Pastor Who?

 

Throwback Thursday:  Catching Up With Some Edmonton Christian School Alumni

 

Alumni stories can be fun for a bunch of different reasons.  One such reason is that they can be full of joyful surprises.    

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Grad 2008

People who knew Kevin VanderVeen (ECHS Class of 2008) as a junior high student might be joyfully surprised as he confidently, clearly and thoughtfully preaches God’s word in a packed church.  His classmates, who at times did not afford him the respect that everyone deserves, might be joyfully surprised as the youth in the St Catharines church where he is Pastor of Community, look up to him as their mentor and as parents in that church treasure his involvement in their teens’ lives.  Perhaps the most surpised people would be the teachers who remember a student that himself says,  “I was not a great student; I struggled.”  The joyful surprise for these teachers would come in the fact that Kevin now loves studying.  He has achieved a Masters of Divinity from Calvin Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI.) and aspires to one day have a Doctorate of Ministry.  Meanwhile he is living out his dream job at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in St Catharines where about half his work focusses on youth and the other half is split between outreach, pastoral care and preaching every four or five weeks.

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Covenant CRC -St Catharines

 

Kevin, who openly talked about a “deep struggle discovering his identity,” did not always find school life easy, either academically or socially.  Still, he acknowledges that Edmonton Christian is part of the story that has brought him to his current place in life.  “It was laying a foundation, through the curriculum and the atmosphere of faith.”   He goes on to recall a key moment in his ECHS years when he was asked to speak to the student body in chapel.  He says that he remembers being in front and knowing in that moment, for certain, what he’d been saying since grade 8.  “God has called me to be a pastor.”  

Fortunately, no one could deter him from that sense of vocation, and so this young man, whose story has so much more to it than can be told here, has clearly accepted Christ’s invitation to live for renewal by being a mentor to youth who often face similar life challenges that he experienced, and by being a servant leader in a congregation of God’s people.  Another graduate of Edmonton Christian Schools that, by grace, is actively playing his role in God’s story. All the more reason for us to believe that we can grow in grace.  All the more reason to be grateful.

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Kevin speaks to students at Northeast School, November 2016

 

A Few More Quick Facts about Kevin VanderVeen

  • Kevin’s father, Roger, passed away 6 months before Kevin was born.
  • Attended Edmonton Christian K-12. (ECNS and ECHS). 
  • Army Cadets taught him discipline, respect and perseverance.
  • Attained a Preseminary Degree at Kuypers College in Grand Rapids.  Degree included two majors and two minors!
  • Did one semester abroad at Jerusalem University College.
  • Completed several internships, one of which was at Edmonton’s Native Healing Centre.
  • Currently lives about 5 minutes from a beach on Lake Ontario.  Loves the Niagara pennisula.
  • Was an avid mountain biker in school days.  Still loves outdoor pursuits.  Plays hockey.
  • Engages regularly in “Pub theology” with a close group of friends.
 We will do more Throwback Thursdays focussed on former students in all walks of life.  Watch for them!

P.A.R.T.Y On!

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-27-31-pmSometimes, school is a party!  That was the case November 22 for the grade 9 students from Edmonton Christian Northeast School and Edmonton Christian West School.  This, however, was a PARTY with a goal:  Preventing Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth.  The mission of this program is:

“To promote injury prevention through vivid clinical reality, enabling youth to recognize risk, make informed choices and identify potential consequences about activities and behaviours”. (click HERE to see their website).

It was an all day P.A.R.T.Y.  These pictures capture only one hour of that day.

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They are supposed to walk ON the line!

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file photo:  Pixabay.com

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The message of the PARTY program is one we all need to hear.  At its heart it points to a crucial part of God’s story– love your NEIGHBOUR as you love YOURSELF.  When we do that, it’s a party!

We  thank the Misericordia Hospital and everyone involved in hosting the P.A.R.T.Y Program.  We especially thank those that volunteered their time this day.  A  deep thanks to those who shared the stories of their own trauma and what life has been like since that trauma.  All of these efforts have had an impact on us!  Thank you.

A Healing Circle

Pile of HandsIt happened again.  It has happened many times in the history of Edmonton Christian Schools.  God’s grace burst through our brokenness.  It flooded into our hurts.  We loosened our grip on the things that caused others pain. Wounds were soothed.  We knew, once again, “We are God’s people.  We are in this together.”

