Four more weeks

Wow. I only have four weeks left of my first school year in Mistissini. A lot has happened since my last update at Christmas. Let me fill you in on a few things:

I had a really nice Christmas and New Year back in Toronto with friends and family before returning to Mistissini to resume teaching on January 8th. Unlike most school boards, we don’t have March Break, instead we have ‘Goose Break’. This is a two week period in which many families go into their camps in the bush to hunt for geese. Because goose hunting season isn’t until the weather warms up, this two week break occurs later in the year than many teachers would like. This means that from January 8th to April 27th, we didn’t have any breaks, which made for a very long stretch of teaching. By the beginning of April, both students and teachers were getting restless and anxious for some time off.

To be honest, that sixteen week period was pretty draining. It was a very cold and long winter, but we all endured it together, and tried to make the best of it. I found that after Christmas, things began improving a lot more with my students. I think their trust in me slowly grew each month and so did their respect for me. I began fostering closer relationships with some of the girls, inviting two of them over at a time for dinner at my place (something that would seem strange in Toronto but is common in this culture). I really enjoyed these times, because we were able to enjoy each other’s company and bond in a way that wasn’t possible at school.

We had a three day weekend for Easter and I spontaneously decided to make the (very long) journey home to Toronto to surprise my family! Even though I knew that I’d be home four weeks later for Goose Break, I really felt like I needed the time at home. Though very short, it was incredibly refreshing for me. In total, I traveled for over 32 hours to get to Toronto and back by car, but it was well worth it! Four weeks later, I was back in Toronto for Goose Break. Those two weeks were such a nice time for me to catch up with family and friends in Toronto. The 14 days flew by but I savoured every single moment and it gave me the energy I needed for the last stretch of the school year!

Now, there are only four weeks left of the school year! I can barely believe that I’ve made it this far. There were a few times, that I really questioned if I could do it. But with a lot of prayer (thank you!) and determination, I pushed through those hard days, and am in the final stretch, as they say. I have mixed feelings to be honest. Part of me is very excited for six weeks off this summer and to be back in ‘civilization’ again. But, another part of me truly is sad. My students are heading off to ‘high school’ next year (7th grade in Quebec), so I won’t see them nearly as often. I will definitely miss them, (yes, even the ones that drove me crazy), because I invested so much into their lives.

I think when you give your all to something or someone, they become more than just a job or a duty, they become a part of your heart. I have literally given my students my blood, sweat and tears and they have grown to mean a lot to me. In all honesty, I feel as though I need a little more time. Just a few more weeks, months, years, to convince them that they are smart and beautiful and worthy. But I know that I did what I could in the time I was given with them. I did my best to show them God’s love and I will continue to pray for them as the move on to the next step in their lives. As for right now, I am committed to finishing this year well, and continuing to give them my best until the end of June when our time together comes to an end.

PS. In February, I had to make the decision of whether or not I would be returning here for the next school year. After much prayer and careful consideration, I decided that I will be coming back in August for another year. Despite its many challenges, I strongly feel that my time in Mistissini is not done yet. It took me two months to even begin to adapt to life here and then another three months to feel like I was actually becoming part of the community. I believe there is more here that God wants to do in and through me and I am excited for what is next. I am not sure what grade I will be teaching yet, it will either be 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th and I feel open to whatever adventure God has for me.

I would greatly appreciate your prayers in these last four weeks:

  1. That I would have the energy to finish the year well.
  2. That I would continue to bond with my students and show them God’s Love.
  3. That I would be able to find a new apartment in a good location.

Thank you again, friends! You are loved and appreciated!

xo Tasha

Advertisements

Heartbreak and Healing

I’ve heard it said many times that God is Faithful and I’ve always believed it, because I know that His Word is true. But, I had never experienced His faithfulness in a way that I could tangibly understand. That is until heartbreak.

