Aug 22, 2008

The Road to Rhonda

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.”
--Luke 5:11

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.


Mai said...

Incredible! What a beautiful and inspiring post. It brings me to tears to be reminded of how amazing our God is and much He cares and is doing for my little island. I still wish I could be there to be a part of it all, but at least I know that good people are taking over!

Shannon said...

I have to agree with Mai...what a wonderful blessing! I know that Rhonda will be fabulous, and will take good care of leading these Canadian-accented kids!

Jaimie said...

Sean, I'm sorry, but I must insist that we find a new picture of me. I mean...well, it's awful. I think it's just cause you hate me so much! :)

Sean said...

Jaimie. . .see, I tried to tell ya.

But. . .your wish is my command. I figured a photo stolen from your own myspace should be acceptable.


. . . and of course I don't hate you. Hate is such a strong word. . . ;)

Riki said...

Wow, that's an amazing story! It sounds like it's going to be a great year! I wish I was there to see it, but I'm glad to see that you have a great team there!

Whimsy Peddler said...

Beautiful Sean. Reminds me that God is still working and people are still working for God. Thanks for your words, as always. Have a wonderful school year with a great team.