Interviewers: Erin & Jamie Kim
Interviewee: Heather Park
Location: CPC EM Prayer Room
Erin & Jamie: Tell us about yourself!
Heather: Well, my name is Heather, and I'm 25 years old. I currently work as a speech pathologist in two charter schools in Harlem. There are many challenges working there but I feel like I am being used by God so its been rewarding in many ways. I’m actually new to CPC too, I joined this past April but I feel like over the past half year, God has really shown me my place here through fellowship and serving. Like for example, I just got back from History Makers retreat.
You mentioned that you’ve been at CPC for only a couple months and that you’re serving. What made you want to serve? Why specifically elementary kids?
Heather: So I came in April and shortly after that, we had our EM retreat in July and there were some kids there from the EM parents. I bonded with the little ones and I felt so much joy because they were so pure, energetic and happy even though there was no concrete reason to be. I’ve always had a heart for children, but I never intended on serving because I’m still a newcomer. But I started discipleship class with Pastor Joyce in June and she encouraged me, saying, “I don’t just ask anyone but I really think you would be good at interacting with the kids so just consider it.” So I did and I’m glad that I did. I felt so much joy doing body worship with the kids, especially because I love dancing. She knew that I was a dancer and that I liked kids so she was like PERFECT! And that’s how I got plugged into that. I started out as a TA and I led the elementary Christmas dance with Sarah so yeah... it is very fast being that I’m still trying to adjust in EM.
That’s an amazing and huge transition! How did you feel about it all?
Heather: At first, I was worried because I lack in many ways so how was I supposed to serve? Because I know that when you serve, you’re supposed to be rooted in the word and I felt very nervous in that. But what I’ve been realizing is that when you’re in that position of serving others, you gain so much more. And because I’m receiving so much, I don’t even feel like im serving or giving something to these kids because I’m walking this Christian, spiritual journey right alongside with them, and it’s very humbling. It challenges me to be upright in my walk just because if I’m telling them to do all these things and I’m not even doing it, I would feel really hypocritical. Overall it’s been really good for me.
You just came back from your first time serving at a retreat. How was it for you?
Heather: At first it was very daunting just because when I found out I was a small group leader, I had a mini panic attack because it was my first time. I don’t even remember being a small group leader when I was in my Catholic church or my previous church. I was never in that position where I had to guide a group. But yeah, I just thought I have to guide the discussions and with History makers, I assumed like oh they’re in 3-6th grade, they should understand all these concepts. I was proven wrong, not in an insulting way but I expected that I would just give them 10 minutes to answer questions and then discuss after. But instead they were asking “What does this mean? What does that mean?” and I found myself saying “Oh boy…I have to really break it down.”
Jamie: So did you expect the kids to know more book wise? For me, I did body worship for the kids, and going into it, I thought they wouldn’t understand a lot spiritually. But when I served, I realized how pure their prayers and hearts were; they were more spiritually aware than I expected them to be. Was that also your expectation?
Heather: I started out as a TA in history makers for a good 2 months; I was observing in a Sunday school environment and they were all so studious and they got right to work so that’s what I anticipated because that’s what I saw. I see exactly what you mean by pure though because the first night there was an alter call just because there were some non-believers there and I was so shocked and all the kids were so willing to get up there and pray on their knees. In an adult retreat, you’re conscious of what other people think and the fear of man is more present. These kids were just so pure in heart which reminded me of the verse “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”(Matthew 5:8) It was a recurring verse throughout the retreat because they’re so enthusiastic and when they learn a concept, they’re like sponges who soak up everything. It’s refreshing to see and I feel like as you get older, you start seeing things in shades of gray and tend to overcomplicate things, but the bible is pretty straightforward. The fact that these kids take it at face-value, that faith is so precious. They don’t expect anything, they just want you to be you, which made me at ease.
You briefly mentioned your Catholic background so how was that and how did you end up at CPC?
Heather: I grew up Catholic, and I knew a God existed but it wasn’t really until high school that I dived deep into my faith. It was through a retreat that I received the gift of tongues and we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and that’s when the doors opened for me to understand what the Catholic theology is all about. Looking back now, it was a very ritualistic faith that I had. My faith wasn’t based on the truth of the bible but more so, my emotions and feeling like God was present which is very unstable because if circumstances didn’t go my way then I tended to question God. We have mass in the Catholic church which is the same all over the world. Everything’s read from the same book and it’s all memorized. So having gone to the Catholic church for so long, I started to feel like a robot, reciting prayers without any heart. After college, my Christian friend from middle school invited me to a bible seminar. It was there that they talked about how the bible is reliable. They put it side-by-side with artifacts, history, and science and how everything that is happening in this realm is already spoken about in the bible. I thought that was interesting because I thought the bible was just a bunch of symbolic stories and greek mythology. I felt this insatiable hunger and for many, many months I would just lock myself away in my room reading the bible and I didn’t want to do anything else. There were so many things being revealed to me that were in direct contrast with how the Catholic church was practicing their faith and it just kept coming up. I felt so much dissonance in my heart. During this time, my mom was going through the same thing too and she knew all of this but she couldn’t find an open door to leave. I felt really stuck. All I could do was pray and ask God what to do. The very next day, I saw through Instagram that this guy that I went to Catholic church with was now Christian. I was talking about this with all my Christian friends but they can’t really empathize with me because they’ve never experienced anything like that. So I reconnected with him and how he managed to leave the Catholic church and he understood the struggle exactly. It was through him that I attended my previous church and that became my first church. I knew this was all from God because there’s no such thing as coincidence. I really thank God for where He’s brought me.
Thank you for sharing that, we just learned a lot about Catholicism that we didn’t know before.
