More than 1,100 international teachers from 34 countries now are working in South Carolina schools each year, presenting South Carolina Baptists with a tremendous opportunity for international missions — without ever leaving home.
Angela McNeal, Church and Community Ministries director with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, leads Heart4Schools, which has a goal of seeing every school in the state partnered with a church that loves and serves them well. After hearing of the needs of international teachers, she began connecting with area school district leaders to learn how churches and volunteers might best help.
“These teachers arrive with two suitcases and about $1,500 to begin a new life, including making deposits on apartments, furnishing an apartment, securing transportation, and preparing a classroom,” McNeal said. “I was hearing stories about teachers who had been here for several years and still did not have a bed to sleep on, and some who walked or rode bikes to bus stations to get to work each day.”
McNeal collaborated with Ken Owens, the SCBC’s Send Team leader, to bring together area church leaders to hear from administrative leaders in Richland One and Richland Two school districts. They hoped to develop a model for serving the needs of international teachers — not just in Columbia, but across the state.
“We have found that international teachers have many challenges when they arrive in a new country,” McNeal said. “It is very difficult to find affordable housing. Many of our teachers come from warm climates and do not have appropriate clothing for the fall and winter.”
Because of the generosity of church members and their organizational skills, many of these international teachers have been able to furnish apartments with basic needs of a bed, table and chairs.
McNeal highlighted the efforts of three area churches that have worked strategically to improve the lives of international teachers: Shandon, Columbia First, and Spring Valley.
Shandon Baptist hosted a Christmas dinner for international teachers in 2020 and heard from 24 schools representing 15 countries. Shandon later hosted a housewarming party for the teachers, where they could “shop” for free household items, furniture, and décor.
Spring Valley held a Southern Food and Fun night with an invitation to enjoy a Southern meal and meet new friends.Columbia First offers monthly gatherings to give the teachers and church members opportunities to form new friendships, improve conversational English, develop creative skills, share cultural experiences, and increase world awareness.
In fall 2021, Columbia Metro Association provided welcome baskets. Seventeen churches filled 100 laundry baskets with household items, such as laundry detergent, hand soap, towels, dishcloths, dish soap, can opener, and a Walmart gift card. Each basket also contained a “Welcome” flyer with an invitation to special events for internationals.
“We are hearing from district leaders that the welcome baskets and the church events have given great hope and encouragement to some teachers who were feeling overwhelmed,” McNeal said. “Church members are making intentional connections and inviting the teachers into their lives to experience community,” she said, adding that some of the teachers are visiting and joining churches.
For information on how to begin ministering to international teachers in your area, contact Angela McNeal through the link on the Heart4Schools page on the SCBC website (https://www.scbaptist.org/heart4schools/).