Monday, February 19, 2007

Christians with The Heart of A Servant - Fifth in the Series

Middle School Teacher, St. Louis, MO

Mark and Nancy Pitts

A Teacher with the Heart of A Servant...

Some things never die and a good friendship filled with great memories is one of those things. I first met Mark Pitts when we were students at Johnson Bible College, right at thirty years ago. (Ohh, that hurt just a little to admit) I can say truthfully, that Mark is a man of multi-talents – any JBC student from 1976 to 1979 would be able to
list them with a beaming smile. That statement alone should tell you he harbors a wonderful sense of humor.

Mark and Nancy have four children between them (Nancy has a son and daugther, as does Mark) and they live just outside of St. Louis, where Nancy also works for a law firm. Among Mark's unique ways to impress his students -- is his tie collection. He wears a different tie every day, whether it matches or not. (Now, that's the Mark I remember.) Kids love that sort of thing, and when they see that being a teacher doesn't mean one can't have some fun, then they loosen up just a bit.

Though the years have passed and we’ve actually only physically seen each other three times since college, I can firmly attest that the joys of our friendship are alive and kicking. Like so many, both of us fell to unsuccessful first marriages, however, thanks to the loving grace of Christ, we’ve both been blessed with spouses who far exceed anything either of us felt we deserved. Having said that, we’ll move forward.

From the first teaching position Mark held, in South Carolina (just a few miles from where my husband and I lived), his innovative teaching and unique sense of humor led me to believe he would be nothing less than a wonderful teacher.Without further hesitation, let me introduce you to a dear, dear friend…Mark “The Keeb” Pitts.

***** ******

Mark, thanks for finally agreeing to an interview. It took some convincing to finally get you to fall prey to my inquisitive mind. Let’s start by finding out about the kids you teach.
At the present time I teach 6th grade World Geography at West Middle School for the Fort Zumwait School District. This is just outside of St. Louis, MO. It’s a large district with over 20,000 students. We’re building our 4th high school right now. We already have 4 middle schools and 17 elementary buildings.

Where did you begin your teaching career?
I started my career in Williamsburg County, South Carolina in 1981. My first year there, I taught 4th grade. Mid-way through my second year there, I was pulled from my position of remedial reading teacher and moved so I could attempt to handle some 7th and 8th graders who had managed to run off their third teacher that year. Now, that was challenge. My third and final year in South Carolina, I decided I needed to get back to the little ones, so I moved back to the 3rd grade level.

That’s a lot of shuffling for your first three years out. How did you handle such frequent changes?
Teaching in poor conditions for three years really took a toll on me. The pay was poor and my first wife and I had just had our first child. Working through such turmoil had taken the fun out of teaching. Teaching simply wasn’t fun anymore. I decided to either get out of education or find a job teaching elsewhere. Luckily, I had connections in one of the Missouri towns where I had lived as a child. Actually, my connection was a friend from a church my dad had ministered. He knew the man who did the hiring…it was a friend of a friend of friend kind of thing. Ironically, this same man was my Junior High principal – the very one who’d given me two swats for chewing gum in 8th grade. I went to my interview praying that he wouldn’t remember that part!
A few years later, I actually ended up teaching in the same 5th grade classroom where I was taught. Talk about odd feeling. I stayed at Forest Park Elementary for seventeen years.

Wow, seventeen years. Once you found a spot, you settled in for the long haul. So tell us where you’re teaching now.
In 2000, I found my world turning upside down. My marriage of twenty years had just ended and it was time for a change. I found a new home, made some lifestyle changes, and decided – Why not a new job? A new middle school was opening in 2001, so I took the chance and moved up one grade level. This pushed me into the dreaded world of “tweens.” You know…too old to be considered little kids and too young to be called teens – the “tweens.”
As it stood, it was the perfect move. They say middle school is the best kept secret around…I think they were right. I went from making 30 lesson plans a week (six a day), to five a week (one a day). I had a full hour of plan time, no outdoor recess duty, and no lining up 30 kids to walk to the restroom six times a day. Now I focus on just one subject and truly teach it.

Sounds like you found your spot a second time. You’ve been blessed. Tell us what lies ahead?
My immediate plans are to teach another four years and retire after my 30th year in education.

