“Hartland helped me choose to follow God because of His love for me rather than just doing the ‘right thing’ like I’d always done,” says 2014 Hartland graduate Jim Whitaker. “Since then, life has brought me to many places I never dreamed I would find myself. As I choose to trust the guiding hand of my Savior, He keeps me safe and purposeful even in very trying circumstances.”
At Hartland, God guided Jim to choose the elementary education major after taking a required freshman class, Introduction to Teaching, and teaching one class period at Hartland’s elementary school. “I had never really thought of myself as a teacher prior to that experience. God confirmed it during my time as a student teacher at Hartland, on internship, and after graduation.”
As an undergraduate, Jim especially appreciated “the staff who took an interest in the less promising students.” In his own teaching ministry, Jim showed similar compassion: “I was an uncle figure in many troubled children’s lives.” He also became “a father to two girls whose biological fathers had abandoned them.”
As Jim and his wife followed God’s leading as teachers, God later opened a ministry to Jim that was the fulfillment of his passion—combining education and agriculture. “One day, almost out of the blue, my wife’s boss asked me, ‘Would you be interested in helping us start our Garden-to-Plate farm program?’” So Jim restarted the farm and taught gardening classes at Holbrook Indian School, which had not had an agriculture program for 30 years—his “dream project”!
The project had a very positive impact on the children. Jim remembers, “One day I told my elementary class to pick peas and fill a certain number of buckets. They did a wonderful job and surprised themselves. How thrilling it was to see the joy of accomplishment on their faces! Another time, while building a shed with my middle school class, I was excited to see their enthusiasm as they learned to use the tools and to witness their accomplishments.”
Sadly, Jim had to leave this project in its third year because of major health challenges—a very trying experience. But God sustained him, and he has not lost his vision: “to continue ministering to children, especially those who come from rough backgrounds, in whatever ways God opens for me.” He still teaches a gardening class for children and helps with Pathfinders.