Okinawa Christian School International (OCSI) has been involved in evangelizing the population of Okinawa, Japan, for over 44 years. Unlike most mission schools of today, OCSI’s primary purpose is not the education of missionary children, although a few do attend. Approximately 75 to 85 percent of the students come from non-Christian homes. For seven hours per day, five days per week, they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, they see the example of Christian lives dedicated to loving service to the Lord, and they gain the knowledge needed to live and serve the Lord as they learn to follow God’s manual for life and eternity—the Bible. Not surprisingly, the majority of the students ask Jesus Christ to come into their lives for salvation, and many are now serving Him all over the world. In a country that has had a relatively low response to missions efforts, the record of lives committed to Christ at OCSI is exciting. What a fantastic missions tool a Christian school can be!
Yet in the last 75 years, there appears to have been little interest in starting Christian schools as evangelistic outreach tools, especially in countries already having a well-developed school system. It is not clear why we have largely ceased pursuing this once vital part of missions work,1 but it is a very serious mistake that must be rectified if we are to see the countries in the 10/40 Window, as well as the rest of the world, turn to Jesus Christ.
To understand why it is so vital, we need to review several basic biblical tenets on the subject. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” These words are part of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV). They are to be said daily by the orthodox Jew because they summarize the core of the Jewish belief.
God goes on to say in verses six through nine, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” [emphasis added].
God knows how essential it is for His commandments to be written in our hearts, to be internalized so that they become part of the very fabric of our being, both as individuals and as a body or nation of believers. What is fascinating is the revelation of God’s wisdom in the order of priority that He gave us for internalizing these truths. The very first thing we are to do is impress them on our children.
Why did God put this first? Isn’t it more important to evangelize and disciple adults? After all, one adult can teach many children, but normally, one child cannot effectively “disciple” even one adult.
Statistics certainly give some insights into this question. Surveys indicate that 85 percent of decisions for Christ are made before the age of fourteen. Children just seem to naturally trust and respond to Jesus. In their childlike faith, they intuitively understand the love of Jesus and want to be in His protective arms.
Research has also shown that lifetime values and beliefs are generally set in place during middle-school years. Once these choices have been made, the older a person gets, the more difficult it is to reject the premises upon which his or her life has been built and to lower all the protective shields built up to help cope with the world. It is not surprising that most adults who make confessions of faith in Jesus Christ were exposed to the gospel when they were children.
However, the most crucial insight as to why God’s priority is to first evangelize and train children is revealed in
It is also instructive to notice that the Bible normally uses very strong words when it speaks about the “teaching” of children. The word impress in
So we are not talking about the occasional presentation or discussion of an idea. Nor are we talking about a once or twice per week church service, Sunday school time, youth group activity, or even better, the evening half-hour devotions as a family. These are good and necessary, but they are not enough to “train” or “impress” in and of themselves. They cannot counteract that which children have been absorbing seven hours per day, five days per week, in a secular school. They are simply not frequent enough or of long enough duration. God’s perspective on the importance of teachers and training in the life of a child is very clear. Luke 6:40 (NIV) says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” [emphasis added]. So whom do we want to train our children?
I have often posed this question to people: “If you were given the directive to change the religious, cultural, moral, ethical, political, economic, and familial expectations and customs of a nation, how would you do it?” History, both ancient and modern, has proven over and over that only one way is effective—through the education of children. Hitler knew this. Communist leaders knew this. Thomas Dewey and the humanists in the United States knew this. How long has it taken the United States, formulated on the very principles of the Bible, to turn 180 degrees in its course away from God? It took only one generation from the time its schools turned away from teaching God’s Word and God’s plan for humankind. The power of education to change the course of a nation is truly awesome.
My question, then, is why so many of us have missed this obvious point as Christians. There was a time when the Christian body understood it well, both in our homes and in missions. Christian parents used to insist that any place where their children spent significant time had to reflect their Christian values and expectations, and that certainly included schools. All through the 1800s and the early 1900s, many Western missions efforts not only planted churches but also began Christian schools for the indigenous children. They knew that evangelizing and training these children for the future would help guarantee that the message of Christ would go forward, even if the parents did not respond to the message or were too immature as Christians to train their children in the Christian life. The effectiveness of those Christian schools is evident in the testimony of countless national Christian leaders and workers, and in the impact those Christians have had over the years in their countries. Some have even partially ascribed the incredible growth of Christianity in Korea to the many Christian schools the Presbyterian Church began there so many years ago.