In your years of teaching, you’ve shared the classroom with hundreds of students. What would you say has been the biggest change within the school system since you began your career?

Well, I’ve seen lots of things, some good and some horrible. I remember when I had my interviews in South Carolina the schools were in the process of literally building the walls BACK UP between the classrooms. They were recovering from a failed attempt at the “open classroom” setting.
It seems that every few years a new “educational process” comes around that is labeled the “savior of education,” when in fact it’s simply a fad or another under-funded program that teachers are expected to grasp hold of and fly with. When your resources and funding is limited, the greatest of ideas will fail. After a few years, we figure out it doesn’t work any better than the open classroom.
I, personally, try to stick with what works for me. Call me old fashioned, or even a dinosaur (and I have been accused of just that), I try not to get too worked up about the next “biggest and best” educational idea. Part of my philosophy of education is to create a classroom environment where my students feel safe and comfortable – well, not too comfortable! (smile)

I can imagine it gets difficult. I, for one, believe teachers are the backbone of our country. They groom our children, when they’re allowed to do so, into our future leaders, parents and workers. They’re underpaid and not appreciated. What goals do you set for your classroom and how do you try to impact your students?

Finding a balance isn’t easy, but it’s certainly required. I want my students relaxed enough that I can get the very best from them. World Geography for eleven and twelve year olds is not the most exciting subject, so building a solid rapport with my kids is necessary. Most of my students know I’m more than willing to joke around with them in the hallway and at the beginning of each hour, but they also know when it is time to get down to work and stay busy.
I believe that a student will learn if they have respect for their teacher, when they’re comfortable with that teacher, and when they feel they are respected in return. Simply put, I try to be friendly with the students without being their friend. That seems to work for me.

How tough is teaching these days?
The best thing about teaching is there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. If I have a tough group of students, I know it will only last nine months. (smile) Another group soon follows.
I would have to say that it gets tougher each year. The behavior of children has gotten worse. Many parents defend their child’s behavior and like to blame the schools for their problems, when they refuse to look in their own backyard for the real source.
The legal system ties our hands many times making what we have to do – a nearly impossible task. Classroom sizes are getting larger and larger, while budgets are shrinking. A student with an IQ of 135 may share the same classroom with a student of who has an IQ of 75. We are seeing more and more English Language students enter our area. The list could go on and on. However, just like any other profession, you have to learn how to survive such things, overcome the obstacles, and continue educating the children.

No teacher gets rich in dollars and cents, doing this. You have to love the art of teaching, love the children, and have the drive to make a difference in the field of education.

I know you are a PK (preacher’s kid). What prompted your decision to attend Bible College to get your undergraduate degree, and then move to Milligan College for your teaching degree?
Oh yeah, the preacher kid thing…branded for life! I spent years trying to hide the fact that my dad was a preacher. I knew I didn’t want to preach, so it made perfect sense to head off to Johnson Bible College?!?
The fact is I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I had no plan. My brother, Scott, went to JBC the year before and seemed to like it, so I decided to follow and see what happened. As it stood, I made friends quickly, joined the basketball team, and made very average grades. After a year, I decided that I would enjoy teaching. JBC didn’t have a teacher’s program at that time. However, Milligan College and JBC had worked out a “3-2 program” where students attended Johnson for three years and Milligan for two. I was able to graduate from JBC with a degree in Bible and also from Milligan with my teaching degree. I graduated from both schools in 1981.

I have to ask. Did you feel pressured as a preacher’s kid to attend Bible College?

Nope…not at all. In fact, my parents told me after I graduated, that they were very surprised I went to college. I was a very average student all the way through high school, and really didn’t like school at all. Imagine that…I ended up a teacher and love it.
Personally, I believe I probably had ADD as a child. I never knew where we were in the book when it was my turn to read out loud. I continued to make average grades through those first few years of college, and then finally got serious the last two and a half years.

Mom and dad never tried to force me into any career. They always told me to do my best in whatever I chose to do and, of course, to be a good Christian.

