Dicy McCullough column: Tara Safrit takes a leap of faith
Tara Safrit is the kind of person who lights up a room, making everyone a little happier having spent time with her. Only 23, she already knows what it means to sacrifice comfort and security to help others.
During the last few years as a preschool teacher, Tara has often volunteered to work with children in a Christian environment. Last summer that volunteer work led to the position of counselor at Camp Mundo Vista in Asheboro. Recognized as one of the outstanding leaders, she received an invitation late last fall to work as a missionary at a church preschool in Tahoe City, Calif.
Tahoe City is a little town that sits on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. The First Baptist Church there recruits missionaries each year as an outreach program for the preschool children in their day care. When Tara was approached about the opportunity to leave the comfort of her home and travel over 2,000 miles to teach preschool, she was a little apprehensive. The more she thought about it, however, she knew the timing was right and could feel God calling her in that direction.
When Tara approached her parents (Bobby and Betsy Safrit) about the opportunity, even though they realize she’s an adult, they had reservations. It took many late-night discussions and checking out the program before they gave their blessing.
Besides leaving her family, the hardest part for Tara involved giving up her position as lead teacher at the Preschool of the Arts in Kannapolis. She knew this would mean saying goodbye to the children and co-workers she had come to love.
With only one month to prepare, the next few weeks were spent in a whirlwind of signing papers, getting the airplane ticket and packing for what would be five months away from home. Boarding the plane early one morning for Tahoe City, Tara said everything happened so quickly, she felt like she was in a dream. When she landed in a totally new environment in California and had to spend the first night alone, she knew it wasn’t a dream, but real.
Having been used to snowfalls in North Carolina from an inch to a foot or two, Tara woke up the next morning to see drifts of snow over her head. Although Tara’s official title was that of a preschool teacher, her first assignment was shoveling snow off the sidewalk. The missionary recruiter, Debbie Wohler, told the new recruits that morning to remember they had come to serve others. Tara said even though it was hard work and cold that thought carried her through.
While the first few days were really hard, once Tara had orientation and began working with the children, she began to feel comfortable. The weekdays consisted of teaching Busy Bee preschoolers, ages 3-4, while Sunday afternoons consisted of participating in the ski ministry at different ski lodges. Tara, along with seven other missionary recruits spent their Sunday afternoons on the mountain tops talking to people, singing songs, sharing scriptures and praying.
One of the first hurdles Tara had to overcome in the ski lodge ministry was learning to ski. She said she had tried when younger, but really didn’t have that much experience. Being overzealous the first Sunday, she went down a mountain a little too difficult, falling on her face. With skis going in all directions, she was thankful people came to her rescue. After that, she took things a little slower.
Although at first Tara was homesick, that soon passed as she immersed herself in not only teaching, but activities with her newfound friends. When winter turned into spring, Tara invited her parents to visit, but Bobby said they couldn’t afford it. Little did Bobby and Betsy know Tara planned to surprise them with airplane tickets.
On their flight to California, Betsy said she didn’t know what to expect, but imagined Tahoe City would be like any other California town she had seen on television. Instead, it was a small town with friendly people who didn’t encourage big town commercialism. Talking about the sights, Bobby said, “Because we went in April, we missed the snow, except for a little on the mountain peaks. Even so, it was beautiful and I’m glad we got to go.”
After spending five months away from home, Tara returned in June to a warm welcome. When asked what she had learned from her adventure, she said, “I learned to be more independent, knowing if I’m faced with a challenge, I’m going to be okay.” Then she added, “I definitely would do it again.”
How many of us given an opportunity, like Tara, would take a leap of faith to travel across the country to be a missionary? Perhaps, if we did, we would discover that sometimes the greatest risks, bring the greatest rewards. If in doubt, just ask Tara.