Aiding & A Blessing: Marta Smalley
By Blake Hiemstra, Central Valley Christian Middle School Principal
In a country with a beleaguered economy, having a job is a gift. Having a job that you love is a blessing. Working in a place that feels like a second home is a treasure. Serving as CVC’s Before/After School Care Director and Kindergarten aide prompts Marta Smalley every day to offer prayers of gratitude for such a treasure. “Every day I say ‘Thank you, God, for my job.’ I never thought I’d work in a Christian school. This job is a blessing.”
When looking at a CVC staff roster, it’s easy to see the diverse population of individuals and personalities God has brought together in this spot of earth. What’s a tad more difficult to see is the intricate tapestry God’s woven in the grander story of this school, how he’s taken the life stories filled with grace and woe and despair and triumph of a hundred individuals and threaded them together to accomplish his purposes at CVC. Some of these life stories stretch to places as exotic as Pella, Iowa, or Grand Rapids, Michigan. But some of the stories behind the people stretch even more globally, to different corners of the world.
One such story of grace and God’s providence belongs to Marta. The long and winding road leading her to CVC began in El Salvador. Growing up in a country fractured and besieged by civil war meant experiencing plenty of eyes-wide-open moments for young Marta. When she was just eleven years old, she and a friend walked to the store to get a birthday cake for Marta’s mom. While walking the aisles of the store, a bank robbery across the street turned the merriment of cake-shopping into a face-to-the-floor moment of anxiety. As robbers exited the bank, gunshots fired and left plenty of folks lifeless. Though Marta and her friend survived unscathed, the episode prompted Marta’s mom to declare from that moment on, “You’re going to church.” And go to church Marta did, becoming the impetus for a faith in Christ that’s carried her all the way to present day.
Surviving in El Salvador meant many days in the safer confines of indoors and learning the power of fervent prayer. As a young woman, she heard her minister explain the life of a pastor’s wife. He said, “Being a pastor’s wife isn’t easy, but it’s a blessing.” Not dissuaded by the former, she latched on to the latter. “I want to be blessing,” she recalls. She prayed, “God, I want to go to other place and be blessing.” Making the trip from El Salvador to the United States seemed impossible, but, of course, our great God specializes in orchestrating beauty in the midst of insurmountable odds. Five times she tried to get a visa to the United States, and five times she failed. Finally, on the sixth (and perhaps last) try, she was granted a visa, and she stepped off the plane in Sacramento onto U.S. soil for the first time in 1999.
Eventually she moved to Visalia and came into contact with a young pastor named Ted Smalley, who wanted to do a vacation Bible school outreach in Ivanhoe and needed a Spanish translator. Marta proved to be the perfect resource and for three straight years, she got to spend exactly five days doing VBS with Ted. Unfortunately the language barrier limited their interaction to plenty of smiles and head nods. Little did Ted know about Marta’s desire to be a pastor’s wife and to be a blessing. She recalls the exact moment clearly. “When I see Ted, God says, ‘It’s him.’” Soon their interaction wasn’t limited to VBS, and dating turned into engagement, which turned into marriage, which soon led to two little boys.
With an earnest and sincere desire to train their sons in God’s ways, when their oldest son Teddy hit school age, Ted and Marta prayed to find the right school. Before driving to CVC for their initial interview, Ted and Marta prayed, “God, please give us a school that wants to partner with us to raise Christian young men and women.” After exchanging pleasantries with then-principal Mr. Postmus, he opened the interview with these words: “At CVC, we want to partner with families to raise Christian young men and women.” With as direct an answer as they could ask, Ted and Marta enrolled their son and started the journey familiar to many CVC parents.
A few years later younger son Caleb started in kindergarten, and Marta offered another fervent prayer. “God, give me job that allows me to be available for my sons.” When a bevy of applications at places all around the area proved fruitless, she simply volunteered in Mrs. Bons’ kindergarten classroom for the year. The following year a spike in kindergarten enrollment necessitated aides in each classroom. With Mrs. Bons seeing Marta’s value in the classroom, she encouraged her to apply for the job, which Marta did, albeit hesitantly, unsure if she’d really have a chance at the job. When Mr. Fakkema called and said, “Marta, we’d like to offer you a job,” she knew once again the power of a faithful God who simply answers the prayers of his children. Tears well up in her eyes as she recalls the blessing of that opportunity. “I am so blessed to have this job,” she declares. “It’s like my second home.”
In addition to working in the kindergarten classroom, CVC hired Marta to direct the Before/After School Care program which allows working parents to drop off kids early and pick them up late. It’s a position Marta relishes and works hard in to build community. Each day after school with her crew of students ranging from kindergartners through 6th graders, she has them do their homework, leads them in a devotional and has a time of prayer with them. When 5:00 hits, sometimes she and her students are the only ones left on campus. She reassures them with these words: “God always protects us, and God always blesses us.”
Indeed, the words are truths that she’s spent her whole life savoring.
This post was originally published in the winter 16/17 issue of our quarterly magazine, The Cavalier. If you’re an alumni and would like to be included on the mailing list, please update your information here.
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