I’m glad you mentioned your Christianity. I know as a Christian you are in the minority in our school systems these days. Tell us how you try to exemplify your beliefs without stepping “over the line.”
Actually, I find that a lot of public school teachers are Christians. Some stronger than others, and, of course, many different faiths are represented. We do, however, have many teachers that are not believers.
As for the classroom, we’re pretty strapped down with what and how we can say things about religion. In my curriculum, part of my job is to discuss the different religions of the different areas and cultures. So, it isn’t strange to hear some religious words in my class. I can talk about Jesus when we talk about Christianity. Many times the kids will raise questions about why we have so many different churches and faiths, and what is the difference between Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. That does open the door for some discussion.
The kids are usually pretty open to talking about religion. They usually have no problem talking about where they go to church, and many times they ask me where I attend. However, as much as I would like to go deeper into these discussions, I am bound by laws that do not allow me to “teach” a particular faith.

I have to rely on my actions and words, in and around my students. I have to be the example of my Christian views.

Well, you know what they say, “Actions speak louder than words.” For you, it has to be a very practiced art. What would you say has been your greatest reward in teaching?
Without a doubt, there is no greater feeling than when a past student comes back to visit or in some way acknowledges that you had an impact on them. Over the years, I’ve been shocked by what they say and what they remember. It certainly isn't that great lesson on subjects and verbs I taught. They come back and say how grateful they were on the day they first got their braces on (when braces weren’t cool) and how I told them that it would only be a few years before they had a great smile. Then, years later, they came back to see me the day they had the braces removed to show me that smile! I don’t remember telling them that because I was just trying to be supportive and help them get through that first day. But it made an impact. And of course, my ties. They remain a great subject for debate with my students. They frequently tell me "Mr. Pitts, what were you thinking when you put that tie on?" Or they're constantly reminding me that the tie doesn't match. It opens the door for conversation and trust building. They enjoy it and I've gained over 300 ties as a result.
I have had two high school students show up at my classroom door with huge smiles. I’ve had letters written to me telling me that I was a father to them. Just last week I went to the high school to watch a past student, now a senior, play basketball. After the game she ran across the gym and literally ran into me to give me a big hug. Those are the priceless gifts of teaching.

God has blessed you with the gift of teaching, set you aside to shape our little ones. What a wonderful reward for your time and aggravation with the system, to have them share such wonderful parts of their lives. It must be a wonderful feeling to know you’ve made a difference in a life that may not have otherwise, had a guiding hand.

I know you and your wife, Nancy, work faithfully in your home church. Tell us what your calling is into the service of this congregation.

Nancy and I are the ministry leaders of the Greeting Team at Wentzville Christian Church, Wentzville, MO. We are set to enter a brand new building in a couple of weeks and we’re excited about the growth we’ve witnessed since joining two and a half years ago - - just after we were married. We organize the greeting schedule and make sure that both members and visitors are given a warm welcome. We offer any help to the visitors that they may need.
After my divorce, I spent a couple of years going to different churches and I was shocked at how many churches I entered, where not one person spoke to me. It was clear that I wasn’t a member. Sometimes I would hang around after services just see if anyone would introduce themselves to me. I attended one church for three months and only had two people talk to me the whole time. Nancy and I have tried to stress to our team that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. We need to offer a warm welcome to every single person who comes to worship.

What a wonderful and important ministry. And you are so right. In the hustle and bustle of the world today, we often seem to busy to sit up and take notice of those who enter the doors of our churches. It’s part of our calling as Christians to “feed the sheep” of Christ. How can we possibly minister to the needs of others when we fail to offer our hand in friendship and love?

I would say, next to the minister, this is probably the next MOST important ministry in the church. Our world is so cold these days, learning to offer a warm hand and a kind heart goes a long way. It truly is a ministry.

Mark, thanks so much for sharing with us. You’ve shown us that it takes the true heart of a servant to face the obstacles teachers face. You were so modest about doing this interview, saying you weren’t qualified. What a silly thought.

You are very qualified simply by your desire to be an example, and a Christian example at that.

I’m proud and pleased to call Mark Pitts my friend. He is a man of great caliber, who has survived the pits (NO PUN INTENDED – Waaa haaa haaa!)

Seriously, Mark is a quality teacher, one, who like so many other teachers across our country, get little credit for the service they perform. Never let it be said, that God doesn’t place people into the positions which bring His plan into fruition.

