We‘re entering our fifth year of ministry and reflecting on where the Lord has led us. We’ve felt the burden stir to share, encourage and engage, widening our ability to work together for His kingdom/purpose locally, regionally and globally.
The past few years has taken us through many ups and downs we know all people can attest to. Such is life and the paths we all walk. It’s felt sad and lonely at times, leading to self pity. It caused us to segregate and isolate ourselves, when what we needed was to integrate and reach out. Not to run from our problems, but to engage them and view them as part of our journey to maturity.
During our recent Family Day, our students put on a great show for parents. Singing and dancing praise songs as well as performing a dramatic rendition of Christ’s redemption. This was followed by a video showcasing a day in the life of Upward Learning Centre. It provided a wonderful three-minute insight into the beautiful atmosphere of teachers and kids interacting with each other through laughter, learning and play. We wanted to show the parents their kids were doing well and thriving.
That was when it hit me.
You see, we run a pioneering inclusive learning centre where we have been able to increase inclusive learners from a typical 5% to over 40% of the student body. We have seen more success stories in mainstream inclusion than any organization we have engaged with. Most people are genuinely surprised at the sheer diversity within our student population. Because of the burden we carry, instead of segregating, we have opened the doors for an inclusive learning environment so everyone can have access to learning pathways. This is based on the principle of Christ’s ministry. He went and engaged people of all creeds and castes; regardless of age, ability, gender, nationality, etc. so the word inclusive for Christ means “everyone”.
Anyway, returning to the main story…
You may now understand why it hit me that day watching the video. You see, not every day is smiles, laughter and fun. We’ve had team members stretched to their limits, needing stitches after being hit or in tears as a result of emotional breakdowns. And amongst all this, they return home to their lives where for some, more difficulties await. We continue to walk with team members through their own tough cases: domestic violence, family problems and separations, financial distress, alcoholism, depression and anxiety. And yet the team gets up each morning, and continues to do what they made a commitment to do. To unconditionally love and care.
So back to the performance…
Our team had scheduled me to do the closing and I was asked to share on the topic of Easter. To set the stage a little more, 70% of our families are non believers but they all participate in our family day activities. Full inclusion as we say. As I took the stage, I began…
“Can anyone raise their hand and say they’ve never had a difficult day being a parent? (No hands were raised). As I watched the video earlier that showed the joy and laughter of a day in our centre, I felt the burden to speak to you about what we really do here.
We have focused on the story of Easter today. The persecution of Christ, the crucifixion, His death, and subsequent resurrection as He conquered death. Well today, I want to share with you an account which is rarely the emphasis of Easter, but is equally important for our own journeys.
After Christ had been judged, He was whipped, mocked and a crown of thorns placed upon His head. He began the journey to Calvary carrying the cross. On the way, a soldier compelled one in the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, and told him to carry the cross. So he did.
You see, you are carrying your children in the same way that Jesus carried that cross. It is a heavy privilege. So heavy in fact, at times we stumble. Our team is just like Simon of Cyrene. We are here to help you carry that cross. In reality, carrying that cross is NOT a job; it IS a calling.”
I proceeded to call our team up on stage. We faced the parents and students and said, “This is your team, this is your family, dedicated to carrying your cross with you.”
Then I continued and asked all the parents to join us on stage, leaving only the students in the audience. I asked them to look towards the stage and see the community that was standing there together in unity; wanting and willing to carry their cross with them. A united community focused on serving one another. The closest thing I have ever felt to what may have been The Way (the early fellowship of believers).
I’ve read articles referring to the early church in Acts and have asked myself the same question….. Can the body of Christ truly be united?
We believe it can!! Not by talking about it, but through intentionally engaging, supporting, and carrying each other’s crosses. Not through segregating and isolating ourselves, but through integrating and journeying together. Not by building walls to separate but to break them down to widen His reach. Inclusion. We don’t believe it can because it sounds good. We know it can because we experience it.
When we consistently begin to live this way, the world sees and notices we are different. That there’s something we have the world can’t quite reach.
In this same spirit, we pray for the unity of the body to grow and expand across the nations. We must continue to intentionally demonstrate the power of the united body of Christ through action and testimony where it leaves no doubt or coincidence that Christ our Lord is God Almighty. (link to testimonies)
Thank you for getting to know us. We ask that you continue to pray for our journey. May we remain steadfast in reaching out and serving those around us effectively with love and in all truth inclusively.
If you are on a similar journey and would like to exchange ideas and testimonies, perhaps ask for help or advice, feel free to connect with us. We would love to find ways to encourage each other in our journey for unity. If you’d like to engage with us more and find out how you can be a part of this journey, or support us in any way, please click the link below. For either purpose, we’d love to stay connected.
We pray for Christ’s hand to be upon all of us. May He guide us and keep us. May He watch over us and lead us to the fullness of His purpose for us amongst all His creation. Amen.
We began with four teachers and six students in January 2015 and today we have a team of over 90 staff and 150 students including mild to severe special needs, non-English speakers, students in depression, victims of bullying, refugees, general Ed students, indigenous peoples, orphans, missionary kids, and the list goes on. From three year old pre-schoolers to 30 year-old adult vocational learners, all these students are learning together under one roof.