The Divine Mosaic
One of the blessings of being able to work in a Christian school is the opportunity I have to hear the faith stories of the parents who are enrolling their children. Some of these parents are from countries where they are not allowed to publicly practice their faith but have a long family history of faith in Christ. Others talk about miraculous conversions and the transforming work of Christ in their families, and yet others share how they have grown up in the faith and how God has been their stronghold throughout their lives.
Another blessing is to hear from current students and alumni how God brought them to Canada so that they could come to accept Christ as their Saviour and Lord, and how the Lord demonstrated through the teachers, homestay parents and other students what it means to live in a Christian community.
I also hear the stories of heartache, frustration and disappointment from families who are transitioning into a new country. The challenges of being separated from extended family and learning the culture and language are often overwhelming. The opportunity to pray together and lay everything before our Lord and Savior brings us together as family – Christ’s family.
Each time, I am humbled by how God meets each of us where we are and brings hope, healing and reconciliation. It is also a powerful reminder of how God works in each culture to bring his people to him.
Often we get caught up in the administrative and technical aspects of our jobs and do not have the time to reflect on the mission and vision of our programs. What are our motivations in bringing students from overseas? How can we do short-term programs in a way that enables us to plant the seeds of the gospel in the lives of the students? These are important questions, but more importantly we need to ask ourselves – how are our programs being shaped and impacted by the differing perspectives and experiences of the students entering our classrooms? Are we taking the time to give our students a “voice” to tell their own story?
A number of years ago, Darryl DeBoer wrote this reflection regarding the cross-cultural learning that can happen in a classroom.
How can a good foot massage relax your whole body? How does acupuncture work? Why does squeezing the flesh between your thumb and forefinger help with the pain from a headache? These were the questions that the Grade 12 Biology class were asked when studying the nervous system.
Thanks to the presence of our foreign students, the world of our Canadian students was made a little bigger. One of our Korean students brought in some acupuncture needles, some moxibustion gear (little burners placed on the skin) and some suction cups that are placed in strategic places along the back – all traditional forms of treatment from the Eastern cultures.
As the students observed the attachment of the gear to the body, they pondered how can these be used to cure acute and chronic aching? Our foreign students were able to share their personal and family experiences with this form of treatment. A far cry from the traditional “over the counter” medication that North Americans are accustomed to.
It was a moment for our ESL students to shine in the classroom. It was a chance to share their culture – and it was an opportunity in which the teaching within the classroom was enriched by the mixture of our students. It is often that we think of our school as a great opportunity for the foreign students to be enriched. Far too seldom do we realize the enrichment our school receives by the presence of our foreign students.
We live in a global village with many perspectives. Unfortunately, much of the way we interact cross-culturally is filled with a mentality that “our way is best”. It might be a good exercise to pause and reflect that perhaps our perspective may need adjustment. Stepping back to consider how our biases shape our curriculum, and finding ways to bring the experiences and cultural perspectives of our students into the classroom can only give us a renewed appreciation for the diversity God has created.
In his introduction to his book God’s Global Mosaic : What we can learn from Christians around the World, Paul-Gordon Chandler says:
Christianity worldwide is a divine mosaic, with each piece being a different cultural expression of the Christian faith, and the whole portraying the beauty of God’s character as perhaps nothing else can. It is in our continual learning from these many cultural expressions of Christianity that our own faith can be made most complete. When living near Carthage (in modern-day Tunisia) I developed an interest in ancient Christian mosaics. Some of the most beautiful examples there date from the time of Augustine, the bishop of Hippo and the North African early church. Yet today the beauty and glory of many of these tremendous mosaics has faded – not because of aging but due to individual pieces that have been lost. If we could only retrieve those pieces! In the same way, I see the church in any one culture – such as in the West – as an incomplete mosaic. In order to enhance the beauty and glory of our own faith and church we need to accept, grasp and apply this principle of learning from other cultural Christian expressions. This will allow us as Westerners to be receivers rather than (as has been traditionally the case) viewing ourselves primarily as providers.
As Christian schools we are so blessed to be able to develop biblically-based curriculum which allows students and teachers to experience together what it means to live a life rooted in Christ. In community, which encompasses many different cultural perspectives, let us explore what it means to be part of part of the divine mosaic.by Marlene Bylenga, International Education Coordinator