National Teacher Day for an Ex-Teacher

IMG-7873I had big dreams. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism and already a decently impressive resume at the age of 25, I was well on my way to achieving those dreams. The dreams were ESPN The Magazine or Sports Illustrated.

But when I received a job offer for a sports writing position at The Macon Telegraph, a newspaper I’d interned at a few years prior, I turned it down. I decided to stay in LaGrange, Georgia, working for The LaGrange Daily News, a small newspaper that certainly wouldn’t propel me to sports writing stardom.

Then my dreams began to change.

In October of 2005, I had to write the most difficult sports stories I’d ever written. Dazman Anderson, the quarterback of one of the high school teams I covered, was was fatally shot in the back. I interviewed students and staff for dozens of stories throughout the aftermath of Dazman’s death. They were heartbroken. I was heartbroken. I began to learn more and more about the teenage population in Troup County, Georgia, and the issues they faced.

I wanted to be part of the solution.

So one afternoon after interviewing a coach after baseball practice, I sat with him on a picnic table and our conversation turned towards me.

“Natalie, you’re so good with these kids,” he said.

I thanked him, and said I loved covering high school sports, and I loved the kids in Troup County. That’s why I didn’t take the job in Macon.

“No, it’s more than that,” he said. “You really care about these kids. You’d make an outstanding teacher.”

IMG-7877Between the coach’s words, and a stirring from the Holy Spirit, it didn’t take long for me to agree to change my career path. I would be a high school English teacher. This was an especially easy path in Georgia, given their extreme shortage of teachers.

I was accepted into the Master of Arts in Teaching program at LaGrange College, had an informal interview with the principal of Troup County Comprehensive High School, and within a few months I was teaching high school English.

My journey through the world as an English teacher could be a book, even though my stint as a teacher was short-lived. Two years in Georgia, three and a half years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one year in Uganda, and I was done with teaching.

Aside from teaching, I’ve been a Crime Beat Reporter. A Sports Reporter. A Marketing Assistant, a Customer Compliance Administrator, a Communications Coordinator, and currently, a Director of Marketing and Donor Engagement. Not to mention years of being a waitress and working at Dairy Queen through college.

No, I haven’t done it all. But I know enough to know this- teachers work hard. I even feel comfortable saying they work harder than most, if not all, of the rest of us.

IMG-7876Teaching is hard. The hours are awful because they never actually end. The hour of “planning” teachers get each day is usually filled with professional development or other meetings. Teachers spend hours and hours on nights and weekends grading papers and planning for what’s next. They hunt down parents who need to know their child is struggling. They send home notes of praise when a child is performing well.

Teachers not only teach, but they counsel. Children don’t leave their issues from home at the classroom door, they bring them into the classroom with them, and sometimes their teacher is the only one who says, “I’m here for you.”

My job description said I was to teach literature, composition, and grammar. But it was so, so much more than that.

I had a student whose mother had been murdered. By her father.

I had a student dealing drugs so mom could pay the rent.

I had a student who wanted more than anything to get pregnant so she would feel loved by someone.

I had a student who wanted to go to jail so he would have some structure in his life.

I had many students whose parents told them they were worthless.

I had a student whose twin brother committed suicide.

I had dozens of female students who had abortions because their mothers insisted on it. Multiple abortions.

I had a student who was shot over Christmas break, survived, but knew those same people were still after him.

I had a student hauled away from school in handcuffs and placed in the back of a squad car. I never saw him again.

I had female students who cut themselves.

I had male students who told me they wanted to die.

And my job, and the job of my co-workers, was to teach them. English. History. Math. Art. Music. Science. Everything those kids carry into the classroom, and it’s the teacher’s job to get them to focus on education.

But more than that, the job is to get them to pass a test.

IMG-7874When I taught in Georgia, my school took a, “We can do this, and we’re in it together” approach to standardized testing. But when I taught in Indiana, it was more of a, “Your students better pass or you’re in trouble.”

