When I was growing up, I experienced God in some unique ways, including involvement in a cult called SOLAR: School of Light and Realization. My parents pulled me out of the public school where I had been attending third grade to attend “school” at SOLAR, and we spent the days learning to make macrame plant holders and sand candles. When my parents realized that the academic quality was extremely lacking, they quickly put us back in our public school.
I’d never even heard of an Adventist school until my father met and married an Adventist woman when I was 11 years old. I attended my first evangelistic series with her and excitedly came home clutching a copy of The Triumph of God’s Love, better known as The Desire of Ages. Later, at her bidding, I attended an Adventist academy during my sophomore year of school. It was there that English teacher Rondi Aastrup saw something in me and asked if I would serve as editor of the “Cedar Log” at Cedar Lake Academy the following year when I was to return as a junior. It was also during that year that I met Jesus Christ for the very first time. I knew there was something different there—and I couldn’t forget the change it started in my heart.
However, I didn’t get to return to Cedar Lake the next year. My parents fell away from the church and with that also fell their commitment to Adventist education. I went back to public school and became deeply engrossed with a young man who would be my husband before I graduated my senior year as we would expect our first child that fall. Our second and third sons would follow over the next four years, but my husband fell deeper and deeper into a lifestyle that locked him into a dangerous world where threats immobilized us. Drug dealers would frequent our house, looking to collect from him and even physically confronting me as they searched to find him.
As his habits and outside relationships continued, I knew that I could not continue in this relationship. While he served time in the local jail, I reached out to the Adventist church pastor and his wife, Bob and Angie Joseph. Angie and I began Bible studies, and I committed my life to Jesus. Shortly after, I was baptized alongside my three children as they were dedicated to the Lord. My husband was very angry with me for my decision, and on more than one occasion he made church attendance difficult. One Sabbath, he removed the spark plug wires so the kids and I couldn’t go. Another time, I started off with the kids to church with him on the hood of my car—until I abruptly braked, sent him rolling, and off we went. I wasn’t going to let him keep me from going to church. The battle went on for several years.
Teaching was my passion, and my path in life had finally cleared enough so that I could see it.
Finally, I was able to pull out of the harrowing marriage permanently and began working at local places to support my children. During that time, the small Adventist school in Traverse City, Michigan, was looking for a teacher’s aide, and they invited me to interview. Although I had been a good student growing up and loved to learn, I didn’t feel that this was my calling. I did the interview, was offered the job, and turned it down. They hired another person, ended up canceling that invite, and called me back—insisting that I at least try it out and see if I liked it.
It was then and there that I found my calling. Teaching was my passion, and my path in life had finally cleared enough so that I could see it. I worked with the children there for two years and then decided that I needed to go back to school and get a degree so that I could become a “real teacher.” I enrolled in the local college, obtained my associate degree, and put my own children in the church school for one of those two years. During the second year, I became discouraged and put them in the local public school for a year, a decision I would later regret as it gave them a taste for things that would stay with them for years to come.
I knew at that time that I either had to move to Andrews University, and leave the family and friend support systems that we had, or give up any thoughts of becoming an Adventist teacher. I took a year “off” and continued work as a bank teller while I contemplated what to do. I continued to feel impressed to move to Andrews with my three boys, so that’s what I did. I needed a place to live, and God provided me a wonderful landlord in Tom Witzel, who helped me find the perfect little home to stay in at a rate I could afford. I needed care for my youngest and sometimes the older two when I attended classes: God gave me Lori and Brian Manley and their sweet family. They took excellent care of all of us and supported me through rough times. I needed help with tuition: Andrews had a wonderful single-mother program called “Genesis” that provided financial and logistical support. I wanted to make sure my sons were in Adventist school: The principal at Ruth Murdoch Elementary, Jim Martz, made sure that I had the scholarships to cover their tuition. Wonderful staff there handed me money now and then, like Wanda Poole and Kurt Frey, who gave me leftovers from the cafeteria’s bread supply and made sure that we never went without. The mechanic at Don’s Auto helped me keep my essential car on the road. Repeatedly, God provided through all the wonderful people in my life who believed in Adventist Education.
When it was time for my first teaching job, I landed at Battle Creek Academy, where I taught for 12 years. It was there that I saw my sons through high school, found a wonderful husband, and was “raised up” by the best team of educators that anyone could ask for—people like Kevin Kossick, Phyllis Essex, Jean Anderson, and Charlene Lavallee mentored and cared for me, showing me the love of Christ every day. I like to say that I “grew up” as a Christian there, though my journey certainly isn’t over. I plan to keep “growing” until Jesus comes!
My road hasn’t been easy, but I’m so thankful for all the people that I’ve mentioned and plenty more that I have not—people who love people, love Adventist education, and love Jesus. That’s the kind of people who raise up people like me—a person who loves people, loves Adventist education, and loves Jesus. The cycle perpetuates itself because this is the village that it takes.
Nicole Mattson is the superintendent of education for the Arizona Conference.