Grace and Grandparents

There is no doubt: Edmonton Christian Schools are heritage schools.  Not the buildings, the schools.  First of all, these schools operate in the heritage of God’s grace.  Since 1949, despite our flaws and the unseen bends in the path, God has heaped blessings on Edmonton Society for Christian Education schools and those that attend them.  That is almost 70 years of Christ centred education!  The effects continue to reverberate as  graduates become harmonious notes in the beautiful song God’s creation sings.

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Secondly, we exist in the heritage of committed people,  the people who founded and support(ed) a school whose deep hope and vision has always been to see students “accepting Christ’s invitation to live for renewal.”  These faithful people know that “there is not one square inch of our human existence over which Christ does not cry, ‘Mine!'”*

Never is our heritage of grace and  commitment more evident than when we invite our Grandparents and special friends to our schools, as we did this week.  The pictures tell the story!

Edmonton Christian West School, Weds Oct 11 (slide show may take a few moments to load on your device).

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Edmonton Christian Northeast School, Thurs Oct 12 (Slide show may take a few moments to load on your device).

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Amazing grace from a loving God, passed down from generation to generation by committed Christ followers.  Could we be more blessed?

*Abraham Kuyper, theologian , wrote words like this.
by Brian Doornenbal
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Digging Deep in Social Studies 7

IMG_2970Last week our schools observed Orange Shirt Day (as shown here in pictures from all three campuses).  It was a day to honour indigenous people who survived Residential Schools and to remember those who didn’t.  Wearing an orange shirt, especially in Oiler country is pretty easy.  But it was another small step in our walk of reconciliation.  It was another small step in cultivating community.

There was one group of students at West school whose observation of Orange Shirt Day seemed to go a bit deeper.  Here are a couple of phrases from their journals that day:

“…they act like we aren’t people and we don’t have souls.”

“Our whole race got wiped away…”

What brought out these strong feelings?  These grade seven students and their teacher, Mr. Hoover, didn’t know it at the time, but their whole month in Social Studies was leading them to more deeply understand what Orange Shirt Day was about.

In that first week of school, students got into groups and began creating a culture with all it’s beliefs, practices, languages, foods, customs and ways of life.   They really got into this.  They dug deep. They gave the cultures names like Arbré or Alrack.  When they were ready, cultures began interacting with other cultures by trying to explain themselves without the use of any English words. The language barrier was frustrating!  Subsequent classes saw the cultures decide on and participate in “events” such as expanding their territory, making alliances with neighbours, going to war,  farming new crops etc.    While the events themselves were student choices, the outcomes of these events were determined by the teacher rolling a dice.  There were peaceful times and times of conflict. Some cultures flourished and others were almost wiped out as their populations dwindled.

One day,  a new culture, the Hooverians arrived in their ships.  They had some different goods to trade for the resources the other cultures had. While some things worked well, overall their interactions with those cultures lead to distrust, conflict and in-fighting.  Hooverians moved into territory previously occupied by others.  They questioned and at times mocked some of the cultural practices.  The changes they brought and the effects these changes had on the other cultures were significant.  This was just a month-long simulation, but these students FELT it. (It’s impossible to adequately summarize a whole month of work in a few words, so if you know one of these 7th graders, ask them for details of their learning!)

With those activities as a background, Orange Shirt Day became more real.  This can be seen in some of the feelings the students journalled along the way.  Their last journal entries on Orange Shirt Day were poignant.  Here is one complete one from Alexa.

A man came. I saw him talk to the Chiefs.  He gave us tools and stuff. I didn’t trust him, and I was right. He took me and some other kids. Mama was crying. I was too. They took me away with the kids of other ages.  I went far, far, far away.  A big lake is now my view. They tell me that what I believe is wrong. I don’t know anymore. But one of my friends said something bad and I didn’t see him anymore. I miss home. I miss the forest. I feel sad and alone. No more Abré girl.  I’m not Hika  anymore. I’m Helen. Helen from the west.

Was this simulation a complete picture of our history with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada?  Of course not.  Like the Blanket Exercise some students did last year, it gave only a glimpse.  It only helped us to dig a little deeper so that we can understand what our role in this reconciliation story might be.  After all, as broken people loved by God  this isn’t the first reconciliation story we’ve been part of!

by Brian Doornenbal

 

Drawing Straight With Crooked lines

2425658-Andrew-M-Greeley-Quote-God-draws-straight-with-crooked-linesA former colleague and Principal of ECNS closed all her e-mails with an Andrew Greeley quote : “God draws straight with crooked lines.”  It was a reminder that God can use flawed people, like me,  to do God’s purpose.  As good as that lesson is, there is a second lesson I am seeing more and more:  the pathway to finding our role in God’s story is often a very crooked one, filled with zigs and zags.

IMG_2906That is what 2008 Edmonton Christian High graduate Dustin Zuidhof is finding out as he zigzags through life.  Dustin is remembered by teachers of the Northeast  and Senior High schools as a soft-spoken, shy,  lanky student who was academically strong, especially in the sciences.  Yet today, he works for Power to Change (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) on the University of Alberta Campus, reaching out to unsaved people.  A serpentine path indeed!

After graduation, Dustin enrolled in Biology at the U of A.  He had been challenged by his teachers at Edmonton Christian School to think about science in a different way and he had appreciated how faith and studies in a Christian community had shaped him.  He was confident in his faith and so he says, “I enrolled at U of A because I felt like seeing the world outside of the Christian bubble.”  With 20-20 hindsight he recognizes that it was a mistake to cut ties with the community he thought was a bubble.   “It maybe was not the best idea. I felt really lonely my first year.”

That loneliness was used by God to help Dustin accept an invitation in his second year to a Power to Change (P2C) Bible study. He participated in that group which focussed on the great commission (Matt 28:19-20).  “I didn’t really like that focus, because I didn’t really love the people the commission was speaking about.  But P2C challenged my ‘tribalism’ of seeing Jesus as only relevant to myself  and to those with faith.  I prayed for a desire to love unbelievers.  I really felt God answer that prayer.”

The next part of the crooked line was going into nursing which Dustin saw as a “vocational ministry in which he could love people in a very Christ-like servant way.”  The actual work with patients was very fulfilling, but Dustin struggled with his experience of a mean-spirited, gossip culture in the profession itself.  “It was changing me in ways I did not like,” he shares.  “The decision to walk away from nursing was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”

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By now Dustin was married to Lesley, who worked for P2C.  He spent a year in a job at Home Depot and when Lesley’s colleague on the U of A Campus moved on, Dustin decided to volunteer with P2C for a year.  That volunteering has now turned into employment.

Zigs and zags in the life-line that brought Dustin to where he is today.  “I was a shy soft-spoken science nerd (I think I still am), but now I talk and listen to students every day about deeper things in life, about what they believe their purpose is, who God is, what they value. I think the zigzag of life really equipped me for this.”  Only a gracious loving God could draw so straight with crooked lines!

by Brian Doornenbal
Dustin and Lesley each have to raise 100% of their salaries for their ministry on the U of A Campus.  They do this through supportive churches and individuals.  If you would like to support their work, contact Dustin  and Lesley at dustin.zuidhof@P2C.com or lesley.zuidhof@p2c.com

A number of other alumni stories have been published on this blog:    Miracles, Mud and MLAs,    Slow War–Ben Hertwig Shares His Story,     To Iraq and Back,      “I Didn’t See That Coming!,   Pastor Who?    They Walk Among Us!,       Throwing Pasta  

Gifts in a Garden

sheldoncooper1More than one televison show  or movie has made us chuckle at a character who often takes things literally.  Someone says to that character, “Hop to it,” and we laugh (or groan) as they leave the room, hopping like a rabbit.  

 

Now, I know that the ECNS students and staff aren’t like those comic characters.  They don’t take this year’s school theme literally:   “dig deep. cultivate community.”   But I have to admit, I did smile as I saw Grade 9’s gather side by side with a few people from The Mustard Seed* to dig potatoes, carrots,  onions and more at Ladyflower Gardens**.  I didn’t laugh; I definitely didn’t groan; but I did smile!  Maybe there was even a joyful chuckle.  They were digging deep.  They were finding the gifts of community with eachother and beyond, cultivating a garden.

