New School Year!

I was just looking back over pictures from this summer and can’t believe that was already 6+ weeks ago. Time has been filled with advising meetings, orientations, bonding days, laughter, tears, hard questions, and God answers,

Yesterday was Youth Group. My favorite part of the week. We had a record number of people yesterday but all engaged in the discussion. Somehow a general question lead into “Is Christianity fun? Should it be? What is perception and what is truth?” And so many different directions from there. It is so exciting to hear my students ask honest questions, answer each other, and wrestle with truth. I love how they love and support each other. But more than anything, I love how God has brought each person; each with their own story, experiences, and perceptions. 19 people filled my home yesterday EXCITED to talk about faith and life. A true genuine Christian walk is far from boring! Yes, it has its ups and downs, but share a meal with my students and me.  See them light up when His truth becomes real to them, when his peace comforts them, when the connection is made that their identity is only in how God sees them, not how men judge them.

Youth Group has been having a great time learning about what it means to Love Dar through our church series exploring Loving the City, Loving the Children, Loving the Environment, and Loving the Poor. During the week of service we went and visited out friends at Green Pastures.

One of my favorite activities in August is catching up with my alumni before they head back to school! A few lunches, an pizza night, and a panel discussion in Lifeskills class. I LOVE hearing what every one has been up to!

First day of school!!!! Worshiping with the whole school community is always a blessing.

Back to school night is a great evening of hanging out with the HOPAC community

A significant part of my time as school starts both before and after school starts is helping the new students settle in well. Grade 9 gets a bonding day on campus and Grade 11 get a weekend away on the beach!

Grade 12 also get a day away on the beach after their parent meeting. It is a time to hang out as a class, think about goals for the this year, and discuss some of the details of their senior year.

Finally, I get to get students excited to think about their future in university. One of the ways we do that is by hosting university fairs. The first one for this year was 26 schools from the UK.

A friend introduced me to a new person in our community and was telling him, “She has such a cool job!” Yes, I do. I love my job. But the truth is, my favorite part of my job is everyone’s job. It is loving those around us. It is reminding our students. “I see you, I care about you, and you are loved!” It is looking beyond the marks on a paper and recognizing those less than acceptable marks are a cry for someone to see they are struggling. It might be learning hurdle, it might be a social issue (i.e. bullying), it might be a home issue, and all of it is an identity issue.

Are students lazy? Yes. Are students deceitful? At times, yes. Are students broken? Absolutely. Do they need to be loved anyway? More than we know! They make mistakes. They need to be loved unconditionally but not all of them, sadly probably a majority, have no idea what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. How can we expect them to begin to comprehend God’s love if we aren’t modeling it ourselves; If we aren’t creating safe places for them to share their questions, fears, and stories? That is my goal in my office, in my classroom and in my home. What are you doing to create those spaces for those in your life where you are at?

Thank you for continuing to support my ministry here in Tanzania. Lives are being changed by our team at HOPAC, a team that loves each student unconditionally even with all the baggage they bring with them to school.

Thank you to those of you that responded to my letter this summer. I was able to raise about half of my goal of $500 for monthly support through those who increased their support and a few new ones. Thank you!!!! I had also set a goal of doubling my monthly support team. I am eight people away from that goal. Would you consider being a monthly supporter? I have supporters from $10 a month to $400 a month. Whatever fits your budget! Not able to commit monthly? One time gifts are just as helpful! The teens I feed every week thank you!!!

There is no team I would rather do this crazy job with than this amazing group of people!

