Educator Debbie McNair finds new classroom as missionary in Mexico
Debbie McNair’s missions story began in 2007. This fall she begins teaching in a school for missionary children in Mexico.
“I was going through a tough time,” she says. “I had been through a late-life divorce and was now alone as an empty nester. But, during that time, I kept thinking ‘there’s something I can do.’”
She found a six-week, faith-based program in New York City, providing tutoring and Vacation Bible School for Latino children. The program was part of a Presbyterian ministry; while growing up Southern Baptist, Debbie attended a Presbyterian church throughout her marriage.
“It was a big step for me to attend that program,” she says. “I had not traveled very much, and I was anxious, but God helped me through all of those things. I met wonderful people and fell in love with the Latino culture. I even got a desire to learn Spanish and began taking classes with an end desire to help with immigrants, help with English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, or maybe even go overseas for service.” She returned to New York City and served over four different summers – not as a part of a church group, but as an individual wanting to serve the Lord and others.
She moved to Charleston to be closer to her grown children and reaching back into her Southern Baptist roots began attending Fort Johnson Baptist Church in James Island about 2009.
In 2013, Debbie had a chance to go with a team to Nicaragua, serving in villages and homes, and seeing poverty first-hand.
“Despite the poverty of the people, I saw the contentment the people had with the little that they had,” Debbie says. “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,’ especially with this new-found confidence to travel.”
Despite wanting to return to service, Debbie says she couldn’t figure out the logistics. She began looking for groups and just didn’t know what to do or which way to turn. She put off her missionary service until her part-time teaching job was cut, and then just knew it was time to go.
“I talked to my children and told them, ‘Well, maybe this is a good time to think about going to serve as a missionary, and they really encouraged me to do it. I’m 60 years old, and when your grown children have confidence in you, it goes a long way. Knowing they believed in what God was doing through me gave me a lot of contentment.”
Debbie began praying, even began navigating the International Mission Board (IMB) Web site, but she couldn’t find much for volunteers or for opportunities not requiring a two-year commitment. Fast-forward to 2016.
“I saw this literacy newsletter from the South Carolina Baptist Convention and Tim Rice’s name was on it,” Debbie says. “I thought, ‘It won’t hurt to e-mail this guy; maybe he can give me some good advice.’” Tim Rice is the missions mobilization director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention staff.
“Tim was wonderful,” Debbie says. “He assured me of opportunities to go and serve, and even helped me connect with the right person at the International Mission Board.”
So, Debbie, filled with confidence from the Lord, from family, and from her state convention, called the IMB. She explained that she was a teacher and available to go work in schools or orphanages, but couldn’t commit to more than one year of service.
“I told them that I had the income to afford going, and that I preferred Latin America because of my Spanish,” Debbie says. The conversation with IMB went well, but down deep she admits a doubt that she would hear from anyone.
“God moved,” she says. “Three days after calling IMB I heard from Jeff and Liesa Holeman in Mexico. Liesa said that they were on furlough, but needed teachers for the children of missionaries at their school. She asked for my permission to pass my name to the school principal. I told my church and family, and I got everyone involved in praying for doors to open. The principal called me, said she felt I could help, and in June of this year everything was finalized.
“I have to confess that the Holy Spirit took over and brought things together,” she says. “I was walking around shouting, laughing, and crying. I couldn’t believe it. This is such a good fit, and Mexico isn’t very far away. I have chills when I think about how God put it all together.”
Debbie began teacher orientation on Wednesday, August 17 at an English speaking school for missionary kids in Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca), Mexico. The school was established in 2005 and there are about 50 students, grades 1-12. At the time of this interview, she wasn’t sure exactly what she would be teaching, but during her U.S. teaching career, she taught special education and regular third grade.
Debbie’s principal has even opened the doors of her home for Debbie to have a place to live, saying, “Just show up and bring your clothes.”
“God in his goodness did not make me wait,” she says. “I listened to his nudging through that missions brochure. I didn’t know Tim Rice, but found such a great encourager in him, and I was so appreciative of his time to help me as an individual South Carolina Baptist wanting to serve in missions.”