Sharpening Our Visions

A small taste from our incoming principal Marvin Bierling on what he is about and what he finds important about Christian education, shared with us at our Spring General Meeting on May 3, 2017:

I have brought a carved wooden loon with me tonight to assist in the sharing of my story. I will be leaving it to sit in the front office after tonight and in August it will be moving into my office with me. I hope that after my talk, that this loon can become a bit of reminder for what we should be thankful for here at GCCS and to remember to keep a sharp eye on the vision of this school which is to Nurture, Educate and Inspire in Christ-centred learning and serving.

A little history about this loon. It was carved by the man who should have been my father in law, Hank Vandervecht, in 1987. I say should have become my father in law because he died just before Margherita and I were married. He was my grade 8 teacher at Holland Marsh District Christian School at the same time as he was principal. I was a student of his while he carved this loon and I have a feeling this carving may have been a little bit of his therapy from “Marvin Bierling”, the student, at that time. I go for bike rides when I need to think things through and I have a feeling Hank carved for similar reasons.

I have the privilege of having read a number of Hank’s handwritten letters that he sent to his brother during the 1980s while his brother was in New Zealand. Besides having a window into what was going on in these families at the time they give a glimpse of what it was like to be involved in Christian Education 35 years ago. I am humbled to be able to share these with you tonight but I am also encourage because they show me how much of what we are doing today is similar to what Christian school supporters were doing years ago as well.

Mr. V. Letters

Hank Vandervecht writes to his brother in New Zealand:
August 1981 “Your comments about examining your life so that we can say with Paul, “imitate my lifestyle” hit home with me, again because of another book, Educating for Responsible Action, by Nicolas Wolterstorff. His theme is that modelling is what shapes a person’s life. In other words, children imitate the behaviour or lifestyle of their parents and teachers. The book reminds me again that it’s not so much what we say but what we do that is important for kids.”

June 1982 “During my three years here (Holland Marsh Christian School) I have led the staff in forming basis statements for the different curriculum areas. These mainly state the Christian emphasis and direction of the subjects. From here we are also involved in translating the general Christian emphasis to more specific Christian emphasis to be developed in the unit. The idea of course is to ensure that our curriculum is Christian by being based as much as possible on God’s word.”

August 1982 “This summer has been different in that I am not taking any summer courses. Instead I am doing free labour at the new school.”

Feb. 1986 “It was interesting to hear that your elementary Christian school has started. How do your children like it? How are your Christian High plans coming? This must be a real challenge to you and other Christian ed supporters. A lot of work and struggle and sacrifice but results are tremendous….this enclosed article reminded me again why we have an increasing number of parents from public schools enrolling in our school. All the best to you with your Christian ed. involvement. I am sure that the Lord will bless the work you have begun.”

Jan 1988 “In December we had two snowstorms that closed the school. Surprise holidays are always fun. It gives me a chance to catch up on some book work and if time to carve another bird. My loons have sold for $140 at gift shops. When I have made a few extra I hope to send you one so that you can have an Ontario loon in your home. O.K. –No charge of course.

Jan. 1988 “It’s interesting to read about Christian schools in New Zealand. It reminds me of how things were here when I started teaching in 1965. There are a lot of struggles that a Christian school movement must go through.”

Hank had a vision for Christian Education that still rings true for me today. Educational practices may change and they need to change but the core of Christian education is still the same today and will remain the same. I am thankful for how these letters remind me and hopefully all of us about the desire of Christian education which is to help our kids see that our World Belongs to God and that we need to learn how to serve in His Kingdom.

I would like to extend the image of the loon a little further tonight as well with a couple of pictures from our first canoe trip into Algonquin Park 25 years ago.

After getting past our first portage we saw our first loons of the trip. You may have trouble seeing them on this picture but I still remember being so excited to see these birds. We stopped paddling, started taking pictures, and we still remember pointing these loons out to other paddlers. What we found odd, however, is that the other paddlers just kept on paddling. They would politely nod to us but they clearly did not understand how amazing it was to see a couple of loons.

The next day we discovered one of the reasons these folks did not really have the same reaction we did. We went for a paddle before breakfast and this is what we experienced. For about an hour we paddled quietly with a group of 10 loons that were simply having a party with each other that involved a great deal of flapping, dancing and calling. I still remember hearing a gust of wind that sounded like a small plane that ended up being another loon gliding in for a landing beside our group of loons so that it could join the early morning party. It was a spectacular experience. We barely talked as we sat back filled with awe for this incredible moment.

All of us have a mix of these moments in our lives in our lives when we are like either of the people in these loon stories. When we experience something new we get excited and we want to share our excitement with others. We hear our child sing a praise song they learned at school and we share our joy with everyone we can. After a few years of experiencing this, however, we start to take these moments for granted. Who knows, maybe we even tell our child to stop singing at times. I have experienced some people that have become so inattentive to the gifts God is sharing in their child’s Christian school that all they begin to notice and point out are the problems. This has always saddened me. My encouragement to you tonight and into the future is to keep a sharp eye out for the big and small blessings God is showering on GCCS.

To help with this I would like to share some great things I experienced first hand when I visited the school for part of the last Friday;
While visiting classes I asked the students what they like about this place. In JK-grade 8 students told me they love their teachers because their teachers care about them. Awesome.
Students told me they can tell how hard their teachers work to make learning exciting. Awesome.
One student used the phrase that “teachers go the extra mile”. Awesome.
They said that God’s love for them is taught here. Awesome.
A grandparent told me they are so thankful their grandchildren are here and they wish all of their grandchildren could be here. Awesome and kinda sad as well.
At chapel the grade 1 students shared all of the things that live in their hearts and that God’s love lives in their hearts. Awesome
I saw parents rushing in during their lunch breaks to do yard duty for the staff so that the staff could eat a lunch together. Awesome
I saw stacks of food that parents had delivered for a staff lunch to show their appreciation. Awesome.
New students shared with me that they felt welcomed quickly. Awesome
Students were proud of what they are learning and they were willing to tell me about it. Awesome.
A board that shows up on a Saturday morning to learn about being better board members. Awesome.
Singing worship songs to God with the student body, parents, and grandparents. Awesome.
A group of grade 7 students inviting me to play baseball with them at lunch. Awesome
Membership committee members who were so excited after interviewing new members of the school recently. Some of these new members were brought to tears as they shared their thanks for being able to be a part of this Christian school. Awesome.

This is not to say that everything is perfect here at GCCS. Families will struggle with paying tuition, one student shared with me that their class struggles with relationships, the board and committees will need to find more people to help, and people will disagree. Not every event we experience at GCCS will be found to be awe inspiring. I get that.

However, let us not be like the paddlers in my earlier story that for some reason did not appreciate the sight of the loons on the lake, even though they were far away. Let us be inspired by the big, bold and exciting moments that develop here at GCCS while still having the vision to recognize God at work in the small things in this school. I hope that this loon and the loons some of you get to see and hear this summer remind you of this.

God wants to bless the work of this school. I look forward to all of you sharing these stories of blessings with me next year (and tonight) as we look to model for our students what it means to live in his Kingdom. Share these blessing stories with each other, share these stories with your neighbours, share these stories with your coworkers, and share them within your family.

When we have this vision the words of 2 Corinthians 9 will come alive for us, “And God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Marvin Bierling