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Education Isn’t Just Academics

What is my job? A question I ask myself a lot and once again was trying to describe to the principal candidate in my office. “I am the Academic Counselor, but if you ask my students, they say, ‘Everything!’”_P7A9379
 
As the current principal and I were interviewing a potential student to enter Grade 11, he asked, “what can you offer for mentoring?” My principal replied, “That is what Miss Laarman is here for! That is a good share of her job.” The student was satisfied with that answer and went on to say he loved photography. “That is Miss Laarman’s area too!” 
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Some days it is fun to count the number of “hats” I wear in one day: teacher, counselor, advocate, tutor, Life Coach, photographer, friend, admissions, tour guide, caterer, travel agent, fundraiser, but most important is an image bearer of God (Read my blog about that here!). I hope through all I do, students see it is done in love, God’s love for them! A great way to show that was at the assembly I was honored to speak at in February. Thank you all for praying it was one of the best responses from students I have seen. I was amazing to see God use me to speak to students. If you would like to read more about it, you can read that blog here.
 
It is through His love, student’s lives are changed. Today was the last day of regular _P7A1116classes for our Grade 11 and 12 students. Over the next six weeks they will write as many as 12 tests. As I talked to my seniors today about being their last regular day of class, we reflected back to when they started in Grade 11 and how much they have grown. They readily admit they are a hard class but are now able to see the growth in themselves and as a class because we, as teachers, didn’t give up on them, they didn’t give up on themselves. Because of the love God showered down on them through HOPAC staff, they have grown in their faith and for some have become Christians.
 
_P7A0641I am able to show God’s love here because you, there, support me in your prayers and financially. I know that I and other HOPAC staff are the physical body here, but it is the prayers of many around the world that are changing the lives of our students here at HOPAC. 
 
I was at lunch with a couple of my students this past weekend when they both commented, “HOPAC develops us academically, yes, but more importantly, they change us into better people! They care about WHO we are and help us grow in every way.”What they said next brought tears to my eyes, “HOPAC has allowed me to have the childhood I never had.” I know it sounds strange coming from 19 year old boys, but what they meant was that they were safe at HOPAC to be completely themselves. They can let down their guard and be safe at HOPAC. It truly is a Haven of Peace for them. 
 
As we finish off another school year, a few prayer points and requests:
  1. June 1 & 2 I am taking my photography team to Zanzibar for some experience in street photography, marketing photography, and fine art photography. It is a great time really invest in the lives of these kids. Please pray for _P7A8173great conversations and a safe trip. A few of the students are not sure they will beable to attend because of the cost. I hope to ease the financial burden so they can attend stress-free and as a reward for the hard work and eagerness to learn photography they have shown all year. Would you be willing to donate towards this trip? The total cost of the trip is $700. I would love to raise $500 towards the cost.
  2. Pray for HOPAC as we hire new staff and as I transition once again to friends leaving and new staff coming including out principal. I will have my fourth supervisor in 6 years.
  3. Pray for our seniors. This class does not deal with transition as well as other classes have. Many have already expressed their concerns regarding graduation and classmates leaving. Please pray they can focus on exams and finish well while saying good good-byes. 

Snow Day

 

“Miss, will there be school tomorrow?”

“Miss, will you please show this video to the principal. It is so bad outside! We can’t pass through our road.”

My WhatsApp was a flurry of messages last night as students tried to convince me we shouldn’t have school tomorrow (despite my telling them I have no power over the decision). The light-hearted banter and enthusiasm reminded me of Snow Days back home in Michigan.

Every year in school we would have 3-5 snow days. Days when the roads were too bad to get to school. We usually welcomed a day off school except when it fell on Christmas party day. Some years it was so bad, the businesses would close so even as adults we got snow days! They were a forced slow-down day. Go back to bed, sleep in, read, relax, binge watch the series we were behind on.

Today, as I sit in a hoody and jeans, my students posted this meme (it is only 70 today):

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-16 at 7.11.01 AM

So no, we did not have a snow day, but after having 36 hours of heavy rain, we had a rain day. Many roads are impassable. It is a welcomed recovery day after a very hectic week for both me and my students. With this blessing comes a heavy heart and many prayers for those living in living in lower areas severely affected by the heavy rains.

So today, after a good long sleep, I am enjoying the cool weather, enjoying a good cup of coffee with my pup curled up beside me reflecting on the amazing week I had last week.