Still, I loved teaching. It was incredibly fulfilling. I loved my students, and, for the most part, my students loved me.

So why did I leave teaching mid-year in 2011? It wasn’t the students. It was politics. Administration. Not being able to teach how I best know how. Standardized testing. The list goes on and on.

As education continues to get worse and teachers keep losing battles with administrations who don’t support them, schools will lose good teachers.

I was a good teacher. Maybe I wasn’t a great English teacher, but I was a good teacher. I know this because I still hear from former students, both from Georgia and Indiana who say, “Miss Trout, you believed in me when no one else did. Thank you.”

I hear from students who just got out of jail who say, “I’m going to start living right, Miss Trout,” because they want to make me proud.

Just today a former student gave me a shout out on Facebook saying, “I appreciate Miss Trout for teaching me in 9th grade and always keeping me positive.”

10372329_10152113701606573_5822805670897977551_nAnd that makes it all worth it. All I ever wanted was to make an impact on some students, and I did.

Don’t forget that each teacher in your child’s life also wants to make an impact. No one goes into teaching for the money or the prestige. Teaching has neither of those. People go into teaching because they care.

I’ve never worked as hard as I did when I was a teacher. So, today, I’d like to thank all of the teachers in my life. The ones who taught me. The ones I taught with. The ones I taught who will one day teach others. Happy National Teacher Day from an ex-teacher who will forever admire the work you continue to do.

Two years at one job. For me, that’s huge. And that’s OK.

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Natalie the teacher.

Newspaper reporter.
English teacher. (at four different high schools)
Marketing Assistant.
Customer Compliance Administrator. (I still don’t know what that is)
Communications Coordinator.
Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement.

You’d have to be crazy to look at my resume and not see a lot of perceived red flags. Some might argue that I’m a risky hire. I’m only 37, and I’ve already had three different careers. I haven’t worked at one location for more than two years since I graduated from Indiana University in 2004.

Until today. Today I have worked for two years at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Ind., and for the first time ever, I hope there are many years to come. I work at a job that I absolutely love. I love the people I work with. I love what I do each day. I love the people we serve. I’ve attained something few people in this world have: job satisfaction.

So was my job-hopping and searching for the right fit for me worth it? Absolutely.

There were certainly some rash decisions in there. For example, I was so determined to get out of teaching in 2012 that I accepted a job that paid almost half the annual salary I was making as a teacher. My debt skyrocketed that year. But I believe all of those crazy decisions led me to where I am now.

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Natalie the Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement.

My career is important to me. It’s been more important than starting a family. Would I rather have my own family right now, or a job that I love? I can say with certainty, a job I love. Granted, now that I have that piece in my life, I would love to have my own little family, but finding job satisfaction was apparently something I needed to attain first.

I would probably never tell a young person that job-hopping is a good idea, but if you can sit in an interview and explain each hop in a way that makes sense, you can certainly get somewhere. Clearly it never stopped anyone from hiring me. And because I never gave up on finding a career and employer that I love, I wake up every day happy to go to work.

Your career moves are your own. You can get a lot of great advice from other people, but it is ultimately your decision. Some decisions deemed “career suicide” are not always as bad as they seem.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the part my faith has played in all of this. God has always made it clear to me that what I do with my career should be honoring to Him. He also gave me the patience and perseverance over the years to not give up on finding work I love.

Today I celebrate two years at The Rescue Mission. It hasn’t been perfect. There have been days when I’ve cried in the bathroom. There have been times I’ve had to leave and go to Starbucks just to get away from someone who was irritating me. There have even been days I’ve hopped on Indeed.com.

But I haven’t touched my resume. It still reads that my most recent job was the one I was at two years before The Rescue Mission. And I don’t plan on updating it anytime soon.

Two years. For me, that’s huge. And that’s OK. I’ll never regret my journey to finding a job that I love and the fact that I never gave up on finding it.

How a murdered high school football player changed the course of my life…

Cancer. Car accident. Old age. Pneumonia. Diabetes. Internal bleeding. Liver failure. AIDS.

