Miracles, Mud and MLAs

A Throwback-Thursday Glimpse at the Life of Alumnus Janelle Herbert

“Every day is a miracle!”

 The smile on Janelle’s face grows as she shares how, as a farmer, it is hard NOT to recognize that we are in God’s creation. “You put a seed in the ground and it grows.  It’s amazing and you can’t take any credit for it.”

ECHS Yearbook, 1999. Janelle’s K-9 schooling was at ECNS

Tiny seeds growing into wholesome food, is not the only miracle to be found here at Riverbend Gardens*,  the home of Aaron and Janelle Herbert and their three children, Evelyn, Layne and Carly. Ten years ago if you had  told Janelle , a member of the 1999 class of graduates from Edmonton Christian High, that she would be a business woman, a farmer, and a land steward fighting for the very survival of this special piece of land in NE Edmonton, she, in her own words, “would have run!”

“You never know where you’re going to be in ten years,”  she acknowledges.  This is part of the miracle and that is not lost on Janelle.  She recalls how her parents never put pressure on her or her siblings to take over the farm.  Upon her graduation, Janelle worked for a couple of years before going to Grant McEwan College where she became an Occupational Therapy Assistant.  She was able to immediately find employment working with developmentally disabled children.

At one point, not long after she was married to Aaron, Janelles’ parents inquired about whether or not they had any interest in operating the farm.  Aaron, a city boy who was working at a metal shop, immediately said, “Yes!”  Could this young couple, neither of whom had farming on their career list, miraculously make this work?  They could in God’s story!  “He [Aaron] loves work.  He’s like a workaholic.   I like running a business, so we are a good team.  He loves working on the farm and I kind of run the business . . .steer the business,” shares Janelle.  “It all falls into place.  It’s no accident.”

Aaron helps host a recent field trip by grade 1 students from ECNE.  Helping city people understand farming is part of what Janelle and Aaron do.

IMG_0395One of the things Janelle continues to learn is that God’s miracles in our lives do not mean our pathway will be smooth.  Concerns about growing seasons and markets and weather conditions are always there.  Taking the farm from growing wholesale crops to doing Community Shared Agriculture has not been easy, but that’s a story that will have to be for another time.    Add in the threat of losing this special piece of land to a proposed roadway/bridge development connecting to the industrial heart of Fort Saskatchewan** and it is clear that God’s miracles often require our participation!

Copy of Richard Rohr quote“With farming has come a whole host of challenges:  dealing with government and  being a landowner and public engagement and all that. It was something I didn’t anticipate being such a huge part of what I do.  So that has been challenging. You wear so many hats.  One minute you could be teaching a teenager how to pull weeds and the next you could be sitting in your MLAs office.

“It is important to have God lead where you are going and then you will be where you are supposed to be, even if it’s hard.”


So for now, Janelle and Aaron are making a difference in their small part of God’s story.   Where will they be 10 years from now?  Will food still be growing on this land?  Or . . .will tanker trucks and cars be rumbling across a new bridge, banishing the serenity of plant filled fields?  No-one knows.  But we do know this:  God will continue to work in the lives of Edmonton Christian School alumni like Janelle.  As a school, we plant the seeds.  The miracles?  Those are from a loving God!

by Brian Doornenbal
*If you would like to find out more about Aaron and Janelle’s farm:  CLICK HERE
**more details about the expropriation threat and ways you could get involved  CLICK HERE
Gr 4 at West recently held a games carnival to raise money to help conserve this land through Edmonton Area Land Trust.



New Roles, Same Story

At Edmonton Christian Schools, we think and talk a lot about God’s story for this world.  It is even in our mission statement: Responding to God’s grace, Edmonton Christian Schools challenge students, through Christ centred education, to actively play their role in God’s story.”

IMG_1289One of the things we know about stories is that characters within a story come and go. Each year at this time, we say goodbye to some people who will be leaving our part of the story and opening a new chapter somewhere else.  We thank them for the role they played here and we wish nothing but blessing for each of them as their plot-line changes. This year we say farewell to three (4?) of our colleagues whose next chapter is called “Retirement.”  

IMG_1307Grace Jewett who was a member of the ECHS Graduating Class of 1977, is retiring after 33 years of “shaping young minds” (a phrase she would often use as she went to teach a class,  “I am off to shape young minds”).  Her role in this story has shaped and influenced not only the minds, but also the stories of thousands of others… students and colleagues alike.  Grace’s kindness, positivity, and the deep desire to really connect with people are hallmarks of her teaching career.  She not only had time to listen to people’s stories, she loved doing so.  This made her a person that people liked to be around and it also made her a very effective teacher.  It has been said, “They don’t care what you know, till they know that you care.”  No one who was taught by, mentored or worked with Grace Jewett ever doubted that she cared.  She will be missed!

