After 10 years teaching in the UK, Naomi Coleman was at a crossroads professionally and looking at the next step in her career.
“I was never particularly interested in travelling, foreign foods or languages,” she recalls. “I was also quite clear that I never wanted to work overseas.”
But after reading Matthew’s Gospel during the long school holidays of 2013, Naomi realised you can’t place limitations on following Jesus.
“I’d handed many aspects of my life up to God, but I was really struck that you can’t put conditions on where you follow Jesus. I wanted to follow him wherever, so at the end of that summer, I prayed for direction, asking God to make it really clear if he wanted to send me overseas.”
Within weeks of that prayer, Naomi received an email from a missionary family she’d been praying for over several years, saying how they urgently needed a teacher to support them in their ministry with the Good News Project in Mandritsara, Madagascar.
“‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘this is what God is calling me to.’” she admits.
After visiting the family while they were back in the UK on Home Assignment, Naomi arranged to spend her next summer break in Mandritsara to see whether this was something she could see herself doing.
“My big concern was that I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she reveals. “I was quite confident in my teaching, but the idea of living somewhere different and the challenges of living in a very poor place and letting go of everything I enjoyed in my life in the UK, made me feel unsure if I could really do this.
“When it was time to leave Madagascar, I really felt God telling me to come back, but knew I had to test that, so I talked with my family, with my church and made contact with SIM UK.
Their combined help, support and encouragement confirmed it was the right thing to do.”
Sent by Cambray Baptist Church, Cheltenham, Naomi moved to Madagascar in 2015, leaving a school where she was part of a big staff team and had the help of classroom assistants, to teaching the children of three missionary families in a makeshift classroom in the spare room of her house on the hospital compound.
“It was very strange to begin with. We basically had wooden desks, a fan, and a whiteboard, and I had to do everything myself, from writing the timetable to building display boards from old cardboard boxes!” she recalls.
Over the years, Naomi’s taught many children across all ages and even done babysitting in order to serve the missionary team in their roles, or just to enable them to catch up on things they need to at home, or enjoy some precious child-free time.
Although day-to-day life can be quite hard with little running water, power cuts and most recently, the Covid pandemic, Naomi has enjoyed seeing the ministry team diversify and expand.
Since 2015, more space has been dedicated to teaching and there are currently families from three different continents serving in the growing multicultural team.
During her time in Mandritsara, Naomi has taught a total of 18 children and relished being free to bring a biblical world view into the classroom.
“Teaching a small number of children over a long period of time gave me the chance to really build relationships,” she adds. “I also get to know their parents and being part of the missionary team means I’ll often go to church with the children, or have lunch with their families etc, so it’s been lovely to get to know them so well and been a privilege to pray with them and to see them grow spiritually.”
Through her ministry, families have been able to stay on the field and continue serving, but after seven years, Naomi now feels it’s the right time to pass on the baton to someone else.
“I’ve done seven scorching hot seasons and honestly don’t want to do another one! Emotionally, this can also be quite a tough place to be: You invest in people; you love people and then they leave, so I think now’s the right time to step back and take stock and reconnect with everyone back home in the UK.”
And now, after a well-earned time of rest and renewal, Naomi intends to carry on partnering with SIM UK and continue her gospel work by doing the job she loves.
By Kerry Allan
- Thank God for Naomi’s ministry and the impact she’s had on her pupils’ lives during the past seven years.
- For God’s guidance as she considers her future.
- For God to raise up her successor to help with the education of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) in Mandritsara.