There are so many ways to die. None of them make it pleasant for those who are left to mourn. And I don’t mean to belittle anything that anyone has been through, but I do want to say that there is one way someone can die that is quite different from the rest. Most people never lose someone in this manner. Those who have are never the same.72057898_130951453673

Murder.

Someone died, not because they or someone else was drinking and driving. Not because someone ran a red light. Not because the medicine didn’t work. Not because they decided to end their own life. Not because they lived an unhealthy lifestyle.

Murder is when someone dies at the hands of another. On purpose.

October 5, 2005. A morning that shook me so much that it changed the course of my life. Someone I knew was shot and killed.

It actually happened the night before, but it wasn’t until I got to work the next morning that I heard the news. As a sports reporter for the local paper, it wasn’t unusual to get to the office and receive a phone call from a coach. But this was a phone call I would never forget.

Let me back up a little bit. I moved to LaGrange, Georgia in 2004 a month after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism. I began working for the LaGrange Daily News as a general assignment reporter, but within a few months I was a sports writer, which was what I wanted all along. I was covering Georgia high school football, and if you know anything about football, you know Georgia is right up there with Texas. High school football is king. What basketball is to the Hoosier state, football is to the Peach State.

There were three main high schools with football teams. LaGrange, Callaway and Troup. LaGrange was the powerhouse. Handfuls of seniors signed at Division I colleges every year. Handfuls of former Grangers were playing in the NFL. At the time, the team was ranked No. 1 in the nation. While I loved the kids and coaches there, for some reason my heart was at Troup. They were the underdog, often carrying a chip on their shoulder for always being in the shadows of LaGrange.

The Troup kids were different. To an extent, they were friendlier. I became close to the Troup players and coaches because after I’d interview them, the conversation would continue. They’d ask about my life, how I was doing, if I was homesick, what I thought of the Colts game. I always felt welcome at Troup practices and games. The coaches and players became like family to me. It was like I had a bunch of new big brothers, and an entire football team of little brothers.

One such “little brother” was Dazman Anderson. He was injured up until October. And finally, FINALLY he was in condition to play starting quarterback again. This was huge news not only for Troup, but also for the many Division I colleges recruiting Daz (as he was often called). A rough home life wasn’t going to stop Daz from reaching his dreams. He was overcoming his situation. He was doing things right.

imagesHis life was taken from him on the night of October 4, 2005.

A good friend of mine and coach from LaGrange called me at work the next morning.

My stomach turns into knots just thinking about it. It’s a phone call you never, ever think you’ll get. The phone call that someone you know was shot.

I can still hear Coach Veal’s voice, as he asked me if I had heard about the Troup football player who was shot. I almost laughed it off, and my first thought was that someone was messing around with a gun and shot themselves in the foot. But then it got real.

Coach Veal gave the phone to another coach who said, “Dazman Anderson was shot and killed last night.”

I didn’t believe him. I told him he was lying. It just wasn’t possible- I had just talked to Daz the other day. I had just seen him the night before at a volleyball game, apparently just a few hours before he was killed.

But it was true, and it shook an entire county. It shook me. It forever changed me. It forever scarred my heart.

According to court documents and witnesses, Dazman was trying to break up a fight between his sister and her boyfriend, which turned into a fight between Daz and the boyfriend. The boyfriend pulled out a gun. Daz ran. He was shot in the back. That’s the part I can’t live with. That’s the part that makes it impossible for me to let it go. Dazman was shot in the back. He was running away from a situation that could have ended right there with his departure.

But it didn’t. Terry Hubbard made the decision to shoot a 16-year-old in the back and take his life. And not just any 16-year-old, but one with a bright future, one who was succeeding in life despite the fact that life wasn’t easy for him. Dazman was a good kid. Any of his teachers and coaches would tell you that.