IMG_1539Sylvia Huitsing is retiring after 20 years of working as an Educational Assistant at Northeast Edmonton Christian School (and 5 years as school secretary in the 1980s).  Much of her work was done in the junior high division where she was so able to relate to students in ways that they understood.  She was compassionate with them, but she was very direct when necessary.  The students knew she loved them the way they were,  but they also knew she wanted to see them grow.  That lead to many memorable mentoring moments.  When her colleagues recently celebrated her work, they referred to her as the junior high “mom,” mainly for the students, but also for her colleagues whom she helped in so many ways. Northeast school will not be the same without her.

IMG_1221Since 1978, Geraldine Attema, has taught  24 years at  Edmonton Christian Schools, both at West and at Northeast.  Her last 9 years have been in the primary division at Northeast.  Not bad for someone who initially headed off to Dordt College to become a nurse!  God had different ideas for her and used her well within the story of Christian education.  Her ability to capture the complexity of a situation in a well-used phrase often put smiles on the faces of those who taught with her.  “This isn’t my first rodeo.”  or “Just use some creative license.” or ‘It’s not a hill to die on.”  Mrs. Attema could also put smiles on the faces of those young ones as they learned to read, write and relate in her class.  Well done Geraldine!  Blessings in your retirement.

IMG_1283Though on her last day there was a balloon saying “Happy Retirement,” that doesn’t seem to be the right title for the next chapter of the ECHS Lunch Lady’s story.  Perhaps we will call it “Freedom Forty-Something.”  After 14 smile-filled years of being present and connected with people at ECHS while she organized, prepared and served food to students and staff alike, Charlene Hofstede is moving on. The food service she provided was very important, but more important was her servant heart that expressed itself in kind and caring interactions with her colleagues and the students.  She enriched the lives of many and we wish her well in her Freedom Forty-Something.

In addtion to those retiring, we will also, for now, say goodbye to others.

Mr. Wes Boonstra is  leaving after 9 years at ECHS, where he challenged students mostly in Social Studies to seek God’s will for this world.  We wish him well in his new role at Centre High next year.    

Mr. Nick Boschmann will be also be leaving Edmonton Christian High School after three years of mainly teaching English.  He is hopeful about some new opportunities for next year.

Mrs Sheri Kimmel and her family will moving away from Edmonton.  After 8 years of teaching and coaching at West School since 2005, we say thank you and farewell to Sheri and wish her blessings for the future (and strength for the move!)

Lastly, we say farewell to Liz Neudorf who has been a very capable and loving grade 1 teacher at Northeast school this year.  She will be continuing her career at Abbotsford Christian School next year.

Though saying farewell comes with a measure of sadness, it is with joy that we can acknowledge that as God’s people, even though our roles may not intersect as often, we are still part of the same huge narrative, written by a loving God.  What a story!



Faithful People at the Wheel

Here’s your earworm of the day:

1deab7e6c0b2947a17343d3d0efee99cThe wheels on the bus go round and round,

round and round, round and round.  

The wheels on the bus go round and round,

all through the town.


IMG_4933Wheels on Edmonton Christian School buses have been going round and round this town and the surrounding countryside for many many years, but after lengthy and challenging discussions, the ESCE Board made a decision to have Edmonton Public Schools take over the city routes.  While this change will bring efficiencies to the system and will save a substantial amount of money, it will also mean that with sadness and with gratitude for the dedication shown, we  say goodbye to some faithful bus drivers.  As Peter Busiman wrote in his report to the ESCE Annual Meeting, “This decision was a difficult one and didn’t come lightly. One big reason for this was that we have working for us, bus drivers who are very committed to being the best drivers they can be. Our students could count on them for so much.”

Bus Drivers, other ESCE Employees and Board Reps gather for a lunch celebrating the contributions of the drivers.

Our deep thanks and heartfelt wishes for future blessings to:

Annette DeHaan (29 years of driving!!), Carolin Visscher (8 years of driving), Cynthia Krikke (7 years of driving), Carol Boonstra (6 years of driving), Kathryn DeBree (3 years of driving), John Klooster (2 years of driving), George DeHaan (4+ years as spare driver), and Marcy Ward (2 years as spare driver).

Annette DeHaan has been a ESCE driver for 29 years! An incredible contribution to our schools!

Astrid Potvin (28 years of driving), Linda Hale (23 years of driving), and Annette Moes (14 years of driving) will continue to drive rural routes and field trips. (Transportation Coordinator Edith Houtstra will also drive field trips).

Thank you bus drivers!

As  Wheels on the Bus  plays in your head this day, let it remind you to say a prayer of thanks for these people who have played their role in God’s story at Edmonton Christian.

by Brian Doornenbal
Please remember to thank these people during these last weeks of school, OR if you would like to send a note of thanks, a blessing or a memory to one of our drivers, email it to societyoffice@edmchristian.net and it will be shared with the driver.




Celebrating Our Senior High Students

I’ll admit it:  Once in awhile I have a hard time celebrating.  I like to think that doesn’t come from some deep seated pessimism;  I think I’m a glass-half-full person.  And it certainly it does not arise from the notion that Christ-followers need to be stoic and reserved; quite the opposite!  God’s grace gives me ample reason to live joyfully.   I think the challenge in celebrating comes from years of “WHAT ABOUTS?”  It’s great to recognize the students who excel, but WHAT ABOUT the ones who struggle.  WHAT ABOUT the student who doesn’t live well in our community?  WHAT ABOUT the one that didn’t make the team . . .

We still have “what abouts” that challenge us and motivate us to live a better story at Edmonton Christian High School, but we also have reason to celebrate.  While we still face some brokeness there is true joy at Edmonton Christian High because we so regularly see our students, all made in the image of God, reflect that image.
We see it in academics, athletics, service, community life and leadership.  While we need to continue to address our “what abouts,” it is good for us to set them aside regularly to celebrate God’s story at ECHS. We did that last week, acknowledging some of the ways that we have noticed our students reflect their Creator by taking up their part in God’s story.

Sara and Murjet organized and hosted the ECHS Athletics Banquet as their Gr 12 Passion Project.

It began on Wednesday evening with an athletics banquet.  The banquet itself was a testament to the fantastic students we have here as it  was the passion project of two grade 12 students, Sara and Murjet.    

Banquet attendees listen to guest speaker Mr. Brady Van Ry. “There will always be a place for you in God’s story.”
Athletics award winners.
Ashley and Joel were recognized for Athletic Service.

A complete list of Athletics Award winners 2017 can be found here.

The following  Thursday, an awards assembly was held at ECHS.   Many students were recognized for their abilities and contributions to the learning community at Edmonton Christian High School and beyond.

April won the Katy Van Vliet Award for outstanding Gr. 10 student


Jake was recognized as the Outstanding Gr. 11 Student
Bethany was awarded the Brendon Wolthuis Award for Service (Gr 11)
Caleb will be Valedictorian for the Class of 2017 and was awarded the Nancy Westergreen Service Award (Caleb was also awarded a Kinsmen Club Award  and was the Schulich Leader Scholarship nominee from ECHS)


Joel was awarded the Russom Michael Award for Character in Athletics

There were many other image-reflectors who were recognized.  A complete list of ECHS Awards 2017 can be found here.

IMG_0634We have great students at Edmonton Christian.  But in God’s story we know where that greatness comes from.  Grace. Amazing grace! We are free, as guest speaker Mr. Van Ry reminded those who attended the athletics banquet, to develop our gifts and passions because we know that by grace, there will ALWAYS be a place for us in God’s story.  Winning awards or having success on the court or in the classroom won’t make God love us more, nor will our failures make God love us less.  Our identity is secure:  We ARE God’s children, made in His image, finding our role in the big love story God writes with our lives.  Belonging to a school that acknowledges that —  that has me celebrating!

by Brian Doornenbal

Know What You’re Good For!

“What are you doing when you feel most beautiful/successful?”

“What are your superpowers?”

What did you really enjoy when you were 10 years old?

Looking back at your life, 20 – 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished.”

ThroughlinesThese were just a few of the questions that Grade 12 students at Edmonton Christian High pondered in November to begin planning their senior Passion Project.  At that time they also received feedback from three trusted adults in their life to help them identify which of the ten Biblical throughlines, integral to learning at Edmonton Christian, were expressed in their passions.

Identifying a real need related to their gifts and passions, the Grade 12’s then set out to design and carry out their Passion Project by doing at least 25 hours of real work to meet this real need for real people.  This project was punctuated with the students reflecting on their role in God’s story, and it culminated, May 31,  in an evening of celebrating and sharing the work they did and how it impacted themselves and others.

Each student was interviewed by their staff advisor.  Here is some of what they said: (photos that are included are not necessarily connected to the student quotes):

“I love kids.  I found that out through coaching.  The kids had an impact on me.” Gordon  –coached youth football.

“I have a greater understanding of empathy.  My willingness to help has grown through this experience.” Gabby  –worked with children’s groups in her church.

“I learned that acts of compassion are a powerful way to make positive impacts in our society.”  Brayan  –did a compassionate acts project.

