‘Remember your promise’
When Tim and his wife moved to Asia, they had a plan. They would serve as Christian educators for a few years in Hong Kong, then move to teach in another more spiritually deprived country. But soon, two years in Hong Kong turned into 11, and Tim and his family never made the move.
In 2009, Tim found himself saying goodbye to a dear friend and mentor who served faithfully as a missionary to those with little spiritual witness in East Asia. Before Dave passed away, he charged Tim one last time. “God has called you to something greater,” he said, “and I want you to remember your promise to make an impact for [East Asia].”
Tim started Sunrise Academy* in East Asia with just six students later that year.
‘Gateway to the gospel’
Sunrise Academy stands out in stark contrast to other local schools — largely because Sunrise Academy operates as a Christian school in a country where Christianity is legally restricted.
Students at Sunrise Academy study an online North American Christian curriculum. Many do not come from Christian families; their parents enroll them so they have a better shot at attending a North American university.
Tim’s vision, however, is that the platform of education would be used as a “gateway for the gospel.”
The daily environment at Sunrise Academy is similar to a homeschool cooperative. In the morning, teachers circulate the room to answer students’ questions about the material and administer exams. After lunch, the students continue their learning in a traditional classroom model, studying subjects like religion, English and creative writing.
‘Why are we here?’
When Bethany and her husband, Scott, connected with Tim, they were newly married, newly graduated from college and without a clear career path. Tim told the couple about an opportunity to pursue their passion for education by teaching overseas.
Bethany and Scott committed to teach at Sunrise Academy for one year. They stayed for two.
Bethany remembers the panic she felt her first week in East Asia. She couldn’t read menus or the bus stop signs to get to work, and she found the triple-digit heat index to be unbearable. She asked Scott, “Why are we here?”
She found the answer in her classroom day after day.
Each morning, Bethany began by racing her kids to school to plan for a packed agenda. The desks were arranged in a circle, so as students arrived, Bethany floated from desk to desk, answering questions, helping with quizzes and preparing students for tests.
When the lunch bell rang, the teacher-student roles reversed as Bethany’s students taught her their favorite card games with rules that Bethany laughingly says always seemed to be shifting.
After lunch, Bethany led groups of students together in learning communities and classes. It was here that Bethany saw her teaching moments become discipleship moments, too.
She remembers a weekly activity in which she would pose a question to the class. “You’d start with a silly question like, ‘Would you rather be a shark or an octopus?’ And you’d end up talking about God,” Bethany says.
For Bethany, earning the opportunity to talk about spiritual matters was a function of trust. “It was just giving the kids the opportunity … to get to know [us] and be comfortable with [us] and be truly free to say what they wanted to, and we wouldn’t laugh at them or shut them down. …
“We took all of their questions really seriously, and they learned that we respected them, even if it seemed to be off topic or a little bit odd.”
‘I don’t want him in my school’
One particular student Bethany remembers was harder to connect with. She met Chen* at a summer camp before school even started.
“He was a terror, “ she recalls. “He was teaching people swear words. … He was hitting kids. He was running around screaming when he wasn’t supposed to. He was just completely undisciplined and uncontrolled.”
Bethany told her boss, “I don’t want him in my school.” But, her boss saw something in Chen and accepted him at Sunrise Academy.
“As I expected, the first week he was a nightmare,” Bethany says. “He would sit upside down on his chair. He’d put his feet over the edge of his desk. … He wouldn’t finish his work. He wouldn’t do his work well. It was crazy. And basically, I told Scott, ‘This kid drives me nuts.’”
But Bethany realized that the change she wanted to see in her relationship with Chen needed to start with herself. She personally resolved, “I’m just going to pretend that I like him every time I go to his desk. I don’t care if I don’t like him. … I’m going to smile, and I’m going to treat him with all the love I can.”
After several weeks of choosing to love Chen, he started to soften. “You know, Miss Bethany,” he said, “I’m tired of being bad. I think I’m going to try to be better this week.”
“That’s a great idea,” Bethany responded.
Chen eventually opened up to Bethany about his family. “My dad died when I was five, and I miss him a lot,” he shared. “I just have to live with Mom, and she’s really nice, but I wish I had a dad.”
Bethany says after this, their relationship blossomed. “He would often come to me and say, ‘Miss Bethany, last night I had a bad night.’ … And he’d tell me [about it].” Bethany would reassure him, “‘We’ll watch out for you today, okay?’ And we would pray for him.”
‘Missionaries that can teach’
Eventually, Bethany and Scott returned to Canada, but still keep in touch some of their students and their families online.
Today, the classrooms at Sunrise Academy continue to swell, and a second campus opened this year. There are serious needs for more teachers like Bethany and Scott, to serve as intern, short-term or mid-term teachers. But not just anyone will fit the mold.
“Obviously, we are not looking for teachers,” Tim says. “We are looking for missionaries who can teach.”
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