The funeral of someone who was murdered is a mystical thing. The funeral of a 16-year-old is devastating. The funeral of a murdered 16-year-old is hellacious. It’s unbearable. I watched from the balcony of the church where I stood with our reporter who was writing a story on it. News stations from Atlanta were there. It was a big deal. A big, ugly, heartbreaking deal.Kash8

I will never forget the scene. An open casket holding the body of a murdered kid. His teammates, all in their football jerseys, sitting and crying together. His mother, escorted by nurses in case she fainted.

I wrote a column about the terrible ordeal. I wrote multiple articles about how it impacted not only Troup High, but LaGrange and Callaway as well. Troup County is a fairly small community, and everyone was either related or knew each other. The death of Dazman destroyed the entire county.

I got even closer to the kids after Dazman’s death. Some really opened up to me about their feelings. I spent a lot of time at Troup High School talking with his teammates, coaches and teachers. Although in the middle of a tragedy, I realized that school was where I wanted to be. I wanted more time with kids, to be there for them, to maybe even change a few lives.

Some of you know the rest of the story. By spring I had enrolled in the graduate program at LaGrange College, and by that next fall I was a fulltime teacher at Troup County Comprehensive High School. My life as a sports writer was over, but this was much more fulfilling. I taught at Troup for two years before moving back to my home state of Indiana, where I taught for four more years. And last year, I taught high school English at an international school in Uganda.

It’s clear that Dazman’s death was so much more than just a heartbreaking experience for me. It was a life changing one.

October has always been my favorite month. It’s my favorite weather and my birthday is the 22nd. But I’ll never forget Dazman or the day he died. I’ll certainly never forget the impact it had on my life.

I had a dream I moved to Africa

I had a dream I moved to Africa, my life was a different story.
I helped orphans, the poor, and refugees, I always gave God the glory.IMG_20140521_070845

I lived in a hut in a village. I wore long skirts that never showed my knees.
Never went to a mall or swimming, Entertainment was under the trees.

The locals often thanked me, God used me to do His will.
Made sure people got food and water, That every African had his or her fill.

I had a dream I moved to Africa, and then that dream came true.
It was nothing like the dream I had, But God, He always knew.

I literally moved to Africa, God asked me to teach some teens.
I visited malls and swimming pools, Ate more than just rice and beans.

Spent time with all my students, spent less with the orphans  and poor.
God told me this was what He wanted. He said, “Natalie, that’s what you’re here for.”

Thought teaching was my “in”, that would get me to Africa like my dream.
But God wanted me there to teach. He wanted me there for the teens.

I accepted His holy mission. There were tears and there was fun.
And before I even realized it, The mission was already done.IMG_20140602_073257

My classroom was nearly empty. My bedroom no longer a reflection of me.
The sunrise I saw on Monday, Could be the last one in Africa I ever see.

My bags were packed, goodbyes were said, I was crying as I waited for my plane.
God comforted me, He gave me peace. He said, “We may do this again.”

I had a dream I moved to Africa, a dream made true by God.
African souvenirs all over my parent’s house, It certainly looks rather odd.

It feels like it didn’t happen, almost feels like I was ever even gone.
Or maybe I just went for a week or two, But definitely not for that long.

I had a dream I moved to Africa, God wanted me there, that I can see.
And now that I’m back in America, I’m still exactly where He wants me to be.

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

What if I’ve missed something?

I imagine myself getting off the plane in Detroit in June. After a long flight from Uganda to Amsterdam and an even longer flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, I’ll finally arrive in America. While Detroit won’t be my final stop, it will be my first steps on American soil in almost a year.

In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.
In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.

I imagine myself crying.

I imagine myself falling to the ground and kissing it. Yes, even the dirty floor of the Detroit airport.

I imagine myself running in slow motion with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in my head, towards the airport Starbucks.

It will be a grand return to my home country, and the thought of it makes my stomach feel like it does when I ride down the huge hill of a rollercoaster at Cedar Point. It’s scary, but it’s also wonderful.

There are 52 days left on my journey in Uganda.

