Maria Niechwiadowicz


I must admit, I might have stepped onto the pulpit in class this week. Not in an overly spiritual sense, but in passion and grit for my students. This week’s topic was focused on the concept of “Success.” In reading and listening to various perspectives on the idea, my students focused on defining their own idea of success, speculating what a successful future might look like for them, and assessing their own goals and dreams.

In preparing for these two lessons, I came across Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk titled “The Key to Success? Grit,” and was struck by her research and concepts.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term-goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future..and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 

I chose to show this clip in class because I feel like my students don’t have high hopes of attaining dreams. They feel limited by where they live, their quality of education, their financial status, and family expectations. These are all important factors, but according to Duckworth, grit surpasses them all. But it left me wondering, can having grit really take precedence over cultural tradition or expectations?  Could one of my students defy his or her parents and choose to study Biology rather than the major chosen for him/her? Or find the courage move to Shanghai to take that dream job despite the parental discontent of being so far away from home?

A year ago, I was graduating college with big dreams to see the world and learn from its people. I had accepted a call to be a Global Mission Fellow but had not yet been placed. I was learning to be patient and was struggling to have grit in not knowing where I would spend the next 2 years of my life. China wasn’t the answer that I expected, but a call I have come to accept.

I am often asked how I am “reaching out” to my students or how am I able to share the Gospel. The truth is, the “traditional” view of evangelism, that is speaking openly about the Gospel in order to convert souls, is not my thing. Spending time in India during college exposed me to the diversity of religious beliefs and in the process I came to love and understand people of these varied backgrounds. This ultimately shaped my idea of evangelism and led me to see out what it mean to serve in mission from a different viewpoint. The connotations associated with missionaries of the past are negative to me. Mission isn’t about entering a foreign community in order to change their way of life. Mission isn’t about “converting” souls. To me, mission is engaging in a community with wide eyes and open ears. Mission is about learning from locals, understanding their way of life and supporting the assets that are already there. Mission is about sharing the Gospel of Christ in living out His love, and trusting that this is enough.

It is not my place to share the Gospel in class. It is not my place to even enter a Christian community of worship here. Yet I have power to make a Christ-like impact. While I have no desire to continue teaching English in a formal environment after this experience, I have realized that my presence in the classroom is much more than the grammar that I teach. Each day I step into the classroom I have the choice to share love or simply go through the motions. To be a motivator or be bored to death. And in every encounter I have with students outside of class, I have the choice to guide conversation to deeper levels or continue to talk about the weather.

In “stepping into the pulpit” this week, I felt called to share a bit of my journey in preparing to graduate from college and take the steps to attain my dream of living in another country to serve in a heart of mission (which I actually described as providing service and building relationships with locals)! The grit that stirred inside me allowed me to remind my students that I am not just here to teach them, but am there to support them. I don’t believe that my mission here is centered around my teaching, I don’t have grit for teaching. I have grit for my students. They are what keep me running that marathon. Now I am trying to understand how I can support their goals and dreams. Other than love and encouragement what can I physically do to connect them to world or provide resources to them? How do I motivate my students to be gritty?

Angela doesn’t have an answer for me, and I have no answer for you. But I hope that within this next year, I will have stories to share of how my students are discovering the grit inside of them.

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. -1 Peter 4:8-11