I was 23 years old. Gil and I had been married all of 9 months. I had two years of experience teaching second grade in California.
HOPAC was only 6 years old. They had just added grade 10; they had one administrator for the whole school. They had just moved to their new campus on the edge of Dar es Salaam. And construction was certainly still happening.
I arrived on campus in August to get my classroom ready. 5th grade--that's was I was assigned to teach. My classroom was an empty shell. No bulletin boards, no white boards on the walls. Everything was in chaos. My books were piled in boxes in the middle of the room.
There was no teacher orientation. The only administrator arrived only three days before school started. The only copy machine was broken until the day before school started. I eventually got my bulletin boards nailed to the wall, but I couldn't find butcher paper. I scrounged around to find some poster paper on which to write my class rules. I had no idea what I was supposed to teach, except for what I could figure out from the textbooks in the middle of the room.
I was entirely overwhelmed. I was suffering from panic attacks, and I had no idea how I would make it through the first day of school, let alone the entire school year. The only way I made it to school on that first day was by the grace of God.
The students arrived, and on that first day, we fell in love with each other. So much so that we stuck together through 6th grade too. That first day was the beginning of the best two years of teaching I have ever had.
Gil had come to Tanzania to help with church planting, but he had some hours available during the day and HOPAC sucked him in. (In those days, they sucked in anyone who breathed.) He started teaching grade 7 & 8 Bible classes, and suddenly realized that not only was he really, really good at teaching Bible, but that he loved it. The director started recruiting him to be HOPAC's chaplain.
We returned to the States for 2003-2005 while he finished his seminary degree (and I taught kindergarten), and came back to HOPAC in August of 2005, this time full time at HOPAC--he as the chaplain and Bible teacher, and me working part time. And for the past eight years, that's where we have been.
For 10 of the last 12 years, HOPAC has been our life and breath. Almost all of our married life. A third of our entire lives.
HOPAC is now a K-12 school of over 300 students, ASCI accredited, and with an administrative team of 6. They just completed over a week of teacher orientation. A pool, science building, administration building, kitchen, and soccer pitch have been added in the years we've been here. HOPAC has come a very, very long way since August 2001. I have come even further. And it has been pure joy to be a part of it all.
Our hearts and our God have let us know that this is our last year. Our last first day of school was yesterday. The last time Gil will give the opening talk at the all-school assembly. The last time I will get the banner made for the all-school theme. The last time we attended the teacher orientation.
I know I will tear up many times this year. This place and these people are incredibly dear to us, and have been an incredible gift.
It will be a busy year. Gil and I will be attempting to write everything down for the next guy, organize anything we ever coordinated, try to make sure that nothing we've started drops off after we leave. But in the midst of it, I want to reflect as well, to record my stories and memories of these ten years.
To have the privilege of living a life that is meaningful and purposeful, to do what you love every single day--this is significant. We don't want to forget. And we want to finish well.