Although I’m as excited as ever about going home, I have to admit: I’m horrified. As my time here comes to a close, the same question keeps popping up in my mind: What if I’ve missed something? It sparks a long list of questions like: If God called me here, what if I haven’t learned everything I was supposed to learn? I’ve grown, but what if I haven’t grown enough? What if I haven’t given enough?

I came to Africa to help. I came here to make a difference, to follow God’s calling, be it for a year or for the rest of my life. But after a few months, I began to think that maybe God brought me here more so for me. He wanted me to grow, wanted me to experience things that would forever change the way I viewed the world.

Now, though, as time dwindles away and my departure date moves closer, I am realizing that’s not entirely the case. I am here for other people as well. They just aren’t the people I imagined they would be.

Maybe I’ve held some babies who were HIV positive. Maybe I cleaned their bathrooms and bedrooms. Maybe I washed the feet of people who had jiggers. But those aren’t the primary people God brought me here for. He brought me here for my students.

And as I worry, “What if I’ve missed something?” I realize that God wouldn’t let that happen.

“For this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” Psalm 48:14

In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.
In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.

He’s been my guide this entire time. It’s because of Him that I have the desire to hang out in my classroom with teenagers long after the final bell has rung. It’s because of His guidance that I have the right words to say to my struggling students who come to me for someone to listen.

I shouldn’t worry about what I’ve missed. God won’t let my time here be wasted. Even though the bulk of my time here was spent with students from places other than Uganda, that doesn’t mean my time was in vain. Even if I was here to show God’s love to just one student, even that was worth my time here.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

I haven’t missed anything in my time here in Uganda. Because I trust in the Lord and lean on Him and not my own understanding, I can’t go wrong. I’ll continue to live the same for the next 52 days, as well as the rest of my life.

Not your average school…

There are ten empty pizza boxes stacked up in the kitchen. Every cup is dirty and in the kitchen sink, and the living room is littered with crumbs and pizza crust. There is no more water, soda, or even mango juice left in the fridge. It’s obvious: teenagers have been here.

For months, my 11th grade female students have wanted to have a movie night and sleepover at my apartment. Somehow the boys also got invited (for the movie part), and last night I ended up with a living room full of 11th graders, spending their Friday night at their English teacher’s apartment.

Our beautiful school campus.
Our beautiful school campus.

It’s something that never in a million years would happen at a public school in America. But this isn’t a public school. And it’s not in America. I teach at an international school in Uganda. The differences in atmosphere and relationships are astronomical.

In December, a co-worker of mine posted this on Facebook: “I went to a birthday dinner this evening. The birthday girl was turning fifteen, and seemed completely unfazed that most of her guests were her teachers. International schools have a different dynamic, that’s for sure!

It’s so true- the dynamics of an international school are unique beyond compare.

The high school I teach at is small. There are 17 freshmen, 14 sophomores, 8 juniors and 10 seniors. Our relationships with these kids are anything but ordinary. Teachers don’t just see students Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 and 3. We hang out together after school, we go to the zoo over Christmas break, we plan trips to Jinja over Easter weekend, we have kids over for dinner, they get ready for school banquets at our homes. That’s just how it is here.

One of my girls said last night at the sleepover, “I would never hang out with my teachers in my home country, but it’s different here. We’re like a family.”

Most of my students are international, so their parents here are very busy doing mission work or working for NGOs. It’s why our roles as teachers are that much more important in their lives. We’re the ones at their ball games, school performances, and spending time with them outside of school. It’s where we fit in to God’s plan.

I think a lot of my elementary-teacher friends think I’m crazy. They see the amount of time secondary teachers spend with their students and just don’t get it. But the things our kids go through in this stage of life are so intense. It’s impossible not to get close to kids when classes are so small and especially at a Christian school, where your discussions often involve matters of faith and spirituality.

