Four-year-olds don't walk, they twirl and prance. They think everything about the world is fascinating, even writing their names or matching shapes or learning to sit criss-cross applesauce.
On Saturday, I met dozens of them. They visited our kindergarten room while some teachers and I asked them to count and say their letters and watched them play and dance while we took notes. Some were shy, some were cheerful, some, we could tell, would be a handful, but that just made them all the more charming.
I was enchanted. But I was also depressed. There were just too many. Three times too many, to be exact. All of them had come to be assessed for next year's kindergarten class, and all of them were wonderful. But there were just too many. I will only be able to offer places to about a third of them.
Their parents sat outside drinking coffee under the trees. Their eyes were hopeful, expectant, a little nervous. I tried not to make much eye contact. It is just too hard, knowing that I will have to turn down most of them. I don't want to get their hopes up.
Their emails turn my stomach into knots. We've never wanted any other school for our child since she was born! HOPAC is our first and only choice. My child loved his visit with you! He is so excited to attend HOPAC now.
I know my response will break their hearts. Your child was wonderful; we just don't have room. He can join the 40 other children on our waiting list for that class.
We never advertise, but we never fail to have at least sixty applicants for kindergarten. For some families, it's because of the Christian environment at HOPAC. For some, it's our reputation of sending students to the world's top universities. For others, it's the price. Among similar schools in Tanzania, we offer the best quality for the lowest fees.
Mystified, parents will ask, Why don't you just expand?
And the answer is always the same: We can't get enough teachers.
Though over half of our students are Tanzanian, we are a missionary school, relying on volunteers from westernized countries to raise support to teach here. Of course, we hire Tanzanians whenever we can, but finding Tanzanian Christians who are qualified to teach in an international school is not easy. Which means we are dependent on the Church (mainly from the US and Europe) to send us teachers.
But for some reason, recruiting and sending missionary teachers is not a priority for the Church, or even for most mission agencies. Maybe because teachers fall into the category of second-class missionaries. Sometimes it feels like church planters or aid workers seem more exciting or important.
I don't understand why teachers are often on the back-burner of missions. Parents of all kinds of religious faiths are pounding down the door of our Christian school, desperate for their kids to attend. We get the privilege of influencing those kids for seven hours a day for thirteen years. We teach with a biblical worldview. We train our students in poverty alleviation. The gospel permeates everything we do. How is this ministry not a priority?
Please, Church, prioritize missionary teachers. Find them. Encourage them. Support them. It's one of the most strategic avenues of missions that I've witnessed in my twenty years overseas.
And if you're a Christian teacher, why not you?