Wow. Approximately 57 months ago I was packing up to move to Cedarville University. I had visited the school a few times with the church youth group and decided to attend really by it being a close-knit Christian community with a comfortable atmosphere quite comparable to my upbringing. While I expected to receive an excellent education, great friendships, and a deeper relationship with Jesus, I never expected for God to break my heart for the needs of the city, specifically the urban poor, as He has these last five years in this cornfield. Through people like Pastor Jimmy Mann, Dr. Jeff Cook, Jason Holt, the congregation of All Nations Bible Fellowship, and the folks of the CCDA, God has shown me the need for Christians living out the Gospel amongst the hopeless in our nation’s cities. Now, as I prepare to walk the stage with that goofy cardboard hat next weekend, the city is precisely where He is taking me.
Memphis is the largest municipality in Tennessee with over 1.3 million residents in the metropolitan area (2009). It has been the home to an enormous amount of racism, discrimination, and poverty, and in fact, remains the second-most segregated city in the country to this day (second only to Detroit). Contrary to the understanding of many, racism did not come to a close in the time of Dr. King fifty years ago; rather it underwent a morph to a “better” racism. While hate crimes and blatant, cruel discrimination are now exceedingly rare, systemic injustice across racial and economic lines still run rampant in the cities of our nation and especially Memphis. But God. God is doing a great work in this town. Christians have seen the need, especially in the areas of healthcare and education. They have not just prayed about it (while undoubtedly a required first step), but they have taken action by starting organizations like Christ Community Health Services, SOS, The Collegiate School of Memphis, and the Memphis Teacher Residency.
The Collegiate School of Memphis
The Collegiate School of Memphis was started in 2008 to try to combat some of the staggering numbers in educational discrimination. Collegiate’s mission is “to prepare young ladies and gentlemen for college success within a highly-structured, nurturing, Christian environment.” While the annual tuition of this private Christian institution would be five figures, anonymous Christian donors founded and continued to provide great financial aid to the low-income diverse scholars that make up the majority of the student body. Collegiate is a “no excuses” institution, combating chaotic home lives with a strict, rigorous, and standardized model of education that is seeing great results already. In the fall of 2012, Collegiate will give a college education opportunity, otherwise highly unlikely through the public schools, to over 350 high-performing, low-income scholars in grades 6–11, adding the 12th grade in the fall of 2013.
I have been interviewing and accepted to fill a brand new position at the school as a Technology Specialist. I will be working alongside the Technology Director and Director of Operations to be confident that we as an institution are using modern technology efficiently and frequently to advance the education of our scholars. I will be maintaining classroom technology, administering school servers, performing website maintenance and design, collaborating on new ways to collect, analyze, and present educational data, and instructing secondary computer courses. I start June 11th. I cannot wait. Over the past two months, I was blessed to have three different phenomenal engineering offers from great organizations in Baltimore, Chicago, and Dayton; but I do not think that is the direction God is taking me at this point. While providing an income substantial enough to support my family is a priority, and the engineering field would accomplish that, I want to be able to spend 40 hours a week doing something I am truly passionate about and enjoy doing. The title and salary of an educator or IT specialist do not have the same prestige as a computer engineer, granted, but if people do not invest in quality education for the next generation, there will be a lack of engineers in tomorrow’s workforce. I hope that God will use me to impact the next generation with love for the sciences, as well as give them opportunities to break the chains of cyclical poverty. Additionally, Collegiate will help with some of the cost of my graduate school, and I am considering options to pursue possibly an MBA with an Information Systems emphasis or something along those lines over the next couple years.
Memphis Teacher Residency
My love, Jenny, has been accepted into the Memphis Teacher Residency. With a very similar mission to Collegiate, this group of Christians is seeking to reform the education of the public school systems by preparing excellent educators. This is a highly competitive (<15% of applicants accepted annually) four-year commitment funded by generous Christ-loving donors. Starting at the beginning of June, Jenny will be pursuing a Master’s in Urban Education from Union University free of charge as well as receiving housing and additional living stipends. In addition to her degree, she will be an intern in the public school system, observing, collaborating, and occasionally teaching with mentor teachers. The following three years she will be placed as a full-time teacher in a public school in the city with at least weekly check-ups with her Christian mentor educators. Her real passion is for teaching ESL, and the city’s large refugee population will no doubt afford her that opportunity. If you have heard about Teach for America or similar programs, this is the polar opposite. Rather than providing training and then sending her off on her own, Jenny will receive at least four years of continuous support from other excellent Christian educators working in the trenches alongside her. I am so thrilled and excited to see how Jenny will develop her already extraordinary skills as a teacher over these next few years.
It is going to be an adventure. I do not have a southern accent. I do not have my barbecue recipe. Moreover, I much prefer snow to scorching sun. However, this is where God is taking us. It is going to be a wild ride, and I cannot wait!
Also, for those curious, Jenny is still “just” my girlfriend, but I think that title is very near outlived…