On many mission fields, the lack of response or outright antagonism in many countries and people groups of the world has often discouraged us. Should we stop “doing missions” in those countries? No, for the Lord has commanded us to go forth and spread the gospel. But if there has not been a good response, perhaps we need to see whether we have missed something important. In fact, I believe we are missing one of the most critical ingredients for successful evangelism. We must begin once again to plant national Christian schools right along with planting churches. In those countries closed to church planting, Christian schools can often still be started. Unless children grow up strongly grounded in faith in Jesus Christ and with a reliance on the Word of God as their guideline for life and service, they will not be able to withstand their culture’s pressures to conform to ungodly beliefs and practices. Without the thorough training in a Christian school environment, we will continue to see much of the fruit of missions wither and die without proper reproduction.
Now, let us again go back to the question of Christian schools as a strong part of any missions effort, looking at Japan as an example. In Japan, children spend between 60 and 80 more days in school per year than in the United States, and each school day is longer. To the parents, this is the “work” children are to do. Education is seen as the key to success and to a comfortable life, the primary antidote to poverty and shame. If the non-Christian schools in the United States have been so effective in snatching away the message and teachings of Christ in our children, how much more so in Japanese public schools, where more time is spent in school and very few of the teachers are Christian. But what would happen if Japanese children spent all that time in Christian schools where the teachers, the “living curriculum,” are all Christians training children to love Christ and serve Him always?
Sadly, there are few Japanese schools that are fully Christian. Most of those started 100 years ago are staffed primarily by non-Christians, and are teaching most subjects from a nonbiblical perspective. Japan must have training institutes and a few culturally appropriate model Christian schools if a new generation of fully trained Japanese Christian teachers, administrators, pastors, and parents are to march out and begin many more schools throughout Japan. And the same thing that needs to be done in Japan also needs to be done in many other mission fields throughout the world. This is a giant task because in many cases we must start from scratch. Teachers and administrators must be trained in the Christian philosophy of education as it applies to the country’s unique cultural expectations and particular style of education. The Christian community must be taught to understand how dangerous it is to place their Christian children in schools that are not Christ-centered. They must also see that their children will receive a quality education in the Christian school.
This is a critical yet opportune time in history: a time when God can bring a much-needed strengthening to His evangelistic work throughout the world; a time when God can demonstrate how effective national Christian schools can be in reaching most people groups for Christ. Even now, God is spontaneously moving to begin hundreds of these schools through the vision and sacrifice of national Christians in many countries that desperately need to have their children “trained up in the way they should go.”
What should be our response? Of course, the most important thing is to pray. Pray that the Lord will give the leaders in our missions and our mission-training institutions the vision to see the importance of beginning national Christian schools for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship of indigenous children. Pray that Christian international schools already established would capture a vision for facilitating the beginning of national Christian schools. Pray that funds would be available for building schools, training teachers, and translating and writing new culturally appropriate texts in areas of the Christian philosophy of education and Christian school methodologies. Pray for the local national churches to see the vital importance of developing Christian schools for the children.
As the Lord leads, “feet” can also be given to your prayers. You can talk about these concepts in your local church and Christian school, and you can write to the leadership of your denomination or favorite mission organization. You can give financially to those organizations that are actively trying to develop these ideas, support a missionary teacher, support a national school, or if you have appropriate skills or training, become personally involved in a particular work.2
The main thing is that we can no longer ignore the importance or the immediacy of this vital need if we are to impact those countries in the 10/40 Window and throughout the world that desperately need the gospel. Evangelization by facilitating and starting national Christian schools is an old idea that is perfect for the present.
- The Association of Christian Schools International is actively involved in helping many national Christian schools develop in countries all over the world. This is exciting and is a great praise.
The formation of the Network of International Christian Schools is also encouraging in that most of these schools are being developed in large cities in unreached countries and have evangelization as their primary goal. Most of their student bodies also comprise children from non-Christian homes. However, like OCSI, most are limited to enrolling only international families, not those in the indigenous population.
- ACSI International Ministries can be a good resource in helping you find appropriate ways to help national and international schools gain these needed areas of support.
Paul Gieschen, M.A., a field representative of the Okinawa Christian School Mission, along with the ACSI Southeast (USA) Regional Office, is leading a project to promote missions education. Paul previously served as a science teacher, principal, superintendent, and executive director of the Okinawa Christian School International.
Copyright ACSI, 2002.
Reprinted with permission of the Association of Christian Schools International. This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of World Report, a quarterly publication of the International Ministries Department of ACSI. Other articles are available at ACSI Publications.