Over the past year, our school has moved more deliberately towards restorative practices in our schools.  You can read a bit more about that in two previous blog posts, Rebooting Relationships–A New Year Begins  and Restoring and Flourishing.   It has led to ways of being together, healthy interactions, and positive attitudes towards “discipline” that promote student learning, restoration, community and forgiveness.

diversity-1350043_1280In all of these restorative practices, we have grown in grace and in gratitude.  But the grace we sing about, the AMAZING grace, that grace always overwhelms us when we experience it.  Many that participated in a recent restorative circle, did experience it.  This restorative circle had been convened to try to bring healing and restoration to an unfortunate situation which had brought some dark clouds over parts of our community.  The circle was made up of students, parents, staff, and a few people from outside of our schools who could speak into the healing that needed to happen.  This included two facilitators trained in restorative practices.  sunshine-1461984Those that had wounded were held accountable; those that were wounded expressed their hurt; all were heard; forgiveness was given; all made commitments to move forward together.  It was in this circle that grace washed in, dark clouds cleared, light broke through. What was broken became whole, even though some scars remained.

This is who we want to be as a school. We come together as broken people, but God loves us too much to leave us that way!  When we open ourselves to restoration and wholeness, when we invite grace to change us and then let it flow through us to others, we truly can be God’s people.

They Walk Among Us!

It’s not quite as long as the time between World Series wins for the Chicago Cubs (1908 to 2016) but Edmonton Christian School has been around a long time.  Since 1949, this dedicated, visionary community  has made Christ centred education available to tens of thousands of students in Edmonton.  Where are they all now?  What are they doing?

Of course, getting a thorough answer to that question would be next to impossible.  On this throwback Thursday, however,  we need not look very far for some of those former students.  They walk among us at Edmonton Christian!  Quite incredibly, these people who once played their role in God’s story by participating in class discussions, playing on school teams, acting in school plays and at times making school “interesting” for their teachers, now actively play their role in that same story as staff of Edmonton Christian Schools!  That’s grace!  We celebrate these former students:

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img_4929In addition to this multitude,  we have bus drivers who were once students at Edmonton Christian: Shirley, Cynthia, John, Kathryn, Annette, Astrid and Carolin. Their pictures eluded this particular post (but stay tuned).

Former students. . . Edmonton Christian’s story. . . God’s story.  We couldn’t be more thankful  if we’d just won the World Series!

Watch for more Throwback Thursdays this year as we catch up with other former students of Edmonton Christian Schools.

Gratitude–20 Days and Beyond

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Miss Junk…changed outlook

“Its been incredible.  I think it is changing me more than anyone else.  It changes your outlook.”  Miss Junk, Grade 6J ECNS.

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Gr 6 J Bulletin Board of gratitude

The beauty of a good school theme (Growing In Grace and Gratitude) is that it can make you notice things, that in today’s information-saturated world, might have slipped past. Perhaps that’s what happened when Miss Junk noticed something called 30 days of Gratitude on Pinterest.  It was out of this noticing that she felt nudged to develop 20 Days of Gratitude devotions (a month of school days) for her 6th grade class and anyone else in Edmonton Christian Northeast.  She started with the students thinking in general about what they were thankful for.  From this activity, they created a bulletin board of their thankfulness.  Each of the 20 days of gratitude that followed saw the students pondering a specific “gratitude question” and putting their responses in their gratitude journal.   “The questions are just about ordinary things,” says Ms. Junk.  Questions like:

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Student share gratitude reflections here.

What in nature are you grateful for?

What season are you grateful for?

What tradition are you grateful for?

What challenge are you grateful for?

The class used the the Day 10 question, “What memory are you grateful for?” to frame the school’s Thanksgiving Assembly, reminding all that our faith is based on our memory of God’s faithfulness.

It appears Miss Junk is not the only one being changed by this focus on growing in gratitude.  “I think it is amazing that we can use different ways to show what we are grateful for.  There were a whole bunch of different questions,” said Madi, a student in Grade 6.

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Madi…liked the different questions

But what will happen when the class finishes the month long focus on gratitude?  Will Miss Junk and her students slowly become “unchanged?”  Joseph, another Grade 6 student doesn’t think so, “After about the fifth day, I definitely noticed that I was seeing more things that I am thankful for. I think gratefulness will become a habit for me.”

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Joseph…gratefulness will be a habit!

Classmate, Dom agreed.  In fact, she thinks that her grateful heart will invite others to join.  “I definitely think it is a good thing to do and when 20 days are finished I will keep going and I will have my family do it as well.”

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Dom…will keep going when gratitude devotions are finished.

Growing in grace and gratitude.  It’s what is happening to Miss Junk, Madi, Joseph, Dom and all the other ECNS classes and students who are doing the 20 Days of Gratitude.

Opened eyes,

Thank-filled hearts,

Christ-centred education…  challenging us ALL to actively play our role in God’s story.

Sweet! Grandparent Blessings

imag0250A grandmother who came all the way from Nigeria!

What a story we live in!  God’s overwhelming blessings from land to land, from generation to generation!

Grandparent blessings –prayer, financial support, and unwavering commitment to our schools (and to their grandchildren in those schools)–are something we are deeply thankful for at Edmonton Christian Schools!  In October we were especially blessed by grandparents (and special friends) visiting Edmonton Christian Northeast School and Edmonton Christian West School for grandparents day.   Now, we want you to be blessed, not only by some of the pictures, but also by the words of blessing that grandparents spoke and wrote on those days!

