This year, the first day of school is unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. It’s been almost six months since provincial "states of emergency" due to COVID-19 were first proclaimed. Back then, schools scrambled, but rose to the occasion, coming out of March Break ready to educate. On-line learning platforms were quickly put into place, and aside from the bumps and bruises that go along with trying something new, schools were soon in a more comfortable rhythm. The Edvance survey conducted in June showed that Edvance affiliate schools responded with agility and speed, proving able to adopt and implement previously unutilized technology and approaches to engage students and families in rich learning activities and continued relationship.
And yet, short term resiliency does not necessarily imply longer-term ease. For many, the last six months have taken a toll. There is a tonal change as schools have prepared for the return to class—optimism is tempered by anxiousness and some fear. The support from school communities is now showing pockets of resistance. Parents are exploring educational options (such as home-schooling) as opposed to having their children in physical classrooms, masked and socially distanced, with the potential of being exposed to the virus. The looming possibility of a second COVID-19 wave is adding to the insecurity and uncertainty of the return to school.
In normal circumstances, the end of a summer would find most school leaders refreshed, rejuvenated, and rejoicing as they return to the school buildings. Not so much this year. You leaders are perhaps exhausted, feeling like you didn’t get any break from the “COVID relentlessness”, and now September is upon you. It is possible you feel the pressure and can see the toll this stress is taking on everyone around you. Deficit budgets, disgruntled parents, tired staffs, and ornery boards—all are beginning to wear on emotions, decisions, and mood.
Throughout the centuries, God’s people have faced times of uncertainty. There is an Old Testament story that comes at a turning point in the biblical narrative (You can read the full account in Exodus 13 and 14). After 400 years in slavery, God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt to the promised land. Only after God repeatedly showed His power over the Egyptian gods and magicians through the ten plagues did Pharaoh relent and allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. But soon after they left, Pharaoh realized the loss of his work force and set out after them to bring them back. The writer of Exodus states that God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that he will pursue the Israelites.
Meanwhile, God instructed Moses to lead the people to encamp by the sea—a place that would ultimately trap the Egyptians. However, the Israelites, seeing the sea on one side and the Egyptian forces on the other, felt trapped themselves. This was a crisis, and the people of Israel voiced their fear, worry and displeasure to Moses (and God). Not for the last time, the Israelites expressed their desire for the familiarity of slavery rather than die in the desert.
But in the midst of this looming crisis, we see a beautiful picture of God’s care. He instructed Moses to tell the people to stand firm—stand firm in this context is similar to a reference found in Psalm 46 to “be still”: not taking up a defensive position or arming for battle but rather not being anxious. God asked the people to “be still and trust Him”.
And then, once the angel of God and the pillar of cloud separated them from the Egyptians the Israelites were instructed to move on.
Stand firm. And then move on.
Today I want to encourage you with those two same instructions as you lead your community.
Stand firm. God has been, and is, with us! We have witnessed His pillar of cloud lighting our way and His angel leading us, particularly in the last six months. God is saying “I’ve got this”. He is a faithful God who repeatedly says “Do not fear”. Stand firm in Him. Model this to your communities. Work and live in this belief. Remember your own agility and ability to engage new approaches and embrace under-utilized, but promising, ways forward. Repeat as a profession of your faith: “I will stand firm; I will not fear, because I know from experience and faith that God has got this”. The apostle Paul gives a similar instruction in I Corinthians 16:13 when he says “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.”
But then also heed the next command to “move on”. John Calvin described the providence of God as a springboard to action rather than an armchair from where we sit and let things happen. You have made your reopening of school plans. You have prayerfully and thoughtfully set a direction. Now, as Moses and the Israelites did, step forward in faith.
This next phase has been described as the “new normal”. As you navigate through the next few months, let us, as Christians in education, step forward together, standing firm with our God who has always been there as our protector and shield, and knowing that He is leading us in this journey.
May you be blessed as you kick off your school year.
(Note: The core ideas in this devotional were inspired by a sermon recently preached by former Redeemer University professor, Al Wolters. To deepen your experience, you can listen to the full sermon Standing Firm in a Time of Crisis at https://youtu.be/Rv1qAzRnN4E)