Teacher seeks to help refugee children

Published 10:25 pm Friday, April 2, 2010

Kristen Coats was born and raised in Demopolis, graduating with the Demopolis High School Class of 1999 before moving away to attend the University of Alabama.

Now a ninth-grade and 11th-grade English teacher at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City, she hears another calling to help others in education. She is seeking to work with the organization TeachOverseas to work with students in Hungary.

“TeachOverseas has been training and sending Christians to teach overseas for over 20 years,” she said. “This organization operates on the principle that excellent teaching in the classroom opens doors of opportunities for genuine friendships with students and colleagues. Through these friendships, teachers are able to share about Christ in a natural and credible way.

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“Each year, TeachOverseas trains and sends hundreds of Christians to teach in China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, north Africa, Russia, Slovakia and Vietnam. More than 100,000 students worldwide have benefited from TeachOverseas and its commitment to excellent teaching and Christ-like service.”

Coats has been on mission trips before, going to Montana, the Appalachians and Mexico to help others.

“However, in Hungary, I will be working with refugees whose educations have been interrupted because of war or political strife in their native countries,” she said. “These people will have seen horrors I’ve only read about, which will make teaching and ministering to them all the more difficult.”

Coats is the daughter of Thomas and Donna Coats of Demopolis, and had a solid church experience as a youth.

“I am blessed to have incredibly supportive and godly parents,” she said. “They guided me as good parents do, firmly and lovingly. They led by example and have been an ultimate extension of God’s grace. I grew up going to church and reading the Bible with my parents and joined the First United Methodist Church as soon as I was old enough to do so.

“My FUMC family has been, in the strictest sense of the word, ‘family.’ They supported me throughout childhood and have continued to support me into adulthood. I would be a different person entirely had my formative years not been spent in church.”

Coats wants to let the people in her hometown know about her desire to teach children who have gone through many ordeals and tragedies, asking them to keep her in their prayers and to help support her mission.

“I will need prayer both during the months leading up to my trip and while I am away,” she said. “Living overseas will not be easy, and I will need the body of Christ to intercede for me on a regular basis.

“While TeachOverseas arranges for my basic living expenses to be taken care of, I do need to raise financial support to cover travel, training and the basic costs of setting up the program Individuals or businesses may make a financial contribution at www.teachoverseas.org/contribute.php. Please specify that your donation is for account number 210054. Or, you may make checks payable to TeachOverseas and put the account number — not my name — on the memo line. Checks may be given directly to me or mailed to TeachOverseas, 639 N. Soldano Ave., Azusa CA 91702-3055.”

Coats said she expects her experience to be enriching and uplifting, challenging her faith and focusing it in a way that she has never experienced before.

“When we are out of our comfort zone, we tend to rely on God more heavily than in the course of our day-to-day lives,” she said. “Being in a foreign place, adjusting to its unfamiliar language and customs, allows one to rely on God in a new way. Mission work, especially in other countries, fosters the opportunity to develop a stronger dependence on and trust in God. Not only are such experiences ideal for spiritual growth but for personal growth, as well.

“As an English language arts educator, I have the joy of exploring the literature and culture of many nations. I take a holistic approach to teaching, striving to educate students on as many levels and subjects as possible. This demands continuing education and professional development on my part.

“Learning is an ongoing process,” she said, “one that does not end with the completion of a class or receipt of a degree. Traveling abroad opens doors to different ways of thinking and expands one’s perception of the world and of himself, creating the ultimate learning experience.”

Life has been called the ultimate classroom. Kristen Coats, a high school teacher born and raised here in Demopolis, is seeking to experience that metaphor, helping to teach those who need educational stability after coming from an unstable environment and hoping to get an education herself from the world around her.