Thanks again, Mark. I am proud to call you a friend. (Now, what was that incident about spit-balls in South Carolina?)

Please take time to thank a teacher. They labor hard, against all sorts of disadvantages to educate our children. Who was your favorite teacher?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Aren't Friends Wonderful?

Aren't friends wonderful? When they truly love you as a friend, they'll do most anything within reason!

Last year at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference I met Virginia Smith. We were standing in line (yes - even published authors have to stand in line - right, Ginny?) waiting to check in. It only took a couple of sentences before we realized we'd be great friends.

Both of us harbored a VERY dry and somewhat warped sense of humor, and being women, we talked non-stop.
I've said numerous times that I believe God places people in our pathway who will aid us in completeing His plan for us. It may be as a support system, a networking system, or simply as a guide. Ginny has proven to be one of those people for me.

This past week she graciously combined a family event with a Ladies Conference at our church, and she flew in to Kentucky, from Salt Lake City. Not only that, but she drove the additional 4 hours to come to Tennessee. Now that's a friend.

Ginny presented the "Just As I Am, Ladies Conference" at Belvue Christian Church and she was wonderful. Her first book published and hit the stands in March of 2006, and the remainder of 2006 became a landslide for her. God blessed her for doing His work by allowing her six new books to be released over 2007 and 2008. If that wasn't enough, the day before she arrived in Kingsport, she was blessed yet again with a 7th book to come out next year.

She is an wonderful example of giving her work to God and having Him use her, then bless her.
Ginny's book, Just As I Am is avaliable through a number of bookstores, or can be ordered through her web site at www.virginiasmith,org

I'm sure you'll enjoy Just As I Am, but more so when you're finished reading this little book, you'll have felt the transformation of Mayla, the main character.

God does love us just the way we are....(even I - having a bad hair day and now appearing to be a Junior Plenty in this picture), He loves me for who I am. I for one, am thrilled we have redeeming grace.

Hop over to Virginia's website and check out all her exciting news. Join her news letter and enjoy her ministry.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Christians with The Heart of A Servant - Fourth in the Series

Meet Mike Riddles
Christian Radio Station WCQR DJ

The first time I met Mike Riddles I was more than impressed with his Christ-like soul. I was taking pledges at the station during their bi-yearly share-a-thon, helping as they raised listener financial support.
Mike came into the room sporting a pleasant smile and an appreciative handshake. As he made his way around the room, thanking the volunteers one by one, I noticed the sincerity in the attention he gave each worker. When he worked his way around to me, he extended his hand and glanced at my name tag.
"Cindy Sproles. I know you. You write the devotions. They're great and we've kept the one you wrote about the station."
As an aspiring writer, anytime anyone acknowledges your work, a thrill of excitement shoots through you. But this guy was genuine. He pocketed his hands and leaned on one foot beginning a conversation that lasted for some time. It didn't take long to figure out Mike loved his work and more so, that he loved being a part of other's lives. It was my pleasure to have the opportuntiy to interview him in this series of Christians with the Heart of A Servant. Sit back and enjoy this fourth in a series of interviews. Meet Mike Riddles, DJ with Christian Radio Station, WCQR 88.3.

Mike, I’ve been listening to WCQR for a number of years and it seems you’ve been a fixture at the station for some time. Actually, your're still considered a new kid on the block. How long have you worked with WCRQ?
Almost a year and a half.

So you are still one of the new kids. You've been such a part of our morning lives, your listeners feel as if you been around forever.

I know you weren't new to the radio industry, but tell us how you got into broadcasting, especially Christian broadcasting?
I was first introduced to radio by a friend who worked at a mainstream station. So, I began with a Top 40 radio station and worked in several different mainstream formats. But, I knew that this wasn't where I wanted to be. After much prayer a door opened at WCQR. I can remember driving down the road listening to WCQR and the announcement came over the air that they were looking to hire an on air personality. I looked at my wife and we both smiled simultaneously. When I got home I prayed that God would help this to become a reality if it was His will. I was hired about 2 months later.
I love it when God is blatant! Sometimes He has an urgency that can't wait. It certainly makes it easier for us when He moves in that way. We all love instant gratification. When things fall into place so quickly, it's a reassuring thing to know this is where God wants to use you and the talent He's given you.

