I recently visited a community gearing up for the opening day of their Christian school. They had purchased a retired public school with great hopes of refurbishing it. Although there was still snow outside, folks were working in the building to do their part to get it ready for September. Some volunteers were sorting the library books. Others were painting new cupboards for the classrooms. The gymnasium served as the warehouse for desks, chairs, and filing cabinets—gathered in anticipation of the school start. There was no doubt that this weary old school building would be sparkling clean and refurbished by September!
I was caught up in their enthusiasm! Another Christian school for Ontario! Another place where Christians are acting on their God-given responsibilities to educate their children as Deuteronomy 6 makes abundantly clear. For me, it was a déjà vu moment. I was once one of these excited, motivated people, many years ago, preparing a building to serve as a school.
In the spring of 1977, I was hired to serve as the first principal of Stratford and District Christian School. During the interview, I was informed that the school board had no idea where the school was going to be—but they were working on it! Eventually, we discovered a former health spa property that had been vacant and vandalized for several years, located beside the livestock sales barns.
We finally received permission to begin our clean-up on August 1, giving us one month to transform the place! Cinder walls had to come down. Windows had to be replaced. Fresh paint was needed throughout the structure. Even the old mini-put course needed to be excavated. But we did it! Supporters, young and old, came each day of the week to pitch in. My wife and I were there early in the morning and often until late at night. Labour Day weekend was a flurry of activity!
On September 6, 1977, we opened for the first day of school. Sixty-six students and four teachers, along with many parents and supporters, entered the school that morning. We gathered in the largest space—the grade 3-4-5 classroom—for a special time of praise and thanksgiving. And then school began. Students found their desks and books. Teachers began their lessons. We became the newest Christian school to open in the province!
Something similar happened to me in Peterborough several years later. After operating Rhema Christian School in the basement of the Cephas Christian Reformed Church for three years, we re-located to a former Catholic school on the east side of town in 1982. The same excitement and passion; a similar crowd of volunteers. This time. we gathered in the “green room” for our first school assembly. Moments later, instruction began in real classrooms. We were a school!
In fact, I could go further back. In 1962, I was enrolled as a grade 5 student in Immanuel Christian School in Lethbridge, Alberta for the first year of operation. My father had sent my brother and me to help with the preparations of the school. Our job was to pick up strips of valuable copper wire left behind by the electricians. I remember the opening day outdoor assembly as we gathered, listened, prayed, and sang. Our new principal raised a crisp Union Jack up the flagpole that had been installed only weeks before.
It is said that many organizations, Christian schools included, begin with a pioneering generation—those that believe in a vision and take the first sacrificial steps towards the reality of that vision. All available resources and energy get poured into the project. Everything for the school! We know that this pioneering attitude is not always sustainable. The next group of leaders and supporters need to pick up where the pioneers leave off. However, this commitment by the first generation is a beautiful expression of vision and dedication.
How do we inspire—again—the next generations of Christian school leaders and supporters whose passion and focus we need to draw new people into the Christian school movement? Perhaps these powerful stories of the pioneers need re-telling!