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Inhabiting the Christian Story

We teach who we are. As Christians, we should allow the Bible to shape our identity, relationships, priorities, etc. If scripture changes us, then the way we teach should also change. Therefore, we should “aspire to ‘incarnate’ the biblical vision, living it out in the day to day interactions of the classroom.”[1] A helpful way to do this is by inhabiting the Christian story because it is a natural vehicle to answer the basic worldview questions. Stories have a plot (answering ‘what’s wrong?’ and ‘what’s the remedy?’), characters (answering ‘who are we?), and setting (answering ‘where are we?’).[2]

The biblical story can be divided into 4 acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, & Consummation.[3] Right now we are living in an interlude between Acts 3 and 4. The kingdom has already been inaugurated, but has not yet been fully established. Our calling now is both: to proclaim the good news of redemption in Christ, and to live out our redeemed creational role, being channels of God’s blessing.

4 chapter gospel
With this in mind, we can answer the worldview questions: (1) Who are we? We are image-bearers, having inherent value and creativity, but we are also sinners in need of repentance and redemption; (2) Where are we? We live in God’s good creation which should be looked after, and in a cultural world, reflecting our image-bearing and sinful capacities; (3) What’s wrong? We experience death and broken relationships at personal, social, spiritual and environmental levels because of our quest for autonomy; and (4) What’s the remedy? We need to turn to Christ to find healing, fulfillment and purpose, and teach and invite others to do the same.

However, the gospel story is not the only story out there. Our students are exposed to a number of these competing narratives. For instance, consumerism is a story that has a religious appeal,[4] and advertising frequently mimics religious parables.[5] This story answers worldview questions like this: (1) Who are we? We are ‘empty buckets’ who need to work to buy things to fill it; (2) Where are we? We live in a natural world waiting to be exploited, and in a social world of disposable relationships; (3) What’s wrong? We experience emptiness because we are not benefiting from technological progress; and (4) What’s the remedy? We have to buy things to find fulfillment and happiness. As Christians, we must recognize the influence these other stories have on our students and develop a plan to address them.

How we do this raises at least two questions about our educational practices. First, we must ask ‘what story are we teaching?’ We must intentionally live out our vocation in the biblical story, which will give us a different approach to the learning-teaching process in two ways: (1) We will develop a virtuous Christian character and take it to the classroom, and by doing so awaken a similar desire in our students. Our lives will provide an example of the maturation process; and (2) we will evaluate the educational techniques we use, as well as classroom dynamics we foster, to see whether they are coherent with the Christian story and worldview.

Second, we must ask ‘what story are we teaching?’ To an outside observer, many of the specific things we do in the classroom might appear to be the same (2+2 is still 4), but a deeper examination will reveal connections to the bigger story. Math can be used to make us more competitive or more generous, to help us take care of creation or exploit it.

As we press into our faith and bring it into our professional practices, are we helping our students grow as persons, or merely  becoming better consumers? The difference lies in the greater story that we inhabit and teach by.

Raphael Hauser
Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond, Brazil

[1] David I. Smith and John Shortt, The Bible and the Task of Teaching (Stapleford: Stapleford Centre, 2002), 38.
[2] J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be : Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995).
[3] For those interested in digging deeper into how the biblical story shapes us and/or education, I highly recommend: Harold Klassen, Visual Valet: Personal Assistant for Christian Thinkers and Teachers (Amazon, 2015); and Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture : Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014).
[4] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies, v. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).
[5] Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Photo Credits: Book. free stock photos of studyViews from the Past10iggie Flickr via Compfight cc.

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The Curious Staying Power of Truth

We just celebrated St Patrick’s Day, which reminded me that several years ago a provocatively entitled book upset conventional wisdom. It was Thomas Cahill’s, How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. Those of us with an Irish heritage didn’t need to read beyond the title. Finally our ancestors were being recognized as the superior beings they were. By extension, we, too, were remarkable people and very important!