There isn’t a pain I have felt that has been as absolutely soul-crushing as heartbreak. It feels like you can’t breathe, like there is an unrelenting pain consuming you from the inside out. It’s hands down the worst feeling I have ever experienced. So many things in this world can shatter a heart. Abuse, death, illness, loss, rejection, abandonment. When your heart is broken, it feels like everything is crashing down around you, into jagged little pieces.

It was in those darkest moments that God spoke to me the clearest. His tender voice pierced through the fog of my sorrow and ministered to the deepest parts of my broken heart. One night, as I cried myself to sleep I lamented to the Lord, ‘God, I feel so very broken.’ God heard my cries. That night, I had the unmistakable vision in my mind’s eye of a stained glass window. In my heart, God spoke to me.

“Just as a beautiful stained glass window is made up of tiny fragments of glass, I will use the shattered pieces of your heart to create something even more beautiful than you could ever imagine. With my Light shining through you, you will be a masterpiece of my craftsmanship. I will heal your heart and you will reflect my glory.”

How comforting those words were to me in my sorrow. The Bible reminds us of God’s promises in the Psalms, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (31:18) “Christ heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (147:3)

Now, when I think back upon those months in the valley, I don’t feel heartbroken, I feel grateful. Grateful that God was close to me in my sorrow, that He carried me when I couldn’t walk, that He healed my heart and restored my brokenness.

God is Good. God is Faithful.

Do Not Fear

Fear. What an ugly four-letter word. Throughout my life I’ve been afraid of so many things. Failure, rejection, abandonment, the future, the unknown. I’ve been scared of not having enough money, enough friends, enough recognition. I’ve been afraid of looking dumb and of being unworthy.

Fear has paralyzed me from making decisions because I was afraid of making the wrong ones. Fear has distorted my perception and caused me to assume the worst about people. Fear has lead to insecurity and anger which has in turn caused others pain. The one consistent thing about fear is that it always leaves me feeling dejected and defeated.

The Bible makes it clear that fear is not from God. God’s plan for me is to live a life of victory over fear, but why is it so difficult to put this truth into practice? After examining my heart, I realized that I had been allowing fear to impair my faith. Fear was clouding my spiritual vision and making me worry that God would let me down as so many others had. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When I choose to lay my fears at the foot of the cross and to focus on the truth of God’s Word, fear loses its power. I don’t need to be afraid of the future because God holds every tomorrow in the palm of His hands. I don’t need to fear the unknown because God has a good plan for my life and He promises to provide for my every need. I don’t need to be afraid of being alone because God will never reject me or abandon me. The God of the universe is bigger than all of my fears and He calls me loved, accepted, worthy.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

The Dangers of Envy

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with envy. I learned from a young age that the the more popular you seemed and the more possessions you had, the more value you were given by society. And so began my very long and very arduous battle with coveting.

The rise in popularity of social media only served to exacerbated my problem as I was constantly bombarded with reminders of other people’s success. Whether a friend was announcing a promotion or a pregnancy, I found myself invariably longing for what everybody else had. It got to a point where I found it difficult to celebrate my friends’ accomplishments because their successes were a bitter reminder of the areas in my life where I had apparently failed.

This constant comparison is not only exhausting, it’s destructive as well. It’s no wonder God commands us in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  As with all of God’s instructions to us, His tenth commandment is for our own benefit. His desire is to protect us from the dangers of envy and coveting. But what is so harmful about desiring what somebody else has?

The definition of coveting is wanting something very much that belongs to someone else. Some dictionaries even go so far as to define it as a strong hunger and thirst for something. To want something, in and of itself is not innately bad. However, the only thing we should be hungering and thirsting after is God’s presence. It is when our desires contort into idols and we become obsessed and fixated on the things we don’t have that we approach a very dangerous and slippery slope.

