To say that following God’s call to a Christian international school in Tokyo, Japan, was daunting would be an understatement. I grew up just outside of Lynden, WA, a town of roughly 12,000. By contrast, with more than 37 million people, Tokyo’s greater metropolitan area is the most populous in the world, well over 3,000 times the size of Lynden, and the Christian Academy in Japan, where I teach, has more than twenty countries represented by its student body.
Christian Academy in Japan
I came to the Christian Academy in Japan (CAJ) in January of 2009, only three weeks after finishing my student teaching at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. At CAJ I serve as the social studies department chair, teach several sections of eleventh grade humanities, and coach the school’s debate team with a fellow teacher.
In some ways, CAJ is not so different from the Christian schools I attended: the community is close knit; we strive to teach from a Biblical perspective; parents invest in their children’s education; students participate in a variety of activities.
I need look no further than my classroom, however, to see striking differences. My students’ passports form a diverse mosaic: Japan, Korea, the US, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, India, Nepal, and more. Some students have grown up in Japan, and some have only just arrived. Some are bilingual or even trilingual; some need the support of an EAL (English as an Additional Language) class. Many of the students are from Christian homes, though there are also students from non-Christian homes. Students from Christian homes represent various backgrounds and denominations, and some are children of missionaries. This rich diversity creates a deeply global perspective within each class. Our students cannot help but think beyond the borders of whatever country they consider home because the average day of school—class discussions, group projects, extracurricular activities—inevitably means collaborating with classmates whose backgrounds may be radically different from their own.
The mission of our school embodies this: to equip students to serve Japan and the world for Christ. We desire for our students to think globally while learning to serve where they are right now. Our curriculum culminates in the Senior Comprehensives, a year-long process undertaken by our twelfth graders in which they select a global issue they are interested in or passionate about. The students spend a good portion of time in their social studies class researching the issue and analyzing the economic, political, and cultural implications. In English class, they connect their topic to deeper questions about the nature of good and evil, and they reflect on the person they are becoming as they consider how they can stand against injustice. In Bible class, they study ethical systems and ultimately complete an ethical analysis of their topic in order to find and address the core issue. In the spring, students tie these pieces together, planning and executing a large-scale project to raise awareness and act, synthesizing their research and analysis into a final essay, and sharing what they learned with the community in public presentations days before graduation.
Service is part of the ethos at CAJ, and many students seek out opportunities to serve before their senior year. Mixed-grade community groups plan local service projects every spring, students occasionally collaborate to hold class charity events, and this year student-organized groups are raising funds for causes like the education of children in Cambodia, and the research of a rare blood disorder, which claimed the life of a student’s friend. As a teacher, it is exciting to see students from so many different backgrounds working together to make the world a better place.
Declining Biblical Literacy
We are not without challenges, though.
Nate Gibson is a Dordt College graduate who serves as a social studies teacher and debate team coach at the Christian Academy in Japan (Tokyo).