A week ago I posted this on Facebook:

My life is always a bit on the crazy side, but this week even more! University fair tomorrow, dinner at my house with my current and new HOPAC scholarship students tomorrow night, guest speaker (Tanya Crossman for those who read about TCKs) on campus Wednesday and Thursday, G12 is running the school Talent Night which will be Friday night at 6:00, and my G11 will be taking the ACT on Saturday so after school prep every day this week. I am barely keeping my head above water this week. Prayers of energy and focus would be greatly appreciated!

It was an AMAZING week! Thank you to all who saw this post and prayed. It was only through God’s strength and peace that I stayed sane and everything was a great success. It was an exceptionally busy week, but it gives a good glimpse into my life and responsibilities.

IG Takeover Week: For TeachBeyond, my friend Jenn and I offered to take a turn doing an Instagram Takeover! So this past week, we shared on @teachbeyond some images from our week. Most pictures were taken on my old phone this week so I apologize for the image quality.

Youth Group: My week started on Sunday with youth group after church. They surprised me this week with a birthday box full of notes from them and others in the church. Then we settled in and talked about how to watch movies with discernment and watched “The Shack”.

University Fair: Three or four times a year, HOPAC hosts university fairs with 20+ representatives. This week, we had 21 Universities mostly from the US.

Scholarship Dinner: Each year, HOPAC offers 2 or three full scholarships to attend HOPAC for grade 11 and 12. After the students have been selected, I host a dinner at my home with my current scholarship students and the new ones. The goal is to provide an opportunity to ease concerns, answer questions, and provide encouragement. I have my current students help with preparation and mostly have them facilitate the discussions. It is a privilege to sit back and hear how HOPAC has impacted them and see how they have grown in confidence and maturity in the time they have been at HOPAC.

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Senior Pics: As we near graduation and end of the school year, Senior pics are due! This week I was planning a night for several students to do a group shoot later in the month and I had the opportunity to spend time with this wonderful young woman!

ACT Prep: Grade 11 students have been preparing since January for the ACT exam. Once a week we would have a tutoring session. The test was this past Saturday so everyday after school this week was reserved to support last minute prep. I am so proud of the hard work these students put in!

Host Speaker: This week was extra special. We were able to host Tanya Crossman author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. She spoke with parents, teachers and in my Grade 11 & 12 Lifeskills classes. My interest and research in TCKs is what first brought me to HOPAC. It was wonderful to spend lunch with Tanya and talk to someone who shares the same passion.

Talent Night: The week ended with our annual Talent Night. This year it was run by the Grade 12 for a fundraiser for their senior trip. It made for a hectic couple of weeks, but I am so proud of the performers and especially the G12 that planned everything!!!

In addition, this week I had Parent Teacher Consultations, Lifeskills Classes, admissions planning, relationship building, calming down seniors and encouraging them through senoritis, Campus Service supervision; As well as planning Graduation dinner, Senior Trip, Graduation, and a photography trip.

I am grateful for “Snow Days”. Days to stop, relax and reflect. It was an amazing week last week and now, after my TZ “snow day” I am ready to jump in tomorrow for another great week!

 

 

 

The GOOD Shepherd

At HOPAC, over 100 of our students traveled four hours to a Young Life camp for the “The best weekend of their life”. It was an amazing weekend! I could tell so many stories of challenges, changed lives, and the spiritual battles around us. But one little story stands out. It seems insignificant. There is a flock of sheep on the grounds of the camp. A few days before we came, twin lambs were born. The girls in my cabin thought they were adorable and wanted to catch them and pet them so they went running after flock. A few minutes later they returned.

“Miss, we couldn’t catch them”

“Did you think when you went running after them they would just stop? That isn’t how you catch a sheep. “ It got me thinking, is this how we feel? Like we are just grazing through life then a big scary being ‘God’ starts chasing us saying, “Come here! I want you!”

