Heard this week that my very first ministry partner passed away. Full disclosure: I use the term “ministry partner” loosely in this case. I don’t think she knew the Lord and never gave a gift to our organization. But she was the first recipient of my very first newsletter on August 10, 1977, and had an incalculable influence on my life.
I first met Frances Bianco on September 7, 1976, in South Orange, New Jersey … when I started fourth grade and she was my teacher.
Mrs. Bianco was a great teacher and a tremendous encouragement.
The following summer my father announced a sudden family move across the country to Connecticut (okay, 125 miles away). I broke the news to her and an aunt in Montreal by writing a handwritten “newspaper” just like the little school newspaper we had created that year in class. It cost 13¢ to mail anywhere in the USA or Canada.
Since we also left two older sisters in New Jersey, I wrote a second edition to update them on our fall activities and Thanksgiving trip to the homestead in Quebec. Over time, my mother introduced me to photocopying, typewriters, press-on lettering, and third-person writing.
Four years on the high school newspaper staff almost led to a career in journalism, but at least gave me skills I use today.
Last month I published the 132nd edition of this family history. Mrs. Bianco was a subscriber and pen pal for 45 years. I texted her photos as I traveled around the world; I often called her on her birthday or just to chat. She turned 83 last November, did yoga daily and walked miles; she was a model of health and fitness. But alas, a short illness wound down the life of a teacher who influenced hundreds of kids over the decades. Living a half mile from the elementary school where she taught, she saw many of these students into adulthood.
In 2018, a ministry trip brought me to the town of my youth and I visited with Mrs. Bianco for the first time in 40 years. My teen son joined me on a later trip where I introduced the two of them; she made him feel like he was the only person in the room. No wonder her students loved her!
What did I learn from Mrs. Bianco that has helped me in my years in ministry?
- Whoever she is talking to is the most important person to her at that moment. I saw this when I brought my teen son with me; he wasn’t an accessory to our conversation. He was the center of her attention.
- She asks great questions. She asked Camden about his studies, his interests—great leading questions that resulted in thoughtful answers.
- She believed in me. I once overheard her compliment me to another class (she did not know I was passing the room outside).
- She loved hand-written letters—she wrote to me until about five years ago when we started texting. Her letters were always filled with positive encouragement and praise for our work and family.
Proverbs 27:23 says, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds…” In Old Testament times, these were the source of sustenance for the people and they needed to be regularly cared for. Our source of sustenance is our ministry partners. God is the ultimate provider, of course, but now—as then—it is up to us to care for and cultivate what He has entrusted to us.
We can learn a lot from a fourth-grade teacher.