By Rebecca Cherry
| “I the Lord have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from the prison house, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”- Isaiah 42:6|
The Lord gave me this Scripture verse during one summer in college when I had no idea what I was going to do with my life and cried out to God for direction. Following in Christ’s footsteps is a joy (although it can be intimidating at times), and how this verse has applied to my life and my vocational calling has taken some surprising turns.
I never wanted to be a music teacher. I loved music, was in every ensemble imaginable growing up, and sang & played on worship teams for many of my formative years. But I was NOT going to teach music. Both of my parents had been music teachers, and my brother married a music teacher. I was going to live overseas. In high school I went to Russia on a summer mission trip, and I was hooked. I wanted to learn new languages and cultures, live in the community where I worked, and make a difference for Christ.
At one point, a visiting preacher prophesied that I had a teaching gift and would influence little ones for Christ through the arts. I told God this man must be mistaken. I got a scholarship to be a music performance major in college, and for three years I struggled between my love of music and my dream to make a difference in the world. So, I enrolled in a sociology internship in South Africa. Instead of being placed in an AIDS clinic or local nonprofit, I was unexpectedly placed as a music teacher in a Xhosa community outside of Cape Town.
When I got back from South Africa, I knew three things: I loved working with kids; teaching was helpful overseas regardless of what I ended up doing; and I had no idea how to do it well! That fall the Lord told me that it was time to add an education major. So, I laid down my dream of graduating with my friends and stayed a fifth year to finish a dual degree in music performance and education.
After a few tumultuous teaching years, I began wondering if I had truly entered the wrong profession. I decided to explore my dream of living overseas again and interviewed for a teaching position in the United Arab Emirates. As the application process and interviews progressed, I had a niggling sense that God wanted me to teach in Lawrence, MA. I applied to the only music opening advertised– a middle school music position that I did not want- and in faith I went for my interview. All seemed to be going well until I opened my big mouth and told them I wanted to teach elementary music!
| I thought I was finished…but as I was leaving the interview, one of my friends who was working at the job fair stopped me in my tracks and said, “Quick! There’s a panel of elementary principals just finishing their last interview…Go!” I didn’t have an appointment, I wasn’t prepared, and by the time I got there, all the principals had left the room but one.|
The only thing I could think of to say to this woman was “Excuse me, are you interviewing for elementary positions?” She said, “Yes,” and I said, “I know I don’t have an appointment, but I am a music teacher and I would love to work in your school.” She looked at me in shock and said, “That’s so strange! My school doesn’t have a music program and I just decided this morning that I wanted to hire a music teacher. Come on in.” It was the fastest interview I ever had, but at the end she all but told me I was hired. God had taken the reins from me, and all I had to do was obey.
Shortly thereafter, I was also accepted for the teaching position in the UAE. My desire to leave the country and experience the world was strong, but I obeyed God’s prompting instead of my own ideals of what my life should look like and in faith, I declined the job in the UAE.
The last eight years have been a journey of discovering God’s faithfulness. I didn’t go overseas, but I teach in a district where one third of my students are English Language Learners. I use my college Spanish regularly to talk to students and parents. With ongoing gang violence and continual traumas on the community, Lawrence looks less than ideal to some people, but it was exactly what I would have wanted.
I’ve learned so much about my students and their needs, and about the necessity of being a trauma-informed teacher. It has also been a time of refining for me, as I did not realize how much my self-worth was dependent on other people’s opinions of me until bad teaching evaluations forced me to stand in my identity in Christ. I learned humility and worked hard even when it gave me very little returns, and God blessed me with favor in ways I would have never imagined.
I would still love to live overseas one day, but looking back on my time in Lawrence, I can clearly see how God continues to fulfill the verse He gave me in college. It may be a shorter trip home than I imagined, but I get to be a light to the ‘gentiles’- to the hurting, to the vulnerable in my community. I’m an advocate for the voiceless, and I get to use the arts to influence the community and give students hope for a better life. It hasn’t been an easy road, but there is joy, there is fulfillment, and there is quite a bit of adventure.