We asked Courier readers to tell us about teachers who have shaped their lives for the better. Here are some of the responses we received.
A shoulder to cry on
I moved from Boston, Mass., to Saluda, S.C., for nine months in 1982 when I was 11 years old. I attended Hollywood Elementary School for a year. My fifth-grade teacher was Mrs. Arlene Puryear.
I had moved across the country to a place with no friends, to stay with a father I barely knew. Mrs Puryear couldn’t have made me feel more welcome. She gave me much-needed clothes and a shoulder to cry on. She prayed with me and became my friend in such a way that the friendship is still there after 30 years. When we went to lunch, Mrs. Puryear looked at each of us and said she was going to pray over the meal and that all who wanted to participate could. My reaction was astonishment. I thought, this lady is amazing!
What made Mrs. Puryear so special? She taught me to think on my own and to rely on God. She showed me that no matter how bad a situation was, God was good. These are values I taught my own children.
I moved back to South Carolina in 1987. I called Mrs. Puryear one day and thanked her for her impact on my life and for teaching me that even though I didn’t have a dependable father, I had a wonderful Heavenly Father who loved me. I never had another teacher more caring or understanding. Through her guidance, I grew up to be strong in the Lord. Thank you, Mrs. Puryear, for all you have done in my life. May your light continue to shine.
The best phone call I ever made
After a heart-wrenching battle with my son’s illness and his miraculous recovery, I rededicated my life to helping others so that I might someday repay the compassion shown to us during our struggles. In pursuit of purpose, I enrolled at Charleston Southern University with nothing more than conviction in my heart. I did not know what I would study or how I would come to help others; I only knew that God had allowed a miracle to happen to me and that I had a responsibility to use that gift for the greater good.
The first person I met at CSU was Dr. Nancy Bandiera, my adviser. She was also my professor for several classes. She always made time to hear me carry on exhaustively about my many ideas. At 32 years old, juggling family, school and work was no easy task, but Dr. Bandiera constantly encouraged me.
Things were going well when tragedy came knocking on my door again. Halfway into my journey, my grandfather died suddenly. A week later, my mother was lying on an operating table fighting for her life, while my brother’s drug addiction was maiming our family and my son was presenting with new medical concerns.
I was defeated. With an aching heart, I made the phone call that would change my life — but not in the way I was expecting. Dr. Bandiera listened as I wept. I told her I had to withdraw, that I just couldn’t handle any more pressure. After a long pause, “No,” she said. “Here’s what you’re going to do … .”
She advised me to reach out to my professors and tell them my situation. She used the word “season” to describe these tumultuous last couple of years and reassured me that a new season was coming. My professors rallied behind me and graciously allowed me extra time to complete my assignments. They became my advocates. They asked about my mother, and one professor prayed over me. They awakened my spirit and renewed my purpose. And, as promised, the season passed.
I will always be grateful to my CSU family for the best phone call I ever made.
Nicole Thomas, CSU Class of 2O13
Wake Forest, N.C.
Mom is my only Sunday school teacher
My mother was, and still is, my favorite teacher. She is 89 and is still teaching me and her Sunday school class. She has taught at two different Baptist churches for about 55 years.
She taught me about God from the time I could listen and understand. She had three little ones under the age of 4, and each night she would have us lie on a blanket in the floor around her, and she would read the Bible and tell us how much God loved us. My daddy played professional textile ball and was gone a lot, and we always were with our mother.
Every time the church door was open, she walked us hand in hand to church. She first began teaching a Sunday school class at Second Baptist Church in Laurens. She now belongs to Henderson Baptist Church in Hickory Tavern and is still teaching away. I am still in her class.
Most kids these days have parents who don’t have time for Bible study and prayer in the home. I thank God every day for my precious mother — and teacher.
Nurtured through a difficult time
Mrs. Smith was my fifth-grade teacher in North Charleston in 1965. We moved to South Carolina after my mother died earlier in the year.
