Apr 24, 2010

Back Home: At the School

The Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School--going and growing strong. In this photo, interim principal Amy Foote (right) and a student lead the school in worship.

The School. In Saipan, it was more than just a job. It was very much the focal point of our lives--after all, without the school, we wouldn't have been in Saipan to begin with, and likely would not have stayed as long as we did. We occasionally talked about finding work elsewhere on Saipan, but never seriously considered it. The school was our mission, our heart, our passion.

So when we returned home, returning to the school was a given. Of course, I was there as the week of prayer speaker, but I also wanted to help out the school in other ways too. I taught at least one class each day so that the teachers could have a break, and helped Amy with a REAL Christian Theater task or two. But perhaps even more than me, the return to the school loomed especially large for Babs. Whatever the school meant to me, it meant even more to her. She arrived ready and eager to help out in any way she could. She also taught classes for a couple of the teachers and worked for hours every morning sorting through old files she never got a chance to organize before we moved away. She spent time with the school leadership--Amy, Angie, and Virle--getting caught up in the latest administrative news. Of course both of us were thrilled to see all our former students--they'd all grown so much in the short nine months since we left!

Babs with one of our former students.

Familiar Faces

We have long believed that the Saipan SDA School is God's school. Once we came to fully embrace that truth, it enabled us to give our all to the school without the pressure and disappointment that comes from believing that our all must be enough. No matter what challenges the school faced--budget shortfalls, staffing needs, or expansion plans--we knew that in the end it was in God's hands. So, leaving Saipan, though difficult, was easier because we knew that the school was not dependent on us for success. It was rewarding to see that faith in God's care had been confirmed when we returned.

It had been an extraordinarily dark season for the school in the first half of the year. For starters more than one attempt at hiring Babs' replacement had fallen through. When the school year began last August Saipan SDA School still had no permanent principal. Amy Foote, the preschool director stepped up as the interim principal, and immediately found herself saddled with crisises that would have made the most seasoned veteran shudder. There were the usual challenges--enrollment, budget, staffing, parent and student issues (perhaps magnified a bit as the school culture so long defined by "the Maycocks" was now in flux). But there were bigger issues too. Saipan's immigration was "federalized" that fall, raising questions about whether, how long, and at what cost the school's Filipino employees would be able to stay in Saipan. There was a steady and aggravating chorus of complaints coming from a small group of church members and leadership about this school policy and that school activity. And then there were the multiple burgalaries of the teacher's homes and pre-school campus, an assault on one of the teachers, and the subsequent departure of three traumatized teachers at the Christmas break. On top of all this, Amy had the unimaginable personal stress of knowing that her father was facing an uphill battle with an aggressive form of cancer back home in the States. Amy had to run a school under duress, all the while knowing that she could be called away literally at any moment to her dad's bedside.

Still through all of this God preserved His school and His children serving him there. Every time I talked to Amy last fall, I was moved by her faith. I could tell she was leaning on God and He was holding her up. Even in the midst of darkness there were sparkles of light, reminders of God's presence and provision. First of all, Angie Perez who had taught kindergarten last year and decided late last school year not to return for another school year--changed her mind and came back as the school's PR director. She turned out to be a trusted advisor to Amy, a good friend, and her roommate (which in itself was perhaps a miracle as they had clashed several times the year before; most of us would never have predicted that they would choose to work and live so closely--or that they would do so so successfully!). Another blessing was the return of two of the five student missionary teachers--Cyndi Rearrick and Sharla Schroeder--after the Christmas break. Despite their own traumatic memories, they decided to come back and soldier own for the sake of the school and for the sake of their kids. I couldn't fault the others for leaving given what they'd all been through, but that only made Cyndi and Sharla's decision more remarkable and inspirational. Further God brought more reinforcements in three more teachers. Fresh for the fight and brimming with energy, Sacha, Troy, and Jacob were a shot in the arm for Saipan SDA's beleagured team. And there was more light on the horizon: the school finally found a permanent principal. Mike Berglund, an experienced educator from the American midwest, agreed to take the job starting in the 2010-2011 school year. (By the way, if that last name sounds familiar, that's because Mike's brother Matt is married to Jenny, Barbara's sister! So in a sense you could say Saipan SDA School is still "in the family.")

One of the new student missionary teachers, Troy, on the left, and one of the ones who stuck it out after last fall's traumatic events, Sharla, on the right.

I had to get this photo of former, current, and future principals of the Saipan SDA School--from left, Babs, principal from 2002 to 2009, Amy principal from 2009 to present, and Mike Berglund who will inherit the post this July. Having these three in the same room reminded me of those gatherings of the former presidents of the United States at major events of state. Imagine if these three could be joined by Evan Hendrix, Steve Namkung, Glenn Bentjen, and Ron Abrams! The stories they all could tell!

The school continued to move forward. The more difficult critics of the school seemed to be appeased for the most part and the volley of complaints seemed to slacken. The usual influx of Korean ESL students for the school's Winter ESL program arrived, and from all reports developed some really great friendships with the regular students. The annual Managaha campout happened without incident--another weekend of warm memories for the school family, I'm sure.

All the while, Amy's dad faced both setbacks and strides forward in his battle with cancer, but by God's grace, stayed healthy enough that Amy felt she could keep her hands on the wheel in Saipan for the time being.

By the time we arrived, the darkest days seemed to be past. In most respects, the school is humming along and there is excitement for the future. The school has just inherited it's own bus--a gift from a local businessman whose children attend the school. The school board has unveiled a three phase plan for expanding the school expansion, with the possiblity of making the expansion happen right around the schools' current location. The first phase which features some impressive plant improvements to the current elementary campus is set to begin this summer. In other good news, Saipan SDA School already has a virtually complete staff roster for next year. In addition to Mike and his wife and daughter, the school will welcome the Holy Grail of staff recruitment--a married couple! Babs was always looking for married couples, like the Knowltons of old, to serve in Saipan, and only rarely found them. But next school year, the Odiyars (that would be Mai-Rhea's brother and his wife) will join the Saipan SDA School team! God is good.

So, our return to the school was full of blessing and encouragement. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and there are and will continue to be challenges for the school--but I'm not worried. After all, as much as it still feels like the school is ours, it's not and never has been. The school is His and He will keep it.

The new school bus courtesy of Big Boyz Marine Sports.

1 comment:

Mai said...

Wow, I love the new bus! That's awesome!!! I'm so happy that the school is moving forward, has a principal, and plans to expand!