By JENNIFER DURHAM
It was Sunday, July 30th, 2017 when we first got the news. Our principal had resigned … and just like that our gem of a classical school was no more.
The next forty-eight hours were a blur of activity in our home. … The school that had become our anchor of stability since our move from Atlanta three years prior, the families that our children had grown to love and the teachers that had whole-heartedly invested in us with genuine love and concern, it was all gone. It no longer existed. Just like that, with no warning, no time to prepare, the beauty of what the Lord had provided as an answer to prayer three years ago was gone.
Public school would be starting back in just two weeks in some school districts, and as the late-night phone calls for the interim board continued … the initial panic began to set in. Where were our children going to go to school?
Classical education was a path I had researched and desired for my children before we even moved out to California. It is a very intentional, detail-oriented, purposeful way of educating children that takes full advantage of the developmental stages of the brain. The methods classical education uses waste nothing, not one minute of time or one opportunity to celebrate and encourage learning. My children were thriving in this environment. They loved school, their teachers, and the small classes of students.
My options now were public school, another non-classical private school (of which there were several to choose from), or some form of classical home-schooling. I didn’t like any of these options. I didn’t feel good about, passionate about, or drawn to any of these choices. I wanted what my children had. I wanted it for myself, and I wanted it for them. But what did God want? What was His plan in these circumstances? And so, the inner battle began between faith and doubt, trust in my strength or God’s strength.
Within the first week of August, parents from our school were up in arms. We all loved our school! We couldn’t understand how or why this had happened so suddenly and abruptly. Meetings were held. Feelings were hurt. Perceptions shifted rapidly from one extreme to another. People were hurt, angry, worried. We all began to grapple with what were the best options, choices, courses forward for our children. The clock was ticking. Time was running out—or so we thought. Looking back, I now realize there was no rush to start school. I could have enrolled my children anywhere in the middle of October, and they would have managed fine, but at the time, in the moment, it felt imperative to their well-being to have a plan, to make a choice, and to move forward. It was time to go back to school, after all.
But our choices just weren’t good. The interim board of selected and willing parents that had formed to work alongside our principal began working even more fervently. My husband literally worked two full-time jobs for the month of August—the one he got paid for and for the board of what was then a non-existent school. The parents on this new board were all passionate about classical education. We wanted this option for our children, but how?
We had a principal. We had a pool of willing teachers to hire … . We had interested families; families who wanted to make this work. We thought this was all we had. We hoped this would be enough. So, through daily prayer and a steady determination to keep moving forward, the new board members decided we wanted to start a new school … . Thus, The Geneva School was born out of necessity, some desperation, and a passionate desire to see our children educated classically.
By the end of the first week of August, we had a name, we had a logo even, now we just needed a location, and this is where the journey got tough and rocky and unsure. A location in southern Orange County capable of housing the sixty students that remained interested was not readily available or inexpensive to find. Thus, began the long weeks of hopes getting up and being let down as location after location after location began to be a closed door. The new board was working tirelessly, relentlessly even, but no door was opening, not yet.
Public school started, and we understandably lost a few more families. The third week in August many of the private schools in the area were gearing up to begin school for the year. Without a definite location nailed down, we understandably lost a few more families.
During those first three weeks of August, Joey and I had done our due diligence. We had bathed everything in prayer. We had toured and even applied to another local private school. When the office staff was floored by how well our children tested on their entrance exams, I knew we would be doing our children a disservice to give up so easily. They were almost an entire year ahead of their grade level compared to other private schools, and their potential was only just beginning to be tapped.
But it wasn’t just about the academics. It was about what Joey and I felt the Lord was calling us to do. This was a path the Lord placed us smack in the middle of for a reason. He wanted us to walk this path by faith. He wanted us to give it our all and trust Him. He was calling us to stay the course and start a new school. And so like Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade,” we began the process of taking steps across a bottomless chasm with nothing in front of us, just the ability to take the next step. God showed up at every step as the solid footing beneath our feet, but for six weeks, we had nothing to really trust but the calling of the Lord Himself. Each step was one of faith into the unknown.
By the fourth week in August, we had one final location. It was literally our last option. If this didn’t work, there were no other locations to pursue. We waited in constant vigil for the church board to vote to approve our occupancy, and as we waited, we understandably lost a few more families. We had gone from sixty committed students the first of August to now forty students. Our teachers would have to take a pay-cut at this number, and we would have to do some serious fundraising to make ends meet. To say things looked and felt bleak would be an understatement. The only thing that kept our feet on this path was knowing this is what God wanted for our family. To the bitter end, flight or failure, we were supposed to try and start this school.
