Foundational Missions

For EduDeo, Short-Term Projects Build Long-Term Success

By Craig Macartney

In Western culture, Christian schools usually fill a niche, providing Christ-centred education for children from Christian families. Around the world, however, they fulfill a much larger purpose in advancing the gospel. It is this opportunity that Hamilton-based EduDeo Ministries has leapt into as a way of fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The Church is spreading very quickly in a lot of other countries,” states Hank de Jong, EduDeo’s executive director. “In my experience, soon to follow the growth of the Church are these Christian schools that are springing up all over the world. In some cases Christian schools are the only options for kids in these areas and only 20 or 30 percent of the students are Christians. What an incredible platform to share the love of Christ with students who otherwise would never hear it.”

EduDeo’s name comes from combining “Edu” for education and “Deo”, the Latin word for God. De Jong explains they wanted their name to reflect their vision of seeing every community transformed by the gospel. They do this by providing infrastructure improvement (building and expanding school facilities), teacher training, and financial support to indigenous partner ministries in the developing world.

“One of the criticisms of mission teams is that unemployment rates are really high in these countries, so why are we sending people to go build a school? We take that very seriously. There are lots of short-term mission trips that are done poorly. Our perspective is that if they are done well, there is a place for them.”

In EduDeo’s case, de Jong says short-term mission trips actually provide long-term employment for the local economies.

“We don’t try to be competitive from a price standpoint because we want to bring tremendous value to our partners. Every team raises $5,000 to $8,000 for the construction project.”

That money far outlasts the teams’ stay.

The main criticism of short-term missions can actually be a benefit, de Jong says, when trips are planned well.

“In Nicaragua we work with an association of 92 Christian schools. It’s a huge network and the needs are phenomenal. We have a crew of Nicaraguans who work year round, just based on the funding raised by these short-term teams.”

But the trips are not just a means to an end. De Jong says the benefit, very much, goes both ways.

DeWayne Fry says until three years ago he really resisted going on a mission trip. He says he didn’t want the inconvenience, but he felt God clearly speaking to him while attending a Promise Keepers event.

Fry signed up for an EduDeo trip “partly because of the tremendous work EduDeo does, working with Promise Keepers. I am most impressed with the integrity that EduDeo operates under. God is using them to impact the lives of thousands of children, drawing them to Him through education.”

Despite his initial hesitance, Fry says, “The three trips I have been on have been the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life.”

Another person who was powerfully impacted is Abe Thiessen, the owner of a small construction company from Manitoba. Thiessen says he used to think short-term mission trips were a waste of time. That changed when he was invited, through Promise Keepers, on an EduDeo trip.

“I went to help with the construction project. I never really thought about it impacting me. I was supervising the jobsite, so I was more focused on the job than what was happening around me.”

At one point the team leader asked Thiessen to put down his tools and spend some time with the local kids. While he was playing with them, the school principal told him a bit about the community and mentioned that the kids probably had not eaten that day.

“It hit me really hard that I was playing with these kids who aren’t eating. We were eating fairly well, so I approached the other guys and we ended up giving our lunch to the kids instead of eating it. Some of them took us to their home to meet their mother. As we were walking through the garbage and the raw sewage, we saw the conditions they were living in. It was really life-changing.”

Thiessen has been on six trips now. As he helps organize the outings, he is very intentional about getting team members to spend time with the kids. The experience also completely reversed his perspective on shortterm missions.

“When youth would come to me looking for money to go on these missions trips, I just thought it was a big vacation. After going on one, I never refuse someone. I’m 100 per cent behind them. They are life-changing.”

De Jong says these trips, when done well, can humanize the struggles of the developing world.

“The poor in our world are often a statistic,” he says. “When it comes with a posture of humility and servanthood, going to visit a community, meet the people, and pray with them can do wonders in providing dignity to the poor.”

Many EduDeo participants say that impact affects them even after they return. Thiessen, for example, got involved with a community outreach group in downtown Winnipeg.

“These trips encourage a missional perspective,” de Jong states. “We’ve seen individuals who go, and it lights a fire for local missional living. It makes people ask what it looks like to live out their faith in their local community.

“We’ve all heard a young guy get up in church and say, ‘That was awesome!’ but then two weeks later he has forgotten all about it. The secret in short-term missions is the amount of follow up and debrief that teams have.”

One way EduDeo does that is by having every participant, whether they are a construction worker or a youth group member, write a letter to themselves before leaving.

“We send those letters out three months later. The letters are designed to be an accountability piece that reminds them what happened.”

EduDeo also builds devotional times into the trips so they can become a kind of spiritual retreat for participants.

Calvin Douma has gone on a  short-term mission trip with EduDeo since 2009. He works for Slotegraaf Construction. Every year, he organizes a group of fellow construction workers to volunteer their time, while Slotegraaf Construction covers the costs. For the past seven years, the team has returned to the same school.

“Everyone who goes along are skilled trades or skilled labourers. When we got there the school was using a church building that shared the site. They had three classrooms. Our team has been part of adding three more on the main floor and six on the second floor.”

The team devotional times are something that really stands out to Douma.

“The Bible studies and devotions we do together, as a group of guys who you typically don’t spend that time doing Bible studies with, that’s a real impact. That’s been a big part of the trips for us.”

As to the value for the community, Douma says, “Building a school, you’re doing more than building a house for one family. You’re helping a whole community and it starts with Christ-centred education for the students.”

While infrastructure is important, Douma is also impressed with another aspect of the work EduDeo does.

“One thing they do well is they aren’t just focused on building the physical schools. They have curriculum teacher training. Rather than sending people in, giving them a building, and leaving, it’s an ongoing process that they continue to support throughout.”

In 2011, EduDeo went through a rebrand and began investing heavily in helping their partners train teachers to lead from a biblical perspective.

“Buildings are important, money is important, but neither of those of themselves transforms lives,” de Jong explains. “It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes lives. We believe real transformation happens when teachers know how to teach from a Christian perspective. That was our commitment and our desire to incorporate Christ into everything, into every subject.”

When Christian teachers recognize the narrative of Scripture, how the whole story points back to Christ, and when they have help translating that into their work, it changes lives.

“It impacts the way they teach. It impacts how they interact with students. It helps them see their work as a calling from God, as opposed to a job. Even the way they treat the kids, they understand these kids are made in the image of God. It hugely impacts how they interact with them. It frames everything they do in a much bigger context.”

By providing their partners with training as well as physical infrastructure and support, EduDeo believes whole communities can be transformed.

“The needs are tremendous. We take skilled people, but there are also many opportunities for unskilled people to help out. The bigger thing people need is a desire to serve. You aren’t just building a school. You are actually building hope in a student’s life. This is a real, tangible opportunity to help students to learn about the love of Jesus through Christ-centred education.”

CRAIG MACARTNEY is a freelance writer who lives in Ottawa, and is the former Eastern Correspondent for ChristianWeek. Watch for upcoming trips at: