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.


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.



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.

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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).

Talking, Learning and Doing

Gen1;28Talking about watersheds and wetlands is an excellent part of the curriculum in Grade 5.  Talking about basic chemistry and chemicals is too!  But talking doesn’t always equal learning. Facts and data apart from the story we are in have limited use.

A big part of our story as God’s people was given in the first days after Creation when God made humans the stewards (caretakers) of the Garden (Creation itself)
This past week, ECWS Gr. 5 classes culminated their learning about water, wetlands and chemistry by doing a small act of stewardship.  Partnering with Trout Unlimited’s Yellow Fish Road Program and the City of Edmonton, they reminded the neighbourhoods surrounding the school that we all have a role to play in the story of stewarding God’s good creation.  IMG_9754They did this by using non-toxic paint by each of the storm sewers in the neighbourhood to remind everyone that dumping any chemical into a storm sewer has a negative effect on watersheds and wetlands.  After painting the “yellow fish” reminders by the storm sewer grates, information explaining the initiative was hung on each front door in the neighbouhood.  Attached to these door hangers was a student-written statement expressing the student’s desire to be stewards and earth-keepers in God’s world.  Here are a few pictures of one of the groups in the McQueen neighbourhood.






Talking. Learning. Doing.  Finding our role in God’s grand story!

by Brian Doornenbal

Learning That Adds Up!

Edmonton Christian Northeast School is exactly that — it is a school.  Schools are places to learn STUFF.  But at Edmonton Christian, we believe that we have an amazing opportunity for the students not only to learn the STUFF of the prescribed curriculum, but also, in doing so, to  explore and learn their place in God’s STORY.

NE gr 4 decimal project3
ECHS Alumnus and teacher Mrs. Rachul with Gr. 4 students from her Gr 4/5R class.

The curriculum STUFF that the grade 4 students at ECNS needed to learn recently was the use of decimals in addition and subtraction.  The STORY they learned was that God loves all of us and can use our gifts and skills to love others.

Dear parents.jpg
Letter to parents explaining the real work.



One student’s work.

The grade 4 class, and teacher  (ECHS alumnus) Liz Rachul connected with the Mustard Seed Church downtown and found out that they have a program that provides sandwiches for those community members who for various reasons cannot join the inside meals served at Mustard Seed.  Ms. Rachul provided the students with a grocery list and challenged them to check three different stores to find those ingredients within a $100 budget.   Totalling the cost of multiple loaves of bread  and all the other ingredients needed, created lots of real-work practice in addition and subtraction of decimals.  Students had to stay within budget.  Not $0.05 over!  Once that work was done, the class picked a plan that was on budget and purchased the ingredients.


The next day they were toured through the Mustard Seed Community Support Centre by Sara Nicolai-deKoning (also an ECHS alumnus!) before making the sandwiches to be distributed.

NE gr 4 decimal project8
An extra reminder of God’s grace:  tour is given by an ECHS alumnus!

They learned the STUFF while participating in a beautiful STORY.  Deep learning accomplished by doing real work, meeting the real needs of real people!  Deep learning that invited our students to live lives of renewal.  Did they accept the invitation?  Here is what a few of them wrote:

“I learned that lots of people don’t have homes and that one sandwich means a lot.”    Jaeda

“Another thing that can be done is to be kind to the homeless.”  Ashleigh

“I can help the Mustard Seed by donating my birthday money.”  Aleina

“The Mustard Seed community church is a good place to be if you are lonely, sad, homeless or just need to talk!  One meal can make a big difference in someone’s life.  It also makes you happy.” Ryanna

NE gr 4 decimal project4


NE gr 4 decimal project6

Now that seems to be a Math lesson that really added up!

by Brian Doornenbal



Slow War–Ben Hertwig Shares His Story

We say it all the time at Edmonton Christian:  “God has a role for each person in THE story.”  All WE need to do is find it.  Simple… Right?  Think again!

IMG_9539 (1)Ben Hertwig attended both Edmonton Christian West School and Edmonton Christian High School where he graduated in 2004.  He is remembered as a positive, cheerful, athletic student.  He grew up liking sports publicly, and books privately.  Since finishing high school, he has spent time as a university student, a  soldier, a tree planter, a bike courier, a university professor, an inner city housing worker, a potter, a painter and an author.

Ben’s time as a soldier included a six month tour of duty in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.  “My time there definitely changed the way I look at the world,” he reflects.  After a pause, he continues, “The world was significantly more complex than 18…19…20 year old Ben kind of anticipated.”

Ben H

With Afghanistan as the catalyst for a new complexity to life, Benjamin struggled to live into new chapters of his story.  Much of the narrative he had left behind did not really make sense when he returned.  Post traumatic stress made for a sepia setting and blurred plotlines.  “When I got back, I no longer wanted to be in the military but I stayed for another six months or so before quitting.”  Even Ben’s faith no longer made sense. “I think after Afghanistan, I started at ground zero again.  Things I had taken for granted, I no longer necessarily believed.  In the end though, I felt a very strong need to return to my faith, though it was and is different. I am part of a church community in Vancouver that I really value.”Benjamin Hertwig

Ben has been very active in the new, post-Afghanistan, chapters of the story.  Since 2006 he has achieved an undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy from Concordia University of Edmonton, a Masters in English from McGill University and is currently in a PhD program at UBC in Vancouver where he resides.  Lofty studies, but no ivory tower.   “I have no interest in academic pursuits that are removed from the concerns of real people,”  he said.   As if he needed to back that statement up, he shared that he was in Edmonton to write a magazine piece about the effects of the downtown arena/ Ice District development on the street people and on the agencies that assist them in the inner city.

Slow War (1)For this award winning* author, writing isn’t only about the concerns of others.  It is also about his own healing.  He has written a book called “Slow War” (McGill-Queens University press) which will be launched late Summer/Fall 2017.  It is a book of poetry written in the last two or three years in which he wrestles with his experiences.  When asked why he didn’t write it immediately upon return from Afghanistan, he says, “I don’t think I even had the emotional maturity at the time . . .I just tried to push it away for awhile, which definitely didn’t work.”

Life is not all wrestling for Ben.  As he navigates these new chapters of his story,  he often finds himself in places of beauty and joy when creating pottery and  painting landscapes.

Spring in the Sierra Nevadas

Late Fall, Mount Rundle

abandoned farmhouse off of a vanderhoof logging road

The story is ongoing for Ben, but he saysI do think that I am finding my role in what God is challenging us to do.”  By God’s grace may we all be able to say that.

by Brian Doornenbal
*in addition to publishing in multiple magazines and newspapers including the NY Times, Benjamin has won the 2015 Writer’s guild of Alberta/Glass Buffalo Poetry Prize and the 2015 Prairie Fire nonfiction contest.  He was nominated for an Alberta Magazine Award for poetry.
Visit http://www.benjaminhertwig.com/ to see and find out more about Ben’s work.