Photo: Neza – 11 years old - 5th grade; Immaculee – 8 years old - 3rd grade; Carol Bratton, teaches English, retiring from HSU; Zicama – 6 years old – 1st grade; Dorine – 3 years old; Yvette Nyamatungo – the Mom
As Carol Bratton is leaving her office at Hardin-Simmons University this Friday afternoon, she is looking forward to seeing her other children. The children to whom she refers are four siblings, ages eleven to three, from Burundi, Africa. She is teaching them to speak English as they settle in to a new life in Abilene, Texas.
As a volunteer with the Abilene arm of the International Rescue Committee, Bratton has been teaching English to the Swahili/Kirundi/French–speaking family. Last year, Bratton worked with about 30 to 40 children from Africa, and their families, living in an apartment complex near the HSU campus.
Bratton is never without a mission, and even as she works to wrap up loose ends this week as she gets set to retire, she is planning to volunteer full-time with the Texas Baptist Relief Team.
Bratton and her late husband, Dr. Terry Bratton, came to Hardin-Simmons University 16-years ago, Terry in the newly created position of associate vice president for information technologies, and Carol to work in financial aid, then as the administrative assistant to the dean at Logsdon School of Theology. Terry died in October of 2010, but Carol has carried on in her work at Logsdon and still never misses an opportunity to serve.
“I thought about retiring a year ago,” she says, “but I was not ready to leave my Logsdon family. They even made me an honorary alumna,” she proclaims. While Bratton earned three degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, she says she considers it a supreme honor to be declared as an honorary alum of HSU.
Carol is adamant about having a plan when she retires. While she will probably move to Stephenville to be closer to her children, she and her sister, Ginger Jones, a registered nurse in Amarillo, have bought a used RV to travel to disaster areas as they are called on.
“My sister and I had been looking for a used RV that we could afford for about a year, and then on Easter weekend, on the way to a family reunion, I saw an RV at a Jacksboro used car lot. On Mother’s Day it was still there, so I bought it,” says Bratton.
Bratton and Jones have already been working with the Texas Baptist Relief Team box ministry. Bratton says she and her sister were looking for ways they could serve, with limited physical abilities, and were surprised to find that simply putting together and distributing clean boxes in disaster areas is a much welcomed sight for someone whose home has burned in a wildfire.
“People who have lost their homes and many of their possessions are so thankful to just get clean boxes to use for the things they can salvage. In fact, the ministry gave out 22,000 boxes after the Lancaster and Forney tornados earlier this year,” she says. “We give each family about 25 boxes in varying sizes, rolls of tape, and packing paper. The paper has scripture written on it. When people wrap up their things, they see the scripture, but they see it again when they unwrap their processions,” she says. “I think that means a lot to them.”
This summer, Bratton and others working in the box ministry will spend many nights going to youth camps where children are very willing to participate with the scripture writing. Bratton says those working in the box ministry also spend their time preparing for disasters by locating and collecting the boxes from various sources. “Many of the sources are companies that have ordered too many boxes of one size, or moving companies that may have slightly used boxes.” Bratton and Jones will carry the flattened boxes in their RV and put them together on site with tape guns.
Bratton has also worked with the Texas Baptist Relief Team to help with cooking, and running a washer-dryer and shower unit that is taken to disaster zones by a friend living in Amarillo. “He asked me one day if I could wash clothes. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I raised four children. Of course I can wash clothes,’” says Bratton with a determined chuckle.
In Abilene, Bratton will continue to work as one of four Shade Tree teachers, as they call their group, until she sells her home. The Shade Tree teachers, made up of Simmons College (now HSU) alum Loretta McBeth, a former hospital compliance officer; Peg Smith, who worked in social work and criminal justice; and Gayle Hart, who retired from the public health department, teach English, take the refugee children to the zoo, help with school supplies, and help to acclimate the families in all customs—from clothing expectations to getting drivers’ licenses and medical attention.
Refugees come from some of the poorest countries in the world due in part to political unrest and poor access to education. Bratton says common appliances like air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators and ovens are foreign, and families need instruction on how to use them. Even using locks on a door can sometimes be confusing, and many of our traditions like Halloween and gift-giving at Christmas seem strange. “But they adapt quickly, that’s why they can be so successful here,” says Bratton. “Many already speak several languages. Some speak as many as seven languages, so between my long-ago high school French and lots of games of Charades, we start to communicate using English.”
Bratton says she will miss the children and families she has come to love in Abilene, but she is also excited about her new mission opportunity with the Texas Baptist Relief Team and other mission opportunities that may come her way with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Bratton says she is also toying with the idea of taking the required courses to become licensed as a chaplain.
“I think when you retire, you have to have a plan. You run out of things to do at your house eventually, and if you don’t have a long-term plan, you die. Doing missions is something my family did when I was little after World War II. Terry and I trained together to run the cooking equipment and power washers used at disaster relief sights. This is not something new for me, it is a continuation of what I have always enjoyed the most, being of service to people who need help.”