Graduate college, check.
Pass the LSAT, check.
Get accepted to law school, check!
Pack your bags and move to Honduras to teach second and third graders…uh, check?
This was the path of 23-year-old Tiffany last year after graduating from the University of Georgia. By senior year Tiffany had hit what most college students experience towards the end of their college careers, major regret.
“I was a senior in college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My degree was in special education, but I didn’t want to teach. So, I thought, selfishly, ‘What’s going to make me more money?’ Law school,” Tiffany said.
That year, Tiffany worked hard to study and pass the LSAT, apply to law schools and finish strong at UGA. However, Spring Break 2012 radically shook her plans. Tiffany returned from a mission trip to Dominican Republic with a new perspective and a lot explaining to do.
“Even now it’s hard to put into words what happened. I felt called to go to a different country. I just knew I wasn’t supposed to go to law school, which was a big deal because that’s what I had placed my entire future in. I had told everybody that was what I was doing, ” Tiffany said.
A lot of people didn’t understand Tiffany’s sudden change of plans (imagine telling your parents, friends and family that you weren’t going to law school anymore but planned on moving to another country).
“God worked everything out. Turns out my dad’s adopted brother’s wife’s family runs an orphanage in Honduras. I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, so I started to check it out. Well, checking it out turned into accepting a year-long teaching position.”
One confirmation after the other seemed to roll in as Tiffany prepared for the adventure that was ahead of her. Even her special education degree specializing in emotional behavior disorders, the major she had been so unsure about her senior year, would be utilized as many of the orphans needed extra care in that area.
“I flew into Honduras for the first time to move in for the year. I was given a class of 16 kids who didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Spanish. I also found out that first week that Honduras has been listed as one of the most dangerous countries per capita in the world. Saying goodbye to my parents as they flew back to the States, was a wow moment.”
Tiffany lived in the orphanage with 21 children and 6 other American teachers. It was one big family. She loved pouring her heart into the children and being a part of their development. She discovered that many of the children had been orphaned by the deaths or imprisonments of their gang involved family members. In fact, it’s the height of gang related crimes that make Honduras so dangerous.
The daily, up-close reality of gangs, poverty and lack of hope weighed on Tiffany, but not in the way one would think. Instead of the constant gang presence instilling fear in her, it sparked compassion. She began visiting incarcerated gang members with a prison ministry team. One of the prisoners was the father of one of the children in her class.
“I began to see these gang members as people who were loved by God and I realized that He had a better plan for them just like He had a better plan for me,” Tiffany said.
It was moments in the prison and in her classroom that gave Tiffany clarity on her future plans. She was inspired to dedicate her life’s work to rescuing and ministering to gang members. After her first year of teaching ended, Tiffany decided to move back to the States to focus on this plan. It was not easy for her to leave her students and fellow staff members, but just like she had felt an unexplained pull to go to Honduras, she felt the same pull to leave.
Tiffany moved back to her hometown Atlanta, Georgia and landed a fellowship with Catalyst Conference. Through the fellowship she has connected with gang ministry resources and leaders, including the founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Greg Boyles. Her long-term goal is to start a similar program to Homeboy Industries in Atlanta.
“It’s amazing to think that this college major that I didn’t even want, that I thought was a mistake and was afraid I wasn’t ever going to use led me on this adventure to finding what I actually wanted to dedicate my life to doing,” Tiffany said.
Her advice to her twentysomething peers is to not let people pleasing lead decision-making. “You may disappoint people when you step out to do what you feel God is calling you to do, but I can tell you that in the long term a lot of those relationships heal themselves, and you’ve only grown because of it.”
Catalyst Fellow • 23 • Atlanta, GA