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ECS Alumnus, Abbi welcomes student to her workplace, Ladyflower gardens.
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Jared, a Mustard Seed staff member, speaks to the students.

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And for the students, the community-building did not end there.  The majority of the food harvested will be donated to the Edmonton Foodbank. What isn’t donated will be used by the Food Studies students to make soup for the Mosaic Centre.***  Students will reflect on their experience and perhaps it will help shape their Social Studies discussions of economics and poverty,  or their Science discussions of biodiversity, or it will give them their next idea for writing in Language Arts class. . .

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IMG_2693At Edmonton Christian Schools we know that forming healthy relationships within our schools and in the communities we live in is as important as the books we open. It’s something we dig deep to do.  If there just happens to be a potato, carrot or onion at the bottom of that dig . . . it’s just another gift from God!

by Brian Doornenbal
*The Mustard Seed provides community and support for marginalized people in both Edmonton and Calgary.   Find out more at https://theseed.ca/about-us/
**Lady Flower Gardens, is a special place.  It is a place of experiential learning about growing food and growing community. Find out out more about their amazingwork http://www.ladyflowergardens.com/
***Mosaic Centre is located in Northeast Edmonton where it serves the vulnerable people affected by poverty, hunger and  homelessness.  It has been “ a partner” with Edmonton Christian Schools since it began in 2009.  Find out more at http://www.mosaiccentre.ca/

5 Thoughts on This Year’s Theme

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Photo credit: http://www.liketreesplanted

 Another school year.  Another school theme: “ dig deep. cultivate community.”   It’s pretty easy to read the words and then skip right to the next thing that vies for our attention.  But moving on too quickly could leave some richness undiscovered.   A good theme, after all, will anchor us to a good story.  A good theme will orient our eyes, ears, hearts and hands towards that story.  A good theme will invite us into the story and will nurture within us a desire to be active in that story.  

Five thoughts I’ve had (so far) about dig deep. cultivate community:

  • God’s story is a story of deep love and mysterious, unlimited grace.  As God’s people coming together in a school community, we need to burrow into that love and grace.  We need to go deep!
  • Digging deep is something that requires work.  It is easy for a landscaper to scrape off a bit of topsoil.  But if trees are to be planted, take root and bear fruit, some sweat and muscle will need to go into digging deep.  We cannot shy away from the challenging work  that is required of a Christ-following school.
  • Going deep needs to guide our academic pursuits.  At Edmonton Christian Schools, we dream of our students going well beyond the facts and content that are contained in the curriculum of their grade.  We strive to be a school that goes deeper by inviting and empowering the students to live what we call biblical through lines.*  Going deep means we and our students can practice being Justice-Seekers, Earth-Keepers, God-Worshippers, Beauty-Creators, Idolatry Discerners, Servant-Workers, Image-Reflecters, Community-Builders, Creation-Enjoyers and Order-Discovers.
  • Albert Einstein said, Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”  We want Edmonton Christian School to be a place where going deep leads to wonder.  A place where we can marvel at the complexity, intricacy and sheer beauty of the created universe and be in awe of the Creator.
  • IMG_2006Devotions at the beginning of the day, monthly chapels or a few “God words” thrown into an assignment will never be enough.  Gardeners don’t just throw seeds onto the ground and expect a bountiful harvest.  They till the soil, water the plants and pull weeds.  They cultivate.  Every day, in every activity and subject area, we will need to faithfully cultivate community that is rooted in God’s love for us and that is faithful to God’s call to love our neighbours, both here and around the world.  And, when we fail, we will dig deep to do the challenging work of forgiveness and restoration.

One last thing.  You might have wondered why the theme often appears in lower case letters.  I have too.  Perhaps it is a reminder that these words aren’t platitudes, entitlements or mere bulletin board material; they are our daily vocation, our calling.  At times this vocation will be joyful and at other times it will be a grind, but it will always be worthwhile.

What are your thoughts on this year’s theme? (feel free to leave a comment!)

by Brian Doornenbal
*a brief description of the Biblical Throughlines that help shape learning at Edmonton Christian Schools can be found HERE

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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
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Gr 4 at West recently held a games carnival to raise money to help conserve this land through Edmonton Area Land Trust.

 

Farewell

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!