Every Christian school operates within a specific context—and there are a host of challenges, opportunities, and cultural realities unique to that context. Just ask Paul Oueis, this year’s interim Principal at Redeemer Christian High School in Ottawa. As someone who was born in Syria, lived in Montreal for seven years and served as academic Dean and Principal at Beirut Baptist Academy in Lebanon, he brings an interesting perspective to what a Christian school can look like in its community.
Conversations with Oueis about his years at Beirut Baptist Academy prove that there are more ways than one for a Christian school to follow Christ’s example. Looking back at his former workplace he explained that teachers were sometimes limited in what they could say about faith in the classroom—but many were intentional about “living a Christian life in front of their students”.
Oueis pointed out that this can always be a goal for teachers. “What we can do is be a model to students, show them compassion, and show them a Christian difference in their lives.”
In fact, the school as as a whole can show a Christian difference “in its way of dealing with parents—from accepting criticism, to having an open heart, an open office, and an open door”.
Oueis saw this hospitality in action at Beirut Baptist Academy when Israel attacked the south of Lebanon, and thousands of people settled in the school’s surrounding area.
“There were hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees. The school opened the doors to the refugees - we welcomed them and put beds in the classrooms (they could do this because it was summer time). These kind of actions show a Christian difference.”
As Oueis acclimatizes to a completely different school environment in Ottawa, Ontario, he’s noticing that a school’s “Christian difference” can take on a variety of beautiful forms. Although Redeemer won’t be setting up beds in its classroom this year, Paul said that he’s already impressed and amazed by “the quality of the teachers, with their passion, with their Christian vision of a school, and with the involvement of the community.”
“It’s a totally different experience,” he noted. “This is a school that is deeply involved in the community and the community is deeply involved with the school … the volunteering, the committees, the board. Every function of the school involves one parent or another. But the most amazing is really the commitment of the teachers. I was really moved; one day before school started, teachers broke into groups and prayed for every single student by name, also mentioning their strengths and their gifts.”
Praying for students is one way, among many, that Redeemer aims to live out its faith. Exploring questions about worldview, justice, and meaning in the classroom are also a big part of the school’s commitment to Christian education.
Over the years, this mission has resonated with many parents. A telling quote from the Clemenger family, which appears on the school’s website, explains why:
“Being able to bring questions to school about the nature of justice, of good and evil, about life’s purpose and meaning, forgiveness and redemption, and of hope and integrity, goes to the heart of what learning is all about. Important too, is having a community around our daughter who shares similar questions. Understanding the centrality of a God who cares about human beings and the world is integral to advancing the well-being of the next generation.”
Oueis doesn’t take those opportunities for granted—he knows that chances to talk about faith freely in the classroom aren’t necessarily a given, even in many Christian schools around the world.
At his former workplace, Beirut Baptist Academy, less than 150 of the 1200 students came from Christian families. Although students learn about Christ through chapel services and in Bible courses, teachers have to be extremely cautious about what they say in the classroom. “We were very careful not to say anything that would be misinterpreted as derogatory towards Islam. This is the kind of fine line we have to tread all the time”, said Oueis.
“That sort of challenge is different than the challenges faced at Redeemer,” said Oueis. “In the west, the secular view is that the individual is ‘the centre of things’. You have this contrast that you need to work with, and it’s a major change that you have to install in student’s mind: It’s not all about you—It’s about God.”
As teachers and students at Redeemer consider the centrality of God together—in their studies, in their work out in community, in hands on and projects and classroom discussions—they may find themselves living in a way that looks counter cultural, and perhaps, even strange to some. But Ouesis has tremendous faith in the ability of Redeemer staff to make the experience of living differently a meaningful one.