Heather: A big thing we learned is that God is so holy that no one can go near Him; you needed a mediator, like a priest, saints, or virgin Mary. So I remember praying to the saints when I was younger. There’s also something called confession where you go into a small room and confess all your sins to the priest. Through the priest, your sins are all forgiven. Confession was a big thing that didn’t make sense to me… like why am I telling all my sins to a person when I can just repent and go before God? Towards the end of my Catholic walk I refused to do confession and followed my convictions. Those were some of the things that made me question what I was practicing. Now that I’m here, I feel free to worship God with my own words and heart.
Yeah that’s crazy. A lot of people have the misconception that Christianity and Catholicism are the same thing. There’s less of a difference between Christianity and Catholicism than there is between most of the other religions.
Heather: I think that’s why it’s so scary because they look so identical that a lot of people are deceived and think it’s the truth. It’s like.. what is that called again… beanboozled!
Heather: They look the same, but they’re not! You’re actually being beanboozled!
Wow, that analogy actually really spoke to us
Heather: Yeah, I used to work with a patient who was a Jehovah’s Witness and we spent a lot of time with everyday, and every appointment we would preach our own versions of the gospel to each other. I would even start to question my own beliefs and think, “Is Jesus really God?” I was shocked at how easy it is to be deceived. It’s so scary and that’s why we have to know the word even more.
I also wanted to ask about your job. It’s really interesting because there aren’t any other speech pathologists here, and it’s becoming a really popular occupation that students are pursuing.
Heather: Wow, really? I didn’t know!
So what are the hardest and best parts of being a speech pathologist?
Heather: I think a big challenge is that it’s a lot of paperwork. I have to write down a really detailed description of every session that occurs. Also, every child has very individual needs and interests, so planning unique sessions for every child I have is almost impossible. Instead, I do the same activities for every kid, but just modified versions. I also work in Harlem so that’s a 4 hour commute round trip
That must be so tiring!
Heather: Yeah! Which is why it’s that much harder to create a unique activity for all 50 kids that I have! Another hard part is that their therapy should be ongoing; how much can an hour a week really impact and change this child’s life? All parents, teachers, babysitters, etc. have to be on board so they can implement these techniques in naturalistic environments…but yeah, definitely paperwork has to be the biggest challenge.
Are there any emotional challenges?
Heather: My heart physically feels the pain for my kids because the education system is so broken. Some teachers don’t understand that these kids have a disability that make it hard for them to go along with the curriculum. Some teachers yell at the kids and don’t treat them with dignity. I have kids who don’t know basic vocabulary, like 3rd graders who don’t know their body parts. If I ask, “where’s your shoulder?” they don’t know. I only see these kids an hour a week, so I feel like I’m giving all that I can, but it’s not enough. I question if I’m even making a difference. The problem seems so big, and I’m only one person.
It’s definitely understandable to feel that way, because there’s so much to do but so little time.
Heather: Yeah! There’s so much work that needs to get done and so many goals I want to target…feeling helpless is a challenging part.
How about the best parts of your job?
Heather: Every small victory is so big. I have a kid right now who has a really hard time asking questions. One time he wanted to ask for a sticker, but his word order is all jumbled. He would say like, “sticker I have can I?” So we worked on that for a week or two. Then one day, he wanted a sticker, and I could see in his face… the way he was thinking was slow and intentional. He was like, “can…i…have…a…sticker?” I celebrated that day, and it seems small, but for him to be able to express his wants or needs, and do it in a way where other people can understand him… that’s so amazing. Or another kid I have who has a stutter and helping him unlock his communication difficulty… These kids don’t know how to express themselves, and they get so frustrated that they end up acting out violently, which is why teachers just yell at them. But they aren’t bad kids, they just have a disability. There are so many great things about this job, it’s so rewarding.
Why did you decide to become a speech pathologist?
Heather: The initial reason was because I know that everyone has a story to tell. When you first meet someone, you look at physical aspects and how they dress. It’s one thing for other people to label you based on these outside aspects, but it’s another thing for someone to be able to advocate for themself and speak out for who they really are. The fact that some of these people don’t have that communication skill…it’s something we all take for granted. I really wanted to work with those who can’t speak for themselves and end up having other people tell them who they are.
That’s so eye-opening to hear, that even speaking in sentences that make sense is a blessing. It’s amazing that you have such a big heart for the people you work with.
Heather: Definitely! Oh, also, I’m an insane foodie
Heather: I love food and speech pathologists work a lot with swallowing. Especially in nursing homes, a lot of my patients have a hard time swallowing because of a stroke, Alzheimers, etc. So working around food makes me really happy (everyone laughs). I feel like this job is a really good fit for me overall.
It’s great and inspiring to see that even amongst all the challenges, you’re still able to have little victories.
Heather: Yeah…and that’s what keeps me going. It’s such a privilege that I get to have this part in a kid’s life. The challenges I face can be frustrating. I try to do it with my own strength and the things I learned in school. But instead, I really should pray and ask for wisdom on how to treat these children.
Speaking about prayer, how can we pray for you?
Heather: For me… to continue to be a faithful follower of God. But for me to do that, I need to be rooted in the word. I feel like at this time, God feels distant from me, but I know He’s always with me, but I’m still relying on emotions to define how I’m doing in my faith. I’m also praying for a greater hunger for Him, and that I would be sensitive to how He’s moving in my life, and be obedient to it. Please pray that as I’m walking with Christ, I can heed to his wisdom. I also have a really hard time loving people who are unlovable…so another prayer request would be to recognize God’s love for me so that I can love.
Thanks so much for sharing Heather! We had a great time and we will definitely keep you in our prayers!