The Importance of Education
About half-way through our trip to Guinea I noticed that there was a continuing theme in conversations we were having with the ministry leaders that we were meeting with. They were investing in the lives of the people around them through the avenue of education. We take education for granted in America - there are schools in every town, some parents even have multiple options regarding the school their kids are going to attend. We have libraries, internet connections just about everywhere we go, Kindle, Nook, Google Books, and other ways to learn. We have a focus on education, knowing that education is a great path to caring for many things in life.
These opportunities are not the same everywhere in the world. In Guinea many prospective students are needed to care for family things at home and don't get the chance to go to school. Most of them will never be able to read or write. The students have to pay to attend higher grades in high school and college and most families don't have the money to spend on sending their children to school. Some realize that education is the path to a better life, but most are so focused on meeting the immediate daily needs right before them that they can't take the time or money to invest into the "maybe" of the future.
Ministry leaders understand that Christian schools in these Muslim communities have the chance to meet many needs. Education that is offered at a lower cost (or for free), with better quality teachers, with a faith-based course of study can have a huge impact on a community. Pastor Joel founded an elementary school that uses a Bible-based curriculum to teach students how to read and write. These students, who mostly come from Muslim homes, are learning the basic truths of God's love, of Christ's sacrifice, of the relationship that God pursues with each of us, and other biblical truths everyday as they do their school work. Some of them are realizing that these biblical truths contradict much of what they're learning in the Koran. Teachers are seeing students asking some great questions about the differences in these books and their teachings of God and faith.
When parents ask, "Where are you learning these things?" the students can respond, "At the school you're sending me to." At first you would think that this would cause parents to pull their students out of a school that is teaching their children things are in direct conflict with their Muslim beliefs, but the level of education that the Christian schools is able to give their students is far superior to the public schools in the communities, so they are willing to keep them in the school. God has graced the teachers and curriculum and students are outscoring public students in every area of learning. The parents are compelled to continue the Christian education because of the results and in the process are learning more of the truths of Scripture for themselves because the students are bringing their lessons home. Many of the students who are learning to read are teaching their parents how to read when they come home each night - and they're using the Bible as their textbook.
Pastor Joel has identified the need to extend his school to the upper grades. He knows that it's at the upper grades that most students make serious commitments to Jesus Christ. Even if children make a heart-felt commitment to Christ in the elementary school, there comes a time when that child-life faith has to turn into a mature faith of an adult. If there isn't a good Christian influence in the middle and high school years they may not be able to make this transition. In fact, studies are showing that here in America the vast majority of children who dedicate their lives to Christ in grade school do not follow through with that commitment when they become young adults. Numbers as high as 80% of them are abandoning a faith that hasn't taken root at each level of their development.
Don't get me wrong, we need strong children's ministries! We need children choosing to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ. But we also need strong middle school ministries to build into that commitment. Then we need strong high school ministries to help them answer the tough questions about life and relationships with God that never entered their mind when they were younger. Then we need strong college ministries who help these young adults make serious commitments in a world that is pulling them in so many directions. And we need solid adult ministries to accept them when they've failed, to teach them how adult faith meets a non-christian world, to build them into mature believers in Christ who are able to disciple others.
The only way this can possibly happen is for the church to work together as the Body of Christ. We have to realize that no job is more important than another: preaching is as important as working in the nursery; working the sound board as is important as leading the worship team; leading a children's ministry is as important as handing out emergency food boxes; working with the teens is as important as visiting shut ins in your neighborhood; leading a small group Bible study is as important as folding bulletins; and cleaning the floors of the church is as important as inviting others to start a new relationship with Jesus Christ.
We need to understand what it is to work as the body of Christ. We need to learn that education is important at every level and that we need to be learners and teachers at the same time - learning from those who know Christ better than we do and teaching others how to know Him as we know Him. This is what true discipleship is all about: learning and teaching - all becoming more like Jesus.
Please pray that our friends in Africa will be able to continue to invest in the lives of the families in their area - and advance that investment through their Christian schools.
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.