Archived Voice Articles

Center for Educational Services reaches beyond campus borders to train Christian teachers

By Sally Jongsma

Although Dr. John Van Dyk is slowly moving past retirement age, his efforts to train Christian teachers are increasing in scope rather than decreasing. In addition to his on-campus course load, he regularly travels around the world to speak and lead workshops for Christian teachers, principals, boards, and parents-often in developing countries.

Dr. John Van Dyk, showing nametags in different languages, spends part of his time working with professors in other countries to set up Christian teacher training programs.

Dr. John Van Dyk, showing nametags in different languages, spends part of his time working with professors in other countries to set up Christian teacher training programs.

"Christian schools are popping up all over the world," says Van Dyk, who has worked not only with Christian Schools International, but also extensively with the Association for Christian Schools International. ACSI serves 5,786 schools in 100 countries.

"An important reason for this remarkable state of affairs is the growing recognition that Christian schools not only can and do equip children to walk in the ways of the Lord, but also offer splendid opportunities to make an impact on the larger societal context in which they are found," says Van Dyk in a report about the Center's work.

In Eastern Europe, dramatic political changes in the last two decades have left a leadership vacuum. In the third world and developing countries, Christian educators are welcomed where Christian missionaries are not tolerated. And growing numbers of churches are realizing that Christian schooling is an important part of their Christian witness.

Of his work with schools in the former Soviet Union, Van Dyk says, " I continue to believe that Christian education can be a key factor in changing these countries for the better. Christian schools may be able to have a more effective and comprehensive impact on societies than missionaries, church planters, or ecclesiastical programs."

But Van Dyk is also cautious.

"Christian schooling everywhere remains seriously challenged," he says, citing the fact that in many rural areas in North America traditional schooling is declining. And even where North American Christian schools are thriving, it is partly due to the perceived failure of public schools.

In countries like Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Central America challenges to Christian schools come on other fronts: persecution by Muslims, Hindus, and even Catholics; intense poverty, social upheaval.

Van Dyk fears that part of the challenge to Christian education in North America is that too many Christian schools do not sufficiently stress a transforming vision. In structure and programs they remain remarkably similar to the public school. He echoes Christian authors Gloria Goris Stronks and Doug Blomberg in their book, Vision with a Task, who write: "Christian schools look like private and public schools staffed and populated by people who go to church." (p. 56)

"Even in some schools professing Kuyper's square-inch philosophy, pervasive secularism [competitive individualism, intellectualism, and materialism] continues, or, at the least is not aggressively challenged," Van Dyk says. He continues to speak, lead workshops, and challenge North American teachers and schools to embrace a transforming vision for what Christian teaching and Christian schools can be.

The challenges for Christian schools in developing and third world countries also involve promoting a transforming vision for life, but the setting is a stark contrast to the comfort Christians experience in North America.

"Schools in some countries are confronted by such drastic situations that the need for change and for leadership is urgent," says Van Dyk. Christian teachers are severely underpaid, lack resources, are sometimes persecuted, and often live in dangerous political situations. Van Dyk has led numerous workshops and delivered even more lectures on Christian worldview and teaching to teachers committed to a vision for education that will truly transform their culture. He has worked with institutions to develop teacher-training programs so that teachers can contribute to thriving and self-sustaining schools that can train future leaders.

The big challenge in working in developing countries is often to get Christian denominational groups to work together. "They too often expend their energy stealing people from each other in the name of missions," says Van Dyk. His dream is to see a world council of Christian educational organizations that will allow Christians to pool resources rather than tragically waste them through duplication and competition of services.

Yet despite these challenges, exciting things are happening. Van Dyk is working with both ACSI and the International Association for the Promotion of Higher Education (IAPCHE) to encourage Christian higher education institutions to develop strong teacher training programs in Hungary, the Philippines, Latin America, and India.

Prior to giving a plenary address at an IAPCHE conference in Hungary last year, Van Dyk corresponded extensively with his respondent, a woman who heads the teacher education program at the Hungarian Reformed Christian University. She invited him to come a few days early to help develop their teaching training program. Similar opportunities have come to Van Dyk from a proposed Russian Pedagogical Institute (now discontinued because of significantly decreased funding to Western supporting charities following the September 11 terrorist attacks), the Nehemiah Center in Nicaragua, a Latin American Christian university in Costa Rica, a developing university in Peru, and Bishop Appasamy College of Arts and Sciences in India.

Nicaragua has 150 Christian schools to which the Nehemiah Center is trying to provide leadership. The Peru University will have four graduate programs accredited by the government, one of which is teacher education. "And wonderful things are happening in Asia and India," Van Dyk says. At Bishop Appasamy College several Christian denominations are working together to develop a teacher-training program. Efforts for training Christian teachers are being made in Japan and Korea. In Russia and in England the governments require classes in religious education, creating opportunities for Christian teachers to have a significant influence.

"Who knows what doors will open if we work together," Van Dyk says.

Buoyed by the possibilities abroad as well as in North America, Van Dyk remains energized and committed, softly, but persistently sharing his vision and that of the Dordt College Center for Educational Services with those interested in hearing it.