Jesus said, “Go into all the world . . .” (Mark 16:15). When we read these words as Christian educators, we tend to think about our students “going” out into the world after high school. Have you ever asked what it might look like for middle school students to “go”?
For the past thirteen years, Zeeland Christian School in Zeeland, Michigan, and Grace Christian Community School in Pasay City, the Philippines, have had a relationship that has grown and blessed both communities. The friendship began when a Zeeland Christian teacher visited the Philippines with a Christian organization and spent time at the school. He came back with a passion to connect Zeeland Christian and Grace Christian in a purposeful way that would lead to a long-term, reciprocal relationship.
The connections between Zeeland Christian and Grace Christian have grown and matured over the past thirteen years, with a key connection being the student sponsor program. Currently, there are eighty-two students at Grace Christian whose tuition is paid for by classes or families from the Zeeland Christian community. Teachers are paired up as prayer partners and Zeeland Christian regularly sends supplies to Grace Christian. Teachers from the Philippines have traveled to the United States to spend time at Zeeland Christian School.
Every other year, a team of seventh and eighth grade students and four adults from Zeeland Christian take a trip to visit the Philippines during spring break. They have a chance to see the school and meet the friends that they have grown up hearing about. The goal of the trip is for the team to build relationships and represent the Zeeland Christian community to our friends in the Philippines. The team prepares for the trip over the course of a year, meeting monthly to talk about details of the trip, but also to prepare their hearts and minds for an experience where they will have the chance to see God in a different culture.One key lesson that the students work towards understanding is that just because there are differences between Zeeland Christian and Grace Christian, no one way is better or worse. To truly understand this lesson, the students are challenged to identify differences and to look at how valued those differences are.
During the two-week trip, the students spend time at Grace Christian School. They have the chance to visit classrooms, play with the students, visit the students’ homes, and worship with the Grace Christian community. The team spends time with the staff from the school and their families at a resort. The focus of this time is rest for the teachers and to build community through fun activities and having meals together. The culminating experience for the team is to participate in the graduation ceremonies for Grace Christian School. The team has a chance to present the graduates with Bibles before they “go” out into the world.
This past year, my husband and I were able to join the team in the Philippines. Not only was it a blessing to spend time with our friends at Grace Christian School, but also to experience the trip through the eyes of the seventh and eighth graders. Each night, the team gathered and answered two questions, “Where did you see God today,” and, “How was your faith challenged?” We were blown away by the places that the students saw God. They went beyond the more obvious places and saw God in the tough situations as well. They processed questions and challenges that they will carry with them for a lifetime. They were not afraid to ask hard questions and look to see God in every situation. We had to remind ourselves often that the students were only in seventh and eighth grade, as their depth of processing went beyond what some adults would have experienced. Coming back from the Philippines, it was clear that God had ignited a passion in the hearts of the students and adults on the trip. We came back with a clearer picture of who God is as a result of our experience in a place very different from our home.
Schools have asked how they can initiate a relationship similar to the one between Zeeland Christian and Grace Christian. We would encourage you to start by looking within your school community and identifying key people who are passionate about cross-cultural experiences. They may already have connections to schools or churches in different countries. Our God is a God of relationships, and starting by building a reciprocal relationship is a fitting place to begin. At times, our schools participate in service projects that tend to be one-time occurrences. While these projects certainly are helpful, when they are in the context of a long-term, reciprocal relationship, there is incredible depth that is nurtured. Once the relationship is established, God will show you how to bless each other.
We often use the phrase “Blessed to be a blessing,” and people sometimes interpret that as “blessed by being a blessing.” In reality, God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others around us and around the world. Where is God calling your school to bless people?