What was even more encouraging and inspiring for me was watching my husband come along side and fight for this together. Education had always been “my” thing as the mom and former educator. Joey had always just bent in whatever direction I felt led. This was different though. Together through prayer, I saw the Lord change his heart, and I saw my husband go to war for his family. He saw something valuable and important to his children being wrongly taken, and he fought for them. He fought for us, and watching him step up and step into this responsibility without hesitation or even doubt was inspiring, encouraging, and endearing. My children saw their dad fight for them. They saw him never give up, back down, or lose faith. I don’t know what they will remember from this experience later in life, but I hope it sticks to them in all the good ways for all the right reasons. Nothing God ever calls us to do is ever wasted, so I believe more seeds were planted through this process in our family’s story than I can even begin to understand.
As we waited in hopeful expectation for our location to be approved, I was reminded of the story of Gideon. Of how God took an army of 10,000 and dwindled it down to the 300 He wanted to use. Why? So, God would get all the glory, and no man would be able to take credit for the victory God provided.
Thursday, August 31st, 2017, The Geneva School was approved to occupy a new location, exactly one month from when the previous school had fallen apart. In the next eleven days, the remaining 25 families painted an entire wing of the church, outfitted classrooms with bookshelves, desks, white boards, and even short-throw projectors. We ordered new school uniforms and showed up for the first day of classes Tuesday, September 12th, 2017. Forty students, grades kindergarten through eighth would be continuing the classical education we had all grown to love and believe passionately. Thirteen of our teachers remained to answer the calling to teach our children, to invest in an eternal opportunity to impact the lives of the next generation.
In six weeks, God started a new school.
Looking back, I realize He orchestrated the perfect group of people to accomplish this task. The new board members had experience in business, previous board experience, non-profit organizations, finances, entrepreneurial start-ups, educational expertise and marketing. Among our group of parents, we had connections to graphic designers, legal contacts, real estate, photographers and generous wallets. Almost half of our teachers are also parents of enrolled students. We asked for prayer through this process, and friends and family joined in full support. We asked for donations, and people showed up with all manor of supplies from copiers and paper to paint supplies and furniture and so much more.
Our school was built in six weeks because God put together a uniquely qualified team of people to accomplish the task. We each took steps of faith, using the gifts and resources and strengths God had already equipped us with, and together, God built a school. A school I pray continues to be viable and influential in the lives of children for decades to come.
Our school continues to function by faith. Praise the Lord, we confidently make pay roll every month, but the opportunity for growth and the possibilities for what we can continue to accomplish are endless with the right funding. So, we pray for funding, and we continue to give of our time, talents, and tithe as sacrificially as the Lord leads. With only 25 families, this is not easy. No one gets to just drop their kid off at school and go about their day without another thought. Every parent is invested and involved and needed. We all have a part to play and a role of responsibility to make this school work. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding and fulfilling to wake up every day and know without a doubt that this is the right path, the right choice, the right thing to do.
The lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn through this journey are so many! I’ve never understood better the relationship between faith and works. Faith in God is the glue that holds you to the path set before you; works is the engine that moves you forward, one step at a time, one legal form filed, one purchase made, one prayer prayed and believed.
I’ve never experienced such a physical working of the body of Christ like this before. Each person uniquely equipped to work as God created and gifted them to function, all coming together to accomplish the purpose He set before us. Everyone was needed and appreciated, and where someone was weak another was strong. I pray I never doubt again what the Lord can accomplish through His people. I pray I continue to step into roles He has uniquely equipped me to accomplish the rest of my life because though my one part to play doesn’t seem like much, collectively it is accomplishing more than I can think or imagine in the kingdom of God.
Lastly, I’ve learned the value of staying the course, even when you think it might end in failure. When you’ve been called to a task, you see it through to the end. You keep the faith. You take the next step. You stay resolved and steadfast. You endure. You don’t jump ship out of fear, urgency or doubt. The only reason Joey and I would have pursued a different path is if we had the peace of God to turn a different way, but we never did. God’s peace was the steadying force in the pit of my stomach even during tears of uncertainty and waves of doubts. I learned the importance of not moving in a different direction based on my feelings in the moment or based on the direction others were taking. My journey with the Lord is my journey, and it will and should look and feel very different from what others are experiencing. That’s the beauty of a relationship with Jesus; it’s a relationship as unique as my marriage with my husband is compared to anyone else’s marriage, and we are most assuredly better and stronger together, no matter how difficult things may become.
God started a school in six weeks, and it’s been a privilege and an honor to have a small part to play. I pray others will hear this story and be encouraged to stay the course and inspired to pursue the path God has placed you on for today, for this season of life. He is constantly and for all eternity working in ways we cannot fathom or plan to orchestrate. We must trust and believe His plan and stay the course to have a story to tell, a victory to share, and glory to give. Thank you, Jesus, for gifting a crown, a gem of a school, we can gladly give back to You.
By Jennifer Durham