You and your co-host do the early morning show at the station. When does your morning start?
Really early :) I usually get up around 3:45 to 4 AM each weekday morning.

Many stations have morning shows where the host are straining to laugh at jokes which aren't funny. You can tell their heart isn't in their job. Still your voice always appears to be chipper and pleasant. Are you just a morning person or it is something you have to work at?

Thanks for the kind words. Actually, I'm a night person. So, I have had to work at getting to bed much earlier.

Well, you know what they say, "Early to bed, early to rise..." One has to adjust to being an early riser. I find early mornings are the greatest. Things are much clearer as you enter into a new day.

Tell me how God moved you into Christian broadcasting?
Through much prayer. God has a plan for each one of us. I'm so thankful that his plan has allowed me the opportunity to be a part of a Christian radio ministry.

I'm sure it's much more rewarding than being in the secular end of broadcasting. You realize you have the power at your fingertips to set the pace of the day for your listeners. What is your goal with the morning show?
The goal is that each listener will wake up to uplifting music and encouraging messages. We strive to be a family friendly show and work to plant as many seeds as possible. And of course, we'd love to aid in leading the lost to Christ.

It's wonderful to know this is a ministry to you as well as a job. The influence you have to reach the masses is certainly a gift and a tool which God can work from.

How do you feel you personally impact the listeners?
Being a real person and sharing how God has worked in my life is the best example. Also, it's always nice when I meet a listener who tells me about a song that was played at just the right moment, or a story we shared that really helped them get through a difficult time.

That's what's great about listener communications. You can talk with those whom you've touched. So you can see the fruit of your labors.'s amazing to meet so many people that were lost, and to hear their stories about how they came to know Christ. Then to know that we had a small part in it.
As a matter of fact, I just received an email about our last concert, Winter Jam 2007. A father came forward with 5 young men by his side. He spoke about his son who attended Winter Jam 2006, and said that his boy was born again that night. But it's what he said after that which revealed what God is doing with this tour.
This man’s son had died tragically a few months after the concert. He said his family had found comfort in knowing they’d see their son again. By the way, the five young men with him were friends of his son. That night during the invitation, all five of his son’s friends gave their lives to Christ. PRAISE GOD!

Now that's seeing the fruit of your labors! It's a gratifying when we can feel the impact of the work of a servant. When we allow God to use us, the outreach is amazing and the rewards are fantastic. It makes us realize true riches are not always in the bank -- they're in the heart.

Can you share something that has been a true blessing through your work?
Many times when the music is playing on the air we will be on the phone with someone who has called in to request prayer. On one occasion we were talking about miracles and inviting listeners to share an experience with us.
We received a call from a young college student who said she didn't really believe in God. I was so surprised to find out that there are some people who listen to Christian radio that aren't saved. She went on to tell us that her Grandmother had a heart attack and was in critical condition. She told us that she went to the chapel and prayed, and that her Grandmother had gottn better. However, she was having a hard time admitting that God answers prayer. So, we shared the love of Christ with her, and when we finished with the call -- I'm happy to say that she now believes in prayer :)

If every person would key into the needs of one other individual, talk with them about the power of prayer, and the love of the Father, Chrisitianity would not be threatened like it is today. That healing love and forgiveness would supercede anything negetative that the world might throw at us. You've heard the song by Barbee Mason, "Each One, Reach One"...that's exactly how things would be.

How has God blessed you personally?
Through my family. My wife and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. God knew she was the woman for me. She's such an inspiration. During our marriage we have been blessed with three wonderful children as well --two daughters and a son.

Okay, three little ones makes going to bed early a real task! And congratulations on your seventh wedding anniversary. You're well on your way to ten, then twenty...and as my son says, INFINITY AND BEYOND! I imagine being the early morning radio hosts provides you with a bit more free time in the afternoons and early evening to enjoy your children and your wife. A win-win situation.

