Dangerous Mentoring – The Bright Side
As a science teacher, I’m always checking the news to see if there are any new discoveries or items of interest for my science students. Recently, an article on WebMD caught my eye: “Is Dirt Good for Kids?” It’s a discussion of the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that children have fewer occurrences of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases during adulthood when they are exposed to parasites, bacteria, and viruses as children. It’s an interesting article that increasingly continues to be supported by the evidence. Now, what if I take that concept and apply it to exposure of home-educated students to risk, albeit supervised by their parents.
As a homeschooling mom, I tried to lead by example when raising my children. I started by engaging them in helping out in the community. A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, we went to a local church and packed up food boxes for needy families; we wrapped Christmas presents at the thrift store for people who didn’t have anything for Christmas then helped deliver them; and we raked leaves on a rainy day at a nearby crisis pregnancy center even when we were the only ones who showed up.
The summer of 2005 was memorable. Having sewn since I was 15, I subsequently taught my daughter quite a few skills through sewing classes in my home with her friends. As summer commenced, I couldn’t get rid of a persistent thought that it would be fun to go to inner city New Orleans and teach a hand-sewing class to people who couldn’t afford sewing machines.
I was put in contact with the leader of a ministry that was located on the same street as the New Orleans Mission, an organization that works with inner-city populations, and he agreed to give it a try and provided a small room with tables and chairs for our class.
Sewing is difficult to teach alone because it requires a lot of one-on-one attention, and I knew my daughter could co-teach the class with me; but it was in a very dangerous part of the city, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take my 15-year-old daughter into harm’s way. After praying and fighting my own “battles of the mind,” I asked her to help me teach the class and she agreed.
As a gift, we made up sewing kits for every class member. We drove 50 miles once a week, for 10 weeks, teaching basic hand sewing, mending, hemming, a few embroidery stitches, knitting and crocheting, and we handmade a small, stuffed pillow, something they could take home as a keepsake. We regularly crammed 15 people into that small room and always had 3-5 young men in attendance, who were tired of asking “Grandma” to hem their pants or sew on buttons and wanted to know how to do it themselves.
We had an eclectic group of attendees: teenagers, a mom with five children, grandmas, single young men. We began each class with prayer and a five-minute devotional then jumped right into our sewing. One of the teenaged girls seemed pretty tough and my daughter made it her mission to make this young lady smile and was rewarded after about three weeks. We had a great time and trusted God with our safety.
On the last day of class, we packed everything into our minivan and started to drive away. One of the young men, and the now-smiling young lady chased us down the street as we left, making us feel that we had really done some good if they were sorry to see us go.
Three weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The mom of five in our class had to be airlifted by helicopter from her roof. Others barely had time to leave the city. Ultimately, every single person in our sewing/tailoring class left New Orleans and never returned. We had one short period of time in which to invest in this particular group of people, and we hoped and prayed that they would take the skills we had taught them to their new homes.
That seemed like the end of the story until almost a year later. A disaster recovery organization called Reach Global began in our church parking lot as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and now operates internationally. Our church was affectionately called the “Church of the Stained Carpet,” because we eventually had over 10,000 people from all over the United States stage operations out of our church and drive into New Orleans to gut houses and help people recover from the hurricane. One thing Reach Global volunteers did was park a food truck in a hard-hit area and feed people in the neighborhood; while others worked nearby gutting houses and cleaning up debris.
My daughter volunteered to go into New Orleans with one of these groups to help serve food. Guess where they parked the food truck? In the same, exact neighborhood where we had taught the sewing/tailoring class months before. She had come full circle. After helping me teach and working the food truck after Hurricane Katrina, I saw a heart of compassion develop in her that I had not seen before. I had taken a risk by taking her with me into a dangerous area, but God planned for her to invest in those people, become familiar with the neighborhood, and then return to be a double blessing. Oh, what we both would have missed had we been fearful and stayed home. I will be forever grateful to God for that experience!
Don’t be afraid to come alongside your children in endeavors such as this. They will “step up to the plate” much better than you think; and when God is leading, it can change their lives. Go for it! Take a risk! Trust God, and go find your adventure!
Ruth Sundeen has a B.S. degree in Biology, with a minor in Chemistry. Home-educating her own two children for 18 years, she decided to include other students in their high school science classes, including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Anatomy & Physiology. She added Physical Science to her portfolio, when she started teaching science in private Christian schools for the past two years; in addition, she tutors college physics and chemistry.
Ruth is passionate about teaching science from a special creation perspective, helping students develop a love of science, a strong grasp of the scientific evidence to support special creation, and the conviction that they can make a difference in the world we live in.
She was awarded the 2017 SchoolhouseTeachers.com Teacher of the Year for her Biology curriculum design. She and her husband, Larry, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.