More than Bricks and Mortar

IMG_7006Planning a new building for the West school will be exciting work!  This past week, a group of teachers, staff,  administrators, architects and Edmonton Society for Christian Education employees took two days to tour some new and newly renovated school buildings in and around Edmonton.  They saw some impressive school spaces, but this group was looking at much more than banks of windows, CTS labs and functional flooring. They were dreaming and hoping!





IMG_6992They were dreaming and hoping because this school society, which in 1949 started with 25 students in the basement of a church, has not changed in it’s resolve that Edmonton Christian Schools  be places in which Jesus Christ is recognized as Lord of ALL things and honoured above all else.  Over the years, God has blessed this resolve and now there are almost 1500 students receiving a distinctive Christian education that invites them to live lives of renewal as they find their place in God’s story.  A new building for Edmonton Christian West School will be a new “dream chapter” in this old story of God’s faithfulness to ESCE.





So, as this group of people toured buildings, they were seeing and dreaming of much more than bricks and mortar. They were dreaming of the kind of learning that could take place for our twenty first century learners.   They saw possibilities and enviroments where students could be invited to discover and develop their gifts so that they could join God in transforming the world, reclaiming and rediscovering the beauty of all that God created. This new building will have those deep hopes, rooted in God’s love, as a firm foundation.  Now that’s a building project to get excited about!




Yes, that IS a fireplace in the Learning Commons!
(Note–we saw lots of active classrooms but needed to avoid pictures that showed students)

Do you have ideas or thoughts on the design of a new building?  You can start giving some feedback HERE.

by Brian Doornenbal

One Candle

“One candle can light a thousand and is in no way diminished–but actually resurrects in a thousand ways.”  Ann Voskamp,  The Broken Way, Zondervan Press,  2016

FB_IMG_1494196991925 - CopyOne candle.  That’s what would have been on the cake at Willem Kees Huig Aarnoutse’s birthday party on January 10.  His parents, Adrian and Carolyn¹ and his siblings  Annemieke,  Saskia, Anja  and Adriaan  would have been joined by others who loved this relaxed, happy boy.  It would have been noisy and joyful; somewhere along the way a one year old boy would have grabbed into that cake and a short time later would have flashed his beautiful smile through a messy mask of cake and colourful icing.  It would have been…  It should have been…  A family, celebrating around that one candle.


Willem and his family never got that chance.  In a perplexing, unimaginable tragedy, Willem’s candle flickered out at 6 months, when he was suddenly taken by SIDS on July 30, 2017.  Losing this perfect, strong son, brother and grandson, losing the smiles and the hugs and the sloppy sibling kisses, losing the dreams of having a brother to play soccer and baseball and hockey with was grief that only the family can put words to. Grief and darkness.


But not total darkness; Willem’s candle, before he was taken away lit many other candles.  And, from within their grief, Adrian and Carolyn and their children are determined to keep the flame of love they have for Willem spreading.  This began in the very depths of this tragedy when they chose to re-kindle the hopes of two other families by allowing Willem’s heart and liver to be used in transplants.  And re-kindle hope it did!  Both transplants were successful.  One of those families wrote a letter:

“There are no words to say how thankful our little family is, that our child has received a miracle; our child  was given the gift of life because you made a choice to save our child . . .”

A candle lit . . .  

The letter also had a poem in it.  A few lines:

…so hope will live eternally,

Born of  saddest irony

Life will not be the same,

Not for me and not for you….

…May the life that lives in me

Shine the light so all can see..

Candles of hope. Light for all to see!

20180110_111859 (1)And then came January 10, the day there should have been that birthday party with that one candle.  Instead, the candle that was Willem’s life continued to light more candles. That morning, the whole family went to the maternity ward of the Royal Alexandra Hospital.  They brought pastry cookies for the staff and delivered 20 bags they had lovingly filled with premium products for new moms.  One of the items was a swaddling blanket with words from Psalm 139  that were part of Willem’s funeral service, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Perhaps the most unexpected, uncomfortable and yet most special moments came when the family was able to share a bag with a couple whose baby had been born less than an hour earlier.  Another candle.

Meanwhile, with the help of Siebe and Joni Koopman at Dutch Delicious, 100 bags of raisin buns, that the family had purchased, were being given out to customers who came into the bakery.²  In each bag was a note:

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 7.52.39 PM

Remember Willem.  Love others.  Light a candle!

The birthday remembering and candle lighting did not stop there.  That afternoon, the entire family went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Stollery Children’s Hospital where they had, in July, spent the last three days of Willem’s life here on earth.  There, they delivered more treats and a lot of toys that Carolyn had spent months getting as donations.   In addition to the toys they also left behind packages of  high quality toiletries for families who suddenly found themselves in a time of deep crisis that the Aarnoutses knew all too well.


Finding our role in God’s story does not insulate us from pain. In fact, being Christ-followers will lead us to the foot of a cross, a place of pain and suffering.  Adrian, Carolyn, and their children know pain and suffering.  In different ways, we all do.  But the author of our stories is a God who, at that very cross, also knows the pain of losing a son.  Grief is real, but our God cries with us, walks with us and promises to restore hope.

Candles burning. Hope mixed with tears.  Darkness  being chased away by the life of a happy little boy who left his family far too soon, but who continues to light a thousand candles.

candle burning brightly¹Adrian Aarnoutse attended Edmonton Christian Schools K-12.  He graduated fron Edmonton Christian High School in 2001.  Carolyn Aarnoutse (Schoonderwoerd) attended Edmonton Christian schools K-6 before her family moved to Red Deer. During the writing of this story they expressed how grateful they are for the support that they have received from the community of Edmonton Christian Schools. 
² a highlight of the day for the family was receiving a number of messages from people, telling them about their acts of remembering
Thanks to Matt Schoonderwoerd (Opa) whose writing on Jan 10 informed a lot of this blog.  You can see that writing   HERE
You can read the words Carolyn and Adrian spoke at Willem’s funeral HERE
by Brian Doornenbal

Blessed Are the Peacemakers


To make peace, one needs to know what peace is. Grade 3 at ECWS began exploring that.  I came across across this bulletin board outside their classroom.  The sign beside it said:

After reading the book “What Does Peace Feel Like” by Vladimir Radunsky, students in grade 3 used their five senses to describe what peace means to them.  Next, they chose their favourite sentence and created a watercolour painting to enhance their text.


Peace sounds like the pitter patter of rain one morning in Canmore
Peace feels like when you go outside when it’s just sprinkling with a nice big rainbow.
Peace smells like a bouquet of fresh plucked flowers from my mom’s garden
Peace looks like a lion and a lamb cuddled up on a dark and stormy night.
Peace sounds like my dog Rufus’s soft tender woofs as he dreams all curled up in his bed.
Peace sounds like two people having fun and laughing with huge smiles on even the darkest days.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the children!

by Brian Doornenbal

A Christmas Card for You

A  Christmas card from Edmonton Christian Schools to you:

In these long days of darkness, God-With-Us has come.  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Isa.9:2.  That’s God’s story.  The darkness does not last!  That’s the Christmas story.  And it is our story!  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favour rests” Luke 2:14 

This, our Christmas card, comes in the form of pictures and messages carried by the voices and instruments of students in all three of our schools.  We join them in wishing your families the renewed hope that comes in this season of God changing things around, calming our fears and inviting us to be people of love and light.

🎶When down is up and up is down,

Our God can change things around.”🎶

Edmonton Christian West School K – 6 (slide show may take a few moments to load on your device)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


🎶“Sleeping Adonai,

Calm the waves, then calm my fears.

Light the world, then light my way,

Sleeping Adonai.” 🎶

Edmonton Christian High School Band&Choir, ECWS & ECNS Junior High Bands, ECNS Gr 7 Choir (slide show may take a few moments to load on your device)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


🎶All around us people are hurting . . .

We are meant to be as his hands and feet

To share God’s wonderful love.”🎶

Edmonton Christian Northeast School Gr 1-3 (slide show may take a few moments to load on your device)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Brian Doornenbal

What’s Your Superpower?

If you had a choice, what superpower would you have? Flight? Invisibility? Time travel? Breathing under water?  That’s fun to think about and it makes a great conversation starter at a dinner party.  If dinner parties aren’t your thing, there are multiple websites on which you can take a quiz to see which superpower “matches” you.  


We know, of course, that super powers don’t really exist the way Marvel Comics and Hollywood portray them. They are just an entertaining fantasy.  But what if we already have a power, and  what if we can use it in super ways?  Good news!  At Edmonton Christian we do, and we did!




IMG_4733The superpower we all have, in this loud world, is a voice to speak for love and justice.  In the last weeks, Gr 7-10 students at Edmonton Christian Schools have used their powerful voices to promote and protect  human rights.  They used their voices, in love, to save lives.  In a world where racism bubbles through thin veneers of equality, where millions of women are treated as property rather than as people, where children are made soldiers and slaves, where terror grips hearts and where ruthless leaders beat down, kill or imprison anyone who dares question their authority, our students channelled their voices onto paper in the annual Amnesty International Write for Rights campaign.  By sending those voices to people in authority all over the world, they will play a part in some prisoners being set free, in some human rights violations ceasing and in promoting new and better laws in some places.  