“Ahhh what is this thing! It must be bad! Runnnnn!!!!!!” or “if he catches me then he will know how messed up I am and not want me”

I realized, If we have grown up in the church, we have heard many times. “Jesus is the good shepherd. We are sheep.” But this doesn’t make any sense if we don’t understand what this means. I mentioned this to a co-worker and he said, “Sounds like you are leading assembly!” As I gave it more thought, I remembered The Friday we left for YL _P7A9578camp, I had to run home a minute. As I was walking up to the back gate, a sheep was on campus running towards me. I tried to herd it back towards the gate but it didn’t know me so I just scared it more. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that I encountered this sheep the same weekend. Fast forward a month and here I am sharing my message to 160 senior school students. There is a message God wants you to hear about the Good Shepherd.

Did you know sheep are the most referred to animal in the Bible! Let’s look at a few:

Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3

All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved. Isaiah 53:6

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Jeremiah 50:6

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  Matthew 18:12-13

You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector. I Peter 2:25

Psalm 23

and John 10

Sound familiar? Do you understand them?

When I told my dad I was going to be talking about the shepherd and sheep, he asked, “do you know the difference between a shepherd and a sheep herder?” I didn’t. He said a shepherd leads and a sheep herder follows behind, pushing them to where he wants them to go. Generally, sheep don’t take well to pushing. Sheep need a shepherd, they need to be lead.

_P7A4620Driving from Arusha to Serengeti, I would see several boys with their sheep at the same watering hole and wondered how they figure out which animal goes with which shepherd. The shepherd calls them and they know their master’s voice! They trust him and follow him. He leads them to food and water. He provides for his sheep.

More importantly he protects the sheep. When animals are threatened, what are their natural instincts? They will either Fight, flight or take on a posture. Think about sheep- can they fight off a wolf? Rear-up, bit, kick, attack? Can they outrun a wolf? How about a scary posture?  like a growling dog, a spitting cat? See why sheep need a shepherd? A good shepherd is fearless and will fight off the wolf with his rod and staff.

Did you know, Sheep will not lay down unless they feel safe. Scared sheep will stay standing or run. Even the FEAR of a wolf too close will kill a sheep. So only when a shepherd leads to them pastures where they feel safe will they fully rest by laying down.

We too need a shepherd. A GOOD shepherd. You might be thinking, sheep sound like dumb animals. I am NOT a dumb animal! I don’t need a shepherd. I am doing just fine on my own. Teachers- How many of you thought you were just fine on our own without a shepherd at some point in your life? Where you? How many of you thought you could protect yourselves only to find out later that you needed a shepherd to protect you? How many of you have wandered astray in your life and the good shepherd came and found you and brought you back?

_P7A0500As it says in John 10, our shepherd calls us by name. Can you hear his voice? Or are other voices, wolves, or other predators leading us astray? We try to protect ourselves, but get weary and frightened. We build walls around us to try to protect ourselves but actually then isolate ourselves from the flock, from the green pastures and refreshing streams. But even when we build this wall, there is a gate. We run around on our side of the wall like the lost sheep on campus. All kinds of fears prompting our survival instincts. We run, run from people, run from our past, run from God. Maybe we run in circles looking busy, trying to feel fulfilled. That is what I do. I run. I run and hide but there is no place I can go where he can’t see me. We fight! You don’t know me. You don’t know my story! Get away from me. Spread rumors, act out in disrespect, bully, say cutting words. Maybe literally try to fight with fists. Or we take on a scary posture. Glare a people, ignore people, take on a bristly body posture that says don’t come near me.

This might work short term, but not against the wolves or the thieves. The evil in the world that wants to steal our joy and peace, our souls, to keep us from finding our eternity with Christ.  The false teachers, bad religion, the cultural lies. Those wolves and thieves aren’t scared of sheep. That is why we need our shepherd. Without him we would be devoured. Picked off one by one by the wolves that come to kill and destroy. Our shepherd, He isn’t afraid of the wolves! The wolves are afraid of him! That means, shouldn’t we want to be right by his side? To show how much he isn’t scare of them, He prepares a FEAST for us in the presence of those enemies. He laid down his LIFE to protect us from them.

