Educator finds new classroom as a missionary in Mexico

Debbie McNair’s missions story began in 2007 but came to full fruition this fall when she began teaching at a school for missionary children in Mexico.

“I was going through a tough time,” she said, having gone through a late-in-life divorce. “But I kept thinking, there’s something I can do.”

She found a six-week program in New York City that offered tutoring and vacation Bible school for Latino children. The program was part of a Presbyterian ministry. (McNair grew up as a Southern Baptist but attended a Presbyterian church throughout her marriage.)

“It was a big step for me to attend that program,” she said. “I met wonderful people and fell in love with the Latino culture.”

She began taking Spanish classes with the desire to assist immigrants, help with English-as-a-second-language classes, or maybe even go overseas for service.

Over four different summers, she returned to New York City — not as part of a church group, but as an individual wanting to serve the Lord and others.

She also moved to Charleston to be closer to her grown children. Reaching back to her Southern Baptist roots, she began attending Fort Johnson Baptist Church in James Island.

In 2013, McNair had a chance to travel with a mission team to Nicaragua, where she served in villages and homes. “Despite the poverty of the people, I saw the contentment the people had with the little that they had,” she said. “They also appreciated that I knew Spanish, and it was fantastic to be able to communicate with them in their language. In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘I have to come back.’ ”

Although she wanted to be more involved in missions service, she couldn’t figure out the logistics. She looked for groups to serve with, but she didn’t know what to do or which way to turn. In time, she put off pursuing missionary service. Then, her part-time teaching job was cut, and she knew it was time to go and serve.

“I talked to my children, and they really encouraged me to do it,” she said. “Knowing they believed in what God was doing through me gave me a lot of contentment.”

She began praying and navigating the International Mission Board website, but she couldn’t find much there for volunteers or for opportunities not requiring a two-year commitment.

Fast-forward to 2016.

“I saw a literacy newsletter from the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and Tim Rice’s name was on it,” McNair said. (Rice is the missions mobilization director for the SCBC staff.) She emailed him seeking advice.

“Tim was wonderful,” she said. “He assured me there were opportunities to go and serve, and even helped me connect with the right person at the International Mission Board.”

So, filled with confidence from the Lord, her family and her state convention, McNair called the IMB. She explained that she was a teacher and available to serve in schools or orphanages but couldn’t commit to more than one year of service.

“I told them I had the income to afford to go, and that I preferred Latin America because of my Spanish,” she said. McNair privately doubted she would hear from anyone.

But she was wrong. “God moved,” she said. “Three days later, I heard from Jeff and Liesa Holeman in Mexico. They needed teachers for the children of missionaries at their school. In June, everything was finalized.”

“I have to confess that the Holy Spirit took over and brought things together,” McNair said. “I was walking around shouting, laughing, and crying. I couldn’t believe it. I have chills when I think about how God put it all together.”

McNair began her work Aug. 17 at an English-speaking school for missionary kids in Oaxaca, Mexico. The school was established in 2005, and there are about 50 students, grades 1-12. Her principal has even opened the doors of her home, providing McNair a place to live.

“God in His goodness did not make me wait,” McNair said. “I listened to His nudging through that missions brochure.

“I didn’t know Tim Rice, but I found such a great encourager in him. I was so appreciative of his time to help me, as an individual, wanting to serve in missions.”

— Scott Vaughan writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.