“Tell me what your heart’s desire has been–explain what’s in your soul,” said Jim to his wife, Laurie.

She sighed, closed her eyes and responded, “To teach art.”

“Then that is what you must do,” Jim said. And with these words of encouragement, Laurie set off on an adventure that kept her happier, more fulfilled and more off-balance (!) than anything else could have done. Fifteen years later she is closing that chapter to retire with her husband.

Teaching is one of the hardest jobs, next to parenting, in which  a person can engage. Teaching in a high school elevates that challenge, and teaching art in a high school pushes one’s creative endeavors to the extreme.

Yet Laurie Foerderer rose to the challenge with aplomb. She had the opportunity to go into a non-teaching, non-artistic career, but fortunately God, and her husband, guided her where she needed to be: Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Being an Adventist teacher in a public high school system is akin to being a missionary in a foreign country, and you had better learn to speak that language! Laurie did.

In her classes she draws from her many experiences as a child sitting with her grandmother (also a teacher) and making crafts seemingly from nothing. These projects fired her love of making things from sewing to watercolors, and as a youngster she willingly taught Vacation Bible School and children’s Sabbath school. Early in life, she thought she wanted to work for a large, well-known greeting card company, and eventually she  pursued a degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University. Instead, she was offered a teaching gig in Dickinson, North Dakota, even before she had earned her teaching credentials from Bismarck State College. But never did she look back.

“I have surrounded myself with some of the greatest educators I’ve ever met,” said Laurie, speaking enthusiastically of her past few years. “The opportunities we have as a Christian teacher are overwhelming.” She has prayed with her students, wept with them and encouraged them to come talk to her any time. It’s 4:00 pm and her office is still filled with students. “Hey you guys,” she says, “you need to go home! I need to go home!” And reluctantly they leave, even the student who has been crying on her shoulder until his nose is running.

These kids come from a diversity of situations. Some are “A” students, sporting a GPA of 4.0; some are special needs. Some have almost every material thing they could desire; others are barely surviving. However, they have one thing in common: a teacher who loves them and looks out for them. Laurie states, “My hope and prayer is that my students know that I care.”

Some students have horrible things happen to them—and this is true no matter in which school they find themselves—so they need teachers like Mrs. Foerderer. She cares for all 125 students who pass through her door daily (yes, daily). Imagine being responsible for the education and care of so many students and the effort to be available to each of them on their terms. That is a true missionary!

Over the years things evolve. One truism is that the students grow into adults and move on. But Laurie has been invited to and attended their weddings, baby showers and other momentous events, demonstrating that she is making a lasting impact on these students’ lives. When asked how teaching itself has evolved, she mentions that there are more computers, computer programs and virtual classrooms incorporated into the teaching schematics. This can be a good thing, but like all progress, some of it doesn’t improve the teaching stage.

When asked how the community and parents can help teachers, Laurie states, “Come to the class and see what’s going on. Don’t be quick to judge if you haven’t stepped into a classroom.”

She has two student trips happening even after she retires: one to the east coast of the United States and one to Greece. Then what? She’s not sure. Maybe a small group art class?

Certainly Laurie has embodied this quote she chose to live by: “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

Reese Saxon is a teacher, artist and member of the Bismarck Adventist Church. She and her husband, David, have missionary hearts and spent the first year of their marriage in Indonesia at the English Language School. Since then the couple have participated in several mission trips to Brazil and Haiti.