Aug 31, 2008
Aug 22, 2008
The teachers at San Juan Beach, Sabbath afternoon, August 16, 2008: From left, Amy, Nicole, Angie, Cristina, Jaimie, and Rhonda.
On the second Sabbath in Saipan for most of our new teachers on Saipan (it was Rhonda's first Sabbath), we took them down to San Juan Beach on the eastern side of the island. This is was the launching point for Grant and I's "Lost" adventure and the location for our Boys Campout. It was also one of our stops on that fabled Last Day with the 4Runners this past June. We returned once again this to these historic sands this past Sabbath afternoon. The waves were really big, and out at sea the water churned and boiled. The sea was restless and raging and our teachers felt a taste of her power.
Cristina, Jaimie, and Rhonda get washed:
I'm pretty sure that this is representative of what it's been like for our new teachers as they've begun their year of teaching--like they've been hit by a huge wave that's knocked them off their feet and scratched them up a bit. But they're getting back up and welcoming the next swell. They're doing great!
Angie, Rhonda, Jaimie, Nicole, and Cristina.
God gives the best birthday presents: Bab's gets a priceless gift on the eve of her birthday, her final elementary school teacher, for grades 3 and 4, Rhonda Prokopetz.
“. . .they left everything and followed Him.”
I read those words about the disciples who left their nets and fishing boats, tax collection tables and sordid lives, and followed Him, and I always thought it was a bit of hyperbole. I mean surely, the disciples didn’t just literally drop everything and follow Him on the spot, right? And even if they did, such dramatic gestures of discipleship no longer happen today, right? I mean the nature of Jesus’ simple invitation to “follow Me” must have been remarkably compelling to elicit such a response of such sudden and certain commitment.
But lately, I’ve come to think I’ve sold God and the persuasive nature of His call a little short. I think maybe the disciples did drop everything on the spot and follow Him. And I have come to believe that even today there are those who leave it all behind at a moments notice to answer His call. I believe this because I’ve met a few talented and daring young women who’ve done exactly that. They heard the call, saw the opportunity, and they answered at once. They left, without a backward glance, with only months, weeks, and even days to prepare. Without a doubt the call was compelling and could not be ignored.
Babs began her recruiting for new staff early this year—the last thing she wanted was to be heavy with child and still scrambling around in the summer looking for teachers. Her ideal would be to have everyone in place by the time last school year ended. A nice final Friday letter with photos and short bios of next year’s teachers would be perfect. But God had other plans, and under His plan, there would be no doubt that each new teacher that arrived in Saipan, arrived at His call, and not by our own power. So, like the number of Gideon’s men dwindled, the time left before we needed our teachers also dwindled. From God’s point of view, six months was too soon to hire new teachers. Three months was still too soon. One month? Well, now that’s a little bit more like it. Two or three weeks? Better still. A few days? Just right.
The funny thing is that Barbara could have had that nice little new-staff lineup by the end of last school year. There were lots of applicants for all the open positions, and many of the applicants were sharp, qualified folks. But Babs was waiting to hear from God, and until she did she steadfastly refused to hire. If there’s one thing Barbara’s learned over the years, it’s that it pays to listen to God, and it costs too much not to listen. And so, when the school year ended, Barbara had conducted dozens of interviews and talked with many bright and promising candidates, but so far had only one teacher—Nicole French, the pioneer of the group—the first to get the Call.
Nicole French, the first member of our new team!
But of course Barbara and Nicole weren’t the only ones listening to God this summer. There was Megan McCollum browsing through her church bulletin in Maryland when an announcement about the need for teachers in Saipan caught her eye. It looked like a great opportunity and she took the Call. Inside a month she’d be on her way to a new home in Saipan.
Jaimie Nickell was working at summer camp and heard an inspiring talk by someone who knew a little bit about being swept away on one of God’s amazing adventures—one Judith Edwards. She and Jude talked, and Jaimie heard the Call.
Jaimie Nickell, chilled out as always.
Cristina Sanchez’s name was one among three hundred on a list Barbara’s former boss Keith Rodman had passed on to her. Cristina had had a brief talk with Keith on one of his recruitment visits almost a year earlier and never heard anything more. She’d all but given up on the prospect of going overseas for mission work when the Call came in the form of an e-mail from Barbara in her inbox.
Cristina Sanchez with one of our students.
