Alumna drawn to ‘plight of the vulnerable’ wherever she goes
Posted on October 12, 2012
René Marshall Haile, a 2005 graduate of Erskine College, completed a major in Bible and religion as well as a second major in mathematics, a puzzling combination to some.
But Haile has gone places with that double major.
“One wouldn’t think that math and biblical studies go hand in hand, but I thoroughly enjoyed both and so couldn’t say no to either,” she said.
Haile has seen how the two paths of study can complement each other in the years since her graduation.
Overseas and back
“I will first say that God’s will is seldom predictable,” she said of her several years’ experience in humanitarian endeavors.
A two-year stint in Nigeria, from 2007 to 2009, running a youth camp under the auspices of SIM (Serving in Mission), appealed to her keen interest in “the plight of the vulnerable,” an interest she believes God has developed in her.
“Part of the reason I enjoyed my two years in Nigeria is that Nigerian youth are largely disregarded by the rest of society,” she said. “So to run a ‘youth’ camp goes against the grain and necessitates finding resources for a needy population.”
When she returned to her hometown—Greensboro, North Carolina—she answered a call to serve the vulnerable once again, becoming involved with an anti-trafficking effort called “Abolition!”
As a ministry of Haile’s home church, “Abolition!” partnered with local agencies “who were on the front lines” in the fight against human trafficking, she said.
“After several months of volunteering, I was asked to apply for an open position with a local non-profit,” Haile said. She went from being a case manager for victims of human trafficking to taking an AmeriCorps position as director of a community center for refugees and immigrants.
How did she get the job? Perhaps it goes back to that double major.
“I can say that part of my appeal was my problem-solving ability and mindset, which, I believe, stems from my math studies,” Haile explained. “My favorite thing about math courses was always the feeling of solving something that, at first glance, seemed impossible.”
As to the value of her Bible and religion major for her work, she said, “For a thousand reasons, my understanding of who God is and how He loves His people was informed by my Bible and religion classes.”
In a nod to Younts Professor of Bible and Religion Dr. William B. Evans, she added, “As Dr. Evans always said, theology must inform praxis!”
UNC-Greensboro Center for New North Carolinians was located in an apartment complex where many refugees were placed by resettlement agencies. “With the diversity of ethnicities and strong communal cultures, this complex felt like a village with the community center acting as the hub,” Haile said.
“I was in charge of managing and running all the various programs at the center, including ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for adults, computer literacy classes, citizenship classes, a women’s craft cooperative, an after-school tutoring program, and a full summer program for the kids.”
She credits her general experience at Erskine with helping to prepare her for challenges in the workplace. “My involvement in many different clubs and areas of campus taught me how to organize my time and balance it with a realistic view of my own limitations,” she said.
Haile also served as a case manager for residents with individual needs. “For instance, they would get a medical bill in the mail and have no clue what it meant or how they were going to pay it,” she said. “With their limited English skills, they couldn’t just call up the hospital and get answers.”
In addition to running programs and working with residents, she provided rides to appointments when bus transportation was not available or helped find resources for health care and jobs.
“Each day was a crazy whirlwind, but I looked forward to going there,” she said.
“Without a doubt, many things I learned in my Bible classes, such as an understanding of God’s redemptive work for not just our souls, but all of life, have affected how I see my part in furthering God’s kingdom.”
Seeking the kingdom, finding fulfilment
Seeking God’s kingdom has taken Haile into many lives—in Nigeria with SIM, with “Abolition!” and most recently in her community center work with AmeriCorps—and has given her the happy sense of making an impact.
“For the clients who were formerly trafficking victims, my work with them enabled them to start to build a new life for themselves and their families and begin to put away the darkness that held them captive,” she said.
She assisted clients in getting ‘green cards’ and jobs, took clients to medical appointments— including one in which the woman found out she was pregnant—and helped a middle school group “take a trip to the beach for the first time in their lives.”
“Those are just a few examples,” Haile said, “but my heart is filled with memories of incredible opportunities.”
This fall, her husband Andrew will be studying law in Boston, and she is taking a new opportunity to serve, this time as a math teacher at the Roxbury Prep Dorchester Campus in Boston. Roxbury Prep is part of Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit network of charter public schools that Haile learned about from a friend who worked at Uncommon Schools in New York City.
“I looked into loads of charter schools, but once I came up for a sample lesson and interview and got to see the school in action, I was hooked,” she said.
Haile looks forward to “the unique dynamic a teacher can form with her students” as she begins her work in Boston. “We can all think of teachers who made a difference in our lives and by God’s grace, I hope to do the same at Uncommon,” she said.
Ready, steady, go
Asked what advice she might offer to current Erskine students about the process of discerning a vocation and actually finding work, Haile offered several suggestions.
“Be genuinely open-handed, but don’t wait for something to just fall into your lap,” she said.
“As the saying goes, it’s easier to steer a moving ship, so you MUST start getting after it,” she continued. “Put yourself out there and risk being rejected or even wrong.”
Haile referred to her own experience and urged the importance of passion. “Identify what makes your heart beat rapidly and go and do that!” she said. “Even if you have to volunteer and your bill-paying job is hostessing at a restaurant—which I did for six months in Greensboro—make sure you have an outlet for your God-given passions.”
She also gave a warning: “Be fiscally responsible early on so you don’t have to take a job you hate just to pay off debt.”
Reflecting on how God has led her, Haile sees how one experience builds on another. In addition to acquiring “the skill of conversing” with people who are still learning English and developing “a profound sensitivity for the vulnerable,” she said, God has taught her “the value of investing in the community and ‘seeking the shalom’ of wherever He’s placed me.”
She points out that since her most recent jobs in North Carolina were for non-profits, she has “learned even more how to do much with little and lean on the Lord to keep going when the responsibilities are overwhelming.”
It all sounds like a pretty good preparation for teaching.
“Mostly, I feel extremely blessed by the Lord to be where I am right now, and all I have to say is that I’m here by ‘grace upon grace.’”