I believe history was made when a church in a disadvantaged area hosted a winter school for learners in its area completely on its own during the first week of the school holidays.
The Uniting Reformed Church in Bloemendal initiated and organized this Winter School at Bethvale Primary School. Teachers and students did the teaching with the group of learners attending coming close to 80. A needs analysis was done beforehand to find out what subjects learners wanted to be covered, and then the teachers were canvassed accordingly.
The days started with coffee and rusks, then followed the devotions, the announcements and after that the classes started in all earnest. By noon lunch was served, and the day ended by 13:30.
The highlight of the week arrived when the learners, teachers and all the others who rendered service received a “Certificate of Service” at the Sunday evening service, with the parents and other members of the church the audience for the learners, dressed in their Sunday best, were called to the stage to receive their certificates. The Young Reverend Davids’s sermon included the encouragement to the learners that they all can succeed in life when they take hold of their educational opportunities.
As the learners were coming forward to receive a certificate and handshake from him, he commented on their classy shoes and beautiful dresses, making them the true belles and beaus of the evening. Afterwards, as is fitting to such an occasion, the church invited all to share the refreshments, but with the admonishment that these had been bought from limited funds, and that if there was not enough eats for everyone, they had to share with one another! What a celebration! What a wonderful occasion for everybody to be encouraged and given hope that even in the most dire circumstances, there is hope, and in this case, hope was made a reality through the church!
The model Jesus used
The adults and students involved had many opportunities for discussing various things, and mostly these centered around issues of the Winter School. Much was said about the importance of such an initiative, not only for academic purposes, but also for providing a healthy social environment for young people to mix and enjoy each other as an alternative to sitting at home bored and open to mischief.
The fact is that the numbers grew: 50 on the first day, 75 on the second and 79 on the third, showing by voting by feet that a need had been met. We spoke about the fact that Jesus went out to the people and met them at the level of their needs, and only then did He reveal himself to them, and invite them to follow Him.
We could use the early morning “Blessings” to encourage them, challenge them to set their visions on something worthwhile, and share the Gospel with them. A vital factor in all of this was Rev Davids who was there every day, joking with, talking to the kids; simply showing them that he cared and was interested in them. How could one ever calculate the short and long term effects of that?
Opening new vistas for the learners
Life skills were taught during “off periods” by Lizaan Du Toit, a mother of 5 and a 4th year student in Social Work. On Friday, all the participants were taken to Summerstrand by bus, introduced to Bayworld,
After this visit, they were taken to the University where they were shown around and specifically helped to familiarize themselves with the campus (e.g. “This is very the taxis stop, where students get off and then make their way to the various buildings where the different Faculties are housed”), as if it was a non-negotiable fact that they would eventually find their way to tertiary education.
A key aspect of the visit to the university was an introduction to the use of the library and the facilities and services available to students by the library staff. The group was then taken to a lecture hall where a young student from a very disadvantaged background, who is now excelling in her studies, told them her story, and by doing so showed them that a poor background need not be a deterrent to a successful study at a tertiary educational institution.
Then they were addressed by a young member of the marketing section of the university who introduced them to the admission requirements of the university, and made them aware of the various bursaries available, as well as the people who could advise them further. When the university visit was done, the group was taken to King’s Beach where they played and had a lovely take-way lunch.
Again one can only dream about the possibilities and potential this outing generated; this will only become clear over the years that follow.
The engagement and potential of church members
One of the highlights of this week was the tremendous enthusiasm and dedication with which church members took up their tasks, all within the ambit of their strong points and passion. This not only made everyone’s contribution significant, but also said something to them about the vital role they play, and can play in the service of the Kingdom.
It may just be that such an occasion provides the first opportunity to church members to become “discovered” for the real contribution they are to make to the Kingdom. Being part of such an initiative contributes to their sense of what they are really able to accomplish, so that they can echo the joy of the peasant woman who, under the guidance of Paulo Freire, managed to read her first sentence, and then exclaimed: “I’m amazed at myself!”
So many made significant contributions; each having a story of his/her own. Here I highlight only a few: I think of the stalwarts such as Ben Jacobs (Masterbrain), Margie le Roux (Lead teacher) Joa le Roux (chief school manager), Theresa Heydenrycht (general manager and minister of finance), Veonna Goliath (the main driving force and leader of the pack), Millie and Aunt Emily (master chefs), and Rev Davids (providing church leadership support and modelling). Significant financial contributions were made by people involved in the programme, as well as by the Church Council.
The significance of this for a poor church is that they can say to themselves: “We can do it!” And they can also say to the other churches: “You can too!”
A vital element: teachers
Without dedicated and enthusiastic teachers a winter school simply cannot happen. We were fortunate and blessed that a real mixed bag of people committed themselves for one whole week of their holidays. Some of them came as education students from the university and other training institutions; others are fulltime teachers.
Some are older, others younger; some ere black, others not so black; what a joy to see them going all-out for the children, and being loved by them! Sobs, a young black education student in his final year, was asked by the learners to move to their area so he could help them over weekends! We also had learners who acted as tutors, all ready and eager to devote their time in the interest of others.
Relationships having been formed
A key aspect of the winter school was the fact that people who did not know each other beforehand, and had little chance of knowing each other apart from the Winter School, formed deeply satisfying and uplifting relationships. This happened not only among the young people, but also between the adults, as well as between adults and young people.
This was the joy of the week, the deep discussions and stories that were shared, including the heartaches and joys of growing up in very different worlds, and looking back on the hardships with gratitude for what had been learnt and could be shared.The relationships formed among participants may well be the bond that bring them together again for even bigger things.
The wonder of attempting something together and trusting God to work it out
Maybe the biggest story of this week is the fact that during the last week of the school term, the week before the Winter School was due, the committee had received only three applications from learners. The crucial decision to go ahead with organizing people and buying provisions, and not to heed the numbers, was then taken in faith that God Who is to be trusted, will cause the learners to come.
The Winter School brings the message: When we trust God, everything is possible, He is faithful, He will accomplish the work. To Him be the glory!
21 July 2014