“Communication is a universal reality. We all talk; we all interact. So it isn’t a question of will we speak, but how well will we speak. Those who cannot communicate well are handicapped in our society.” Rhonda Autrey’s passion for teaching speech and communication is clear. Rhonda goes on to point out one of her most compelling reasons for teaching speech classes: to help students overcome the fear of man and therefore enable them to better fulfill the Great Commission.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Rhonda grew up in a farming family. Her dad was a salesman while her mother stayed home to raise her three girls. Before Rhonda was born, her parents were certain they were having a boy (“Rex”); their surprise upon welcoming their new little girl into the family led to her being nameless for three days. God blessed Rhonda with a close-knit family; in fact, she admits that if God had allowed, she would have been content to never leave the farming area where she grew up. As Rhonda says, “We were taught to work hard, play hard, and love God with all our hearts.” As a teenager, she involved herself in volleyball, basketball, and became heavily involved in her youth group.
Rhonda was saved at the age of fourteen while attending a Christian camp in Versailles, Indiana. On July 19, 1979, the camp showed a video called The Burning Hell; this video made the truths of God’s Word plain to Rhonda, who accepted God’s gift of salvation that same night.
Attending Pensacola Christian College as a nursing major, Rhonda soon found herself “hating every minute of it.” Her biggest obstacle was the empathy she felt with her patients—as she points out, this is a perfect quality for drama, but not for nursing. Switching to a Speech Communications major with a Bible minor was a relief and fit her God-given talent. Of course, now Rhonda observes, “Looking back I think I wanted to be a nurse for the mature reason that I’d get to wear a costume every day to work!” Rhonda has now also earned an MS in Storytelling and Reading Arts from East Tennessee University and an MS in Speech Education from Pensacola Christian College.
Rhonda calls her mother the biggest influence in her life. Mrs. Autrey has set a godly example of a life lived in service to others, of unconditional love, and of faithfulness. “She has been a picture of Christ’s love in too many ways to name. She’s industrious, curious, and has a laugh that is delightful. She is Christ-like and the kind of woman I want to be.”
When she’s not teaching, Rhonda runs a website, www.performscripts.com, a resource on speech and drama. Here’s how she describes the creation of and purpose for the website:
Over and over I heard speech teachers say, “Where can I find good drama resources for speech contests? We have them every year, and my files have been depleted.” Others would ask me,”Do you know where I can find a play for our church?” My response would often be, “No I don’t, but if you find such a resource, please let me know because I’m looking for pieces too!” I wondered why someone didn’t start something to help all these people who needed materials. Over time, God led me to start Performance Possibilities, a drama resource for churches and schools. The site has several goals. First, I contract with writers to sell their original dramatic works to those who are looking for materials. Second, I publish The Performance Possibilities Post, a monthly newsletter with information that would appeal to those putting on dramas. One post might share painting techniques while another might have a “freebie”: a poem, story, or other piece of performance literature that I’ve come across or one of the contributors has sent me to be shared. Sometimes there are set ideas and such. Third, I serve as a speech consultant, traveling to help those who need an extra hand with their drama programs. We are just a small site with about 100 holdings from about 25 contributors, but we are adding pieces all the time. God has been in this effort and as long as He wants the site to continue, I’ll keep passing along material to those doing the work in churches and schools.
Indeed, Rhonda keeps quite busy; but in her spare time, she enjoys a variety of different activities with her family members, who live close by. They play games, play sports, and do crafts together. Rhonda has also taken up photography, specializing in engagement shoots and senior portraits, and runs her church’s drama program.
We at Maranatha are thankful for the ministry of teachers like Rhonda who are dedicated to serving God with their lives and pouring themselves out in service to others.