Psalm 23 says that our Shepherd is our provider. He says we will not lack. He will provide what we need. He leads us to green pastures where we feel safe enough to lay down and truly rest. When we run around trying to protect ourselves and provide for ourselves without the shepherd we grow weary. We can’t sustain it. The shepherd leads us to a place where we can find contentment and peace- not to be confused with being happy all the time but peace knowing our shepherd has our back. Where HE can restore our soul. Our mind, passions, desires, feelings and emotions.

He doesn’t promise a life without hardship, but he leads us through those valleys, through the shadow of death. But we don’t need to be afraid! Because we are following our protector! And finally, not only does he protect us, provide for us, bring us to a place of contentment and peace-, we get to dwell in the house of the Lord forever! He came so that we could have life and not just life, but an abundant life! What is an abundant life? Well it isn’t a life where you feel you are lacking something, empty and dissatisfied. It is a life that is meaningful, purposeful, joyful, and eternal.

The shepherd doesn’t “put up with us”. He KNOWS us. We are his prized possession. He _P7A4608wouldn’t lay down his life for something he didn’t care about. He looks for us when we wander away. He never thinks, “that one is hopeless or that one has wandered away one too many times. I give up on that one. NEVER! He doesn’t want a single lamb to get devoured by the wolves. He doesn’t consider how broken, bruised our messed up we think we are. He doesn’t sit there, “well they did this, they are now damaged, dirty, not as valuable… not worth my time to get them” Absolutely not!!! Please hear this! What he sees is his beloved little lamb is hurting and he wants to help you heal.

So, when John says the shepherd stands at the gate calling, who is he calling? Think he isn’t calling you and that is why you don’t hear him? He is calling those who know his voice and have wandered away so those who call themselves Christian but aren’t representing Christ in their lives. He is calling those who aren’t Christian and are running around lost seeking rest somewhere but aren’t finding it in their family’s religion or a life without religion. He is calling those of you who are Christian to a life closer to him.

Growing up in a Christian home, I had heard about God speaking but never really understood what that meant. I would listen to messages and go on “Silent Retreats” to learn to listen for the voice of God but only recently, maybe within the last year can I say I have really learned to recognize his voice. Before that, he used other people or my gut to confirm decisions or choices. My conscious wouldn’t let me be okay with things that were counter to his will. About a year ago, I was taught that God’s voice isn’t a different voice. It is my own voice speaking truth in love. Since learning that, I am recognizing more when he is speaking to me. Any time I question if it was him, I ask for a confirmation and many times someone will tell me exactly what God told me. For example, when I was preparing this talk, there were so many different directions I could have gone. As I prayed about it, God told me to speak on the shepherd as our protector. Before I had prayed, I sent a message to a friend of mine that had grown up raising sheep and was now a pastor. I asked her what came to mind regarding the sheep and shepherd. Her response- the most important thing is he is our protector!

_P7A0519So the protector, the Good shepherd is standing at the gate in your wall calling you to follow him to green pastures where you can find rest in him, where you can heal. To streams of water so he can fill you, bless you to over flowing with peace. What is keeping you from hearing his voice? From allowing HIM to protect you? What fears are drowning out the shepherd’s voice that you feel you need to protect yourself from? Are there distractions? He isn’t a big scary being running trying to catch you! He wants so much more for you than a life of fear, worry, regret. He wants to lead you to freedom from whatever fears or regrets are holding you captive! Take a moment in silence. Ask the good, loving shepherd, “What is holding me back? What do I need freedom from? Why have I built walls and what do you need to do to be freed from my own captivity”  He has left the 99 to find you. He isn’t chasing you down like a mad man. He is a shepherd looking for his prized possession because he loves you! You are too important to him to abandon you. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you call to him he comes to you.

