The drab, factory-like building in Budapest looked uninviting. Bracing myself as I entered the front door, I expected dim, prison-like classrooms crammed with students sitting at their desks blankly staring at the teacher. This was my first visit to a public school in East Central Europe and I had prepared myself for the worst. Certainly, communism had taken its toll and education had suffered, or so I thought. I could not have been more wrong. The friendly buzz of active students greeted me as soon as I entered this school. A 3-D map of the local community built by the students filled the main floor lobby. My preconceived ideas about education in East Central Europe were immediately challenged.
My goal as educational coordinator for CBInternational, formerly Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, had been to do the necessary research before placing our missionary families in that part of the world. Before embarking on this trip I had talked with many people, and my pre-trip research seemed to say that the national schools were full of communism and harsh teachers, and thus were not an option for the children of our missionaries. After that first visit in Budapest, however, I was forced to reevaluate this conclusion. During my subsequent trip through five countries in East Central Europe, I sought out creative ways of working with the national schools as a viable school option for our missionary kids.
Missions today face the challenge of how to effectively work with national schools. It is too easy to assume that MK schools or home instruction are the only alternatives. In my travels I found elementary schools in Budapest, Hungary, and Ljubljana, Slovenia, which were developmentally on target, with good supplies and creative teachers who were committed to education. Our missionaries are using these schools and it has been a positive experience for their children.
I did, however, also encounter schools which were not doing as well. At first glance the harsh teachers, broken facilities, and narrow curricula seemed too much to handle, but I refused to reject them as an option. Instead, I looked at the way these schools could be freed to educate without the obvious roadblocks of lack of facility and program maintenance and moonlighting bivocational teachers.
Another alternative may be the development of private schools run by a select staff of nationals whose salaries could be supplemented by tuition monies to make moonlighting unnecessary. Teacher trainers and educators I talked with were very open to this possibility. Currently, one of our missionaries in Wroclaw, Poland, has facilitated the opening of this type of school. The national director has done a phenomenal job of putting together the staff and program. It has been positively accepted by both the missionaries and the community.
Having been in MK education for eleven years, I am fully convinced that not everyone fits into a single educational option. I also believe that the way missionary families work with indigenous national schools directly affects their ministry in the local community. In light of this, the challenge before missions, educators, and missionary families is to not "judge a book by its cover." National school options should be explored before being dismissed as unworkable. Inside a derelict building may be a school with dedicated teachers and a cross-cultural environment providing a multitude of avenues for growth and learning for your MK.
Martha J. Strickland is educational coordinator for the missionary development department of CBInternational. Her 1993 pamphlet, Schools in Eastern Europe; or What I Saw in the Schools of Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovenia, is available for $2.95 from CBInternational, Box 5, Wheaton, IL 60189-0005; tel: 708-260-3800; fax: 708-665-1418.
On 15 March 1993 Campus Crusade, United World Mission and American Baptist World Evangelization formed a board to launch the International Christian School of Budapest, set to open in September 1994. At a 10 September 1993 meeting the ICSB board affirmed its support for a traditional day-school concept, but also committed itself to establish learning centers which would provide assistance with nontraditional educational methods for missionary families living in remote areas. CBInternational also joined the ICSB board at this meeting.
On 10 December 1993 the ICSB board established InterCEDE, which serves as an umbrella organization for meeting the educational needs of missionary children throughout East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. InterCEDE gradually became aware of the existence of a parallel organization that had been meeting in the United States: the Committee for Educational Resources in Eastern Europe (CEREE). Supporters included CBInternational, SEND International, Greater Europe Mission, Association of Christian Schools International, Interact, and Black Forest Academy.
InterCEDE and CEREE held a joint meeting in Budapest on 18 February 1994, at which CEREE dissolved itself, turning over its mandate to InterCEDE. At the same time another new organization, SHARE (Services, Helps, Alternative Resources in Education), came under the organizational umbrella of InterCEDE. SHARE's director is Dr. David Brooks of SEND International, 33063 Six Mile Rd., Livonia, MI 48154; tel: 313-425-9171.
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© 1994 East-West Church and Ministry Report