We have reason to be grateful for the long and thoughtful tradition of Christian education in North America. In addition, as the world becomes smaller and our schools and communities become more diverse, it is crucial that we equip our students to be global citizens and to better welcome and embrace all members of God’s diverse kingdom. However, in our efforts to learn about others, we must ensure we do not miss opportunities to learn from and with them as well. It is a gift to learn with and from Christian educators in international contexts, and I am eager to share a few lessons I have learned from several schools in the Dominican Republic.
Many Christian schools in the Dominican Republic opened in response to a specific community need, reminding us that although all Christian schools may share common commitments, a school’s context greatly impacts its vision and purpose. The Christian school in Yaguita del Pastor, an impoverished community built on a hill overlooking downtown Santiago, was founded by a pastor who realized that though his community had almost 15,000 young people, the public school only had seats for 2,500 students. Some students only attended school one or two days each week; others stayed home entirely. This pastor and his church confronted this need by starting a small, Christian school in his home. This school, now in its own building and serving 100 students, continues to minister in its community by helping to meet a very real need.
A school in Los Alcarrizos, a densely populated community on the edge of Santo Domingo, was started thirty-five years ago to confront the oppression experienced by Haitian sugarcane cutters. These Haitians lived in a batey (a settlement of cane cutters), endured extreme poverty and discrimination, and were denied access to many public services, including schools. The local church, with the help of missionaries, established a school to serve and minister to the children in this community. Due to an extreme reduction in sugarcane production throughout the country and an expanding population, Los Alcarrizos has changed over the years from a small, Haitian community in the middle of sugarcane fields to a crowded neighborhood with a diverse population. The school, however, has continued to grow and remains committed to providing Christ-centered education to the students of the community.
Taking a closer look at the students in these schools reminds us all that we need to remain committed to their needs and be intentional as we think about the students whom we are called to serve.
John Walcott is assistant professor in the education department at Calvin College.
Questions to guide reflection on your school’s specific story and context:
What led to the birth of our school and what has changed since that time? Are the needs of our community different? How has our school adjusted to these changes?
How does our school impact our community? How does our school contribute to the community’s flourishing? What should this look like? What would be different about our community if our school did not exist?
Who are the students that we are called to serve? Are there students in our community who are not being served by our school? If so, why not, and what can we do about it?
When is the last time we reached out to another school (maybe a school located in a different country or cultural context) to listen and learn and to join with them in God’s kingdom work?