unexpectedly stuck with me.

“His actions do not undo the truth of the things he told you.”

This entry is not being written to cast blame. It is meant to show that in spite of everything, God is good. Thrive was an active, flourishing ministry for 13 years. It impacted the lives of thousands of South Africans and North Americans who served under them, including myself. Even now a new ministry is being formed to continue much of the vital work that Thrive has done. Today is without a doubt a sad day, a day I will join in with many in mourning the end of a fantastic ministry. However life, work, and ministry continue unabated all over the world and the actions of no one can hope to stem the flow of the love of Christ on this lost and hurting world.

I finish this entry with a Bible verse that sums up things better than I could ever hope to.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 8:38-39

 

Time to go…again.

I went on a walk tonight for the last time in Sokolov. I get on a plane tomorrow to go to South Africa, and in a few weeks, home. I’m filled with emotion and feelings and it’s just weird. When I left South Africa I was pretty happy. Not because I wanted to leave but because it just felt right. The year was up, it was great, I was excited for the future. Here, in this moment, it just feels a bit strange and anticlimactic. I have been here 10 months and it is simply weird to think I won’t be here tomorrow.

I have much to rejoice over. I got to teach in two schools this year. I met awesome students and got valuable classroom experience. I made great friends, Czech and American, who I will stay in touch with long after this year is over. I learned about a new culture, food and language. I traveled to multiple countries in Europe. I grew a lot.

This year was far from easy. It started horribly. But as I sit here with this subtle feeling of melancholy I realize how important  it was to be here this year. It was important not just for me but all the people I met. I have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. I’m so excited to see friends and family at home. But my year in the Czech Republic was incredible and so I’ll close out this year by just saying that God is a good and faithful king and I’m thankful for it.

Impact South Africa

Many of you know that I spent almost all of 2008 in South Africa. During this time I was an intern for the ministry Thrive Africa. It was an incredible year. If you want to see what I did there and the impact it had on my life you can check out my blog from that year at: http://mattinsouthafrica.blogspot.com/

Since I left in December 2008, Thrive Africa has experienced some unbelievably difficult pressures on their ability to operate their ministry. The most obvious is the economic downturn that hit the states. Thrive Africa relies almost solely on generous donations from and partnerships with people and churches in North America. If the donations stop, Thrive will shut down. It’s that simple. And lately the money has been drying up. They have started a capital campaign to raise $80,000 by this summer. You can get all the lowdown at: http://www.impactsouthafrica.com/

Let me be very clear. I believe in Thrive. I believe in its vision, its mission, its leadership and what it is doing and it is without a doubt effective. These guys aren’t out there helping poor people to make themselves feel better. They are attempting to change the face of a nation and thereby a continent with life changing spiritual and leadership education. And to my knowledge they are the only long-term organization doing this in a township area of roughly 2 million people. You can find out more information about thrive at: wwwthriveafrica.com

This is bigger than just keeping a few North Americans in Africa. Thrive employs over 50 nationals on a full-time basis. In a country with an unemployment rate of nearly 25% this is a big deal. They teach thousands of students every year in local schools about important and taboo topics such as leadership, purpose, sex and AIDS. I personally visited an orphanage on a weekly basis when I was there. I was able to watch kids grow and learn as we spent time, played, taught and loved them.

If the money stops, if this capital campaign fails, all that is over.

I am a competitive person. When I am part of something it becomes my team. I want to see it succeed and do well (you could even say “thrive.” I’m sorry I couldn’t contain myself.) This was true when I was doing high school sports, collegiate sports, with ESI now, and of course with Thrive. Four of my fellow interns are long term staff with them now. I want them to be able to fufill their calling from God with Thrive.

What can you do? Pray and Give. The websites above indicate how. I know many of you don’t have the personal experience I have had at Thrive so you have to trust me on this but please. Give. It will truly make all the difference. Can you imagine what it must feel like having a vision to change a country and the only obstacle is money? The soil is fertile, the workers are there and continuing to come. All that is needed is the senders. To help with this campaign Thrive has recently set up an online store where you can buy, amongst other things, African-grown fair-trade coffee. Proceeds go to Thrive. You may not care about South Africa. You may not KNOW about South Africa. But I bet someone in your life likes good coffee. Check out http://www.thriveafricastore.com/

This is important. And you can help. Give to Thrive Africa today.

I saw Fulham!…and London too…

So this is my last night in London and as I should be horribly tired and busy with travel and school until probably Wednesday I thought I should give a recap while it’s fresh in my mind.

I ended my trip by going to my favorite English soccer team, Fulham Football Club (they play in London). As an American it’s hard to follow and get into European soccer but this is where the best players play and so a few years ago I picked Fulham as my favorite, most because they seemed interesting and had around five Americans at the time (they still have one). I been learning and following ever since. Going to this game today was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Fulham didn’t play great but they won and it was a great experience as a fan to be able to watch them.

Why was it so great? One word: atmosphere. British soccer just has it. In American sports, you have jumbo-trons, cheerleaders, time outs, distracting music. Often you’re so faraway from the action it doesn’t even matter. Here in Britain it is different. It’s just the fans and the soccer. Fulham’s stadium fits just over 25,000 people. The stands go right up to the field, you are so close to the action and players. No big screen, just a scoreboard with the clock. The fans know exactly when to cheer, clap and chant, it was awesome. I must also say the away fans were fantastic. One entire block of stands behind one goal was filled with fans of the other team and you couldn’t help but feel their presence. They chanted, jumped, jeered. They were magificent. I’m glad they went home sad but thanks for the effort guys.

So here in short are a few other things I did in London.

  • Went to British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone.
  • Went to Tower of London and saw crown jewels and lots of cool, old stuff.
  • Went to a Church service in Wesminster Abbey. Very cool.
  • Saw Buckingham Palace and walked around a lot of London.
  • Met up with a few friends and had lunch and hung out in a London Pub.

So now I fly back tomorrow just in time to start teaching again come Monday morning. But it was a great trip and I’m sure after a few days I’ll be readjusted back to the lovely land of the Czechs.

Retreating, ESI-Style

Note: Educational Services International is TeachOverseas international name. When I say ESI I mean TeachOverseas. Apologies for any confusion.

This is a bit overdue, especially for me, but I wanted to tell you a bit about what I got to do two weeks ago.

Being with an organization like ESI has many benefits, both tangible and intangible. One of the most tangible benefits is the retreats that we have four times during the year. The biggest one just happened the weekend after Thanksgiving. All the ESI teachers from the Central Europe Region meet together for a long weekend to fellowship, worship, eat a giant Thanksgiving meal and reconnect a bit. There were over fifty people total.

It was really great to see teachers I hadn’t seen for a few months, some since training. In fact, some I hadn’t met at all yet since they had not been able to get to training during the summer. It is pretty cool to see all the people God has brought together in this region of this world to teach and to do his work. I had lots of fun. I played in a raucous game of American football one afternoon and went for a short but refreshing run with some teachers the next. Running with other people is a pleasure that I don’t often get to enjoy so it was nice. A very cool thing: I got to sing worship songs in ENGLISH. After 3+ months of Czech worship it was nice to really understand things again.

ESI has provided a great support network for us here overseas. It’s not as close-knit as Thrive was but that would be impossible to replicate in this situation. In any case I am truly thankful I am with this organization and that they “have my back” so to speak while I’m over here.

A year of blogging…

It is weird to think about but a few days ago I reached the one year anniversary of starting my Czech Republic blog. My South Africa blog was written just over ten months as it spanned my time as an intern there. While eight of the past twelves months have been in the states, this current blog has generally stayed focused on what I am doing now. That is, teaching in the Czech Republic.

I have to say I really enjoy having a blog. I like airing my thoughts. I like processing and refining them by writing them down. I like provoking discussion from people who read it. I like how family, friends and supporters can keep better informed on what I’m doing and thinking about over here. A quick request: I really enjoy when people comment on my blog. Say hey, say you liked it, tell me you disagree. Whatever it is, I will appreciate it and if needed, try to reply in an timely fashion.

To commerate my year anniversary I decided I wanted to change the theme (appearance) of my blog. I had kept the same one all year and while I found it simple and easy to read I decided to look at some new options. As you can see, my new choice is a bit different. Black is its main focus but it also has some nice bursts of bright orange colors. I like that the date and comments are easily seen. I also like that it still seems very readable. In any case what do you think? Too much of a change? Not enough?

So here is to another year of thinking, writing and sharing as I continue this journey of teaching that God has put me on. Be blessed.