My reference to those of Irish descent is not serious, but the author certainly was. In his interpretation, the Huns and Germanic tribes which invaded Western Europe 1600 years ago threatened to destroy the cultural legacy of the ancient world. Christian clerics led by Patrick, “single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent.”

It’s an interesting, controversial thesis but, setting the academic debate aside, we can ask ourselves, “How does God preserve truth in a world beset with figurative Huns and Saxons?” Throughout recorded history there has always been a “family of faith” and there has always been a majority world living in opposition to it. Nevertheless, today thousands of years since the creation of human beings, the “children of Abraham” are as numerous as the sand of the sea shore. How is this possible when human “isms” are routinely born, adopted, rejected, and swept into the dustbin of history? Many of the supposedly great ideas of the 20th century are already a fading memory but the metanarrative of the Gospel continues to flourish.

GD quoteOne reason is that God has used reforming movements to bring new vitality into the community of faith. More specifically, during the church age, educational reforms have been the hallmark of renewal and we believe the Holy Spirit is once again using such a reform to bring growth and energy to the church.

With this work of the Spirit in mind, I recently wrote to our leadership team that our organizational size is irrelevant but our vision isn’t: we have in our hearts to be used by Him to contribute to global renewal in the church through participation in an educational movement that is analogous to the great educational reforming movements of the past. In other words, we want to help with something far greater than “us.” We hope, by God’s grace, to be a spark or a forest fire – something small or something large – which the Spirit uses for His glory to bring renewal to the church through education.

We are God called, God commissioned, God gifted, and God blessed. What a great privilege it is to serve together with many others across the globe in this new thing God is doing.

– George Durance, President
Image: wikimedia.org/…commons/…Saint_Patrick…/ by Sicarr (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Transformed Teachers Transform Students

“TeachBeyond teachers are ‘born again’ teachers – that is, teachers who themselves have been transformed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to become empowered for a ministry of transformation.”[1]

It wasn’t yet 8 a.m., and it had already been a difficult day. So when Levi[2] came to school late and out of dress code—again—I snapped. It wasn’t my finest hour, yelling at this 11th grade boy in the middle of the school foyer. Even in the moment, I was aware that this was not the right way to handle the situation—but I didn’t really care. After sending Levi to call home for appropriate attire, I took a deep breath and left the school grounds. For about half an hour I stormed around the neighborhood, tears streaming down my face, trying to ignore the stares of the construction workers who must have thought this foreign lady who kept passing them was majnuneh—crazy. Eventually, I calmed down enough to have a rational conversation with the Lord and by the time I returned to the school I realized that was not the only conversation I needed to have.

3892422834_e4eb787ce8The wary look on Levi’s face when I pulled him out of math confirmed what I already knew. It wasn’t easy, but I apologized to this young man for the way that I had conducted myself. While affirming that violation of school rules still had consequences, I acknowledged that I was wrong for losing my temper and that I was sorry. He was wrong, but so was I.

At TeachBeyond, we talk a lot about transformational education, but the truth is that while education can open many doors and provide many opportunities for students, this is not the type of transformation that we mean. We want more for our students than entrance into good universities, more than advanced economic opportunities or emergence as good global citizens. We want our students to experience life to the full—life that comes through the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. We want our students to know Truth and to make connections between God’s Word and the world He has created. Wherever we find ourselves teaching—in contexts that welcome the gospel, or those that are hostile to it—we do what we do because we believe in the transformational power of the Holy Spirit to bring this life abundant.

502363271_72597af8e0_zIf we want to see our students, schools, and communities transformed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we cannot rely simply on best teaching practices—though they are important. Transformational education comes about when teachers themselves are being transformed. This basic truth is so foundational to what we are called to do in the classroom that it bears restating from time to time.

If we want to see life-giving transformation happening in our students, then we as teachers need to be intentional about pursuing our own relationship with Jesus. We need to root ourselves deeply in His presence, and open ourselves up to the encouragement and chastisement of His Word. As we do so, our lives will begin to reflect the transforming work that He is doing in us.

