The Christian School in a Missions Context
Richard J. Edlin
Missionary teachers are a dedicated group of people who derive much joy and satisfaction from their profession. However, there is a crisis of confidence among many missionary schoolteachers. The problem is that many teachers in MK schools are seen as "second-class" missionaries, who carry out the Great Commission only if they involve themselves in outreach programs outside of school hours.
The high MK teacher attrition rate, which is one consequence of this problem, has drastic consequences for the care and nurture of MKs and for the overall implementation of the Great Commission. Many missionary schools have annual staff turnover rates of between 40 and 60 percent. This impacts all of the families on the field, as children lack continuity in the school. Also, new teachers' lack of cross-cultural competency means that they may have a reduced ability to educate and nurture the MKs under their care in a culturally sensitive way. Finally, continuity and development in curriculum are difficult to attain.
This situation has serious implications for the whole life of the mission. As one mission administrator commented, "When the MK school is happy, the whole mission is happy; but when the MK school is having problems, the whole mission suffers." Unhappiness with children's education is a common cause of missionary attrition.
The consignment of the MK teacher to a second-class status is derived from a poor understanding of just what Jesus called his people to do in the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.
The Service Task of the Missionary School
The solution to the problem is a biblical perspective. In order to understand the Great Commission in relation to teachers in missionary schools, we need to be reminded of the three functions of an MK school: service, outreach, and discipleship.
MK school purpose statements make clear that a core reason for their existence is the provision of quality, culturally sensitive education to MKs. With this assurance, missionary parents can engage in their own activities and know that their children's educational needs are being met. The church planter in the jungle, the pastor working in the urban slum, and the treasurer in the mission office, are all more able to fulfill their tasks because of the help of others who are teaching their children.
Teachers have been entrusted by the Lord with the high calling of servanthood. Our Lord came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28) and modeled this characteristic for us on that memorable occasion recorded in when he washed his disciples' feet.
The Outreach Task of the Missionary School
Yes, even MKs need the Lord. The lives of the faculty and the nature of the curriculum should present an exciting celebration of the Lordship of Christ over his world and the challenges to all of us to respond. When adult MKs speak about their experiences at MK schools, many concerns are expressed, but one enduring cause for praise to God is the formative influence of their missionary school and its staff on their personal spiritual growth. When MKs see in their teachers the love of God and obedience to his commands, they are led to know, love, worship, and serve the Lord.
Another exciting aspect to this ministry is that many missionary schools have opened their doors to other students—expatriates and nationals, who present further outreach opportunities. Outreach to national children has incredible potential. Missionaries often lament the difficulty of reaching the upper socioeconomic classes of society, from which most of the leaders in politics, commerce, medicine, law, and education come. This the same group that missionary schools often find besieging them with requests for the enrollment of their children.
Missionary schools have a vital ministry upon influential expatriate leaders and their families. Several years ago, when communism still dominated Eastern Europe, evangelist Billy Graham was able to conduct a series of meetings behind the Iron Curtain. In Hungary he had the chance to speak to a huge youth rally, but he needed an interpreter— one who who was young, fluent in English and the local language, and a Christian, so that he could faithfully translate the Christian message. Where could they find such a person in a communist-controlled country?
They found one. His parents had been diplomats in Africa, where he was sent to the local missionary school and became a Christian. Later the family went home to Hungary. When Billy Graham was looking for a Christian youth to translate for him, here he was, a Christian because of the witness of a school in Africa! Our missionary schools and their teachers are a vital part of the worldwide ministry of evangelism.
The Discipleship Task of the Missionary School
The third function of the MK school is discipleship. This is the area of greatest misunderstanding of the Great Commission and its application to the MK school. In Matthew 28:17-20, Jesus did not say "Go and make converts of all nations"; he instructed his followers to "make disciples of all nations." The difference between what Jesus actually said and what many people think he said is central to understanding the missionary calling and the task of the missionary school.
Conversion is only the first step in discipleship. If the Christian life were fully accomplished at conversion, then we would not possess much of the New Testament. Paul's letters to Corinth, Galatia, and Philippi were written to people who were already Christians. Yet, in these letters, Paul was still carrying out the Great Commission by encouraging Christians, strengthening their faith, and instructing them. He was teaching them to observe all that the Lord had taught.
The Great Commission, in all its fullness, includes the process of conversion and then teaching and nurturing people in Christ's way. Except for the church and the family, there are few other institutions in society more centrally concerned with this nurturing discipleship process than the missionary school. As teachers explore with their students the nature of the world and the students' places and tasks in it, their teaching should be done in such a vibrant and exciting way as to challenge the students in all areas of life. The nurturing and discipleship that each teacher engages in with students is at the heart of the Great Commission.
Praise God for the service ministry, outreach ministry, and discipleship ministry of the missionary school. Let us be faithful in prayer for them as they have the blessing and great responsibility of working with young people, as partners with missionary parents, in nurturing and challenging students to live for Christ in all corners of the globe.
The Christian School in a Missions Context, pgs 249-262
Raising Resilient MKs: Resources for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers
Edited by Joyce M. Bowers
Published by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI),
Colorado Springs, CO 80935