IMG_20130814_142112I don’t mind if people look at me funny  because I’d rather spend time with my students than some adults. God didn’t send me here to spend all my time with people my own age. He sent me here to be a light for Him for my students. He sent me here to give advice to my girls who are crying over boys or problems at home. He sent me here to talk to the boys about their future plans and how to properly treat a girl. God sent my secondary-teacher co-workers to do the same things. It’s really a beautiful thing we have going here!

In less than two months I’ll leave this beautiful country and head back to America, but I’ll never forget what I’ve experienced here. I’m leaving this place with what I feel like are now dozens of little brothers and sisters from all over the world. They’ve certainly changed my life. I pray that by the time I leave, I’ll have done the same for at least one of them.

Shining where I’m placed…

I never really understood how youth pastors did their jobs. How in the world did they spend day after day, weekend after weekend with a bunch of teenagers? How can they possibly enjoy spending so much time with kids?

Sure I realized my passion for working with kids when I was a sports writer in Georgia, especially after one I knew and loved was fatally shot and it turned everyone’s world upside down. I knew then that the times I felt most alive where when I was with teenagers.

The hot sun shines down on Kyampisi, Uganda and all its beautiful trees.
The hot sun shines down on Kyampisi, Uganda and all its beautiful trees.

Things changed. I moved to Indiana, and while I still had my share of amazing students, it wasn’t like it was in Georgia. I ended up leaving teaching, only to realize a year and half later that it really was where I belong.

Here I am now, back teaching high school English, only this time at a Christian school in Uganda. Working with these kids here has made me realize something… I get it now. I get how the youth pastor’s do their jobs. They work with simply amazing kids.

Overall, so far my experience here has been a great one, but there are some issues that are hurting my heart. Issues that are bringing out insecurities in me that I haven’t felt since high school. And it has nothing to do with my students. My students have actually become my escape. I enjoy being with them.

I think some people find it odd. I was told it’s encouraged that we sit with students in the cafeteria, and since I’ve started doing so, my days have been better. Some find that strange, I’m sure, and I almost questioned myself a few times about why on earth I would rather spend my lunchtime with a bunch of teenagers than adults?

We are to shine like a sun over this calm, Indiana lake.
We are to shine like a sun over this calm, Indiana lake.

God gave me my answer when I was reading the book of Matthew the other day:

“You’re here to  be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve kept you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house, be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)

God sent me to Uganda to be a light. I will do that in whatever way He wants me to shine, and I honestly feel like the number one way I am to do that is with my students. If people think it’s strange, then so be it. I’m here to be light, to “bring out the God-colors in the world.” And I couldn’t be happier.

Sorry Satan… you lose.

Confession time. When I listed my biggest fears before I came to Uganda to teach high school English, I left the biggest one off the list: I was horrified to teach at a Christian school.

With some of my students my last day at North Side.
With some of my students my last day at North Side in 2011.

There’s no question that the majority of my students at Troup, Northrop and North Side loved having Miss Trout as a their English teacher, but not every experience I’ve had with teens has been pleasant. The worst experience I’ve ever had was with a group of Christian teenagers at my church in Georgia.

I thought working with the youth group would be perfect. I was in my first year of teaching, and putting together my love for God and for teens seemed like the perfect combination. I accepted the challenge of working with a group of sophomore girls. I was ecstatic to be a part of the youth group! I would be a mentor for these young ladies, and I figured it would also help ME stay in line in other areas of my life.

The exact opposite happened. I was open with the girls about my past, like my crazy partying days at IU, and it totally backfired. Their allegiance was to their previous small group leader, a young, pretty, married woman they had known their entire lives who was now leading a different grade. They refused to accept me. My heart was open to them, and they completely shut me out.

It was bad. It was hurtful, and my heart still aches when I think about it. I ended up leaving in the middle of the year, as well as leaving the church, because it was so bad. There was no reason for me to stay when they refused to let me into their lives and their hearts and learn anything from me. I was shattered.

