‘Assignment in life’: Faith, teaching and cool wheels keep Teresa Molina on the move

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

A profound sense of faith and seemingly boundless energy propel Teresa Molina through life.

The daughter of a grocery store owner whose shelves were stocked with Mexican food and folk art, Molina moved to Wichita as a single mom of two. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and education in 1989, then spent 25 years as a foreign language teacher with Wichita Public Schools.

Shortly before retiring from USD 259 in 2014, she earned a master’s degree in education from Friends University. Today, she’s a full-time Spanish professor at the school, where she’s helped create a service-oriented focus for the Spanish degree program and is involved in the school’s efforts to produce servant leaders. In 2016, she founded Friends’ student Hispanic American Leadership Organization.

All of that was fueled by stories of Jesus urging his followers to serve others, she says.

“We all have to find what our assignment is in life,” said Molina. “I love the Lord and what he wants me to do is help others.”

Similarly, Bible verses about helping refugees and foreigners inspired her to give talks about immigration reform across the United States while working with people applying for residency and citizenship. Active in the Assembly of God – she has two classes to finish to become a pastor – Molina has heard many stories of hardship and discrimination from fellow Hispanic worshippers and their friends.

She doesn’t want Hispanics to be ashamed of their heritage, and she wants to dispel myths that immigrants are a drain on government funds, take away jobs from U.S. citizens and import crime and disease.

“There’s a huge amount of misinformation being disseminated,” she said. 

Molina cites a 2013 report by the Social Security Administration, which found that unauthorized immigrants contributed as much as $13 billion in payroll taxes to SSA funds in 2010.

“The real problem is fear,” Molino said. “People fear what they don’t know and what they don’t know is Hispanic culture.

“The hate is fostered by fear. There are things happening to Hispanic families that no one else would want to happen to their families. More people need to understand the beauty and intention of immigrant families.”

Discrimination based on one’s culture or ethnicity isn’t anything new, Molina noted. It was happening even before the United States was founded — just look up historical accounts of Benjamin Franklin’s rhetoric against German immigrants, she said. 

While she still tries to connect people of different backgrounds, Molina is now primarily focused on helping students build careers. 

Thanks in part to Molina, Friends University is one of the few universities in Kansas where students can earn a degree in Spanish interpretation and translation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, translation and interpretation jobs are expected to grow by nearly a third by 2024.

To gain experience, students in the Friends’ program work with several health and medical organizations, including hospice care agencies, to provide interpretation and translation needs. At the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, they’ve been working with future doctors,

Molina and four students did the written Spanish translation of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce’s audio tour of 28 Wichita flag-themed murals on or near Douglas Avenue that premiered in February 2019. Molina also did the audio of the Spanish version of the tour.

Molino also works with the university’s Spanish Study Abroad trips. When students went to Cuba, a church group also came along, and students were able to put their interpreting skills to work. 

Molina said she’s inspired that several of her former students have embraced service to others. One serves on a local school board in Topeka and others have run for elected offices. 

Molina’s legacy is also being carried on by one of her granddaughters, a University of Kansas graduate who learned a particularly difficult Mayan dialect and is helping speakers of that language in Guatemala with translation and interpretation efforts.

While Molina is mostly happy to “let Jesus take the wheel” of her life, she likes steering on occasion, too. She and her husband, Roger Hashbarger, collect classic cars. Their multi-decade collection includes a 1941 Chevy Deluxe, a 1956 Chevy pickup, a 1984 Corvette and a 1938 Austin London taxi that she drives “quite a bit.”

“We’ve just restored a 1956 Shasta camper, and the others are in various stages of restoration,” she said. 

Contact Amy Geiszler-Jones at algj64@sbcglobal.net

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