As a follow-up to my last post about our phenomenal basketball teams, see the articles in the Grand Rapids Press for a review of Tuesday night’s Varsity Girls game and Wednesday night’s Varsity Boys game.
For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…
Last Thursday our Varsity Boys Basketball team won the Alliance League Championship in a neck-n-neck, edge-of-your-seat game with a score of 59-56. We were tied at halftime, four points behind at the top of the fourth, we came up from behind in the last two minutes of the game. It was a fantastic performance.
The girls’ team has not disappointed, either. Friday night our Varsity Girls team won the District Championship, which is the first district title in PH basketball history. I had the opportunity to hand out roses at Senior Night for our girls’ varsity team. They have had a phenomenal season.
This has been a great year for Potter’s House basketball. I was at one boys’ varsity game where we had 38 points before the other team even made a basket. There have been times where we’ve been 40 points ahead of the other team.
This brings back many memories of Potter’s House history in basketball and in sports in general. In our early days with middle school sports, our team did not have uniforms. They wore T-shirts and whatever basketball shorts they could find. They traveled to their games not in a bus, but in an old, beat-up van with a side mirror that was actually attached with duct tape. Sometimes en route, their mirror would collapse on the side of the van until the duct tape was refreshed. The kids would oftentimes whine, “We don’t have uniforms, we have a van with a mirror taped on, we’re the only school with a name like The Potter’s House, and on top of everything else, we lose every game.
We have truly come a long way in our sports program through the dedication of our many coaches and volunteers, who are not only training our students in skills on the teams and through summer camps, but also training in character. They are weaving spirituality, character, and obedience to Jesus into all of their coaching. Their hard work has paid off on many levels. We’ve beat some teams we never thought we would beat. We’re enjoying a season of victories.
I’ve gone to many a game where we were slaughtered. Knowing the stories of the players on that court and the many countries and backgrounds they represented, I would take joy in knowing that, even though we were losing, there was something more powerful going on. I was witnessing a group of boys from many different backgrounds, some very difficult backgrounds, and many different cultures, who had learned to love each other and treat each other as a team. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.
That having been said, I take even a slightly greater joy in seeing that team take charge of the floor with a crushing victory. A big thanks to all those who, with great patience and long hours, have worked to make this possible, not only in basketball but in soccer, baseball, volleyball, football, track and field, and bowling.
A couple of weeks ago I talked about how TPH alumni are leading in places around the world, carrying the mission of the school to new areas beyond what we ever expected when we started over 33 years ago. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I have another story to share with you this week that underlines our mission.
Leadership can never be over-emphasized in schools because the norm for far too many students is to simply coast along, doing easy things that don’t require effort, imagination, or discomfort. Our students have so much more potential than that, and they demonstrate that in many ways. They’re not content to follow the easy path, but they seek to “Do Hard Things,” as Alex and Brett Harris talk about in their book by the same title, which our 8th graders read each year.
Last week in Career Awareness, our 8th grade class had the opportunity to hear Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk in one of his last speeches before retirement (he retired Friday, in fact). We have Chief Belk speak almost every year, and it’s always a privilege to have him. In honor of his retirement, our students presented the chief with a blessing bowl, remembering his many years of faithful service, his goals for the future, and the excellent job he’s done integrating his faith and calling. Then a small group of students gathered around Chief Belk and prayed prayers of blessing. Joining Chief Belk were Officer Rich Prince from the K-9 unit and Michigan State Police Trooper Daniel Mehari.
Trooper Mehari is a 2007 graduate of The Potter’s House. He came to TPH because he wanted to attend a school with more diversity. After graduating, he served in the Marine Corps, attended Hope College to study communications and religion, and began working with urban kids. He didn’t like what he saw in terms of how many adolescent kids were negatively impacted by drugs and crime, so he decided to apply to the Michigan State Police.
He’s now a trooper and says he wouldn’t be in that position without the teachers and mentors he had. He is grateful for the way TPH staff sought to develop him and other students as a whole person. At The Potter’s House, we often talk about the first part of our mission to offer Christ-centered education to students no matter what their background, but it’s when we hear stories like this that remind us of the end goal of this education: equipping them to serve God and society to their fullest potential.
This is just what Trooper Mehari is doing, and this is exactly what I envision for our 8th graders who get to hear these stories of service and success each week as they consider what career God might be calling them to. They are being equipped to not just use their gifts, but to use them to their fullest potential. And this is only possible through the power of Christ.
One of our alumni, Nancy Toledo, recently moved to Argentina after missions training with YWAM in Australia. This young woman has a heart to see people set free from spiritual bondage in the name of Jesus. Her heart beats for the marginalized and the unloved, and she is truly living out the mission of The Potter’s House to her fullest potential.
A few years ago, Nancy didn’t have the fire she does today.
I grew up going to church, and it was simply a routine. I never truly knew the power of the cross. I never grasped its goodness. I knew all the Bible stories, but my heart was full of unbelief. I dealt with depression. But God showed me his grace, and now I’m telling everyone else the craziest story I’ve ever heard: the Gospel.
I received an email update from her yesterday, talking about some of the very challenging situations she has faced during the short time she has been in Argentina. She ended with a prayer request for safety and open hearts in the midst of spiritual battles.
Despite the obvious setbacks in her ministry, her letter was full of joy, describing how happy she was to be able to share God’s love with His children in that part of the world. She concluded with the statement, “I love how God makes even the worst things work for our good!”