These feelings all came back after I agreed to teach at Heritage here in Kampala. Satan really tried to attack me by saying, “Natalie don’t you remember what happened in Georgia? You can’t teach Christian teenagers. Christian teenagers hate you! Remember?” Satan is so good at reminding us of our insecurities that have been buried for years.

A few days before school started, and my nerves were already out of control about this whole “teaching Christian kids” thing, we were told we had to sign up for a committee. Our options were: special events, performing arts, enrichment, and spiritual life. I didn’t even think twice about it when I heard “spiritual life.” I signed up immediately.

It was like Satan attacked me again. “What are you doing? You can’t talk to these kids about God! Look at the mistakes you made in life! If they find out, they’ll turn on you just like the kids at church in Georgia!”

Satan is such a dirty liar.

Waiting for the rest of the youth group to arrive at last week's kick off.
Waiting for the rest of the youth group to arrive at last week’s kick off.

Can I tell you that I already know these kids love and trust me? Not only do I make them write essays and read books, but I also tell them about everything God’s done in my life and what He can do for them… and they still respect and love me?

Yesterday in my 12th grade class we got into a deep discussion and somehow my testimony came up. As I was telling it, I was starting to have those awful feelings and wonder if I would forever lose them if they knew where I once was in life.

But I kept talking.

And when I was done, one of my students said in his beautiful Kenyan accent, “Awesome, Miss Trout. Thanks for being honest. So many Christians lie about the dark times in their lives, but you aren’t afraid.”

Satan has consistently reminded me of what happened in Georgia so many years ago. But once again, God is the victor. What Satan once used to tear me down, God is using for His glory.

“And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, what could stand against?”

The challenge I didn’t expect…

God likes to challenge us. It’s how we grow. But I never imagined that this would be the way God would challenge me in Uganda. I have quite a task ahead of me.

Each morning from 8 – 8:15 the middle school and high school students have devotions. I am in charge of the 10th graders, a class of about 15.

For the first five and a half years I was a teacher, I was in the public school system with a very clear separation of church and state. Now, here I am, in Uganda, teaching at a Christian International school where I am to lead devotions with an entire class each morning. I felt extremely awkward even being allowed to pray in a classroom.

Of course it’s a beautiful thing to be able to pray, but leading a devotion of some sort? I had no idea where I would start. So yesterday I was honest with the students about not really knowing what to do with them. They said their devos teacher last year asked them for ideas and they wrote down topics on a sheet of paper that she would sometimes choose from.

I thought that sounded like a good idea, but once the students got out their sheets of paper, their minds went blank.

“Miss Trout I don’t know!”jesus-on-cross-4-1364043-m

“I can’t think of anything!”

“Can we just watch Veggie Tales?”

All sorts of excuses were being thrown at me. I tried to get their minds going and prayed for the best.

I was not prepared for some the responses I got:

“How to deal with circumstances you cannot handle.”

“Why God has seemed to change from Old Testament to the new, but the Bible says He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.”

“Why does God get so angry at the Israelites when they’re in the desert (enough to kill them)? But then the Bible says He has infinite love and patience?”

“Why should we believe in Christianity rather than the Jewish religion? Which one is true depends on whether documentation and word of mouth is true. So why should we believe one or the other, how can we know? The same goes for Islam.”

And about a handful of students wrote something like, “Questioning your religion.”

God has given me these students for a reason. They have a lot of valid questions, and I feel God wants to use me to help answer them. But it’s very scary.

Those “questioning religion”, some are Christians and some are not. I have a very serious and timely topic on my hands here to deal with.

And as far as some of the other questions, I think I’ll be in touch with my pastor and retired pastors about a few of those! I think it’s great that they are asking questions like those. It’s when we stop asking questions and stop searching for God’s wisdom that we fall behind in our spiritual lives.

Like all of us in charge of a class for devotions here at Heritage, I need your prayers. I need prayers that God will give me the right words, the right answers, and that my students will have open hearts.

I read somewhere that high school is when people really start to think about what they believe in and why. I want to be the light for God that attracts these students and keeps them close to God. Wish me luck!