Passion Project3

“I can bless others with the gifts God has given me.”  Kurt  –tutored a fellow student in Social Studies.

“[I learned to] just not worry about yourself; sometime put yourself second instead of first.” Joel  –gave assistance in a variety of tasks and made a real, lasting connection to a neighbour.

Passion Project8Passion Project7

“I learned that I want to have a career with physically disabled children and help them through their day-to-day lives.” Ashley  –worked at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding.

“I got to be around what I liked.”  Kyle  –did “backline” work for the bands at YC this year.

“Food brings everyone together. Zach  –cooked for his family for a month.

“You really need other people to help you get through mental illness.”  Maddie  –advocated for understanding of mental illness with videos and materials under the slogan “Stand Together” 

“I will continue to coach in the future.”  Julia  –coached 4 and 5 year olds in ringette.

“It wasn’t just decorations; it was bringing something to the [church] service.”  Ilse  –created visuals and “decorated” her church for Lent and Easter.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.  I’ve always had a passion for it, so I want to keep doing that.” Brooke–filled backpacks with basic supplies for people who are homeless or between homes. (raw video interview HERE)

Passion project 10


Everyone at one point in their lives has asked themselves, “What am I good for? Why am I here? What purpose does my life have?”  With joy and dedication we have pursued those questions with our grade 12’s for as long as they have been here at Edmonton Christian Schools. In so many of their passion projects,  we witnessed our students’ confidence, skills and strength of character that will enable them to be the the people God intended them to be in the world beyond the doors of ECHS! They know what they are good for!  It’s an amazing measure of God’s grace and we are deeply grateful!

by Brian Doornenbal
A few pictures and quotes here can’t capture the story of more than 60 passion projects.    If you know someone from the Class of 2017, ask them about their project and about how they see their role in God’s story.



Thinking and Living

Richard Rohr quote (4) Richard Rohr once wrote, “We don’t think our way into new ways of living, but instead, we live our way into new ways of thinking.”

At  Edmonton Christian, we might challenge Rohr just a bit on this one.  We are, after all, a school.  We invite and challenge our students and staff to be thinkers, to discern, to grow in wisdom.  It’s a necessary part of finding their role in God’s story.

But we also know that Rohr is right.  We need to consistently give our students opportunities to live God’s story. Opportunities for them to act their way into new thinking.   That is why, at Edmonton Christian Schools we aim to teach the Alberta curriculum by having students experience life as a Christ-follower.  Examples?  When students are honIMG_0039ing their writing skills, they might  write letters that voice a concern for the voiceless; when they are studying water resources they might gather data on a Riverwatch trip or raise money for a third world well; when thinking about the power of community, they might mentor  a younger student in the school . . .  (more examples are in the stories on this blog).   In short, Edmonton Christian Schools is going to continue to teach students to be thinkers, knowing that the best way to do that is to engage  them in lived experiences of the curricular content.  When we do our task well, our students will will be both thinkers and doers in God’s story!

But prescribed curriculum aside,  sometimes there is value in deliberately “living our way into new ways of thinking.” Each year, ECHS students set aside their studies for two days of service to various organizations and camps. Pictured here are just a few of the groups of Grade 10s and 11s working in various locations.  (Thanks to the staff members who shared these shots).

These days of getting dirt under fingernails, sweating, laughing, devoting, complaining, rejoicing and experiencing community confirm that we agree with Rohr–we believe that through God’s grace we can live our way into being more Christ-like, into living lives of selfless service, into loving God and neighbour.  As we do, it changes our thinking and we grow in gratitude!

Grade 5 Students RISE to the Occasion

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.54.57 PMA deep hope we have for Edmonton Christian students, is that when they come face to face with brokenness that they will rise to the occasion.

In term two this year, the grade 5 classes were challenged to  take an “expedition” in which they used their gifts to explore what reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples means, and more importantly how they could live it.  Some of the work that resulted was published in Issue #2 of RISE ZINE.   This issue was published to commemorate the three years since the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the national event in Edmonton.  RISE stands for Reconciliation In Solidarity  Edmonton.  Every grade 5 student contributed to a bulletin board which was prominently featured in the magazine.  In addition, at least eighteen of the grade 5 students had pictures of their project work published.   Below is a sample of  how our students did RISE to recognize their role as image-reflectors, justice seekers and community-builders in this world.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.51.24 PM

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.53.18 PM

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.53.59 PM

Now . . . it’s on to the next expedition . . .


(In addition to the above work, you will find work by Shamea, Kaylan, Sophie, Lily, Nina, Vivian, Nolan, Reuben, Kiana and Ceasli in the magazine.  If you get a chance, ask a fifth grader to show you their copy of RISE ZINE  and ask them what else they learned on this expedition).