(Thanks to those who took photos in this author’s absence.  Note that people quoted are not necessarily those in the pictures.)

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“Edmonton Christian is the blessing on which our grandchildren’s life foundation is built. God’s gift to our three generations and beyond.”  Co and Alice VanderLaan

“We were totally reminded of Psalm 103-‘God’s love is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear Him, making everything right for them and their children as they follow His covenant ways and remember to do what He said.’  We pray God’s continued blessings on you and Christian Education.  Thankful Grandparents, Evert and Linda Vroon.”

 

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“May God bless these children of our children.  May all of the plans and purposes that God has designed for each child come to pass. May each child know how precious they are and how much they are loved by God and by their families.”   Grandparent note of blessing left at grandparents day.

g-parents-ne9At a recent conference, the speaker, Andy Crouch said “Perhaps the most important role Grandparents can play in an institution [like a school] is to bless that institution.”    We had a taste of  the sweetness of those blessings in October.  We grow in gratitude together.

 

The Search for Intelligent Life

There is a fascinating story of a team of scientists striving to find the best way to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  These scientists were driven by the question, “In our search for life on other planets, what exactly should we look for?”  Their way of answering that question was really interesting.  They decided to create a small spacecraft which they would launch as far into space as possible and then use it to “look back” at Earth which (occasionally) has intelligent life on it.  They concluded that looking at Earth from afar would help them to know what they were looking for elsewhere in the universe.

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On the “Spaceship” to Kettle Falls

Stepping back from everyday life and looking from a distance at ourselves can be instructive at many levels.  That’s what 17 people from Edmonton Christian Schools did Oct 13 and 14.  Their spaceship was a bus, and their “deep space destination” was a EL Education* Mentor School in Kettle Falls, Washington where theyimg_5066 were joined by teachers from Christian schools in Surrey BC, Coquitlam BC, Nanaimo BC, Lynden WA, and Bellevue WA.  They were given some high quality experiences of the learning that took place in Kettle Falls and then “aimed their instruments” back towards their own Christian schools to look for signs of life.  “The element of 7 or 8 Christian Schools from two different countries coming together was pretty significant in getting people to imagine what Christian schooling means.”  Doug Monsma, Prairie Centre for Christian Education.

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We observed . . .and had great discussions with teacher from BC and Washington

 

What did Edmonton Christian staff members see and  imagine as we looked back at our schools through the lens of Kettle Falls?  What did we learn about how we can live our mission as a Christian School?

First of all, we learned that we have many cultural and educational practices that are good and that we must nurture.  There is indeed abundant life in our schools!  (Just look elsewhere on this blog for evidence!  God is good!)

Second, we learned that we can grow in making our classrooms places where we do really important and challenging work together  (teachers, students and community), and that we can do that with great wonder and joy.  Here are some participant’s reflections on the voyage to Kettle Falls:

img_5097“What I saw most strongly modelled was the students taking ownership of the learning.” Brady VanRy, teacher.

“We are on our way.   We have a number of good things in place: . . . learning targets . . .focussing on learning, not content…  I am excited about taking it to the next step—the student ownership of their learning.  This is an area we can really step up on.  That is exciting.”  Marcia Kwolick, teacher.

I wish every staff member could have heard their high school students speak about their overall school experiences; it was so powerful and inspiring!  Darren Oskoboiny, Principal

“It was a pretty cool experience to see the students so involved across every course.  Kids are being taught to process their own thinking and to evaluate what they are doing and why they are doing it.  That was a really big piece for me.  It was actually quite exciting.Hendrik Wolmarans, Asst.Principal

Their culture of learning showed a lot of things we could hang onto.” Clint Schenk, teacher and Asst Principal

“Teachers talk less, and it’s very student directed. Students took ownership of their work.” Lena Ayers, teacher

“They (Kettle Falls) have processes, protocols and really deliberate use of language around learning.”  Krista Mulder, Principal.

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Then…the long trip home

I’m not sure if that high-tech spaceship was ever launched or got a chance to look back at life on this beautiful planet.  I do know,however, that on our voyage to Kettle Falls, we found many signs of thriving life both in Kettle Falls and at Edmonton Christian School.  May we use what we learned, in God’s grace, to continue to grow into the story that the Creator of this universe is writing through us.

 

*the EL stands for Expeditionary Learning.  It is a way of doing schooling that others might call project based learning or deeper learning.  You can find out lots more here BY CLICKING HERE.
We are growing in gratitude!  Our thanks go to the staff and students of Kettle Falls!  We also thank the Edmonton Society for Christian Education and the Prairie Centre for Christian Education for making this possible.  Lastly, thanks to Peter Buisman, Tim Epp and Doug Monsma for the roles they played in making this happen.