Jessica Sullens has taught at Hallsville Junior High School for five years. She is one of nine public school educators who received the 2020 BEST—Baptist Educators Serving Texans—award. Sullens’ husband currently serves as interim pastor at Bethel Baptist Church near Jefferson. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on being a Christian in public education.
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Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
I taught fourth grade and high school English-as-a-Second-Language for Marshall Independent School District. I taught kindergarten in Port Neches Groves at Taft Elementary.
Where did you grow up?
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was raised in a Christian home. I cannot remember a time I did not know who Jesus was. He was a part of our family. We couldn’t see him, but we talked to him, and I always felt he was near.
The Easter I was 7 must have been the first time the Sunday school literature showed a depiction of the crucifixion. I perhaps could have told you before, “Jesus died on a cross,” but I didn’t know what that meant. I was horrified. I also was shaking with anger. I was incensed people treated Jesus—who never did any wrong—that way.
Somewhere in the course of expressing my horror and indignation, my parents and Sunday school teachers impressed upon me it was my sin that put him there. I remember several months of conviction from the Spirit as I wrestled with this truth.
I can’t remember the day, but it was a Sunday night in the summer. When the invitation played, I couldn’t carry that burden any longer. I went forward and spoke with the pastor. I asked Christ to forgive me of my sin and give me strength to live for him.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
East Texas Baptist University, Bachelor of Science degree in education
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Why do you feel called into education?
I always was inspired by my teachers growing up, and as a youth, I was very involved in leading Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible Schools. I loved working with kids.
How does being a Christian influence your work in education?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Perhaps if I had been saved later in life, I would have a framework to answer more insightfully. Teaching is difficult. I can say there is no way I could do this job without Christ working in my heart, giving me his strength, even on the days when I want to close the classroom door and never return. His grace is enough.
What is your favorite aspect of education? Why?
Of course, it’s the kids. Getting to know them and their families. Watching them grow and learn. I feel I am a small part of so many families in my community, because I was their child’s teacher. And I am not going to lie: I also love having my summers off.
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
I love teaching science courses, because there are so many opportunities to share my faith through that avenue. Working in public school, I am not allowed to preach to students. But, if a student asks my opinion or what I think, then I have the freedom to express that under Texas law. In the course of teaching, for example, “Origins of the Universe,” a student inevitably will ask, “Mrs. Sullens, what do you believe?” And I am able to share in this way.
What do you wish more people knew about education?
I wish more Christians knew how God is working in our public schools. I frequently see memes and posts on social media with impassioned messages: “Put prayer back in schools.” “Allow God back in our schools!”
He never went anywhere. I work alongside many Christian colleagues, and we are teaching, serving and reaching out to our nation’s children every day.
If you have a heart to reach the lost in your community, I promise you, they are looking for adult volunteers at your local public school. If you want to put Christ into public schools, Christian, all you need to do is show up.
“The fields are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few.”
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?
Right now, out of necessity, I am having to learn Google Classroom on the job. I sure wish I already was proficient in this.
What is the impact of education on your family?
Education is very prized in my family. I am a third-generation college graduate, and with a bachelor’s degree, I am the least educated among my sisters. They have gone on to attain masters and terminal degrees.
With our children, we continue to emphasize the importance of education in opening opportunities for kingdom work. Our oldest son is at Yale, and our oldest daughter is at Baylor on full-tuition scholarships.
Why are you Baptist?
Honestly, probably because my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were Baptist, and I was raised in the Baptist tradition. My husband also was raised in a Baptist church.
As adults, we hold to the truths taken from Scripture as expressed in The Baptist Faith and Message and have chosen to continue to bring up our children in this denomination. We are proud of our Baptist heritage.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
I am a huge fan of Christian historical fiction. I love Francine Rivers, and I am looking forward to the release of the movie based on her book Redeeming Love later this year.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
My life verse is Isaiah 30:21. “Whether you turn to the right or the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” It fills me with peace that God is in control. He is guiding. He is speaking. I need only listen.
Who is your favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus? Why?
I love to read about David. He’s so relatable. We have a detailed accounting of his life, and it’s full of major screw-ups. Yet, “he was a man after God’s own heart.” That’s so encouraging.