Nearly 100 years ago, my grandmother Marguerite left the family farm in Allendale, Mich., after graduating from high school.
She moved to Grand Rapids, found child care jobs, and enrolled in the teacher preparation program at Calvin College, completing it in 1922. She then taught at Creston Christian and Baxter Christian schools, after additional study at Western Michigan Normal School, now Western Michigan University.
As I reflect on the journey this young woman made so many years ago, I’m astonished at the courage and drive she demonstrated in order to study at a Reformed, Christian institution and serve the Lord as a teacher.
Her story isn’t unusual; similar stories played out year after year in communities across the continent as young men and women pursued Christ-centered education, often at great cost and effort.
Sometimes I hear criticism of Christian education, suggesting it’s a bubble, isolating youth from the world. Certainly this wasn’t the case for Marguerite. She left the comfort of home and family to care for the children of a wealthy attorney, traveling with them during the summer and all the while learning new things, developing her pedagogical skills, and growing in her faith. That trip from farm to campus expanded her world.
What about generations to come? The options are numerous. There are many K-12 schools founded on Reformed principles. Colleges and universities such as Calvin, Dordt, the Institute for Christian Studies, King's, Redeemer, and Trinity provide splendid opportunities for higher education.
But the answer to the question is elusive, for at least two reasons.
First, there are threats to Christ-centered education, especially at the university level. Some of these are external. Gordon College in Massachusetts has been hounded by its accrediting agency over its commitment to Christ-centered education. And, according to recent reports, a bill before the California senate would restrict the exemption that has allowed faith-based institutions in that state to operate according to their religious mission and identity.
Others challenges are situational. For some students the cost of tuition is a major obstacle. Others are attracted by the vast array of specialized programs offered at state or provincial universities. Distance can be a barrier, or the lack of diversity at a smaller college.
So what about the generations to come? Will the people in the pews, in the church council rooms, at the classis meetings and on the floor of synod be well-grounded in Reformed theology and thought? Or will we drift into the generic, often individualistic views that we see in much of the North American evangelical world?
Earlier this year my wife, Barb, and I showed up at a Christian education fundraising event at Creston CRC—not because we’re members of that church but because one of their immigrant families was cooking up a feast. That Ethiopian family, like other families there, understands the importance of Christian education for the next generation—to produce young men and women who balance first-rate, specialized knowledge and skills with broad appreciation for every square inch of God’s world. Young men and women whose faith has deepened so they are not afraid of questions; who recognize that God doesn’t always provide easy answers; who understand the toxicity of society and God’s call for us to be his redemptive agencies; who exercise the gifts of the Spirit in the body of Christ, providing a light to those who do not yet know him.
Yes, Christian education does all of these things, and more!
It is interesting that the immigrant family at Creston understands this. Or maybe not, for the CRC’s long history of serving immigrants has often been accompanied by support of Christian education.
What can we do? First, we need to encourage each other, as families and congregations, to support these schools where knowledge is advanced, faith is nourished, and Christ is central. The blessings will be seen from generation to generation. I’m a recipient of those blessings, and I’m forever grateful for the journey my grandmother, Marguerite Wolma Reminga, dared to take.