What lies at the heart of this struggle to obey God’s final commandment? When we covet what somebody else has, we are taking our focus off of God and turning it inward. We ignore God’s boundless generosity and instead concentrate on the things He has not given us. In essence, we are admitting that we don’t fully trust in God’s sovereignty and His provision in our lives. Though envy may seem innocuous at first, a covetous attitude is like a cancer, multiplying quickly and devouring everything in its path.

Here are three imminent dangers we face when we disobey God’s tenth commandment.

  1. We lose sight of our blessings. When we expend all of our energy trying to acquire what other people have, we inevitably take for granted the many blessings God has generously given us.
  1. We become discontent. Coveting promotes a spirit of competition. No matter how much we have been given, when all we see is what we are lacking, we will always believe that we don’t have enough.
  1. We question God’s goodness. Does God really want the best for me? If left unchecked, envy will eventually harden your heart, making you bitter and resentful towards God and others.

If you’ve noticed this negative pattern forming in your thought life, don’t despair! Here are three practical steps we can take to combat a covetous attitude:

  1. Practice thankfulness. Having an attitude of gratitude is the first step to overcoming envy. Start a gratitude journal and count your blessings every day.
  1. Engage in generosity. Generosity is the opposite of coveting. Every good gift is from the Lord and is meant to be used for His Glory, to make known His gospel and to bless His people. The fruit of generosity is joy.
  2. Pray for an increase of faith. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:21 that God will equip us with everything good that we need in order to accomplish His will. We lack nothing in Christ. Ask God to change your heart and help you to see Him as Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord that provides.

When we practice thankfulness, engage in generosity and pray for an increase of faith we will be able to avoid the dangerous pitfalls of envy and coveting. It may take a concerted effort at first, but once we learn to stop focusing on what other people have and instead choose to focus on God’s faithful provision in our lives, we will soon realize that we have more blessings than we can even begin to count.

Eight Weeks Later

It’s officially been eight weeks since I became a sixth grade teacher at Voyageur Elementary School in Mistissini, Quebec! I am currently flying on a private charter plane with six other passengers from Chibougamau to Montreal where I’ll catch my connecting flight to Toronto. I’m so glad that I get two weeks off for Christmas and New Years, I really need the time to relax, rest and rejuvenate. The past eight weeks have been a furious whirlwind of learning, growing and being stretched mentally, physically and emotionally.

Thankfully, by my seventh week working with my class, I had made some definite breakthroughs. The learning curve is finally straightening out and the students are calming down a little bit. The last week of school was a nice change from the regular academic-heavy day to day schedule. We were able to make Christmas cards and decorations together, bake and ice Christmas cookies, and have a class party with a fun gift exchange. It was really enjoyable to be able to just have fun with the students and bond on a more playful, relaxed level.

I even unexpectedly received a few Christmas gifts from my class. One of my most challenging students gave me a lovely ornament and some hot chocolate. When I opened it, she pointed to the ornament and asked me, ‘Did you read what it says?’ The sparkly white ornament read: Best Teacher. My heart melted. It was a touching reminder that even though most of them have a very hard time showing it, these students do appreciate and care about us as their teachers.

Noteworthy news:

1. My cooking skills have improved since moving here! I used to go out to eat almost every day in Korea and a few times a week in Toronto. But in Mistissini, there aren’t many culinary options (one restaurant, a Timmie’s and a Subway). I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to cook ‘restaurant quality dishes’ from scratch. So far, I’ve made Chinese Firecracker Chicken and Beef and Broccoli and they both turned out better than I had expected. It’s fun experimenting with new recipes and I feel healthier overall since I’m not eating as much processed food.

2. I think I’ve actually acclimatized to the northern weather a little bit. Now, if it’s -22 or warmer, I don’t feel too cold. When it gets to -27 and colder, though, I can really feel it in the air and all of my exposed skin takes a proverbial beating.

