By Emma Bowen Meyer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Most people reach retirement and then plan to take it easy. Maybe even move to a warmer climate with visions of relaxing in the sun.
Kathy Poffenbarger, however, is planning the adventure of a lifetime — one that will take her from her culture and work her harder than ever before. Expecting 10- to 12-hour days in Thailand (a country she hasn’t even visited), she will be volunteering her time and energy as she teaches English as a new language and provides speech/language therapy services to missionaries and their children.
“It’s exciting and frightening at the same time,” said Poffenbarger, who was a special education teacher and speech/language pathologist in the Anderson school system for over 30 years. “I don’t have a missionary background so this is all new to me. I’m going to have to grow into it, but I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Shortly before she retired, she spent a summer studying in France after her son had an enjoyable experience in the country. By being immersed in the culture and enrolling in French language school, she expected to quickly pick up the foreign tongue – as her son had done. Unfortunately, the ability did not come to her with a similar ease.
“I often went to the Basilica St. Martin to regain my composure between classes,” she recalled. “It was stressful to live in another culture. I fully thought immersion would work but I kept hearing one long word.”
While standing in the Abbey Saint-Remi Reims, she saw a natural spotlight on the ground in front of her and remembered a sermon about how followers were only given enough light for their next step. On her last visit there, she felt called to study English as a new language. This was a “back door” way to work with people of other cultures.
Back home, Poffenbarger enrolled in Anderson University and completed the necessary programs in 2010. This enabled her to work with migrant children at Elwood Community Schools for a year and a half.
“I followed my little bit of light and earned the certificate and then wondered what I would do with it,” she said. “I started looking for jobs in other countries but it is hard for older people to move in and work. I contacted a missionary organization and found that I can work under their umbrella because it would not be considered taking a job from a local.”
The Chiang Rai International Christian School was established to serve missionary families that are reaching out to the Chiang Rai Provence, which is the overland gateway to China. Since its founding in 1997, they have grown to serving even local children of the Thai community. Not only will Poffenbarger coordinate the English as a new language program and provide speech/language therapy, she will develop a speech therapy program and a hearing screening program that will last long after her year-long commitment.
In addition to working with these children of several different countries, she will spend evening hours teaching adults missionaries.
“My biggest concern is that teachers come to this school on a volunteer basis so I have to acquire my own funding,” she said. “Right now I don’t have enough to allow me to go. I have to raise enough money to be independent and capable of functioning.”
August is coming quickly and she is hoping that people who believe in her cause will support her efforts. Friends and co-workers have no doubt about her ability.
“Once Kathy decides to pursue something, she really embraces it and works hard to make it happen,” said JoAnn Flack, fellow member of St. Matthew United Methodist Church for over 30 years. “Kathy is very gifted and talented and dedicated to her faith.”
“Kathy sees retirement as another opportunity to use her education skills to help others,” said Mary McCorkle, mission and outreach chairperson of the church. “I’m in awe of that. It’s a huge step of faith to venture across the world and live with a host family. God takes ordinary people and puts them in extraordinary places to do wonderful things.”
One friend has been moved to match supporting funds at a rate of 50 percent. Her estimated budget for living expenses is approximately $30,000. To contribute, contact Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I kept expecting the doors would close on this sooner rather than later, but they just keep opening,” she added. “They need somebody to fill that position and it appears that I’m that person. I have no reason to stay here other than it would be a lot easier. My spotlight reminds me that I am not doing this thing; God is doing this thing. And I can trust each next bit of light.”
To help Kathy Poffenbarger, one friend has been moved to match supporting funds at a rate of 50 percent. Her estimated budget for living expenses is approximately $30,000. To contribute, contact Kathy at email@example.com.