Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Spotlight on what makes a successful community

Students at Smithville Christian High School got a close-up look at community-building this week as they watched a local theatrical production called Spotlight.

Amateur actors from Bethesda Community Services took to the stage during this week's chapel to demonstrate how a successful community is created.

A community may struggle with things like crime, vandalism or homelessness but a true community celebrates the contributions of all its members and rises above the challenges it faces, the students learned from the multi-media production.

The actors, most of whom have a developmental disability, portrayed bus drivers, window washers, movie theatre ticket takers, actors, crossing guards and restaurant servers as vital parts of a successful community. The production also featured images of the various communities that make up Niagara, and video clips from ordinary people involved in community building, including a social worker, a secretary, a pastor, a teacher, a student, a parent volunteer and an artist.

Each one reflected on how even the mundane details of their daily lives contribute to the flourishing of their families, their neighbourhoods or their communities.

The actors also shared how they have personally struggled with things like stealing, lying or bullying, but how glad they are to be able to make a positive contribution.

Spotlight producer and music therapist Mendelt Hoekstra said the idea for the show originated with a desire on the part of the actors to give something back to their community, and is based on a script by St. Catharines playwright Ron VandenBurg. Often individuals with a disability are seen as takers and the production was a chance to celebrate the abilities of everyone. Hoekstra said he was inspired by actor Edith Homan, who once told him: "People think they have to help me but I can really help them."

The show concluded with the entire theatre company proclaiming "we are one," including the non-verbal member of the troupe, who did a quick change and came out wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message.

The students of Smithville Christian High School gave the actors a standing ovation.

Afterwards, members of the troupe answered questions from the audience including how many performances they've done (four), where they're from (across Niagara) and whether they are having fun (yes).

The actors have been rehearsing for almost two years to get the show ready, Hoekstra said, and performing it always makes them nervous.

"But our audiences have always been appreciative of the actors' hard work and it just drives home the message, time and time again, that everyone can contribute to community."

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Follow the signs

Students from Halifax Christian Academy and Smithville Christian High School were reminded that they all follow the same God and that God provides signposts for their lives.

At this week's chapel, students took turns sharing information about their respective schools. Sophie B. and Aydan S., both members of Smithville Christian High School's choir, talked about how they experience Belonging, Believing and Succeeding at their school.

Belonging at Smithville Christian is being part of a community, said Aydan. "In our class we are all one big group of friends and we all get along."

Sophie agreed. "God is very present here. I feel him through everyone here, and the thing that stands out is community."

Sophie said she also experiences believing at Smithville Christian through community.

"Teachers and students at this school are an example of Christ in our lives," she said. "We are encouraged in our walk with God." Sophie said things like Spiritual Emphasis Week, prayer and daily devotions "help us grow in our walk the God.

Aydan said when he was in Grade 10, he and some friends went to the prayer room one day during Spiritual Emphasis Week "so we could skip class, actually." But as the teenagers sat and talked together, the conversation became deeper and deeper "and we were completely open with each other and we confessed to each other what was going on in our lives.

"Then we prayed together. It was a turning point in my faith for me.

Sophie said students succeed at Smithville Christian High School because "teachers are very encouraging and they help us learn the way we work best."

Aydan agreed, saying teachers are always trying to find unique ways to stimulate learning.

Then Hannah S., Luke M., Lexy L. and Noah S., members of the Halifax Christian Academy Band, described their school.

Hannah said their school is small, but she loves it. Luke said one of the benefits of being in a K-12 school is knowing everyone, even the primary students.

"It's a small school, but we're close," Luke said.

Lexy said she has been part of a small group of friends since Grade 5 "and we help each other grow spiritually."

Noah said he is grateful for teachers "who are pushing God on me all the time, and that's not a bad thing."

Jessica Wilson, principal of Halifax Christian Academy, said the visit from Smithville Christian High School's choir last April inspired her students at her school, with their ministry of music "both inside and outside the school."

"Your visit changed our hearts," Wilson said. "The love of Christ in your hearts came out through your singing."

Halifax Christian Academy vice-principal Will Radford said he is grateful that students and leaders at both schools share the same vision.

He said he and the other chaperones got lost on the way home to their hotel Tuesday night -- despite the fact they had been given a detailed map, carefully drawn by Mr. Harris.

The next morning, when they retraced their route back to school they realized what had gone wrong. The sign they missed was there, "but someone must have hit it -- it was on the wrong angle."
Radford said the map was fine, but the signs were messed up.

"A lot of the world is like that," he said. "The signposts are there but they are bent or messed up or turned the wrong way."

But Christian schools exist to help students follow the right signs, he said. Radford read Proverbs 3:5,6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight."

"That's what Christian schools are all about, we want to help young people read the signs," he said. "And we're glad you share the same vision we do."

The Halifax Christian band then presented four pieces: "Thursday," "The Tempest," "Silly Samba" and "Tap Out."

Listen to Tap Out:   

(To hear more from the Halifax Christian Academy Band, come to the concert Friday night at school: 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, everyone is welcome. The concert will also feature the Smithville Christian High School Choir.)

West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner brought greetings on behalf of the Township of West Lincoln and the Regional Municipality of Niagara.

Joyner said he thoroughly enjoyed a recent visit he made to Halifax for a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and said he hoped the visiting guests would both enjoy their time here and want to come back again.

A student praise team also led in worship with "I Will Follow," "Victor's Crown" and "Brokenness Aside."

Watch the video:

The exchange between Halifax Christian Academy and Smithville Christian High School is made possible by SEVEC, the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges Canada. SEVEC is a not for profit organization that facilitates educational exchanges within Canada, building bridges between young Canadians and providing them with the opportunity to learn about their country by seeing and experiencing its history, geography, and cultural diversity. The travel costs for each participant are covered by SEVEC through the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Love sacrificially

Students at Smithville Christian High School were challenged to "love sacrificially" in order to demonstrate God's heart for the poor and vulnerable.

Alumnus Devon VanHoffen (Class of 2012) was this week's chapel speaker, sharing an account of his experiences living and volunteering in Zambia for the past year with Hands at Work in Africa — a Christian non-profit organization that helps local churches care for the neediest people in their communities.

"Inside each one of us, God us calling us to care for the poor," Devon said, sharing some of the 300 passages from Scripture that speak of God's compassion for the poor. "Trust in him and give of yourself, just as he gave to you."

Devon said he was profoundly moved by the suffering of the people he met, many of whom were sick or orphaned by HIV, and who were struggling in the midst of great adversity to care for those around them. He joined other volunteers from local churches to help feed and care for sick people, sometimes able to only "listen to their stories and pray with them," but other times called to do things "that you are not comfortable with."

Devon said he was inspired by his colleague, Reuben, another volunteer, who worked tirelessly feeding and caring for the sick in his community.

"We do this, not because we want to earn salvation, but because we have received salvation," Devon said.

Referring to this year's spiritual emphasis theme, "Going Deeper," Devon urged students to "go deeper" in their relationships with God and with each other.

"Love above all," Devon said. "Love sacrificially, as I have seen people love like this, in ways that both break my heart and give me hope."

Here is a video of images from Devon's work.

Devon first visited Africa in 2012, when he travelled to South Africa as part of a team from Smithville Christian High School. It was on his first visit there that "God grabbed his heart," said spiritual life director Gord Park, who said he had the privilege of being part of Devon's team.

Devon will be returning to Zambia, but is currently raising money to fund his work there. You can support his efforts by attending a praise and worship event October 18 at Rose City Kids in Welland.

To support Devon financially, download a giving form.

To read more about Hands at Work in Africa visit www.handsatwork.org.

To read more about what God has to say about caring for the poor, here are some of the Scripture passages cited by Devon:
  • Psalm 68:5
  • Leviticus 19:9-10
  • Isaiah 1:17
  • Ezekiel 16:44
  • Job 29:11-16
  • Job 31:16-23
  • Luke 3:9
  • James 1:27
  • James 2:14-18
  • 1 John 3:16
A student praise team led in worship with Desert Song, Mountaintop and I Will Follow.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Love on everyone

Grade 12 students at Smithville Christian High led chapel this week, encouraging their fellow students to "love on everyone,"  to "talk to God" and to "let God shine through you."

