“As I look back over my life, and I see the pieces fit together, and I know God was working [to bring me here].”
Donna Smith smiled as she thought about working for the last 16 years at Ukarumpa International School in Papua New Guinea. “It has small class sizes, teachers who are in it for the love of discipleship and Bible translation, and a high quality of kids. … It’s just very fun,” she said. “The kids are cared for and come to school ready to learn. It’s a teacher’s dream!”
Donna never wanted to become a teacher though. “[As a kid] I thought school was yucky,” she joked. But people kept suggesting that Donna was a born teacher. So, late in her college career, she decided to tack on a teaching minor to her history degree. “I knew I wanted to be a part of missions,” Donna said. “And I knew that as a teacher, I could go anywhere in the world.”
In 1999, Donna headed to Côte d'Ivoire as a teacher. Two years into her time there, Donna was drawn to Wycliffe Bible Translators. “Every time I heard a Bible translation story, it made me cry,” she noted.
Donna was so inspired by the work of Bible translation that she joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 2003 and headed to Papua New Guinea to serve as a teacher.
TEACHING IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Donna sees her work as achieving two goals — supporting Bible translation and discipling the next generation of leaders.
Because Papua New Guinea will not allow missionary kids to go to local schools, without Ukarumpa International School, Wycliffe missionary families only have three options: they can homeschool with minimal resources and support, send their kids to boarding schools in other countries or leave translation work entirely. Ukarumpa International School is critical to enabling Bible translation work to continue and reach the remaining languages in the country. Donna explained: “Our school is able to supply a number of services to help each kid find out who God wants him or her to be.” Some of the services for the nearly 250 students who attend the school’s primary and secondary campus include sports, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, band, choir, science labs and more.
But discipleship is at the core of Donna’s work every day. “Because of their multicultural experience, life experience, and education, [these students] are going to be leaders who are bridging different culture groups,” Donna noted. “They are always going to see things monocultural people don't see. Many come out of their childhood with a robust faith and a commitment to ministry. The kids that I teach will not just blend in and not make waves. They will be influential. It's a big legacy.”
HELPING EVERY CHILD FLOURISH
Donna loves helping her students flourish, believing that in a small school, she can pay attention and help every child.
“One of my 8th graders is not academic,” she explained. “He likes building things. [But] … you can just see in his face that he's not excited about school. This community is quite academic, so here he feels out of place.
“Recently we did a history project where the students had to put together a museum booth to teach about the Roman Empire to the primary school kids. [This kid and his friend] decided to build a working Roman ballista complete with flaming arrows. It was a cool moment where he could do what he really wanted to do,” Donna concluded, “and he liked school.”
Earlier this year, Donna had the privilege of walking with her 11th grade class through a stressful time. Instead of giving them AP homework during the crisis, she focused on helping them process anxiety, stress, mental health and identity. “I wanted them to know that their worth isn’t in working hard and getting good grades, but their identity and worth comes from God,” she explained. “At a Christian school like ours, I can stop the lesson, I can tell them my story and give them [the] tools and time to pray and deal with issues.”
God is moving through Ukarumpa International School, not just in the work of Bible translation, but also through hundreds of missionary kids who are growing and thriving.