By Sarah Gioe
Through our endowment for Christian education, Metro New York Synod funds English-speaking teachers at Kibeta English Medium Primary School (KEMPS) in our companion synod, the North Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. We are pleased to introduce our newest teacher, Michelle Mercado, who prepares to depart for two years in Bukoba shortly.
Hi, Michelle! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from the suburbs of Chicago and moved around a lot. After college, I lived in the Caribbean working for Habitat for Humanity for three years. Then I moved to New York and worked in the South Bronx. I met my husband, got married, and we went to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Park West for a while after our son was born. He was baptized there. We lived in New York for six years and then moved to Memphis and lived here for six years.
I was a teacher in the Bronx for three years, and then I started working for The New Teacher Project, which helps school districts and principals ensure that every classroom has access to high-quality teachers. I spent most of my time observing teachers in classrooms and helping principals or coaches think about what’s working and what’s not working for students, at the school and district-wide level. That’s been my focus for so long, I think it’s going to take a little while to get used to being back in the classroom!
Who else makes up your family?
My husband, Trevor Kearney, is a stay-at-home dad who also does freelance writing and editing. He volunteers a lot at my son’s elementary school, and the hope is that he can help out at KEMPS as well. He’s already working on ideas for Tanzanian pen pals at my son’s school. Our oldest son Patricio is going into second grade and we expect him to attend KEMPS. Trevor will also spend a good portion of his time caring for Nino, our youngest son, who will be two in October.
How did you hear about the position at KEMPS?
Years ago, when we still lived in New York City, a position at KEMPS was open. My aunt and her husband, who were members of Holy Trinity, heard about it and told us. We were interested but it didn’t work out with the timing of the arrival of our first child.
Somewhere in January of this year, I started to feel overwhelmed by my hectic work schedule. I was working 60 hours a week, traveling all the time— and it started to feel like too much. We wanted to do something different while our kids were still young, and be together in a place where family could be our primary focus. I remembered about that job from so many years ago and contacted the synod’s Tanzania Companionship Committee to see if the job was still open. They said yes, please send your resume—and all the pieces fell in to place after that.
Wow. Have you been to Africa?
No. Trevor hasn’t really traveled, except for getting married in Mexico where my family is from. I’ve had some international experience, living in Trinidad and Tobago after college, but this will be new for all of us.
It’s a big move. Is there anything you’re nervous about?
I think when you have kids, it’s always nerve-wracking, especially with health concerns. We were recently sitting in the infectious disease doctor’s office, reading the list of things that the kids needed to be immunized for, and feeling like, "What have we done?" But some of that is ignorance; when you mostly just hear about the bad stuff, it breeds fear. Once you get there and get to know things, it’s more familiar and not so bad.
Do you know what classes you’ll be teaching?
Not yet. When we arrive, I’ll work with the principal, Joyce Lwakatare, to figure out what makes the most sense. I was an elementary school teacher, so I’ve taught all subjects. I most enjoy teaching reading and math, but I’m happy to plug in wherever I’m needed.
What are you excited about?
I think we’re incredibly excited to learn Swahili. What a great opportunity for the whole family. I’m looking forward to spending time with my husband, for both of us to go through trainings together. It’ll be a different way to interact. We’re excited to be in a totally new place. I think it will have a profound impact on the personality of my kids. It’s an amazing opportunity for all of us.
When do you leave?
Since we are in partnership with ELCA Global Mission, we had a week of orientation in Chicago, complete with cultural training and talking about logistics. We spent time with the regional coordinators and got mentally prepared. Then another week in Chicago for a Global Mission conference, which gives you time to reflect upon what you’re doing and how it will impact you. We leave the first week of August with Pastor Perucy [Butiku, Assistant to the Bishop for Multicultural Mission].
Thanks, Michelle! We will be praying for all of you as you embark on this adventure. Stay in touch.