It was 2013. I was no longer in education. I’d officially notified the College of Education at Grand Valley State University that I wouldn’t be continuing in the Fall. Now what? I’d be continuing my education to finish with a 4-year English degree, although the jobs I could get with that degree didn’t particularly draw my interest. I didn’t want to entirely waste the 3 years I’d invested up to that point so it seemed only logical to finish a degree, even if I wouldn’t be using it. The previous year, I had begun a small side-business buying-and-selling online. It seemed to be profitable, perhaps I could grow it? My dad was self-employed as was his father. Both my uncles on that side of the family were also self-employed businessmen. Sales had been a part of my life from the beginning. I could follow in that same vein.
And so began my business: JAE Sales, the name resurrected from a previous venture that I had started with my two brothers, the JAE being a combination of the first initials of our names. Soon, I had a regular circuit of Goodwills I would visit and buy from, expanding out from just their stores to also their online store. I would resell my purchases on eBay and Repocast.com. By 2014, this route hadn’t produced enough profit and couldn’t generate enough items to make for a sustainable business. That’s when someone keyed me into storage locker auctions. The early months of 2014 saw me dive into buying storage lockers that had been repossessed. The auctions were exhilarating, some of the finds intriguing. However, the long-and-short, it was dirty and exhausting work, especially when working by myself. So, while I’ve got some really cool stories of some of my storage-locker-buying exploits (from military purple hearts to a storage locker with a marijuana-growing hydroponics system hidden in the back to authentic WWII memorabilia to the craziness of buying 14 storage lockers in one day), that wasn’t the normal. Most lockers were filled with assortments of daily household items, trash, clothes, a dirty mattress or two (usually a king-size just to make life interesting) and, of course, a huge behemoth of a TV from an age when “flat-screen” had nothing to do with the depth and weight of the TV and everything to do with the curvature of the screen itself. If these were worth their weight in pennies, I would’ve been a millionaire. By the end of that summer, the business was doing better, but it was still, for the most part, scraping by. I had graduated in April of that year so I was now full-time self-employed. If I was to make this my full-time occupation my business plan needed to change. There simply wasn’t enough profit to be had in storage lockers to make it a feasible, self-sustaining business. Something still didn’t feel quite right. Nothing had felt quite right since dropping out of education the previous year, although I wouldn’t have readily admitted that at the time. I was sure that the Lord had closed that door and didn’t intend for me to be a teacher.
So, late August 2014, I sold my box-truck, bought out the lease on my warehouse, and made a giant leap. Deciding that teaching wasn’t God’s will for me, I thought that perhaps that was the Lord’s way to tell me to enter the ministry. So, I began learning Greek at the seminary, taking some philosophy classes at Grand Valley State University, and brushing up on some Latin that I had taken in high-school. This foray was brief (approximately 2-3 months in length). Probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell friends and family I was leaving pre-seminary. My reasons for leaving pre-seminary were varied, but could be summarized with one question that was me by one of the professors: can you do anything except this (being a minister)? My answer was that I could see myself doing other things: the thought of teaching still crossed my mind as well as I could still see myself working in sales. I never had the burning call of the ministry.
Adrift again. Several close family and friends suggested and encouraged I rethink about education, but I insisted that I didn’t want to be a teacher. That wasn’t God’s calling for me. That door had been closed. It would involve returning to school again, and all the same problems from before would still be there. It simply wasn’t possible. So, I reopened my business, restructured my business plan, and began buying-and-selling store-liquidated products. Throughout the following year, JAE Sales grew. Winter of 2015, I hired my youngest brother to work part-time while in high-school. Profits were up. Business was good. Yet, the thought of teaching still kept creeping in at the back of my mind. I would shove it to the side and insist that “when I’m a successful businessman, I won’t want to teach.” And with that reasoning, I successfully squashed the pull I felt towards teaching once again.
In the Spring of 2016, I hired my other brother. Throughout that summer, JAE Sales enjoyed its most profitable months ever. Towards the end of summer, I added another employee, my brother-in-law, as well as purchased a “successful businessman” status-symbol – a really nice Chevrolet Silverado (pearl white, leather seats, LTZ trim-package, the works). JAE Sales was turning out to be successful. And yet…something still wasn’t right. I’d told myself that when I was “successful” in business that I would no longer have any desire to teach. Surely, that would cement-seal teaching out of my life. I wouldn’t feel inextricably drawn back towards it. The only problem…I still wanted to teach. Even worse – I felt the pull to teach even stronger than I had ever felt it before.
And that brings our tale to November of 2016. I sat next to my wife on the couch. Our nearly 3-year old son was in bed. Our second-child was due in 3 months. We talked, and we prayed. The decision was made. I was to return to school that January. Three semesters. A year-and-a-half. We had absolutely no idea how it would work, but we trusted that the Lord would provide…and He did. After a delay of 3.5 years, God reopened the door of education. Throughout those 3.5 years, He had shaped and molded me into the person He wanted me to be so that I could be the teacher He wanted me to be. The realization struck us that this was clearly God’s timing, not ours as Acts 1:7 says, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”
So, what does this say to those who are thinking about education. Mine is just one story. However, there is something to be said for the “pull” that continued to arise and draw me back towards education. That wasn’t “by chance”. God pulled me back to education for He knew He had given a heart ready to teach. This, in one shape-or-form, is similar for all teachers and would-be teachers. They share a heart to teach that God uses to pull them to that calling. Now, unfortunately, this post needs to draw to a close. This topic of the “pull” needs further exploration to be done justice. For this week, though, we take comfort that God has a perfect plan for each one of us, no matter the twists and turns along the way: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee” (Ps. 139: 17-18). So we give thanks for His will is so much greater than ours could ever be, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (II Thessalonians 5:18).
Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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