Meet the Perez Family
“Lord, please show us what to do; give us a sign … something, anything!” This was the red flare my parents sent up in December 1985.
Although a bright student, my brother was having difficulties with his teachers at the private Montessori school we both attended. He was allowed to sit in the classroom day after day and draw, read, and daydream. Day after day he was sent home with pages of homework, which he had no clue how to complete, and day after day my mom would sit and work with him for hours after school. The situation was frustrating, and my parents wondered if they should pull us out in the middle of the year or just wait it out. They attended the school Christmas program still unsure of what to do. The school used this festive occasion to unveil their new addition: a wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor mural of the evolution of man. You know the one–it starts out with an ape that morphs into a human man. That was all the sign my parents needed! They immediately packed up our desks and never looked back.
Before we go any further, let me introduce you to the family. Gavino and Ruth Perez are the brave and principled parents in this story. Carlos is the artistic and well-read son, and I (Rita) am the devoted sister and daughter. It is through my eyes that you will view the Perez family’s home school experience. We have also had a couple of great additions since the mid-80s. Peter Lambert took on the role of charming and witty son-in-law eight years ago, and for the past two years Sara Rickman has filled the role of delightful daughter-in-law quite nicely.
After the previously mentioned mural shocker, my parents made a life-changing decision. They realized that if they wanted to control what their children were taught in school, they would have to do it themselves. My mom was up for the challenge since she had already been teaching Carlos for several weeks; she just needed to find some curricula. My parents started researching options during the Christmas break and soon discovered they had not invented the idea of home schooling. They were thrilled to find that other families in San Antonio were doing the same thing. In no time at all we had curricula in hand and were connected to a wonderful support group. An experiment borne out of desperation soon became an enjoyable adventure and, in turn, a way of life.
I could tell you what curricula we used through the years or go on about various struggles we faced during our journey, but instead I want to share a more interesting aspect of our lives: the idea of servant leadership. I am extremely grateful for my parents’ example of selfless service to others. You see, my parents have been involved in ministry and service ever since I can remember. But unlike many parents with a passion for service, they did not leave their children on the sidelines. Even when we were too young to understand, or too young to make a difference, they taught us to serve. When my grandmother broke her hip and stayed with us for several months, my mom found little jobs for me to do, ways that I could help. She could have kept me away, thinking I would disturb my grandmother, but looking back, I realize she brought me alongside her and taught me to serve. While my dad prepared his Sunday school lessons, I would cut out his flannel graph pieces. My brother and I helped my mom plan the crafts for children’s camp. My dad was part of the bus ministry at church, and when others chose more capable adults, my dad chose my twelve-year-old brother as his bus captain. They were a team, and they ministered together. My parents found a way to include us in their projects in any way they could. After we started home schooling, this mentality spilled into that part of our lives as well. My parents began to serve other home schoolers, and it was not long before they were in leadership in the local home school support group.
Eventually my parents were asked to serve on the board of FEAST (Family Educators Alliance of South Texas), the regional home school group in South Texas. FEAST provided endless opportunities to serve. Carlos discovered his talent in graphic art design through laying out the MANNA Newsletter. I organized my first events through FEAST, learning skills I still use today. In fact, it was through FEAST that my brother and I learned our most valuable lessons in servant leadership. I remember one time when we spent the day hosting the family of a guest speaker. It was a fun experience–we showed them around town and took them out to eat. After we dropped them off at their hotel, we changed into work clothes, went to back to FEAST, and worked late into the night scrubbing the floor for the next day’s activities. I started to complain when my mom said, “Our goal is a successful event for the home schoolers tomorrow; both the hosting and the scrubbing are equally important.”
Sometimes ministry is fun, and sometimes it is work. Sometimes serving is glamorous, but more often it is on-your-knees-scrubbing kind of work–these are the lessons that stuck. My parents did not just drag us along and force us to do what they did and go where they went. They gave us a vision for what they were doing; they shared the importance of the mission. They made us care about the things about which they were passionate so that we became passionate about them as well. Simply, they joyfully followed God’s calling and invited us to serve along with them. Just as home schooling became a way of life for us, serving others became a way of life as well.
For those who are worried that my family never did anything fun, rest assured that serving was only one aspect of our lives. We also traveled, participated in sports, 4-H, piano, field trips, and a myriad of other great activities. After twenty years my parents continue to serve FEAST in San Antonio. Dad also serves on the board of Texas Home School Coalition. Carlos and Sara now reside in Dallas, and I live happily in Lubbock with Peter.
I will be the first to tell you that my family is pretty spectacular, but really, that is not the purpose of this article. I hope I have encouraged you to involve your children in your areas of ministry and service just as my parents did us. No doubt you will all be blessed. Happy serving!