By Brent Hamoud
Schools burst with importance: they impart knowledge, develop skills, build character, cultivate good citizenship, and nurture relationships across many levels. Everyone believes in the need for schools and their critical role in human flourishing. This was among the motivations for Protestant missionaries who came to the Middle East many years ago, and their goodwill materialized into a host of educational institutions established and made accessible to new generations of learners. Historians widely recognize the impact such schools and universities had on lives and society. Though certainly not flawless, they provided something meaningful, and surely no one today wishes for a version of Middle Eastern history in which missional schools never existed.
There is no shortage of ways to account for the importance of schools, but my own assessment always comes back to something that is often underappreciated: schools, when done well, are a profound type of home. By being a home-like place of learning, schools can make an impact extending across lifetimes.
Home is a most endearing quality of the human experience. It constitutes a core need within each of us. We all feel something good when we arrive home, and everyone feels a deep pain whenever home is lost, damaged, or denied (and the world continues to find new ways to inflict such grief). Home is where we have the security to be ourselves as we grow more and more into our unique selves. Simply put, home is a place we belong. That schools can and should be a home makes as much sense as 2+2=4.
“Children spend more time at a school than most any other place during their young lifetimes, and the time can leave a lifelong impression.”
Children spend more time at school than at any other place during their young lifetimes, and this time can leave a lifelong impression. Young people benefit from being part of a place where they are known and their presence is valued. Though a learning community will never substitute family, schools do provide abundant opportunities to experience enduring relationships of sisterhood and brotherhood. In situations where a child endures brokenness at home, this dynamic of homeyness is a true source of solace. Their reach is extensive; schools do not only serve the students daily entering their doors but also the network of loved ones who send them off each day. Parents must put a great deal of trust in schools, and they do this with little hesitation when they believe a school is like a home of learning for their precious ones.
Interestingly, stay-at-home measures during the pandemic affirmed the home-quality of schools. Remaining at home actually made many feel less at home in the world, and the return to physical classrooms proved to be a homecoming from a strange type of exile. This was not only the case for students; teams of teachers, administrators, and staff embraced the return as well. These educators make themselves at home in schools even as they exert themselves in the service of others. The calling to bring up a new generation becomes something much more than academics when it is lived out within a learning community that recognizes the sweetness of home and seeks to reflect it.
From a perspective of faith, nothing about the meaning of home should surprise us. Such sentiments are rooted in the Gospel because God truly cares about home. Its substance is embedded within the very act of creation as all things were made and placed to be at home and belong in the world. Scripture declares “God is our dwelling place,” and God desires for all people to dwell well in the places they find themselves.
The sight of a school where children gather in a culture of faith, care, and inclusion is truly a delight to heaven! When people are part of places that do this by pointing to the good news of Jesus Christ then it means God is invited to impart the glory and hope of an eternal home. Many have discovered their true home through ministries like this.
Reflecting on home has a dampening effect as well. Such a paradigm magnifies the misfortune striking much of the Middle East in recent years. Hard times are hitting many societies and their schools, and in Lebanon it means suffering a harsh set of ordeals. Layers of crisis undermine schools and leave education inaccessible to a growing crowd of children. It’s compromising countless futures as barrier after barrier is thrown in front of the next generation. The pain is especially excruciating for parents who wish nothing more than to see their children learn and prosper. The consequences of society’s failures now will be reaped down the road. For too many lives it is already too late to get education back on track. The shelf life for their schooling has already expired.
Despite the confluence of challenges, dedicated souls in Lebanon are keeping schools going. They make sure doors of learning remain open even as external pressures push to close them. Doing school has never been an easy task, and declining conditions threaten to make it impossible. The fact that dedicated teams of women and men continue to press on is nothing short of heroism. Their commitments to young lives are driven more by devotion to good than any pursuit of material gain. In the future when much brighter days come, it will be the teachers today who should receive the bulk of the credit for pulling so many through. There comes a time when home must be fought for, and faithful folks who have been fighting a good fight, will be the ones who keep homes of education alive.
For many schools, the end of an academic year is the most special time of the year. Pride and excitement swells as graduates cross ceremonial stages towards the paths aid out ahead of them. A graduate’s accomplishment is hard earned. This is particularly the case for the current group of students in Lebanon who endured no shortage of destabilizing and explosive events during recent years. Even though graduation induces bliss (and relief), the thrill of the moment also brings a tinge of heaviness as young people say goodbye to places and people that have meant so much to their promising lives. Part of experiencing home is letting go of it, and graduations are invariably a ritual of farewell. Great schools have a way of mixing sadness with joy every time their students graduate. It’s a beautiful thing.
We carry pieces of home with us wherever we go, and as long as schools exist to teach, raise-up, and cultivate young lives then we have faith that pieces of schools will be carried as well. Creating schools that are steeped in hope and love is part of the Lord’s work. They impact lives immeasurably, and each one in its own little way makes this world more of a home. Though schools may pause for a season, the work of homes never ends and the importance of schools is ongoing.