When I blew up at Levi that morning, he saw me at my worst. But the Lord gives grace, and as I allowed the Spirit to work in my heart to convict and correct me I was able to show Levi something else as well. I was able to show him that Jesus can change the heart of an uptight, angry principal. I may never know what, if any, impact that encounter had on Levi, but I know this: in that moment, I was transformed. My heart learned a bit more how to soften towards Jesus and towards my wayward students. I started to look a little more like Jesus that day.

Pull QuoteWhile our stories of transformation are not always as dramatic as the one above (and praise the Lord for that!), our lives are often the loudest testament of the gospel that our students hear. Regardless of whether we can openly proclaim biblical truths, our lives bear witness day in and day out to the truth of what we believe. So if we really want to see those around us transformed, we need to tend to our own faith lives. Transformational education begins with the Holy Spirit’s transforming work within each one of us. And that is something worth celebrating!

Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Coordinator of Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond

[1] George Durance, “Transformational Education: An Effective Expression of the Gospel”
[2] The name has been changed.

Photo Credits: Given Upand.e. Flickr via Compfight cc. Desperate Prayer. Mathieu Jarry. Flickr. cc.

 

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Are Christians Extremists?

TeachBeyond President George Durance addresses the perception of Christians as extremists in this podcast interview from Mission Network News. As society has shifted, it sees Christianity as more extremist. It’s more a statement about how society has changed, not that Christianity has changed. In this podcast, George discusses how TeachBeyond’s approach is one that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit, because “against such things there is no law.”

TeachBeyond’s commitment to biblical truth hasn’t changed, but our members always consider how they can communicate the Truth in a way that’s perceived to be loving. Wherever they are, TeachBeyond encourages members to be ‘salt and light’ in the local community where they live. That usually means investing in the lives of the people they’re serving.

For example, George said he was just with TeachBeyond’s Asia leader, discussing the open doors that exist for the gospel in south Asia.  “The reverence, the respect, the high regard for Christians involved in education is astonishing,” he said. “It’s so counter to what we’re seeing in the press here (North America), and I would say in Europe, and even when I’m in South America.”

Listen to the Mission Network News podcast.

Amani rainforest followup blog

Living a life that’s noticeably different

by Christina Finocchi
Haven of Peace Academy, Tanzania

My class is writing about their greatest memory from our trip to the Amani rainforest in Tanzania. It is delightful to read about their individual highlights, and see how unique the experience was for each of them. My highlight came in a different form. I thoroughly loved the hike up Mbomole Hill, exploring the rain forest’s night life, and descending to the waterfall, but my true joy came at the end of our trip. My true joy was really an unexpected life lesson.

Wednesday night, our final night, was spent enjoying a campfire with marshmallows, worship, and devotion. I found the weather to be quite unique for a campfire. We were in the midst of a thick cloud (fog) and a nice mist. After devotions, I released my students to go and write in their journals, and many of them chose to go write where the hot tea was, under the eating banda. I stayed and enjoyed the fire a bit longer before going to check on the group.

I arrived to find them sipping on tea and quietly reflecting in their journals. For my teacher friends, this is not an exaggeration, my students were sipping hot tea and willing writing in journals. I think it was the atmosphere of the rain forest that had them so inspired!

Amani rainforest followup 2Soon after I had gotten to them, I felt the wind shift drastically and the temperature drop. I was fairly certain we were about to get rain and a lot of it! I quickly told all of my students to head for their tents immediately because I wanted them in their tents before it started to rain. They grabbed their journals and went.

I decided to stay for a moment and clean up what was left from their quick departure. Little did I know that God’s providence over the weather was going to mean a divine appointment from Him. As I was cleaning, one of the managers appeared out of what seemed to be nowhere. We began to talk about how our visit had gone and the highlights of the trip. Then the conversation shifted, quite like the weather that was now very calm. The gentleman shared with me something that really brought joy to my heart as a teacher.

He shared how happy he was that our group came out to Emau Hill. It had been a long time since he had seen and met people and children that were so genuinely living for God. It was inspiring that the children were eager to pray personally and openly for meals and each other. He could tell that there was a real love for Jesus and each other, as well as caring, compassionate hearts in each of them. He expressed a deep appreciation that these qualities are being fostered in our students and that they rose up to living their life in this way. This was something that he needed to see and be a part of for his own spiritual walk.

Our conversation and opportunity to minister continued for several more moments before we parted and went our separate ways. As I walked down to my cabin, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time, and that the encouraging words I had the opportunity to share were from the Lord.

The unexpected lesson: We were at this camp, in Amani rainforest, to learn and explore. We were rather secluded up there with mainly workers and staff as our only contact, other than each other. I will be honest, we didn’t go up thinking about who we could minister to. We went about our daily lives being ourselves! We prayed throughout the day, we had daily devotions, and we lived each day as if it were our normal daily lives with a rain forest twist. In the midst of being who God made us to be, we were light to a heart that needed tending and we ministered simply by our actions.

I fully know we are to be conscience of ministry opportunities and generally I will say that we do look for them, but my reality check was that God used us to minister and be light when my students were just being children and living life the way they were taught to live. Their genuine hearts shone through, their love for Jesus was evident, and their good works brought glory to God, and in this instance the ministering just came so naturally. I thought to myself, “Aren’t our lives supposed to naturally reflect this light and minister to the broken?” When we focus our attention on Jesus that is exactly what our hearts and lives will do.

Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Transform-ed: Thursday’s Servant

cutveggiessmFrom a teacher in Europe: 

About 50% of the students in our school live in dorms. I’ve decided to get involved in the dorm ministry as a way to serve the RAs and dorm parents and also as a way to get to know the students better in a less formal setting than school.  Every Thursday night, the dorm parents have the night off, so people like me volunteer: I’m subbing in one boys’ dorm and one girls’ dorm.  While there, I eat dinner with all the students and RAs, help with baking or cutting meat/veggies for the following day’s lunch, and hang out with the students. I look forward to Thursday nights.
Transformational education? It helps to have a servant-heart to be a change-agent.

Transform-ed: Relationship-driven, Community-wide

From a teacher in West Africa:
 
soccerkickA group of us foreign teachers played a soccer match against some of our school’s national staff. The majority of our national workers are from a Muslim background, so it was an awesome time to show unity and God’s love. What an opportunity to begin making friends. Along the way, we may have opportunities to share Christ – through words and actions. 
 
Transformational education is…relationship-driven and community-wide. Through friendships and relationships we build trust and break down walls.

Transform-ed: Patient for God Appointments

childFrom a teacher in Asia:

The long-time desire of my heart has been to work with orphans and needy children, so imagine my delight when I was invited to visit an orphanage near our city. Unfortunately, the day before I was to go the trip was cancelled. I was so disappointed. On further reflection, I realized I was so caught up in my plans I’d convinced myself it was what God wanted. I believe one day God will open a door for work with needy children; and no matter what He chooses to do, I will not lose hope.

Transformational education requires…waiting for God’s best timing and His appointments.

Training for Godly Play

After three years of preparation, the first official three-day Godly Play Core Training event saw eight trainees graduate as fully-fledged Godly Play storytellers in October, 2013. Read more

Transform-Ed: Risk-y Prayers

From a teacher in Europe:
prayer
We who are safe forget the risks some take to bring Christ to the nations. Some of my boarding students were recounting stories of how their parents are working in difficult and, in some cases, dangerous situations. They are facing political turmoil, the aftermath of natural disasters, and/or religious persecution against Christians. My students are brave, but they do worry, at times, about their parents’ safety. I pray with them for their parents; but I also pray for the children. Often.
Transformational education is…bathed in prayer.