Houston’s First member Andy Walters is a seventh year teacher currently teaching fifth grade at an Alief area intermediate school. He began his tenure teaching ESL classes for primarily Burmese and other African, Asian and Middle Eastern students. Like Andy, fifth grade math teacher Caroline Koontz found her calling at a multicultural school in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Both educators have seen God’s power working in lives of their students inside the classroom — and the difference it is making for the rest of their lives.
Two years ago, Caroline worked at a Houston 1:8 (the Houston’s First citywide, weeklong mission trip) ministry site in the Fifth Ward, where she was distributing food to children. Twin girls in bare feet came to her table. “They were starving,” said Caroline. “Then the first day of school — my first year of teaching — these same girls walked into my classroom. The door to trust had already been open because I had served them outside the walls of the school.”
Caroline was introduced to the Houston inner city school where she now teaches on a class field trip while attending Texas A & M University, and she immediately knew this is where she was meant to pour out her life. “The teaching there was the most incredible I’ve ever seen,” she recalls. “Their mission is to prove the impossible is possible — breaking children out of the cycle of poverty through education.” Her first year teaching at the school was challenging, she admits. Many children don’t know about respect for authority; some don’t speak English; some have been through more foster homes than they can count; one child couldn’t even tie her shoes or count to 10. “I began to pray that God would give me some single truth to anchor me when the kids’ stories seem just too big,” said Caroline. “The word He gave me was ‘unstoppable,’ and that was before I had heard about Pastor Gregg’s book or series. God is bigger than where we come from; with Him all things are possible.”
One girl she taught came to Caroline as a non-verbal, physically large child who had tried repeatedly to kill people, including her parents, siblings, other teachers and eventually Caroline herself. Her stop in Caroline’s class was the last-ditch effort to help her before she was placed into an asylum. “She came to us more like an animal than a person, but we worked with her consistently, loving her — I wept on my knees before God on her behalf — and He transformed her,” she said. “Over the past two years she has progressed beyond attacking people; in fact, she loves to stick up for the ‘little guy,’ often giving her chair to someone who has none, and she loves helping others. The change in her character has been a complete turnaround. It was a God-sized miracle.”
Serving with middle school youth as a teenager set the stage for Andy Walters’ future. A transplant from Nebraska, Andy’s student teaching stint in Houston from the University of Nebraska landed him in an Alief school teaching international students. “I loved the city and the kids,” he said. “I fell in love with the students’ hearts to learn.”
The early days were spent overcoming the language barrier, but with the help of a student who could translate, his eyes began opening to a different world — the one his students were trying to make sense of after leaving their home countries. “I wanted to help my kids along as much as possible, to foster the heart they have for learning,” he said. “It sparked in my own heart a love for international students.”
About a year ago, Andy heard about the future opening of the church’s Faith Center- Harwin in southwest Houston and its close proximity to SunBlossom Mountain Apartments. The complex is home for a variety of internationals, including those from Burma, Nepal and Bhutan. When he learned that Houston 1:8 would be serving SunBlossom residents, that’s all it took for him to get involved.
“I saw a couple of my former students at Houston 1:8, who are by now in middle school,” said Andy. “They were serving as translators to help kids and adults communicate. As a teacher, that’s what we want to see in our students — them taking on leadership roles in the community. That’s a great return on investment.”
Pray for teachers and their students as they begin a new school year. Though Houston 1:8 is complete for 2016, Faith Center-Harwin and Faith Center-Spring Branch have an ongoing need for volunteers. To learn more, or to volunteer, contact Claudia.Reyes@HoustonsFirst.org.
Also, on Back 2 School Sunday at every campus (Aug 21), let's show our support for teachers, administrators and students by wearing jeans and tennis shoes to church — and by bringing $30 gift card to Academy that we'll give to kids in need to buy shoes for the new school year. You can also give directly to the cause using our online giving platform. Simply select "Back 2 School Shoes" as the giving type when making your donation.