Living and Teaching Overseas Servant Leadership Part Two: The Importance of Flexibility

If you have been through any missionary training at all, you know that most missionary training programs emphasized the importance of flexibility on the mission field.

Flexibility is an essential part of living and teaching in an overseas context. As an overseas Christian school teacher, you will probably face some circumstances that may be taxing and stressful. Add to that the uncertainty that goes along with living in a foreign country without the ability and willingness to adapt you may quickly find yourself on an airplane back home. Not to mention that God may very well be using the circumstances at the school or the country you are serving to stretch you and teach you some valuable truths. Below are a few examples of some situations and conditions that have occurred in my past 25 years while teaching overseas.
Philippines: In 2007 Manila was hit with a Super typhoon. Faith Academy the school I was serving, lost seven days of school. The apartment complex I was living in also lost power for days. I lost all the food in my refrigerator and was pretty much cut off from communication. It also took some time before we could get to a grocery store.
Bolivia: 1994-1997 We lost two students and a staff member in a matter of three years. This was at a small boarding school with a student body of 57 students and 12-15 teachers. One student, a talented 16-year-old boy, died of a heart attack while warming up for P.E. The next school year another student of the school, a 17-year-old boy was killed in a motorcycle accident the day after his high school graduation. The staff member who died suddenly was a 49-year-old English and History teacher who was revered and respected by the entire student body and missionary community.
Haiti: 2019 Civil unrest and widespread protest shut down the city of Port Au Prince for seven days. We lost ten days of school. At the time, I was living in the school compound in a staff housing complex. We were not allowed to leave the school compound for ten days. (Referred to as sheltering in.)
Other circumstances that have occurred while I have been teaching overseas:
Mosquito-borne diseases: One year in Haiti I contracted Chikungunya disease from a mosquito bite. I was sick for several months. The very next year the Zika virus struck Haiti. We lost several staff members due to their wives being pregnant and not wanting to take a chance on the pregnancy.
Administrative and staff turnover. At several schools, I have worked the director or school principal was fired or resigned in the middle of the school year. (Actually, this is relatively common at overseas Christian schools) At one overseas Christian school I served we had four different directors in five years.
Lack of stability and high turnover on overseas Christian school boards are also quite common. I have worked at schools where the school board members were not functioning correctly or stepping out of their proper roles. A dysfunctional school board can and will have an overall adverse and damaging effect on the school.
The situations above are just a few examples of what may or may not occur while you are teaching and living and overseas, however, all of them required the students and staff to be flexible and adapt as needed. The ability to be flexible and adapt to the changing circumstances at the school will require someone who has a servant’s heart and attitude. Overseas Christians schools by nature often operate in uncertain and unstable environments. This uncertainty is especially true in a third world country. Earthquakes, typhoons, military coups, civil unrest, gas shortages, a collapsing currency, administrative and staff turnover can all present some challenging circumstances. An overseas Christian school teacher who has an attitude of faithfulness and flexibility can be a great testimony in front of the staff, students, and nationals for the Lord.

One Cautionary Note:
Being flexible does not mean compromising your faith or Biblical values. Nor does it mean conformity at any price. If you find yourself in a circumstance where you are being asked to do something unreasonable or maybe even unethical the issue may no longer be one of flexibility. Share your concerns with the school leadership. If the situation does not improve or if there is specific, unethical behavior and dereliction of duty on the part of school leadership, it may be time to pack up and go home. Stay close to the Lord, and the Spirit of God will guide you in what to do and when to do it.

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