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  

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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.

 

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.

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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.    

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

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

 

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Jake was recognized as the Outstanding Gr. 11 Student
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Bethany was awarded the Brendon Wolthuis Award for Service (Gr 11)
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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)

 

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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.

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“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.

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“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)

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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 . . .

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(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).