3. I have tried three new foods since moving here: beaver, moose and goose. The beaver was a little bit gamey for my taste. The moose was tender and delicious and the goose traumatized me because I chipped my tooth on a stray bullet. I hear that a lot of the taste depends on how you cook the meat, so I’ll probably try beaver again to give it another chance. I also want to try bear. I have always loved trying new and ‘exotic’ foods and I enjoy expanding my culinary repertoire.

4. The darkness, though stunningly beautiful, has also proven to be quite challenging for me. Because the sun sets before 4pm, I have been feeling pretty isolated and antsy in my small apartment for the long, cold winter evenings. I don’t go out after dark because it’s too cold and too dark to really do much. Even though I do enjoy my alone time, I’ve been feeling kind of lonely and cooped up.

To try and offset this, I’ve decided to take up a new hobby in 2018: crocheting! I’m excited for something new to do and a creative challenge to try my hand at (pun intended). I am also looking into taking an online Additional Qualifications course from January to March through OISE which will keep me busy.

5. Through visiting the Lodge and reading numerous Cree legends to the kids and have learned a lot about the history of this Nation. It’s filled with many time-honoured, beautiful traditions, and the more I learn and experience, the more I’m falling in love with the Cree culture and its people.

Prayer Requests:

1. Christmas can be a difficult time for some families on the reservation for a variety of reasons. Please pray for my students, that they would have happy, healthy, safe Christmas breaks and that they would feel loved and valued this holiday season.

2. Please pray that I would have a restful and rejuvenating two weeks at home for Christmas and New year. Pray also for travel mercies as I am doing some traveling during my time off! I am really looking forward to just spending quality time with my family and friends. Boardgames, chilling by the fireplace, going to the movies, eating sushi, trying a new escape room… these are all things that I’m really looking forward to and haven’t been able to do for the past few months.

3. When I go back to school on January 8th, it will be a long stretch of teaching. We won’t have a break again until the first two weeks of May when we are off for Goose Break (when the families go into the bush and hunt goose.) I am a little worried about this longer stretch here but I know that as long as I keep integrating myself into the community and intentionally making time to spend with my friends, it won’t be too difficult. Please pray for the upcoming season of my time in Mistissini during the months of January through April.

Thank you so much for your prayers and your love! If you’d like to write me a letter, me address is:

Natasha Spiers
368 Mistissini Blvd. Apartment B
Mistissini, Quebec, G0W 1C0

The Beauty of Mistissini

I’ve been sharing a lot about the daily struggles of teaching, but I haven’t mentioned some of the more beautiful aspects of life in this small community. Here are a few things that have made me pause to thank God over the past five weeks.



The night:

I remember, as a kid, I would visit my grandfather who lived in the country and I’d be able to see the stars. They were so magical. Living in Toronto and Seoul for the majority of my life, I’ve never really experienced darkness. From street lights, to headlights, to Christmas lights, there was always something preventing me from fully appreciating the night sky. Well, for the first time in probably ten years, I was able to see the stars here in Mistissini, and they literally took my breath away. I had forgotten how incredible and majestic the sky was without all the lights to detract from its beauty. I had forgotten how peaceful and serene the darkness of night could be.

The quiet:

While walking home from school the other day, I realized that something was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until it hit me. It was completely quiet. The only thing I heard was the electric buzz of the street light. No chatter, no traffic, no noise. Just tranquility. At night, I sleep so well because of the peacefulness. I had grown accustomed to the constant buzz of city life, but here, that doesn’t exist. There’s something so calming about and the quietness and I realize that I appreciate it more than I thought I would.

The dogs:

If you follow me in Instagram or facebook, you will have seen the many pictures of dogs that I’ve been posting lately. It seems like most families own a dog in this community. But, unlike in the city, the dogs here are allowed to roam free during the days and evenings. They all have collars for identification purposes, but they prance around without a care in the world in -22 degree weather. Total freedom. And they are very friendly! The dogs are honestly one of my favourite things about living here! I owned a dog from the age of 6-20 and I am totally a dog person (even though I love my cats!) There is something so comforting and endearing about their presence. They’re always happy to see me and I really enjoy my new canine friendships.

The snow:

I spent five winters in Seoul and during the relatively mild winter months, it would snow maybe 3-4 times a year. When it did, the snow rarely stuck around for more than a few hours. The most you would ever see would be 2 inches of snow on the ground. People don’t even own shovels in Seoul because of the rarity of snow, instead using brooms to clear their driveways. Brooms! It’s a different world here in Mistissini. The snow is thigh deep in some areas and it snows almost every day. In fact, most families own a skidoo or a four wheeler for getting around as cars don’t fair as well in the snow. It took some getting used to, seeing a skidoo drive past me on my morning walk. Thankfully, the snow here is different than it is in Toronto, it’s dry, not wet. You know the kind of snow we all hate that turns into grey slush almost immediately? Not here! Here, the snow is fluffy and pretty and pure. It’s the stuff snow angel dreams are made of.

The air:

Of the many things I’m learning to love about life up north, the air is at the top of my list. It is SO clean. So fresh. So crisp. Living in Seoul, my lungs suffered a lot. The pollution, the smog, the yellow dust from China. One year, I had bronchitis for six weeks because of my mild asthma and the air quality. Here, it feels like the air is healing for my lungs. It truly is invigorating. I’m so used to being able to smell something in the air. Car exhaust, friend chicken, coffee, perfumes. Here, there’s nothing. While walking to work in the morning, I literally smelled the snow. It’s heavenly.

The pace:

Living in two major cities, it was always about the hustle. From one place the the next, and back again, it was a constant rush. Here in Mistissini, the pace of life is much slower. It’s leisurely. There’s no hurrying. People take their time and the overall vibe of this place is very peaceful. The beautiful landscape of Lake Mistassini definitely helps with the serene atmosphere, as do the snow capped evergreens as far as the eye can see. People care about each other and it’s evident in how they interact and support one another. Life here is a stark contrast to life in Toronto or Seoul, it’s slow and it’s authentic and it’s beautiful. I have a feeling that I am going to learn a lot from this place and these people, and I’m so glad you’re along for the journey.


Thanks so much for keeping up with my adventures here in the north! If you want to write me a letter my address is:

Natasha Spiers
368 Mistissini Blvd. Apartment B
Mistissini, Quebec, G0W 1C0

 

One Month in Mistissini

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been living in Mistissini for one month. The time has simultaneously flown by and dragged on as I’ve laboriously navigated the past four weeks of teaching in this remote community.

For those of you who have been praying for me, I am incredibly grateful and I sincerely thank you; I have felt your prayers. They have given me the patience, strength and wisdom to get back in the fight every time I’ve been emotionally and mentally knocked down, and honestly, that has happened nearly every single day.

The first week here was definitely the most challenging week of my five years of teaching. Thankfully, things have been slowly improving with each passing week, only marginally, but it’s progress and I’m very thankful for every small victory. Here are some updates for those who wish to join me for this ambitious adventure.


The class:

In my last update, I shared that my co-teacher, Dom and I were cracking down on discipline in the classroom and asked for your prayers. As we expected, this has been a minute by minute struggle since many of the students don’t experience discipline or face consequences of any kind in their daily lives.

With much painstaking consistency, they are slowly coming to realize that we mean business and that their disruption, defiance, and disrespect will not be tolerated in our classroom. Sadly, this has meant that we have already put one student in the alternate suspension program and we are currently working on doing the same for two to three others. Our goal is always inclusion, but when their behaviour is preventing other students from learning and preventing us from teaching, placing them in an alternate program for a period of time ends up being best option for all involved.

Aside from the eight to ten students who are consistently wreaking havoc in class, I have seen a improvement overall. Dom and I been able to establish a clear routine and consistent expectations and it seems to be helping a lot. We are also meeting with our students one on one to build rapport and get to know them better. There is much work yet to be done in order to foster a safe learning environment for these students, but the wheels are slowly turning and we are committed to seeing this through.

