Partnering With Cambodia
Early in the May 19 meeting, someone mentioned "Ephpha-tha," and everyone at the table seemed pleased. Ephpha-tha (Hebrew for "be thou opened") referred to a prep school that had begun operating in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 12 hours earlier.
The people at the table — among them Korean law professor S.K. Lee, Calvin engineering professor Leonard De Rooy and Cambodian Christian Reformed World Relief Committee missionaries Navy Chan and Ly Chhay — represented a partnership between Calvin College and Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea. Together, the schools work to rebuild the cultural infrastructure in Siem Reap, which was destroyed during Khmer Rouge purges in the late 1970s.
During that era, the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 2 million to 3 million Cambodians, mainly leaders and the educated, to establish an agrarian ruling class. "You now have a country that for three generations has had no education," said De Rooy.
The college has been working with Handong since 2003, especially with Lee and architecture professor Hakchul "Ezra" Kim. Among the Calvin-Handong enterprises are a master plan for the village, a university, several kindergartens, three joint January interims and several Calvin senior engineering design projects.
The collaboration has been enlightening for all involved. De Rooy said: "The Calvin and Handong students have wished they could take home the sense of faith and community they have here in Cambodia."
Applying Christianity to Math
A recently introduced math curriculum from Calvin’s Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning is intended to give instructors around the world a different way to teach mathematics.
David Smith, director of the Kuyers Institute, said that the curriculum was written and tested by a team of six math professors and teachers, with the resulting materials designed for use in conjunction with standard high school and middle school curricula.
Smith said the lessons take a distinctively Christian approach to the teaching of mathematics."
They teach that mathematics can inspire delight and awe, pointing beyond itself to God and not merely serving as a means to acquire knowledge and wealth," he said. "And they view math teachers as entrusted with a valuable gift and accountable to God for their stewardship of it."
Smith contrasts this with the approach of some Christian math books, where scripture might be sensitively handled but its relationship to the curriculum can remain superficial. Perhaps the word problems deal with Christian matters, and perhaps there is a scattering of appropriately cited Bible verses among the math activities. But Smith queries, "Do the problems that have to do with money go beyond either earning money or spending it on consumer goods? Are there instances of money being given or shared?"
The materials produced are available for download, free of charge, from the Kuyers Institute Web site. They include lesson plans and other support materials, Smith said, including the development of an appropriate pedagogy, as teachers may not be accustomed to some characteristics of the approach.
Lending a Hand and Ear
It’s gotten so Dan Vandersteen looks forward to seeing people like Chief Brenda and the reverends Kirby Verret and Steve Fulmar. "And then there’s Johnny…," said Vandersteen, a counselor at Calvin’s Broene Center. "He gets all the jobs lined up."
The jobs range from hauling trash to replacing a metal roof to painting homes in the vivid colors that are in favor in Houma, La. As the mentor of a service-learning spring break trip that has traveled to Houma for the last three years, Vandersteen has led groups of students in repairing the ravages left by the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the New Orleans area. "We have five or six work sites," he said. "They’re all over the bayous."
The students supply a helping hand and a listening ear. "Everywhere we go, we listen to the stories," Vandersteen said. "Over and over again, people inform us that just our coming is the blessing, that there is a sense that the world goes on and life goes on, and they’re still struggling with their losses."
The Houma trip is one of many such partnerships that Calvin’s service-learning center nurtures every spring in sites such as Rehoboth, N.M.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Boston, Mass.
Working alongside local Baptist volunteers, meeting with Houma Indians and hearing the stories of longtime residents of Louisiana give students a rare cross-cultural immersion, Vandersteen said. "The first time the students had to explain Calvinism, it was interesting," he said. "That was good for us."