How do you prepare for a day on the radio, especially knowing the primary group of listeners you cater to in the early hours are moms?
Each day after I get off the air I immediately begin preparing for the next day. The internet is the primary source used when searching for material. There are some great Christian websites that offer many good topics or stories that we use. Also, since we are a family friendly radio station we share many stories about our children. And as a father of three, I usually have plenty of things to talk about...from my youngest daughter eating playdoh, to my son almost getting his tongue stuck on the freezer door at the grocery store, or the time my my oldest daughter locked the whole family out of the house.

Oh yeah, that'll give you good subject matter. I once tied to accidently throw my son away in the trash. It's not what it sounds like...He was a year old and it was Christmas Day. I had put him down for his nap and begun cleaning up torn paper. The dog kept scratching at a large box that our son's riding toy came in -- which happened to be the box I was stuffing paper into. Come to find out, sliding the box across the floor, I thought it felt awfully heavy. The dog was going bonkers, so as I pulled open the front door he jumped at me and knocked the box loose from my hands. That's when my little sweetie crawled out of the box rubbing his eyes. I REALLY DID PUT HIM IN BED and to this day, I'm puzzled how he got from the bed to that box so fast! Yep...our kids will give us plenty of information to talk about.

I like to base my life around Philippians 4:8 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable, whatever is honorable, think about these things. Do you have a scripture which you base your own life around?
Philippians 4:13. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Well, we're in the same chapter and book -- Philippians. I personally love Philippians. It's full of MEAT not MILK. Lots of stuff you can sink your teeth into.

Christian radio is no longer just the old time local gospel singers. It’s branched into bigger areas. Do think more and more people are listening to Christian radio as an alternative?
I don't know if they're listening as an alternative, but I do believe more people are listening to Contemporary Christian music today than ever before. The last 3 Christian concerts at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City have been filled to capacity.

That's wonderful. It's something parents can feel comfortable with as far as allowing their pre-teens and teens to participate. That must make you feel good. Especially in a world where fewer and fewer good alternatives are available.

What do you feel your roll as a Christian DJ is?
To impact and influence individuals, families and communities for Jesus Christ.

And you certainly do a wonderful job.

Do you think the Christian Radio market is the wave of the future?
Yes, I do. I just read an article in one of the radio trade magazines that said Contemporary Christian radio is growing rapidly throughout the U.S. And that's great news!

Mike, thank you for your time and thank you for service in the Christian radio market. If you had the opportunity to offer a word of advice about the importance of Christian radio, what would you offer?
Christian radio is so important because it's being used to bring the message of God's love and grace to people all around the world. It's a great way to help you keep focused. It can help you prioritize what really is important in life: Jesus Christ.

Mike you've been a charm to share a tidbit of your life with us. You have a job which you love and it allows you the opportunity to act as a true servant. It's not just the job, it's what you put into it -- the extra mile, so to speak. Taking time to talk to the listeners of the station, one on one, offering prayer for and with them, and influencing them toward a faithful and loving God. You are truly blessed. Thank you so much for all you do. May God continue to bless you, your family and the radio station.

WCQR is 88.3 on your FM dial and is located in Gray, Tennessee. To toot their horn for them, they've won more than one Dove Award for radio station of the year. Quite impressive! In the time this station has been on the air, God has "grown them" significantly, allowing His word to spread farther and farther. One other note that sets Mike and his fellow workers apart from the norm...this station is very MISSION ORIENTED. I personally find that amazing. When we give to the Father, He blesses us in return. You can visit WCQR on line at ,

I hope you are beginning to see how each of us, whether we realize it or not, are called to be a servant. Finding something you are passionate about -- a talent, a love, a job -- and then using that with a servant's heart, exposes so many to the work of Christ.

Thanks again to Mike Riddles of WCQR. Looking ahead, there are currently five more interviews in the process. Put these interviews into your prayers that God will develop them appropriately.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The World's Greatest Book Review


Never before has a book held such a varity of information. Tremendous military stragety is described in great detail. Riviting accounts of natural disaster, war, and love are pressed between the pages of this best seller.
The author has combined the works of several writers to bring a story of intrigue and unconditional love. The only one of it's kind, this novel offers the reader a great combination of insights and guidance which will aid in daily life.
This two thousand year old book still holds the greatest story ever told. Read it in it's unedited version.
The Holy Bible
written by: God
In homes worldwide.