Does Christian education make a tangible difference in the lives of its graduates? Having taught at Redeemer for nearly a decade, I can say with honesty that the results of Christian education are as varied as the personalities of our students. However, there is no denying that in the heart of a willing student, the opportunities afforded by a faith-driven approach can be used effectively by the Holy Spirit to produce some beautiful, powerful results. Let me tell three stories that illustrate different character traits I’ve seen bloom in the lives of some of our students during their time here.
The first story reflects the spirit of honest engagement I see over and over in our graduates. Essentially, this characteristic is a willingness to look directly at the brokenness of the world and not turn away. The beautiful thing about Christian education is it equips willing students with the hope of the gospel in their engagement with the painful realities of the world. I saw this exemplified most clearly one day when we were studying in depth the brutal Rwandan genocide of 1994. Eventually, one student needed to leave the room, tears falling down her face as she left. Several of her friends followed her to comfort her, and I was able to have a discussion with her after class. I asked her if she was alright, and she replied that she thought she was, but she didn’t understand that difficult question of how a loving God could allow such evil and pain in his world. What a good question! As I look back on this moment and many more like it, I am thankful this student was able to ask this question – and engage the brokenness of the world – within the context of a loving, supportive Christian community. During the next few months, we prayed together as a class many times – that God would help us to understand his will and that he would bring justice in this world. We never learned the answer to the question, “Why all this pain and suffering?” We did take comfort in the fact that He has never left us on our own, and that he sent Jesus to be with us in our brokenness and to bring forgiveness, healing and restoration. And I took comfort in the fact that these students were graduating with the ability to acknowledge brokenness while holding on to hope.
Respect for others
Another characteristic I think many of our students develop over time is a healthy respect for other human beings – for all who bear the image of God – no matter where they’re coming from. I saw this illustrated most movingly in a project our Media class was able to pursue in connection with several people living on the street. During the semester, our students had the opportunity to interact with these individuals and to learn their stories. Many of our students were deeply impressed by these individuals and how they were fighting to make something good out of their difficult situations. They learned that many of our stereotypes of street-involved people don’t ring true when we really get to know them. One group, in particular, was working with a youth of about sixteen or seventeen years – the same age as our Redeemer students. As they got to know his story, they grew more attached to him, so it pained them to find out, in the winter months, that he was spending his nights sleeping next to the warmth of an ATM machine. One of our teens became so upset when he heard this that he ran out of the classroom, pulled his sweater out of his locker, and handed it to the ministry worker who was updating us. “Make sure he gets this sweater,” is all this young man had to say. I truly loved seeing our students interact with these street-involved individuals because I could see as they were getting to know them better, they were growing to love them, fostering a respect for these human beings that is greater than the position we afford them with our labels and preconceptions.
Finally, I have seen Redeemer students grow to be truly discerning people, able to cling to the truth and reject ideas that stand in contrast to God’s word. This is so important to the task of Christian education, and I have seen some really great examples of students exercising this discernment as they look to their futures. The final task in our senior worldview course is to examine an area of study or work – like education or social work, for example – that our students may be interested in pursuing in the future. The students are asked to identify the philosophical presuppositions that inform that field, to examine these assumptions in light of scripture, and to brainstorm how they might move forward as Christians. One young woman chose to study the field of psychology because she thought she might work in that field. She quickly identified many key assumptions, mostly centered around the idea that all behaviour is culturally constructed and not based in any kind of inherent truth. As she finished her investigation during several weeks, she was able to acknowledge there was some truth in these assumptions, but that God’s word clearly speaks to the idea of design, as well – and that some of our behaviours might be objectively closer or further from that design. She was able to see those areas that would cause her tension in her future field, and she articulated a gentle way of resisting some ideas while still participating constructively in the field as a Christian psychologist. I found this whole experience to be encouraging because it highlighted that the Holy Spirit had been working inside this soft-spoken young woman, developing in her a wisdom that was admirable and winsome. We need more psychologists like her!
I’ve seen these same stories repeated many times in many different students. We’ve also seen many missed opportunities. Ultimately, Christian education will never be a magic bullet to produce perfect “Christian soldiers.” It will, however, provide a multitude of opportunities for students with willing hearts to engage with our world and these subjects on a profoundly deep level. It is a true privilege to be a part of this adventure.