This Is Why You Are Here

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

I have so much to be thankful for. This year I am especially thankful for my youth group. It was started for my Grade 11 and 12 students that were coming to God’s Tribe on their own. Last year I had about 5 this year it is over 10 and growing. We meet at my house after church, share meal together, share the best parts of our week, and spend time praying for each other. Then, I just ask, “So what did you take from today’s message?” and usually an hour or longer discussion goes from there. The group is now expanding to college age and Grade 10 too as friends invite friends.

A few weeks ago, our group was scheduled to help set up church early. As we were

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Enjoying American Thanksgiving together. Missing a few this week. 

sitting there, I was speaking with one of the students about patience and how God was still teaching me patience. “You? but you are so patient!” So I gave the example of how was waiting on God to know if this was my last year or not and how that was such an exercise of patience right now. Every year I re-evaluate and pray to know if I am called another year. Every other has been easy. Last year was a little harder. This year, I needed a clear message from God. I just didn’t know for many reasons.

Just before church started, I was going to head over to the seat where I usually sit and the kids all said, “no stay here on the bleachers with us!” How could I say no, haha. As we were in worship, one of the new students leans over and says, “look miss, everyone is here because of you.” I just smiled and continued singing, then the still small voice said, “This is why you are here, stay” tears… I was pretty sure that was the affirmation I had been waiting for. I know it was from God. It came with such peace. But yet, I was hesitant to say 100% that I am committing to be here another year.

I had been sick the previous week so I missed my regular Bible study. That same Sunday in the evening, I watched the video I had missed. Soooooo much spoke to me. Not letting fear make my decisions. Trusting what might seem strange to others. Stepping out in faith. Wow! It would not have had the same impact if I had been present Tuesday. I couldn’t deny a second longer that God was clearly calling me back to Tanzania for 2018-19 school year. So I am excited to say, I am staying another year!

I am blessed to work with amazing staff and students, to be supported by so many people in so many ways, and to serve an amazing, loving God!

Thank you all for your prayers and support. Today on giving Tuesday and as we look towards the end of the year, will you consider supporting the work being done with teens in Tanzania? From youth group to pizza nights, photography training, university preparation, and developing life skills, students are being impacted and seeds of faith are being planted and watered. Funds raised the end of this year will be used for food for youth group ($50/week) and pizza nights ($75/week) as well as journals, Bibles, and Bible study resources for youth group.

Praying for you all to have a blessed Christmas season!

The Power of Pizza

The power of pizza- or any food for that that matter- has the power to bring peopleIMG_7087
together, especially teenagers! My second year here, I moved to a new home to be able to better host events and invite students into my home. My place is a little one bedroom cottage. I started pizza night to give them a few minutes to relax in their stressful week with their peers in a safe environment. Students have learned to cut onions and pineapple, experiment with spices, and learn some basics of cooking. We laugh, play games, sing, dance, and just have fun. This time has lead to encouragement, faith stories, and real conversations.

My years of youth ministry has taught me there is a power in eating together. Do a quick google search on the value of sharing meals together. We let down are guard, we are more relaxed when we share a meal. Think about all the meals shared together in the Bible. Think of all the events and how food is the central part of those events. It isn’t just because we need to eat.

This week, my Grade 11s broke the record. Most years were 6-12 students. Last year we had a few times of 17 or 18. Today, there were 33 students in my home! Wow!!! Times of laughter, sharing games, and scarfing down pizza like savage wolves. One pizza would come out of the over and 15 hands would hover over the pan, as the pizza was cut, the slices disappeared.

But more than all the fun, I pray that students know we love them and they see source of the love! I pray they see they can have a great time without all the things the world says they need to have fun. And above all, I pray they see the love of their Heavenly Father through us and the bonds built open doors for conversations with peers and teachers. It is one of the highlights of my week and I know it is for the students as well! Thank you all for your support that enables me to be able to share the power of pizza.

Thank you!

This summer I focused on raising money to replace my well used camera equipment. I am thrilled to report I was able to raise enough to buy the camera, computer and one of the lenses I needed! Thank you all so much for your support. Having new, perfectly working equipment has relieved so much stress. It was all quickly put to work. Here is a taste of the last three weeks: