First Week of Teaching

I survived my first week teaching in the Cree Nation of Mistissini.

To sum it up: It felt like I was starring in a hidden camera documentary entitled: Sixth Grade Psychological Warfare.

Context:

Let me give you a few details so you’ll better understand the structure of my new role. I am team teaching with another sixth grade teacher who has been at the school since last January. Her name is Dominique and she’s a great.

There are four sixth grade English classes at the elementary school (there are also two sixth grade French classes as the students have a choice to pursue their education in English or in French). Two of the English classes are team taught by Elaine an Laura who have been at the school for over five years and the other two are taught by Dom and me.

Team teaching:

Team teaching means that both Dom and I are the teachers of two 15-student classes that were joined together to make one 30-student class. The students are taught some subjects as one large class (science, art and social studies) and they are separated into two classes for math and English according to their comprehension levels.

Team teaching is unconventional and it has its pros and cons but Dom had been wanting to give it a try for a while and I thought it was a great idea, so we are going to test it out until Christmas break to see if it works for us. I think we make an awesome team.

A challenging week:

Here are just a few of the things that took place during my first week of teaching, many of them occurring simultaneously:

  1. I was sworn at and mocked in the Cree language.
  2. The students defied 90% of the instructions I gave them.
  3. They constantly and loudly complained about what they were asked to do.
  4. Students threw things at each other during class.
  5. They pushed, shoved an hit each other in the classroom.
  6. They constantly argued with and antagonized one another.
  7. A student kicked the door in anger.
  8. Several of them threw objects against the wall in defiance and frustration.
  9. They refused to stop talking when I was giving directions.
  10. They walked out and slammed the door when they got upset.

As you can imagine, it has been a very challenging week, physically, mentally and emotionally draining. But at the same time, it’s been invigorating because this week has  given me confirmation of why I’m here.

My purpose:

I firmly believe that God called me here to show His consistency, acceptance and love to these students, many of whom have had childhoods wrought with abandonment, rejection, and sometimes abuse. There has been a lack of consistency, consequences and structure in their lives and their tough exteriors are carefully constructed facades meant to protect vulnerable, wounded and hurting 11 year-old hearts.

The students are accustomed to seeing teachers come and go on a regular basis. Many teachers can’t handle the stress of this environment and the dejection of a seemingly hopeless situation, and I can completely understand why. But because of this lack of consistency, the students have learned to not trust authority figures, leading to an outright lack of respect for their teachers.

Love and devotion:

I was talking to one of the women in the community who works as a doctor at the clinic here and she gave me a poignant analogy of the situation. She told me that the students don protective shells because it’s how they’ve learned to survive. They’ve been so hurt and disappointed that they’ve adopted these tough exteriors as defense mechanisms. These shells, equipped with sharp thorns, will pierce anybody who dares to get close enough.

She went on to share that genuine compassion and true devotion is not giving up on them even though it means that I’ll get pricked endlessly. It’s not retracting my affection even though loving them is painful; it is exhausting and overwhelming and thankless in many ways. Their constant anger, frustration, aggression and disrespect is difficult to endure. But, I do love them and I am devoted to them. Because God loves them and I have committed to loving these kids as He does.

Speaking truth:

I was able to have a meaningful conversation with one of my more defiant female students this week. With all sincerity, she asked me, “Am I always bad?” My heart broke. I responded emphatically, “No! You are not bad, you are good. You are smart, capable and good. But sometimes, you make bad choices.” I went on to talk to her about how all of our choices, good and bad, have consequences that affect us, others and our futures.

She listened intently and I could tell she was absorbing the truth that I was sharing: her behaviour is separate from her identity. Many of these kids have been taught either implicitly or explicitly that they are bad and cannot change. It will take a considerable amount of time and effort to help them unlearn the lies that have been spoken over them and replace those lies with God’s truths regarding their identity. They are not bad, they can change, there is hope.

This small victory made the entire arduous week worth it. It strengthened my commitment, bolstered my courage and ignited my conviction. I will withstand the insults to show them God’s consistency. I will endure the hostility to show them God’s acceptance. I will suffer the thorns to show them God’s love.

Jesus did.

Prayer requests:

  1. We have cracked down on discipline to bring structure, accountability and logical consequences to the classroom, please pray that we are able to uphold these rules and procedures fairly and consistently.
  2. Please pray that I would have the patience, compassion and firmness to love and teach the students well.
  3. Dom and I spend a lot of time together, planning, preparing and teaching the class. Please pray that we would continue to build a strong and effective partnership.
  4. Please pray that I would have an overflow of God’s strength because there is no way that I can do this in my own strength.

Thank you so much, friends. I love and appreciate you! If you want to write to me, I’d love to get your letters! My address is:

368 Mistissini Blvd, Apt. B, Mistissini, QB, G0W 1C0.

xo Tasha

 

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Moving to Mistissini

If you had told me one year ago that I would be moving to a small reservation in the remote terrain of northern Quebec to teach 6th grade in the Cree community, I definitely would have given you an ‘you’re joking right?’ look and walked away swiftly. But, as is often the case, God’s plans are very different from my own and well, here I am, all moved in and ready to meet my new class of Cree pre-teens tomorrow morning.

I want to keep my blog updated to give you a first timer’s perspective of life up north. Here are a few things that you might find interesting about the adventure so far.

The journey here:

In order to get to Mistissini (which means Big Rock in Cree… possibly a foreshadowing of my future engagement ring? No? Okay.) I had to travel first from Toronto to Montreal and then from Montreal to Chibougamau (the city with the nearest airport.) From there, I had to get a taxi for the hour and twenty minute drive to my new community.

The community: 

Mistissini is technically a reservation and a dry community, which means they don’t sell alcohol anywhere on the reserve. The community size is around 5000, a huge change from the hustle and bustle of life in Toronto and Seoul. The community includes a grocery store, a community center, a post office, three schools (pre-school, elementary and high), four small churches, a health clinic, a hair salon and two gas stations. They even have a Timmy’s and a Subway!

The apartment:

I have my own one bedroom apartment that is small but starting to feel cozier every day. I am in a fourplex so I have three neighbours who all seem quite friendly. The apartment is only a ten minute walk from the school, which is great since I don’t have a car. We even have a fenced off backyard with a shed and a deck for enjoying those warm-ish summer nights.

The landscape:

Mistissini is located on Quebec’s biggest lake named Mistassini, which makes for many a beautiful and tranquil view. People here live in small houses and trailers, and the ‘town’ isn’t very spread out so you can walk from one end to the next without much difficulty. There are many trees and the air is beautifully fresh. The average winter temperatures drop to -25 degrees C with several feet of snow from December – March!

The school: 

There are two main schools in Mistissini, Voyageur Memorial Elementary School and Voyageur Memorial High School. There are two streams in the Elementary School, so students can choose to be taught in either French or English. There is also a pre-school that is taught in Cree. All students take classes to learn the Cree language and culture which is very important to the community as it should be. High school students even learn how to hunt and prepare animal such as moose for food!

The Cree Nation:

The Cree are the largest First Nations group in Canada. Most Cree people live in the plains and the subarctic regions of the provinces spanning from Alberta to Quebec. Cree is also the name of the spoken language which belongs to the Algonquin language family. Maintaining their language and their cultural traditions is very important to the Cree people and many time-honoured ceremonies and rituals are still practiced today.

Please pray that:

  • My transition to living here would go smoothly
  • I would be able to connect well with my students
  • I would be able to make friends with others in the community
  • I would find a church family to be part of
  • This unfamiliar place would begin to feel like home

Thank you friends, I really appreciate your prayers and support! If you want to write to me, I’d love to get your letters! My address is:

368 Mistissini Blvd, Apt. B, Mistissini, QB, G0W 1C0.

xo Tasha

Honour Your Father and Mother

Of the ten commandments given to us by God, I have consistently found this to be one of the most difficult to put into practice. Throughout my life, I have routinely fallen short in my quest to obey the fifth commandment, ‘Honor your father and mother…” Growing up, I was a rebellious and disobedient teenager. Even into my adult years, I struggled to be respectful in my interactions with my parents. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult until I participated in a program that taught on the topic of healing and forgiveness.   

I realized that although I had a deep love for my parents, it was buried under an avalanche of anger and resentment. As a child, I was deeply affected by my parents’ divorce and the tumultuous years that followed. I didn’t know how to deal with my pain at that age, so I attempted to ignore it. But as the years passed, the pain didn’t disappear, contrarily, it festered and grew into hostility and resentment.

As I dug deeper, I discovered that these negative emotions were fueled by unforgiveness; I was unable to move past my parents mistakes and sins. As I remained a prisoner to my own emotions, not only was my disobedience to God preventing me from experiencing His peace and joy, it was hardening my heart toward my parents and prohibiting me from honoring them the way God commands. But how do we honor our parents when we’ve been wounded by their sins? Are we still obligated to honor our mother and father when we don’t believe that it is deserved?

The answer is yes. God uses no uncertain terms in this regard. “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother….” Deuteronomy 27:16. These are powerful, indisputable words. God doesn’t say, ‘Honor your parents if…’ If they were perfect. If they never disappointed you. If they did everything right. No, God’s command does not come with any loopholes.

As children, we honor our parents through our obedience to them. As we move into adulthood, honoring them takes on a different role. Honor is defined as, ‘to regard with great respect and esteem’. How do we do this when it’s difficult, when we have been hurt, or when we don’t feel like it? Honoring, much like love, is not a feeling, but a choice. Here are three ways that we can practically obey God’s fifth commandment.

  1. Forgive our parents. We need to acknowledge that our parents are only human, with their own struggles, sins and limitations. When I made the conscious choice to forgive my mother and father, I was able to see them as broken people just like me, in need of grace. By extending grace and forgiveness to our parents, as God has first done for us, we not only honor them, but we honor God through our obedience.
  1. Affirm our parents. Instead of dwelling on the ways in which our parents have fallen short, we can choose to focus on the things our parents did well. We can thank them for the sacrifices they made and the support they provided throughout our lives. This includes not trying to change them, but instead honoring them despite their flaws. A little affirmation often goes a long way.
  1. Pray for our parents. We can ask God for His eyes and His heart toward our parents. Repent of the times that you’ve have fallen short of obeying God’s commandment. Pray to see your parents with compassion instead of bitterness and with appreciation instead of as a image of unmet explications. God wants to heal our hearts and give us the wisdom and discernment needed to honor our parents as He instructs us to.

Our love for God and our desire to bring Him Glory is demonstrated through our obedience. In the Bible, God declares, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” John 14:15. As we seek to honor our parents through forgiveness, affirmation and prayer, we honor God through our obedience, displaying His power and glory for the world to see.

In Memory of…

My sweet friend, Athena tragically passed away on May 18th, one week after giving birth to her first child. Just 31 years old, she was a beautiful soul, confident, courageous and compassionate. I will especially miss her big, gorgeous smile and the way her eyes glinted when she laughed. She was wise beyond her years and throughout our friendship, she gave me guidance and encouragement that I will never forget. She lovingly challenged me to be a better person and for that I am forever grateful.

Here is a poem I wrote in her honour.

A radiant light shone deep from within,
T enacious and loyal, her warmth drew you in,
H er bubbly laugh was contagious and bright,
E ncouraging others with kind, tender might,
N urturing, loving, a wonderful friend,
A ripple of beauty that will never end.

Christmas in Athens!

Merry Christmas from Athens, friends! ❤

We arrived at our Airbnb at around 2:30am on Wednesday and the past few days have been a blur of jet lag, getting settled in and exploring the neighborhood. The place we’re staying is pretty cozy (read tiny) but it’s clean and the owner is really friendly so I’m happy.

I still can’t believe I’m spending Christmas and celebrating the new year in Greece this year! It’s only the second Christmas that I’ll be away from home so I’m feeling a little homesick, but I know that I’m where God has called me to be in this season, so thankfully, I have peace about it.

We’re starting our ministry in the refugee camps on the 28th. Until then, we’ve been doing some prayer walks and getting acquainted with the area.

I thought I’d post a few pics of the neighborhood so that you’ll have an idea of where we’re staying. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, friends!

Love you, all!

 

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Greek sweets for days.

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I love the colorful buildings.

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The square by our Airbnb.

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I ❤ Greece.

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Gyros are SO much better in Greece!

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Snowcapped mountains in the distance.

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Acropolis on the hill.

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Olives!

YWAM Adventures – Part 2

Hello incredible friends and faithful supporters!

I can hardly believe that the day has come for me to leave California and head to Europe for my DTS outreach!

After three months of training in LA, I’m boarding a plane this afternoon to Athens, Greece! We will be serving in various refugee camps for four weeks in Athens and then traveling to Paris for six weeks to work in the area of anti human trafficking.

I am not able to bring my phone or computer with me, so I will have very limited access to the internet over the next two and a half months.

Please keep me and the rest of the team in your prayers for unity, protection and boldness as we love and serve the vulnerable in Jesus’ Name.Thank you so much for your support, friends. It really means a lot to me.

Prayer Requests:

Team Unity:

This is so crucial to our trip being successful. Please pray that we would all get along well and be REAL and vulnerable with one another. Pray that we would create genuine intimacy and work well as a team, honoring each other and being kind and encouraging. We want to be marked by our love for one another and how we serve each other and those around us.

Protection/Safety:

Please pray that we would get there safely and have no travel issues or problems (including not losing our luggage, no flights being delayed etc.) Pray that none of us gets sick or injured while we are there. Often, when traveling to another country, we can get sick because we’re not used to the bacteria there etc. Please pray that we don’t have any stomach issues or any other health concerns that would bring us down and get in the way of our work.

Our Ministry:

Please pray that we would be servant hearted and that we would have good attitudes, even when we are not feeling the greatest. Pray that God would bless our ministry and that many people would come to know of His Great Love for them through the love they see from us. May we reflect Christ in all we say and do! 🙂

Personal Growth:

Please pray that we would all allow God to work in our hearts and minds while on this trip. Pray that we would all grow in our character, in our compassion and in the way we view ourselves and others. Pray that by the end of the 10 weeks, we are not the same people that we were in the beginning, that we would be even better at loving, forgiving, serving and sharing God’s Hope.

I’ve included a few photos below as well as a song that  has spoken to my heart while I’ve been in LA. I pray that God will always be the King of my heart, my anchor, my motivation, my peace and my sustenance.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 6:1-3

Love you, friends! ❤

 

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My tiny sleeping bag!

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Christmas Party!

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View of downtown LA from City Hall.

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Palm Trees 🙂

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My outreach team! ❤

 

No Filter

What do the photos of a magnificent sunset, a perfectly plated piece of cake and your friend’s adorable new puppy have in common? They’ve all been considerably edited before gracing the internet with their artistry. A bit more contrast here, a little less saturation there, and voila! Your picture was just transformed from bland to brilliant in ten seconds flat. In fact, altering photos prior to posting them online is such a common practice that it has become significant to note when no enhancements have been made, hence the popular hashtag, #nofilter.

But what’s at the core of this obsession with picture perfection? Could it represent something deeper than the desire to wow your friends with your phenomenal photography skills? In my experience, the answer is yes. Sadly, it would seem that altering photos and altering ourselves are merely two sides of the same image-obsessed coin.

Have you ever met somebody who regularly changes their personality depending on who they are with? Perhaps he or she acts shy and reserved with one group of people, but suddenly becomes wild and reckless when hanging out with a different crowd. If I’m being honest, that somebody used to be me. There was a time when I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that I felt the need to continually change my personality in order to gain the attention and approval of others. Much like the motivation for editing my facebook photos, I would alter my personality in a desperate attempt to impress those around me.

The truth is, however, no one except God has the power to make us feel accepted, valued or loved. He is the One who created us in His image with a specific purpose for our lives.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Of course, self-acceptance is a continual process and it can be challenging at first to change your way of thinking. But, believe me when I tell you that it is so worth the effort. The first step in this journey to healing is recognizing the lies that are holding you captive. For me, it was believing that I was worthless, unlovable and not good enough. Thankfully, the more time I spent in God’s Word, the more deeply I began to understand that these negative thought patterns were lies from the enemy, meant to keep me in bondage and prevent me from understanding my true identity in Christ.

The next time you are tempted to believe the lies that bring destruction, make a conscious choice to renounce the enemy’s accusations and turn to God instead. Ask Him to reveal His truth about your identity, purpose and value. We will only be able to combat the deception of the enemy once we know who we are and to whom we belong.

We must claim our identity as children of God, reject the lies that we have believed and instead embrace who God created us to be. What does the Word of God tell us about our identity in Christ?

“I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me.” Romans 8:37

“I am submitted to God, and the devil flees from me because I resist him in the Name of Jesus.” James 4:7

“I show forth the praises of God Who has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“I have the Greater One living in me; greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

If we believe God is who He says He is, then by extension we can believe that we are who He says we are. Uniquely crafted, creatively gifted and purposefully made. What a glorious day it will be when we are able to fully accept ourselves for who God created us to be and embrace our uniqueness and individuality. #nopretense. #noshame. #nofilter.