Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Real Blessings, Genuine Thanks

"...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  I Thessalonians 5:18, ESV

The year was 1944.  Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom were prisoners in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.  Their "crime" had been offering help to the Jewish victims of Hitler in their home country of Holland.  They had originally been sent to prison, but the Allied invasion of Normandy prompted the Germans to move their political prisoners first to a concentration camp in the southern part of Holland, and then, as the Allies continued to advance, into Germany itself.

Ravensbruck was a terrible place.  Not only were prisoners treated badly, beaten, starved, and worked to death, they had to endure deplorable living conditions in vermin infested barracks with limited facilities.  The mortality rate from disease and starvation was high.  Corrie and Betsie were assigned to a barracks where they shared a room with several hundred women, sleeping on plywood bunks covered with straw, stacked three or four high.  Upon entering the room, they quickly discovered that the thin straw bedding was infested with fleas.  Corrie wondered how they would be able to live in such a place.

The two sisters had smuggled a forbidden Bible into the room, and conducted clandestine prayer meetings and Bible studies each evening.  One night, after reading this particular verse in I Thessalonians, Betsie prayed a prayer of thanks out loud, giving thanks for all kinds of blessings that most people would find hard to see in the filth and squalor of Ravensbruck.  One of the things she was thankful for was the fleas.  Corrie thought that was a bit much, given the circumstances.  Both sisters worked on a crew that knitted socks for the German army, and the work occurred right in the same room where they slept.  But there had been a problem with the sorting of the socks that day, and the prisoner foreman had asked the guard to come and settle the problem.  She refused to step through the door.  "That place is crawling with fleas," she said. 

The fleas, for which Betsie was so thankful, had kept the guards outside the large room, giving the sisters all kinds of freedom to pray, read and teach from the Bible.  By their own testimony, many women were encouraged by those words, and many came to know the Lord as a result.  God had made a way for his word to be ministered in a place that most people would find to be completely hopeless.

Doesn't that put things into perspective for us? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day of Serving By Students Helps Show School Vision and Mission

In John 13, there is an account of a time when, prior to the Passover meal, Jesus washed his disciples feet.  Having your feet washed before such a gathering was a common practice in those days, but it was considered a lowly, menial task.  The scripture doesn't specifically say that the disciples had encountered a problem determining who would do this menial work, but it was one of those things which opened the door for Jesus to illustrate a point, and in this case, it was the servant nature he wanted his followers to have.  After a brief discussion with Peter over the need for having this done, and who was doing it, Jesus told them that he had given them an example to follow.

The idea of teaching our students to model the servant attitude that Jesus displayed is written into the vision and purpose of Portersville Christian School.  It is a principle that we take seriously, and teach to our students.  It is one which is in clear contrast with what the world believes and practices, which is the general philosophical perspective centered on self, and involves "looking out for ME!"

This principle is put into practice here in many ways on a daily basis.  From sweeping and cleaning tables in the cafeteria after each lunch period, to the service club which empties trash and performs odd jobs for faculty and staff, students here don't just learn about this in the classroom, they are given many opportunities to demonstrate it.  Likewise, our parents demonstrate this principle in the volunteer service they render to the school, something that is highly visible any day of the week right here on the campus.

This Friday, our entire student body, from the Kindergarten classes up to the senior class, along with the faculty and most of the staff, will devote the day to service.  You will find PCS staff and students from sixth through twelfth grade packing boxes for distribution at the World Vision Ministries in Sewickley, unloading trucks, sorting and storing food at the rescue mission in New Castle, wielding brooms, mops and vacuum cleaners at Grace Youth and Family Foundation in Butler, baking cookies for meals on wheels in our own cafeteria, preparing meals for shut-ins in Portersville, preparing and organizing boxes for Operation Christmas Child in New Wilmington, doing a variety of jobs helping Pine Valley Bible Camp in Ellwood City clean up after a devastating fire, and visiting the residents of Passavant Retirement Community in Zelienople with some Christmas cheer.  Elementary students will be helping out here at the school.

Nothing financial or material is expected in return for this, only the kind of personal, spiritual blessing that comes from God when his children are committed to serving Jesus by serving others. We are taking a school day to do this, but what better way to provide our students with a lesson in a basic principle of Christian faith than to give them such an opportunity for a hands-on learning experience?  When people put themselves in a place of service, giving something of themselves with no expectation of anything in return, the lessons that are learned are far more practical and important than what can be taught in a classroom, and the blessings that come back are abundant.

Monday, November 8, 2010

School Choice in Pennsylvania: Information for Parents

The large constituency of students in Pennsylvania who are enrolled in private schools, particularly faith-based institutions, and the general success of the students in these schools in exceeding the measureable state academic standards has created a unique situation which may be opening the door to genuine school choice for parents of students in the state.  There are legislative initiatives underway which may eventually lead to a school choice bill that will have a positive impact on families who want to send their students to a school of their choice, even if it happens to be a faith based school which integrates Christian principles into the curriculum and models Christian principles through the teachers and staff that are hired. 

Legislators have been working for years to find ways to improve the quality of education offered in the government-owned schools in their states.  Measurements of academic progress aren't perfect, but the data that was being generated indicated that the public school system in the state as a whole wasn't making progress, and in fact, was showing declines in areas that were being measured.  The proposed solution of charter schools and cyber schools has not produced an increase, and in fact, many of those alternatives do not score as well as the public school system.

Private schools, including Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical Christian schools, have a long history of academic excellence.   On both nationally-normed achievement tests and college entrance exams, Pennsylvania students enrolled in faith-based schools generally do significantly better than their public, charter and cyber school counterparts.  As a result, there are some legislative initiatives in the works which are designed to make access to those schools easier for Pennsylvania's school children whose parents want to exercize their option and choose the school their child will attend. 

I'm providing links to a couple of websites that carry some information about what is transpiring at the moment, and how you can become involved.  PACAPE is the broader organization representing a wide variety of private schools, including Catholic and Evangelical Protestant schools.  ACSIPA is the in-state organization for conservative Evangelical schools which are members of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  You can check out their websites at http://acsipa.org and http://pacape.org .