The hardships:

I have been experiencing a lot of stress due to the chaos that surrounds me every day. The behaviour of the students is absolutely appalling at best and violently abusive at worst. I have been struggling to prevent this stress from manifesting itself physically.

Here are a few things I’ve dealt with over the past three weeks.

  • One of my students  didn’t want to be in detention so she screamed at me, flipped her desk over, and left the class, slamming the door very loudly behind her.
  • I tried to break up a bullying incident between two 11 year olds at recess. One girl had the other pinned up against a brick and was yelling at her within an inch of her face. I had to think fast and tried to de-escalate the situation as best I could but the girl wasn’t responsive, blinded by her anger. Thankfully another teacher saw what was happening and came to help me. Sadly, even with the two of us intervening, the aggressor was able to violently punch the other girl in the face. I couldn’t help but feel responsible; I wasn’t able to save the girl from her assailant’s rage.
  • Several boys from my sixth grade class were involved in beating up another boy in fifth grade. The boy who was injured was lured behind the grocery store by a girl and was bullied and attacked by 7-10 other students. We are starting a school-wide anti-bullying campaign because things are getting increasingly violent at our school and students are getting hurt.

On top of these larger incidents, I am disrespected, degraded and defied every single day by the students at the school. Whether it is students talking back, making snide remarks in Cree, teaming up against me, pushing chairs and desks aggressively in frustration, or simply refusing to do what is being asked of them, each day is a struggle. It is no wonder that several teachers from this community have had to take mental health leave. As you can imagine, these incidents are very emotionally draining and I am completely exhausted at the end of the day.

The Highlights:

Thankfully, it’s not all bad! There were a few noteworthy silver linings from the last three weeks.

  • I got an unexpected hug from a girl who has been quite defiant since I first got here.
  • We had a long, positive talk with one of our boys about his choices and his future. He is facing a lot of peer pressure to be ‘cool’ and part of a local gang and we hope that every ounce of truth we speak into his life will help him avoid choosing the wrong path.
  • I had a productive conversation with a difficult student’s mother and it was so encouraging to ascertain that we are on the same page in wanting her daughter to succeed at this school.
  • I attended the Anglican church last Sunday (one of two English speaking churches here) and it was a lovely service.
  • I’m slowly but surely getting into a routine with my teaching  and moving beyond the most challenging part of what has proven to be a steep learning curve.

I’ve also been able to explore the community and the culture a little bit more. The local lodge is hosting a free dinner from Monday – Wednesday for the next few weeks. I was able to attend last Wednesday and it was such an enriching experience. It was my first time eating moose stew and it was delicious!

I was also able to do some craft sewing and even tried my hand at wood carving (it wasn’t for me as the carving tools were very sharp and difficult to use properly, my wrist was cramping!) Hearing one of the elders bless the food in Cree before we ate brought tears to my eyes. There is something so innately serene and profoundly beautiful about this culture; I am so honoured to be able to experience it first-hand living in this community.

Prayer requests: 

  1. Please pray for my health as I have been experiencing migraines and stomach issues from the stress that I have been facing on a daily basis.
  2. Please pray for Dominique and myself as we strive to find the right balance of love and firmness for our students. Pray also for unity as we get to know each other better and create a thriving teaching partnership.
  3. Please pray for my students that God would soften their hearts and allow them to see us as allies and confidants who love them.
  4. Please pray for the families in this community. I sense that there are many strongholds here including addictions, neglect, and a poverty mentality. Please pray that these strongholds would be broken in Jesus’ name and that this community would be transformed for His Glory!

Thank you so much, friends! ❤ Your prayers and support mean more to me than you know. If you want to write me a letter, here’s my mailing address:

Natasha Spiers
368 Mistissini Blvd., Apartment B,
Mistissini, Quebec, G0W 1C0