Angie Perez got the Call at church when Ken and Crystal Pierson gave a presentation about the mission in Saipan and mentioned the need for teachers. Ten days later, Angie landed in Hawaii, on her way to a year as a kindergarten teacher in Saipan.
Angie with the ones who delivered the Call to her, Ken & Crystal Pierson.
All of these women heard the Call and responded with amazing speed, but their response was positively sedate compared with the blistering speed with which Rhonda Prokopetz dropped her nets, cancelled her plans, jumped on a plane, and dove into her new job as our third and fourth grade teacher.
Rhonda's arrival in Saipan. August 12, 2008.
Here’s how it went down:
When Tuesday morning, August 5 dawned bright and clear, Rhonda Prokopetz was signed up for a six-week stint as a subsitute teacher in Majuro. After that, she’d return to the states and continue with her meticulously planned and carefully ordered life. By the time the sun set that day, that carefully laid out plan had evaporated and everything had changed.
Meanwhile Barbara was in Saipan, praying pleading, with God. Time had just about run out and she was still one teacher short at the elementary school. To find a quality teacher who could make it to Saipan in time to start school seemed a virtual impossibility. If no teacher materialized, Babs knew she’d have to teach, and with her baby due in less than two months, this too was an impossibility. Of course, God specializes in impossible situations, and Barbara knew that. She just knew which impossibility she’d prefer.
Back in Hawaii, I too was praying, and I confess I was getting a little cranky. “Okay, God we get it. We saw how you were able to pull Judith out of nowhere at the last possible minute last year. God will provide. . .lesson learned. So could we just have a normal provision this time? Please?” I imagine God smiled ruefully. He knew what He was doing, and soon we’d know too.
So the morning progresses and Jaimie mentions to Rhonda that there’s an urgent need for a third and fourth grade teacher in Saipan. And for some reason—the light goes on in Rhonda’s mind. She gets the call. “Follow Me.” It was clear, unmistakable, undeniable. She knew she had to go to Saipan. She goes to find Jeannie Vories, the missions coordinator at Walla Walla University.
Around lunch time, Jeannie bustles up to me. “Did Jaimie tell you? She has a friend who wants to go to Saipan!” Yeah, yeah, I know, I reply, blasé. I know there is some friend in the States who is entertaining thoughts of coming out to teach in the pre-school.
“No, no. She’s here in Hawaii. She’s going to Majuro but it’s only for six weeks.” My ears perk up. In short order, I meet Rhonda and I’m thrilled to discover that not only is she another acquaintance of Judith’s from summer camp, but she’s also a Kelowna girl and a long time family friend of none other than Mai!
I call up Barbara, tell her I think I may have someone. We set up an interview, and Babs knows within minutes that she wants to hire this woman. Babs makes a decision that is exceedingly rare for her—she hires Rhonda on the spot.
Granted, Rhonda isn’t scheduled to leave Majuro until September 22 (two days after Elijah’s due date) but at least she’s coming. We can muddle through till then. God chuckles and says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” As we begin negotiations with Jim Spiva the principal of the school in Majuro, to see if we can bring her over a little sooner, the date moves up to somewhere between September 8 and 11—a much better time frame.
And then late that night, Jim says he thinks he could get someone else to substitute in the class Rhonda was to teach thus freeing her up to come to Saipan, in a week or two.
And so Wednesday morning, August 6, Rhonda flies to Majuro, but now knows that within a month she’ll be in Saipan. I fly home later that same day, relieved that our last elementary teaching position is finally filled.
But wait there’s more. . . God’s not finished yet.
On Monday, August 11, Barbara calls up Majuro and Jim informs her that he was able to cover Rhonda’s position—she’s free to come to Saipan whenever she’s ready. So Barbara gets on the phone with Rhonda and asks her when she’ll be ready to come to Saipan.
“I can come tomorrow,” she say. Unbelievable!
Okay, she can hop on a flight and arrive Tuesday night.. But school starts on Thursday. It would be ludicrous to expect her to be ready to teach on the first day of school with only 24 hours to prepare . . .buuut, what the heck, why not?
“Could you be ready to teach by Thursday?”
Rhonda and Jaimie: Fellow workers at camp for the summer; colleagues at the SDA School for this school year. I'm guessing friends for life.
And here’s the kicker. She really was ready. Rhonda landed Tuesday night, August 12, and on Wednesday, August 13, Barbara’s birthday, she whipped her classroom into a welcoming, beautiful environment; hammered out a classroom management plan; and planned her first day. What had taken the rest of us—even a veteran like me—days to do, this whirlwind of a woman did in hours. And she did it with the plucky spirit, can-do confidence, and professional quality that I can tell are going to be her trademarks throughout the year.
Rhonda in her classroom, ready to roll on the first day of school. Her fourth graders would have been Mai's student's last year and Shannon Gerber's--another Kelowna, British Columbia native-- in Kindergarten. These Kelowna-taught kids are liable to have a Canadian accent by the time they leave our school!
That’s the greatest blessing about Rhonda and all of her fellow disciples who dropped everything to come to Saipan. They aren’t just enthusiastic, they are effective. They aren’t just committed, they are dedicated. They aren’t just willing, they are able. This year’s team shows a remarkable commitment to excellence and a passion for their students. They work hard, they learn fast, they never settle for less. They’re just the type of teachers we need anchoring the school in this particularly eventful year for Babs and me.
As with Judith, last year, I’m reminded by Rhonda and her colleagues this year, that God will provide. And when He provides, He provides the best. We can trust Him to care for His school and for His work here in Saipan.
To my new friend and teammates I would say, when the way grows dark and the work weighs heavy and daunting, remember Who called you and keep on following Him.
Aug 15, 2008
The new team strikes a pose at Mt. Tapochau, ready to rock a new year! In the front, from left to right: Nicole French (7/8 homeroom and science teacher), Cristina Sanchez (1/2 classroom), Twyla (new dental hygienist).
In the middle: Megan "Mocca" McCollum (office assistant), Babs,Angie Perez (kindergarten teacher), Jaimie Nickell (pre-school teacher, Crystal Pierson.
In the back: Andrea Stafford (wife of one of our dentists, Mike Stafford) with her daughter, and Mike Stafford (dentist at the clinic) and his son. Missing are the photographers Ken Pierson and me, and also Amy Foote, our preschool director who had to take some of the students who went with us home and so left the Island tour earlier.
I'm back in Saipan and all things are new once again, as they are every year at this time. A new school year, a new team of colleagues, even a new dental hygienist over at the clinic--and very soon now, a new member of the Maycock family. It's a new chapter in our lives and it promises to be the most adventurous one yet!
I landed back in Saipan on Thursday evening, August 7, with Nicole, Megan, Cristina, and Jaimie (Angie arrived the next afternoon, flying through Japan). Friday, began the traditional round of activities that begin a new school year in Saipan. The teachers got their CNMI driver's licenses, officially making them local residents; picked up their health cards; and got their first look at their island home.
Friday night, the new team gathered for the first time at our house for a candlelight supper of pasta, salad, and garlic bread. The pasta was courtesy of one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Capricciossa's, the salad was Barbara's signature Greek mix, and the candlelight was courtesy of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation who welcomed the new teachers with a Saipan blackout.
Jamie, Nicole, and Megan eating by candlelight.
Returning veteran Amy Foote, our preschool director, hamming it up with the son of one our school board members.
Our preschool teachers, all returning veterans, load up on pasta at the dining room table.
Yay! The power is back! Note Nicole wastes no time in whipping out her laptop to surf the net.
On Sabbath the teachers were introduced to the church:
Babs, far right introduces (from l to r) Angie, Cristina, Megan, Nicole and Jaimie at church on Sabbath morning, August 9, 2008. What's truly remarkable is that a month earlier only one of these women--Nicole French--had any idea she'd be spending the next year in Saipan.
For Sabbath School a new musical group debuted: "The Clinic Boys" featuring dental director Ken Pierson, dentist Mike Stafford, maintanance chief Rolly Verzon, office staff member Frank Diaz, and chief financial officer Ernie Lacorte. They sounded pretty good!
This photo's for Judith! That's one of "your" kids enjoying the pop rocks you sent him!
Sabbath afternoon, we took the new teachers out for the traditional First Sabbath Island Tour. We hit all the key spots--Banzai, the Last Command Post, Bird Island, the Grotto, Suicide Cliff and even managed to make it up to Mt. Tapochau in time for sunset.
Nicole, Jaimie, and Megan soaking up the Saipan sun. It was a hot afternoon!
Checking out Bird Island.
In the Grotto
All new teachers have to have a photo with the Pierson Truck! Megan's in the center with Angie, Cristina, Jaimie, and Nicole surrounding her clockwise.
It was a remarkable afternoon. In addition to being unsually hot, the water was very calm and clear. You could actually see the currents running in the sea (they're the lighter streaks in the water pictured above). The sky didn't look particularly clear--there were clouds and some haze--but the visibility was incredible. We could see Anatahan, the next island north of Saipan and the home to an active volcanco, from Suicide Cliff. You can see it too, if you click on this photo to make it bigger--the outline of the island is in the center of the photo. From the top of Mt. Tapochau we could see Tinian, Goat Island, and even Rota to the south of us.
The gang gathers at the crest of Suicide Cliff
Standing on top of the world--the peak of Mt. Tapochau: On the left is our new dental hygeinist at the clinic, Twyla (her last name seems to have slipped my mind, but when I remember it I will return and edit this post to add it in). She inherits Bev's mantle and so far displays a similar active and adventurous spirit. I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.
Angie and Nicole windblown at the summit of Topochau.
I love this photo of Babs! Man, I'm a lucky guy!
Babs n' Me--ready for what comes next. . .
Aug 11, 2008
Surf's Up! That's me riding the waves in Waikiki.
First Look at the New Team: Angie Perez (far left), our new kindergarten teacher from Orlando, FL, shared this picture with me of our new teachers in Hawaii since my camera had stopped working. From left, after Angie, Cristina Sanchez, from Maryland, who will be teaching Grades 1/2; Nicole French, a recent graduate of Walla Walla College who hails from California, who will be the 7/8 Homeroom teacher; Me; Megan McCollum from Maryland who will be assisting Virle in the office, and Jaimie Nickell from eastern Oregon, who will be teaching at the pre-school. Not pictured is Rhonda Prokopetz, who was finding out even as this picture was being taken that she'd be joining the Saipan team. There will be a seperate blog coming up later that will deal in detail with the miraculous arrival of Rhonda to Saipan.
Every year we spend about a week on Oahu in Hawaii. Babs has her principal's meetings followed by several days of orientation for all of the new teachers that will be going to work in Adventist schools all across Micronesia. Usually, I pitch in to help where ever I can, but this is mainly Barbara's show and I'm basically still on vacation during this week.
Well, this year, Barbara was too far along in her pregnancy to make the trip so I went in her place. Instead of sleeping late, whiling away the hours on the internet, and getting in some reading while "helping out" here and there, this time I was busy attending meetings, teaching seminars, and trying to find time to get over to Office Depot to buy school supplies. This year's Hawaii trip gave me a new understanding of the complexity and responsibilities of the job Babs does every single day. I remember talking to her on the phone about a prospective teacher I'd talked to and I was mortified to find out that I'd failed to get even the most basic information Babs needed. There was so much I simply didn't think about. It gave me an even deeper respect and renewed admiration for my wife and the wonderful work she does. I have a feeling when she's on her maternity leave and I'm in charge of the school, I'm going to have our home phone number on speed dial.
So, Hawaii was a lot of work this year, but it was nice to see all the other principals again--Jim Spiva, the principal of the Adventist schools in Majuro, along with his wife Chrystal and their kids; Jeri Martin, the principal of Palau Mission Academy; Ryan Ybanez, the principal of the school in Ebeye--he and I were paired up quite a bit during the weekend; Millar Benjamin--the senior principal among us with 14 years at the Pohnpei SDA School; and Daniel Lacayan--who was a mentor teacher to me when I was a student missionary in Chuuk fourteen years ago--and his wife Arlene. I also enjoyed seeing the mission officers again too, especially Keith Rodman who, though he'd already left his position as the education director flew out to guide the teacher orientation one last time. And of course, it was exciting to see all the energetic, young talent on their way out to the mission field--over 90 missionary teachers this year!
So, it was a busy week. . .but there was still a little time for fun too. After all when I went to pick up my rental car on arrival in Honolulu, they gave me a convertible because it was "all they had left" and I wasn't about to let that go to waste!
The principal's meetings which took place at Hawaiian Mission Academy. From L to R, Millar Benjamin, Arlene and Daniel Licayan, Cameron Danier (going out to Majuro as the assistant vice principal), Jim and Chrystal Spiva (Jim is the principal in Majuro.)
The Big Three: Gary Johnson, mission treasurer; Keith Rodman, the former education suprintendent; and Remenster Jano, the Guam Micronesia Mission president.