Mrs. Smith was a kind, gentle and loving woman. She nurtured me through one of the most difficult times in my life. She was not only a wonderful teacher, she was also a positive role model. We moved again at Christmastime that year, and even though she was only my teacher for the first half of the year, I consider Mrs. Smith the greatest school teacher of my life.
This gives me the opportunity, 49 years later, to say thank you to Mrs. Smith. She made life and learning for one young, shy, hurting girl a little easier because she showed such love and compassion. Mrs. Smith would probably be in her 70s or 80s now, but if she sees this, I would like her to know I have thought of her often. I pray that God blesses her for her kindness.
Laying a biblical foundation
After spending several years disconnected from church life, getting married brought many changes, including an increased desire to become involved in a church. Shortly after my husband, Ken, and I joined a local Baptist church, we were invited to a class for young married couples called “The Community Group.” The class was taught by Ron and Missy Edwards, who were about 10 years older than we were and who were very intentionally leading this group of young couples to encounter God and grow in their relationship with Christ.
I clearly remember hearing strong teaching on much of Scripture for the first time, although I grew up regularly attending church with my family. God got hold of my heart and opened my eyes to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, spiritual gifts — all because Ron and Missy were so intentional in laying a biblical foundation on which to build.
At one point I remember telling Missy, “I really want to live my life my own way, but God just won’t leave me alone!” She didn’t relegate her teaching to Sunday morning, but modeled Proverbs 31 and took time to invest in, mentor, and encourage me to grow spiritually. She and Ron were among the first in my life to call out leadership gifts and encourage me to use them.
Today, Missy and Ron are still very dear to both Ken and me. After 33 years of friendship, she and I continue to meet every other week to visit and pray together. I often thank God for the impact the Missy and Ron have had in my life as I continue to build on the beautiful foundation they helped lay and as God gives me the privilege to serve Him in full-time ministry.
A ‘life-plan’ seed is planted
I participated in Sunday school from my nursery days until I was about 14 years old. I stopped going at that point in my life. I began attending Sunday school again at age 20. To be totally honest, it was not that I was really interested in learning more about God and the Bible; rather, what really attracted me was the young lady who was in the next classroom.
My teacher was not very interesting; as a matter of fact, he was downright boring. One Sunday while I sat through another bewildering lesson, the teacher said something that helped turn my life around. He said, “Fellows, God has a specific life-plan for every one of you.” I first thought, “Surely he is not referring to me.” As the lesson ended, I joined my friend as she emerged from the next classroom. After the worship service, we began a lengthy discussion about God’s “life-plan” for both of us.
Three years later we were married, still searching for God’s life-plan. A short time afterwards, we discovered that God was calling us into full-time Christian ministry.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but I will never forget how God used his life to influence my thinking and help me and my wife discover God’s will and life-plan for us.
James W. Herron
A life transformed
Based on a recommendation from an MBA advisor, I decided to enroll in Dr. Rick Brewer’s class on “Transformational Leadership” at Charleston Southern University. This class not only changed the trajectory of my career, it also changed my life.
Dr. Brewer challenged his students to look at historical leaders such as Jesus, Hitler, John F. Kennedy and many others. He asked us to analyze the leaders and their followers. Then he presented Jesus as a model transformational leader. His teaching taught me that I can integrate Christian ideals and concepts into my leadership approach. My faith strengthened through his class, and I started seeking God. My husband and I joined a small group. Dr. Brewer’s class started my journey in accepting Jesus as my savior and my husband rededicating his life to Christ.
Almost three years later, I am still benefiting professionally from Dr. Brewer’s leadership class. I was promoted twice and hold a leadership role at South Carolina Federal Credit Union. At work and in my community, I seek opportunities to utilize my strengths to glorify God. “Thank you” doesn’t seem to capture the appreciation I have for Dr. Brewer. As a “transformational leader,” he has changed my life.