Surrey Christian School (SCS) was founded in 1964 by a group of Dutch immigrant families who were part of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). They held a conviction that their children, and all children of Christian families regardless of denomination, should be trained up in “the way they should go” (Prov. 22:6). They believed that this world belongs to God and that their children should, from a very young age, be instructed in that reality and in the essential truth that they are made in God’s image. And they Christian teachers to help for their children to understand what that means for their lives and how they engage God’s world around them. The idea of being made in God’s image held the twofold meaning of both identity and action: children are made in God’s image—that’s who they are; children are also called to image God—that is their purpose. To this day, SCS holds to those roots and convictions and explicitly adheres to a Reformed view of the world and life, with a special focus on working to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1–3. The center point of our mission statement is “engaging God’s world,” and we strive to approach that with both rigor and curiosity. Our school’s constitution and bylaws formally include the CRCNA contemporary testimony Our World Belongs to God. This document reinforces the centrality of the ownership and “fierce love” of this world by the creator God and our calling “as covenant partners . . . to do God’s work in the world” (2).
The Changing Face(es) of SCS
Over the past fifty-five years, the demography of SCS has changed dramatically. We are located in Surrey, British Columbia, about forty-five minutes east of Vancouver. We are currently the second-largest city in BC but are projected to surpass Vancouver this decade. Surrey is considered the fastest growing city in Canada, and the vast majority of that growth is directly connected to immigration. Our city includes recent (1990s) immigrants from all parts of Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe and not-so-recent (1930s to 1950s) immigrants from Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Surrey was incorporated in 1879 and prior to that was occupied by a number of Halq’emeylem-speaking aboriginal groups. Currently, 52 percent of families in Surrey do not speak English as their first language. Surrey is host to one of the largest concentrations of South Asians in North America, the majority of whom originate from the Indian province of Punjab.
All of this has greatly shaped who SCS now finds itself to be. We are a pre-K–12 school of over 1,400 students, who represent over 140 different churches in the area. As we move into the third generation of families attending SCS, less than 10 percent of our current families attend a CRCNA church. In one primary classroom there was only one student whose parents were born in Canada. While this would have been similar at the school’s founding, those parents now come from all over the world rather than from one Dutch-speaking country.
Adapting and Changing: Steps and Missteps
Over the past twenty years, SCS has made attempts to adjust well to our new reality. We did a wonderful job of welcoming into our school new families from all kinds of ethnic and denominational backgrounds, and we were happy to have them exposed to a Reformed view of life and the world. However, while we included them, I’m not sure we did a lot to embrace them, to allow them to shape us or nuance our understanding of what it means to be human beyond our own heritage. Our staff were predominantly of Dutch heritage, and the resources we used showed limited diversity. In short, the children of these families would have had a hard time seeing themselves reflected in the artifacts, leadership, and direction of our community. We held multicultural nights where families could wear clothing associated with their heritage and share their own food with others. We ended those events when portions of our community interpreted this event more as a fun dress-up opportunity and donned garish stereotypes of other cultures’ clothing. It was intended to be all in good fun, but it was not good for genuine understanding. We made attempts to bring diversity to our board, but we often found ourselves defaulting to the safety and ease of the people we knew from the churches we had worked with since our school’s beginning. We made small steps in diversifying our staff make up, but that generally happened due to God’s providence when the “right” résumé landed on our desk, rather than due to our pursuit and intention. All the while, SCS was becoming increasingly aware that we needed to adjust our approach to more faithfully serve the kingdom of God in our changing local context.
The Gift and Responsibility of Diversity
On this journey a few things have become abundantly clear: First, the denominational and ethnic diversity of our community are a tremendous gift from God. The opportunity our students have to spend their days with classmates from all over the world in the context of learning what it means to follow Jesus is exceptional. My own children (two of whom have graduated from our school) have benefited deeply from this. Their view of God’s kingdom is rich, nuanced, and thoughtful. The school has received this gift, but now we need to steward it well. We need to care for it, foster it, nourish it, and cause it to flourish. And that does not happen by accident but by volition.
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David Loewen is currently the superintendent of Surrey Christian School and has served as head of school at two other Christian schools. He is an adjunct faculty member in Trinity Western University’s Masters of Arts in Leadership program. Loewen holds a PhD in Organizational Theory and Leadership Studies. He is happily married to his wife, Sharlene, has three beautiful children (Chloe, Olivia, and Ilyah), and cares for two rather spoiled and self-absorbed chickens.