Dinner with the principals and their families at a local Chinese restuaurant, Thursday evening, July 31, 2008.
Butter Fish at the Chinese restaurant. Believe it or not, this is not real fish. This is vegemeat. I'm not sure what kind--they had so many varieties of vegemeat, and all apparently made on site. The flavor and variety of meat analog products they carried far outpaced the more familiar Loma Linda/Worthington brands I'm used to.
Friends Old and New
One of the great things about being a grown-up is that the spectrum of people you can call your friends widens dramatically. When you're kid, the age range of your friends is pretty narrow. You don't associate with anyone more than two or three years older or younger than yourself, and at certain ages, even that range can seem vast. After all how much does a thirteen-year old have in common with a ten year old or sixteen year old. But as an adult, you find you can yourself at ease with people who are ten, fifteen years your senior or junior.
I experienced that in Hawaii, making new friends with someone who has a few years on me and reconnecting with an old friend who is young enough to have once been my student (in fact, she was my student at one time)
An Old Friend: Aya Sato attended the Saipan SDA School for ten years and was my student for quite a few of those years. Now she's about to enter her senior year as a social work major at Hawaii Pacific University. We always try to look her up when we're in Hawaii and this year was no exception. We hung out a few times-- I looked at her pictures from her recent trip to South Africa, she helped me do some Japanese translation for the draft of my novel, and we generally got caught up on the last year. Aya also came out to the teacher orientation to meet the Saipan's new teachers and give them a former student's perspective on what makes for an effective teacher.
A New Friend: Doug Herrmann is the education suprintendent for the Southeastern California Conference and he was the key presenter during our two days of principal's meetings on July 31 and August 1. In addition to being a knowledgable administrator and educator with years of experience under his belt, he's a really great guy. We hit it off from the beginning and I enjoyed hanging out with him a bit outside of the meetings. Especially fun was our afternoon of body surfing.
I snagged this photo off the web; my camera died on me halfway through the trip (which is why there are few photos of the teacher orientation). But this is the exact model (and even color) of the car I had.
I haven't ridden in a convertible since I was a high school student riding shotgun in my buddy Chris's dad's Mustang. I'd never driven one until this past week and actually hadn't planned on it. I reserved the usual mid-size auto and expected the usual non-descript rental. Instead, I was told that I would be getting a convertible because "that was all they had left." Lucky me! At first, I was a little apprehensive about putting the top down--after all, what if I couldn't get the top to go back up and it started raining--but on my second day in Hawaii, the sky was a brilliant blue, the temperatures were balmy, a tropical breeze was blowing and I decided: Why not. Of course not twenty minutes later, it started raining and I couldn't get the top back up. Fortunately, it was only a light drizzle and I did eventually figure out how to get the top back up.
After that, it was a lot of fun. It wasn't just that I felt cool cruising with the top down (my little episode with the rain quickly cured me of any notions of coolness), it was really, purely fun. Hawaii, with it's lovely weather and gorgeous surroundings, is the perfect place to drive a convertible.
Couple of things to keep in mind though: Make sure you don't have any loose papers anywhere in the car--they'll be gone as soon as you pick up speed. And, as much as you may feel like bursting into sing-a-long ecstasy is the perfect thing to match your carefree, top-down vibe, keep in mind that everyone can see, and many can hear, you belting out your favorite tunes.
I can't remember the name of this beach on the southern endof Oahu, but this idyllic spot is where Doug Herrmann and I went body surfing. We kind of wished it had been a little less idyllic and little more action packed.
Our body surfing beach.
The waves broke very close to shore and so riding them meant that we usually ended up being smooshed into the sand at the end. It literally took me about twenty minutes in the shower to get the sand out of my hair and scalp
Despite the lack of consistent surf and the small waves, we had a lot of fun. Here I am sandy and unfazed at the end of our afternoon of body surfing.
Tuesday, August 5--the day before I left, I decided to take some surfing lessons. Our instructor (I was in a group session with two very sweet and demure Mormon girls) was quite good and very patient. I found it wasn't as hard as I thought it might be (though granted the waves--were again, quite small). It was a real "Bev Choice" for me because I was pretty nervous about getting hurt and felt foolish about trying something I'd never done before (and probably messing up a lot). But I'm glad I did it--it was well worth it.
Overall, it was a fun and productive week in Hawaii.