The senior students led worship and then took turns describing various aspects of their recent three-day retreat at Silver Lake Camp.

One of the activities of the trip was a small group discussion, in which the students were asked to answer a series of questions about their previous life experiences. Each group then picked their favourite topics and shared them with the rest of the class.

"Our table answered whether we had ever been in a life-saving situation," said Wes. Scott once had to direct an ambulance to an emergency, and Wes said he and Aydan once befriended a troubled young man named Ryan at a youth convention. At the end of the weekend, they exchanged phone numbers in order to keep in contact with him, he said, and shortly after that Ryan texted to say he was grateful for their friendship.

"He said 'thank you so much for being my friend this weekend,' " Wes related. " 'You don't know this, but I had planned to kill myself this weekend. You and Aydan showed such love to me that I felt God's presence.'"

"You don't know people's situation," Wes told students and guests at chapel. "So just love on everyone and be a friend to everyone. You don't know but just a simple smile or 'hello' could save someone's life."

Megan said her group shared their answer to the question of whether they had ever initiated a time of prayer with someone. She said when students from this class were in Grade 9, Smithville Christian alumna Chelsea Feddema was killed in a tragic accident, which made many of the students wonder "why God would do something like that?"

"Some of us who knew her and her family were feeling so down, we skipped class and we were crying in the Grade 9 bathroom," Megan said.

"Then Hope said 'why don't we pray about this?' and so there we were, sitting on the bathroom floor where you don't think you could see God, but God was there," Megan said.

"You could be in class, you could be having a bad day, but when you talk to God, he listens," she said. "Talk to God, pray with your friends, because it changes your relationship with your friends and it changes your relationship to God."

Julianna talked about her experience of being the only Christian in her group of roommates during a summer French immersion trip, and hearing at the end that she had changed her roomie's impression of "what I think a Christian is like — because you are not judgmental."

Mitchell told about his summer trip to Africa to visit his brother, and the encounter the pair had with a woman who had AIDS and who asked them why they were Christians. "I don't remember what we said but before we left, she asked us to pray for her, and she said it changed her life," Mitchell said.

Tyler said he also had the chance to share the gospel during a summer job as a house painter, working with an older man who asked him many questions about his faith and his walk with God. His co-worker concluded that he wasn't interested in going to church "because it's a waste of time" but Tyler said he still felt God had used him to share an important message.

"We think we're young and we can't touch the world in any way, but be open and let God shine through you," Tyler said. "If you let the Holy Spirit work through you, you can do awesome things."

Shannon said the retreat focused on this year's spiritual life theme, which is "going deeper with God." 

She described an activity the students did during one of the evening chapel times, led by spiritual life director Gord Park. They divided into pairs and did a drawing exercise three times, once based only on answers to questions,  the second time based on an oral description and the third time through a two-way conversation. Not surprisingly, it was the third drawing that turned out best, and Shannon said the three types of drawings represent three different ways of connecting with God.

Sometimes we just present God with a list of requests or questions, sometimes we expect God to lead us, and sometimes we engage God in full conversation — both talking and listening.

"In a full conversation you pray and you leave space for God to talk to you," she said. "Then we were challenged to tell our discussion partner where we were in our relationship with God.

"A lot of growth can happen when you are willing to let people in," she said. She said Mr. Park encouraged students to let God in — into the sports, activities and details of their daily lives, instead of just keeping God "at the surface."

Ben described the recreational activities, the food and the sleep (or lack thereof) at the camp. He said the students also did a series of trust-building activities, in addition to playing board games and cards, inventing a game they called "sting-pong," archery, geo-caching, and waterfront activities, including sailboats, canoes and kayaks. The students were also proud to say they beat the teachers at the annual game of Mission Impossible, he said. "Ha-ha."

During the retreat, the students took turns leading devotions, and Jessica and Megan described a devotion they led one morning.

"Today I just encourage you guys to love, love, love," Megan said. "You never know what someone could be going through."

The students then closed the chapel with a prayer led by John, and the singing of Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).

Here's a video of the students leading in worship with "My Redeemer Lives" featuring a drum duet by Tyler and Wes!

See the Smithville Christian High School Facebook page for more pictures from the retreat.