Isaiah 61 (1)This isn’t just a party-game-conversation about superpowers.  Amnesty International’s history is filled with examples of lives being saved, captives being set free, violence decreasing and basic human rights being respected.  This gives us the hope that our voices make a super-powerful difference. But it’s more than just hope in a less than perfect organization like Amnesty.  At Edmonton Christian Schools we believe that because of the Child whose birth we will soon celebrate, we are invited into a story where flawed people can be used by a faithful God in acts of restoration.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (us) . . .to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  That’s a superpower that not even the brilliant imaginations at Marvel can touch!

by Brian Doornenbal

The Diviners

Moraine_Lake_17092005Mere existence is not really an option for the universe. God created it to flourish! If you’ve ever snorkelled above a healthy coral reef, seen the northern lights, watched a butterfly feed or stood on top of a mountain, you are witness to a creation that does more than just exist.  If a piece of music has ever gladdened your heart or if you have ever experienced the love of another person, you know what it feels like to flourish.

IMG_4648There are many characteristics of thriving communities and flourishing people; one such aspect is beauty.  That is why one of the Biblical through-lines that shapes our work at Edmonton Christian Schools is Beauty-Creating.  The senior high students, guided by Mrs. Knol, Mr. Epp and Mr. Boschman were beauty-creators as they rehearsed and, last week, performed The Diviners, a classic play by Jim Leonard Jr..  Following are some pictures taken at dress rehearsal.  Hopefully those that did not attend a performance can sense  how the beauty of this superbly acted and produced play joined the rest of the universe in singing the praise of our Creator and contributed to flourishing in our community(ies).







The limited skills of the author to take pictures in low light means that Mr. Boschman,  and perhaps others, do not appear in this blog.  Sincere apologies if the lens missed you.  Thanks to ALL for your beauty creating!
by Brian Doornenbal


From Dunker to Doctor (Part 2)

Support on the Path:  Family and Friends

It could be said for all of us.  Unless someone has walked a mile in our shoes ( or tool belt or business suit or chef’s apron, . . .) they can’t fully understand our daily work.  

Mark scrubs (1)Without walking a mile in Mark’s scrubs, it is difficult for us to imagine the challenges on the pathway to becoming a surgical specialist.  One hundred hour (plus) weeks. Life and death situations.  Overwhelming pressure from both the long hospital hours AND the studying.  Child cancer patients. Unsuccessful surgeries. Delivering bad news to families.  It has been a challenging path.   

 “I haven’t really had second guesses about medicine, but I definitely have had second guesses about surgery.  It is one of the longest residencies, one of the hardest residencies, and the sheer hours in the hospital and on call are difficult,” reflects Mark.   “There are lows when you are overcome by studying, and by what you see and by [the toll it takes] on family life.”

Mark has no illusions about how important that family life has been and continues to be on this path.  Mark, Connie and their two children are in this together!   

“It’s support that makes it possible.  It’s not me being good at things.  I have an incredibly supportive wife who is doing 100% more than her fair share.  She’s a single mother raising two children ….or three,” he adds with a self-deprecating grin.  “Also,” he continues, “my parents are in town, and they are always willing to babysit or help.

Mark's family

The support Mark experiences from Connie and from other family is of course about much more than just helping him get through his training as a surgeon.  The hospitial work shapes him as a surgeon, but he speaks of being shaped by his family in this way,  

“I might be a better Resident if I was single, but I would not be a better person.”

Mark also acknowledges that the friendships he made with people who attended Edmonton Christian Schools have  helped him become who he is today.  He remains very close to a group of guys he went to school with.  They do what friends do. Sports. Social gatherings.  Building each other’s garages. . . .   Oh, and yes… still plenty of goofing off.

Mark buddies

These friendships have not only been important for Mark, but since many  of these friends, are married and have young children Connie has found herself with a supportive group of friends who have much in common and do much together.  Family camping trips.  Barbeques.  Shared child-care and playdates.  Girls nights out.  

“When we came back to Edmonton from Dordt, I was curious how it [reconnecting with friends] would go.”  

As it turns out it has gone well and will continue to play an important role in both in Mark’s vocational journey and in the story of his family.

It’s important in all of this to circle back to the fact that this is part of a bigger story.  God’s story has a place for all.  The path isn’t always easy but the same God who provides the lilies of the field with what they need to be beautiful in this world provides each person as they “toil and spin” with all they need. God places people around them who help them become who God wants them to be.  And just like with the lilies, that is a beautiful thing!

(Part One of this story can be found here:  From Dunker to Doctor)
by Brian Doornenbal