When we shipped 24 Holland Christian teachers and staff off to Israel last summer, and then another 18 this summer, we were taking a huge step in faith, not certain how the trip would affect Holland Christian as a whole, much less individual classes or students.
But if you stop and ask any HC employee who’s been to Israel how the trip has affected their life or their work, you better be prepared to sit and listen for a while. They’ve got some really long answers, and are definitely worth listening to if you have the time.
“Because of the year we had, if I hadn’t gone to Israel, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the year, to stay positive for my students,” says HCHS Spanish teacher Jamie Slenk. “It affects everything, it changes everything, how you think.”
“It definitely went beyond the classroom—thoughts of being that disciple, that kingdom priest—it changes you, especially the realization that we’re all part of [God’s] story,” adds Karen Strikwerda, who taught her South Side kindergarteners their Bible stories from a different perspective last year. “It isn’t just a simple case of ‘Let me tell you a story,’ or even that ‘You need to learn a lesson from this!’ but of showing students that this is their story.”
“It’s an infectious thing,” adds Natalie Sapp, third grade teacher at Pine Ridge. “It’s like you’re infected afterwards, and we can’t wait to share it with all our students.”
Pine Ridge principal Tim Howell says the trip changed the way he reads the Bible, but also the way he interacts with students, how he disciplines them, remembering how for the Hebrews, “Repentance was an everyday thing,” he says. So when he disciplines students, he works to “teach a lesson; it doesn’t have to be in a big, mean way, but can be grace-filled. God has forgiven me every day, so I can have more grace for other people.”
Because of the year we had, if I hadn’t gone to Israel, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the year, to stay positive for my students.
The trip completely transformed high school science teacher Aaron Meckes’ senior level anatomy class.
“I took this idea that God works through human partners in bringing shalom to the chaos, and applied it to every unit,” he explains. “In every unit we asked ‘How do sin and brokenness show up in our lives?’ Whether it was the human reproductive system and STDs, body image, etc., or the digestive system, with diabetes, or the nervous system with paralyzation. The idea of bringing shalom to our reproductive system, as another way to look at it different from expectations from the media, but how to be restorative, God glorifying, is a perspective not many [students] have taken.”
Every unit ends now with the same two questions—“How do I bring shalom to this area of my life right now?” And “How do you see science/medicine advancing to bring shalom to this area of our lives?”
Meckes was completely impressed by his students’ reactions to these two questions, especially since a good 75% of them hope to go on to medical school.
“The idea that God can work through me and use me, and how can I look at [medicine] as being a human partner of God’s, and bringing shalom, rather than just that I can make a lot of money. [In medicine] they will see people at their weakest points—so it’s a tremendous opportunity to show God’s love and grace to people who need it so desperately.”
Before there were Old Testament stories and New Testament stories. Now it’s one big picture of the Story!
Even kindergarteners are benefitting from their teachers going to Israel, primarily in Bible class, where teachers are learning to teach the Bible as one whole story. “Before there were Old Testament stories and New Testament stories. Now it’s one big picture of the Story!” says South Side kindergarten teacher Karen Strikwerda.
And every morning 1st and 2nd graders recite the Sh’ma Yisrael, the Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4, just like Hebrew children did—and RVL’s Israel tours—reminding themselves of God’s promises throughout history, of “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
“We talk about when we say that every morning, you mean it. And if you can’t, then don’t say it—it’s a promise that I’m saying every morning!” RP 3rd grade teacher Danielle Snoeyink adds. But teachers also talk to the students about how “These people who were Jews, they knew this sh’ma and still couldn’t do it! It’s rough answering when they can’t say it because it’s a rough morning—but we still need it!”
Last year South Side 1st grade teacher Karen Van Meeteren collected black smooth stones from the dry riverbed where David most likely gathered his stones to slingshot Goliath, and gave them to her students on the first day of school. After she explained to them that, just like David, “we all have a rock to throw,” meaning God has given them each a gift, they kept them in a pile in the classroom as a tangible reminder to think about “How are you going to display God in your life?”
High School Spanish teacher Jamie Slenk came away from the trip with a head full of “concrete, realistic metaphors that equipped me with answers, with strength for this very difficult year.”
One of the most common metaphors that Jamie, and so many other teachers, connected with was the idea of being a broom tree, a type of smallish desert bush that sometimes offers just enough shade for a person or two, just enough to take the edge off the heat and give strength to go on a bit longer. And how we as Christians are called to be broom in God’s world, for Him, serving others by providing them just a bit of relief as we can, to make their way a little easier, more blessed.
That metaphor came back to Jamie especially when she stood in front of her class the day after HCHS social studies teacher Kevin Witte had passed away, wondering what on earth to say to comfort them, especially when they wondered aloud in hurt honesty, where God was in this?
“I said, ‘God is showing up in his people, and explained the idea of broom trees,” Jamie says, going on to explain that when teachers were at a loss for words in their grief, and students stood up to pray for them, they were being broom trees. Or when the students from Living Hope sang comfort to their fellow student body at lunch, they were broom trees. Other schools delivering trays of innumerable donuts— they were being broom trees.
“When things are broken—I have this picture in my head—when something breaks, there is room for things to come up and come through. It might not feel ok, but we’ll always have just enough to take the next step,” Jamie adds.
But then eight months later, Jamie stood in front of her second hour Spanish class, the one with Reggi Delf, sister of 7th grade Cassie Delf who died suddenly of a rare form of previously undiagnosed leukemia. Feeling completely drained from the whole difficult year, Jamie had been wondering how she could be a broom tree for Reggi and her friends, worrying yet another time for that school year about how she could protect and minister to yet another set of hurting students. But then her attention was drawn to one of RVL’s relatively minor lessons on Jeremiah 2:13, and was struck by the “imagery of me digging this cistern, digging, trying to make everything work, of Reggi’s family digging this cistern to make things work.” It suddenly hit her how much she was relying on herself to make things work, instead of hearing God’s reminder to not dig cisterns, because “God gives you living water—I clung onto that at the end of the year. Cisterns are hot, stagnant, full of bird poop, when not so far away was living water. Just trust God to bring you to the living water.”
It was that reminder, that small lesson recalled suddenly eleven months later that equipped her “with answers—it equipped me with strength to be able to be strong for my students.”
There’s even a slew of lessons she didn’t have a chance to share with her students this year, that she’s “tucking away for later.”
“As things come up in life, as I continue to pursue Jesus in my life, it’s like, ‘Oh, that makes sense,’ because I saw and experienced this in Israel. Those metaphorical connections give context and meaning to events, it’s having the verbiage and vocabulary to use.”
And the vocabulary to share in an extended school community, all of whom are eager to watch God bless our students, our school through a second Israel trip summer of 2017!
Those metaphorical connections give context and meaning to events; it’s having the verbiage and vocabulary to use.