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Work Adventures (2): Leaping over a wall

By my God I can leap over a wall. (Psalm 18:29)

The wall

This series of posts tells the story of a life-changing period in the 1980s when I moved from being a schoolteacher to lecturing at university.

I ended the last post at Easter 1985 when I decided I needed a new job that better fitted my skills, to pursue my fresh vision of serving God through my work. Unfortunately, aged 36, married with three children, it was hard to know what to do. There was a seemingly unsurmountable wall in my way.

I had no idea what to do, so I just got on with life! Then God began to open a way for me.

A way over the wall?

In June, my headteacher asked me to attend a conference for headmasters and careers teachers in Manchester. This was strange as I wasn’t in either category, but who could resist the opportunity of a free trip! During the formal dinner on the last evening, I sat with a lecturer from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, who turned out to be a Christian. I discovered that they had “conversion” Masters degrees in Computing, bringing graduates from other disciplines up to undergraduate degree level in Computing. The lights went on! Although I was Head of Computing at a high school, my knowledge was limited. This would be a perfect preparation for another career. When I discovered that people of my age and experience were welcome, that settled it.

It was possible to get paid secondments from teaching so it seemed this would be financially possible. Very excited, I went home to share the news with Lesley, who was enthusiastically supportive. My church leader, who had started me on this journey nearly a year before by telling me I would never be an elder, was also very affirming.

That Sunday the preacher spoke from Genesis 22 on Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. At the end Lesley asked me how this would affect me. Did I feel it was something I needed to sacrifice? On the contrary, I felt this was my time of resurrection after years of death! The sermon was a confirmation.

I applied to several universities within travelling distance of Leeds. (Sadly, neither of the universities in Leeds offered the kind of course I wanted.) After interviews, I was accepted by all, and chose Manchester because it seemed the most challenging – part of exploring my gifts was to push myself. Then, with a place secured, I applied for the secondment.

The wall comes back

Results for secondment applications were normally released in February, but there was no news. As time went on, I wondered what was happening. Would the whole thing come to nothing? Repeatedly I found myself coming back to being willing to submit to God, whatever his ways were. Psalm 18 was a great encouragement at this time, particularly verse 29: “Leaping over a wall” seemed very apt.

On June 2, all secondment application results were announced together. None were granted! This was clearly a policy decision and seemed to be a “dirty trick”, as the closing date for resignations that term was May 31. There were now two major problems: I was tied by my contract to teach next term, and with no salary I would not have enough income for university – a standard student grant would be inadequate. My way seemed blocked again.

Leaping the wall

When I next saw my pastor, I told him I couldn’t go because of these obstacles. His reply was brief: “Doing this is from God. Find a way!” I was a bit put out by the abruptness, but it pushed me back on God. Psalm 18:29 was an encouragement again: “by my God I can leap over a wall.”

Strengthened by this, I looked for funding, and found that this kind of course had additional allowances for age and dependents, on top of the basic grant. Taking this into account, a postgraduate studentship would be enough to support us, even if a little less than my normal salary. I hadn’t looked in detail at this before, because I was expecting a fully-paid secondment.

One obstacle was dealt with, but I was still tied by my contract. My head of faculty, who had recently become a Christian, suggested I could apply for a year’s unpaid leave of absence. I asked the headteacher, who was supportive because he knew I had been badly treated. He applied to the Director of Education, who replied along the lines of “who on earth does this guy think he is?” Undeterred, the head showed his political skills by going down the chain of command and asking the Deputy Director, who immediately agreed and signed off on it! The same day, the head also appointed a colleague as acting Head of Computing in my absence and sealed the deal.

If I’d been seconded, I would have had to go back to school for a year afterwards, but unpaid leave of absence was much better, as I didn’t have to return. The problem had been turned into a blessing. I was free to go to university and free to move forward afterwards. A classic case of God working all things together for good!

In October I started my course at Manchester University, with a sense of liberation and adventure. I didn’t know where it would all lead, but I was confident that God had opened the door. With God’s help, I had indeed been able to jump over a wall!

The final touch There was one last experience of God’s provision at school. My teacher’s salary stopped at the end of August when my leave of absence began. My scholarship began in October when my course began. This left a month with no income, so I needed to find some supply teaching or other temporary work. To my surprise, just before the end of term in July, the head of my school’s PE department asked me to fill in a gap full-time for one month in September. I didn’t have to look for work, it just came to me! And I had a pleasant month of paid exercise in the open air before the start of intense study!

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