When The Potter’s House began with 12 students in a church basement, we never imagined just how far reaching this school’s impact would be. These last few years I’ve heard from many people who have been inspired to do great community development in Grand Rapids, the United States, and around the world. David and Emily Romero are one example (I mentioned David in my last blog post). They started a school similar to The Potter’s House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Then there’s Jonathan VanKeulen, an alumnus who moved back into the Roosevelt Park neighborhood to renovate a house for foster youth transitioning into independent living. I also recently heard from Danny Verbrugge, who is another alumnus who moved back, and has started working at the Hispanic Center as a translator. The stories continue. I recently heard from yet another person who is carrying the mission of The Potter’s House into new places.
This is Marcus Oatis from Kansas City, Missouri. My wife and I visited your campus in April of 2013. I just wanted to keep you posted about what has been happening with the vision we had for starting an urban Christian school. This past May, we concluded our community interest project and based on the data we received, we decided to keep moving forward. As of this past month, we have officially incorporated and are now ironing out the details of launching our school in the Fall of 2015. The name of the school is Providence School of Arts. We have also found a fiscal sponsor. We will utilize this organization until we are officially declared a 501c3 by the IRS.
Can you all at the Potters House please continue to pray for us? I have listed some specific items below.
- Location: We are currently looking for a location/neighborhood to start the school at. I have a meeting with a neighborhood association who desires to redevelop their community. Please pray that this meeting will go well. If not, that God will continue to lead us to the right location.
- Team: I currently have three board members and am seeking a couple more. Please pray that we will find the “right” people. As I am finding out, not everyone has the desire or passion to participate in the development of the city….a little too much into themselves. Ask God that he could help us be better servants and that we can find team members that have a servants heart.
- Vision: Please pray that this vision will become a reality. We understand that there may be bumps in the road that we cannot see. Pray that we will remain faithful to the vision and seek Providence’s launch and future growth.
I again wanted to thank you for all the information you have given us and look forward to developing a relationship between the two schools. I am pretty sure that I will have some questions as we move forward.
Grace and Peace,
Providence School of Arts
Starting a new school is no easy task, and I ask you to keep Marcus in your prayers as he pursues a vision to establish an Urban Christian School in Kansas City.
Just last week two important people to The Potter’s House were granted U.S. citizenship.
Janvier Irafasha is currently a senior at our high school. Janvier’s family is originally from Burundi, but they fled to Rwanda when fighting broke out. The peace didn’t last long, however, before mass killing broke out in Rwanda and the family fled once again, this time to Tanzania. Janvier lived in refugee camps for 12 years before his family was finally granted rights to come to the United States. Soon thereafter Janvier began attending The Potter’s House High School. He came to us barely speaking English, but gained fluency in less than two years. He’s an excellent soccer player and has achieved excellent grades. I am very glad to know Janvier now has the legal status to stay permanently in the U.S., where he can build a stable Christ-centered life with his family.
David Romero is the other person who received U.S. citizenship last week. David is originally from Honduras, and after working for several years as a high school teacher in a poor neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, David met Emily Steenwyk, a Calvin grad who attended The Potter’s House through 8th grade. She was volunteering as an English teacher in that same school. Emily also felt called by God to work in poor communities in Honduras doing Christian community development. God united their lives in marriage and also united their calling to work together sharing the good news of Christ in both word and deed. Together, David and Emily have built an incredible school similar to The Potter’s House called Jubilee Centers International, where children are empowered and people experience the love of Christ. It is considered one of our sister schools, and we have an ongoing relationship of support with them as they continue developing their mission in Honduras. With David’s new citizenship, the Romeros now have freedom to travel as a complete family between countries, which is important as they travel around the United States to fundraise for their school.
Congratulations to both Janvier and David. I am excited to see the great contributions these new citizens will make to our country, and other places around the world.
The other week, I hosted 72 second and third graders at my house on Stolpe Street, where I have been living for the last 38 years. I was wearing my wooden shoes and a Dutch hat to greet them, and gave them each a Wilhelmina peppermint as they entered my home.
They sat on the floor as I shared with them the history of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. In the 1900s, this was the largest Dutch immigrant neighborhood in Western Michigan. I shared exciting stories about my grandfather, who came to the U.S. all by himself on a boat when he was 14. I also told them about my grandmother, who worked in a wooden factory on the fourth floor. One day her factory caught on fire, and she had to jump for her life. Her hair turned white overnight.
I talked to my young guests about Christian Reformed and Reformed culture back then, and how people walked to church twice a Sunday. I shared about the Sunday night circuit, which was when young men and woman would walk up and down Grandville Avenue in their Sunday best, hoping to catch the eye of someone they could spend a lifetime with.
From there I began to talk about the changes in the neighborhood, and how Hispanic families began to move in. They brought a different language to this community, but were similar to the Dutch in how they valued hard work, education, family, and community. These new immigrants hailed from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
Woven into all this change were some more stories: A story about the founders of The Potter’s House moving to the neighborhood in 1975 – A story about how this group of recent college graduates began getting to know their neighbors – The story of how The Potter’s House began with twelve students in a church basement.
I concluded the visit by giving each student a windmill cookie and some Dutch black licorice. I warned them that they might not like the salty bitter flavor of this traditional Dutch candy that I myself have never been able to appreciate. These disclaimers were also followed by stern instructions not to spit this potentially unpalatable candy out on my porch or the sidewalk.
From my house, they walked to the neighborhood museum at the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, put together by Jacque Bouma, Mary Angelo, and Jules Niemchek. I’m glad those 72 second and third graders were given a chance to learn about how the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood has been an area of change for over a hundred years, but at the same time has always been a neighborhood of great dreams, for both immigrants (Dutch / Hispanic) and recent college graduates wanting to make a difference in the neighborhood.
We still experience people sharing and living out their dreams every day in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, and we’re thrilled that The Potter’s House can be a catalyst to help people, through God’s grace, achieve their dreams.