Photography by Andy Im
As a young educator, Nancy Hansen, principal of Greater Lansing Adventist School (GLAS), wanted nothing more than to ensure her students were armed with a superior education which would enable them to become brilliant people — people who would have a deep love for Jesus and know Him in an intimate way.
“Academic excellence is essential, no doubt about it, and an unquenchable love for Jesus is a non-negotiable,” Hansen says. “Looking back to my 23-year-old self, I would challenge her, ‘Well done! Keep the faith! But is that all there is to Adventist education? Is it enough? Does it satisfactorily equip? Is it true education?’”
At the Michigan Conference August Teacher Convention, Hansen heard Michigan education superintendent, Jeremy Hall, present Project 58, an outreach project born out of a desire to serve the community in such a meaningful way that if their school doors ever closed, they would be missed.
“As he spoke, I began asking myself, ‘If our school closed tomorrow, would anyone miss us?’ Hansen recalls. “’Does the community even know we exist? Do they know who we are, and what we’re about?’ The idea that ‘they might not’ was sobering.” So, Hansen decided to do something about it.
Donna Hall, planner and implementer of Project 58, also teaches at GLAS. Hansen immediately approached her and asked about doing something similar at GLAS.
“In Isaiah 58, the Lord makes it clear that His chosen fast is to help those who need it,” says Hall. “If we are to follow in His footsteps, we need to serve those in need in our community, too.”
At the beginning of the 2019‒2020 school year, GLAS launched its own initiative based on Isaiah 58; they call it Fieldwork. One Wednesday of each month, the entire school splits into separate groups called “pods,” loads into cars and heads off into the community to serve.
“We have an incredible opportunity to work in God’s field to sow seeds of friendship and serve our community,” Hansen says. “Fieldwork is an opportunity for our young people to apply, in a very real way, the theory we have taught them in Bible lessons.”
Currently, GLAS has six pods, each serving in a different way.
Sewing Seeds of Kindness
During first semester, students learned how to make tie blankets, which were then handed out to homeless individuals in Lansing. During second semester, the students are learning how to use a sewing machine so they can make baby blankets for an organization which helps pregnant women who are homeless.
This pod, specifically designed for grades K-2, has two parts. In one part, students spend time at an assisted living facility, playing games, doing crafts and singing. In the other, they stay at the school to make cookies to be given to the police and fire stations, as well as other county offices.
Single Moms Oil Change
Geared for older students, this pod offers a free oil change and small car detail to single mothers, completed while they enjoy cookies and hot chocolate.
Meals on Wheels
Students pack a hot meal for themselves and the elderly person they are visiting, then they spend time eating together, playing games, talking, and doing various small projects to help around the house.
This pod makes fliers, videos and other materials to spread the word about what the Fieldwork initiative is doing. They even accompany the other pods to take photos of the work being done.
Similar to Sharing Time, this pod visits a nursing home and sings, plays games and visits with the residents there.
Fieldwork day is a much-anticipated day of each month, for both staff and students. “One of my favorite things about Fieldwork is that I can be with people and make them smile,” shares Camila Lorona, a second-grade student who is part of the Meals on Wheels pod. “We take people lunch and eat with them. I can tell they are happy because sometimes when we tell them a story they start laughing. I like sharing the love of Jesus every month.”
Titus Ramos, a fourth-grader who enjoys visiting with the elderly in the community through the Adopt-a-Grandparent pod, says he enjoys helping people and making them happy. “It makes me happy, too, every time I help,” he adds.
Participating in an outreach project that puts them in close proximity with a demographic they may not otherwise engage is for some students a bit intimidating. Regular participation and positive experiences are important.
“There was an elderly man I spoke to, who seemed hesitant at first to even participate in the arts and crafts they had laid out for us,” remembers Zaira McLaurin, a ninth-grader who is part of the Public Relations pod. “But the more I spoke with him and listened to his stories, the more comfortable he became. By the end of it, he was singing us a song! I realized through these fieldwork experiences that it’s so much more rewarding to put others before yourself rather than to focus only on yourself. Now I want nothing more than to help those around me and let Christ work through me for them.”
This experience is precisely the outcome desired by the teachers and parents coordinating the Fieldwork program. “As a parent, I want my children to have a solid education fit for this earth,” Hansen says, “but, even more so, I want them to have an education fit for heaven. I want our family to shine bright in our community for Him, and be used by the Lord to show a dying world the fathomless love of the incredible Savior. I want the same thing for my students at GLAS.”
Fieldwork has led to a number of partnerships between GLAS and other local businesses and organizations. A local auto parts store offers the school discounts on oil and oil filters, and another local ministry has donated sewing machines.
Ellen White writes, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed his sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then he bade them, ‘Follow Me’” (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p.143). “True education prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (Ellen G. White, Education, p.13).
“Christ’s method is exactly what we’re using here,” says Hall. “Until the Lord comes, we want to be His hands and feet right here in Lansing, teaching our students the joy of service. And if our doors were to close, we want to be missed.”
Hansen looks at the Fieldwork program through various eyes, and has felt “a wonderful blessing” in her heart as a mother raising her children for the Kingdom, as an educator watching her students get excited about service, and as a principal helping her school grow to love serving people.
“As I think upon the life of Jesus, I understand more deeply why He was well known,” she explains. “He was known because of His love and compassion for humanity, but more so for His service, for touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable, and serving the least of these. The beauty Jesus radiated was not sourced in His exterior features, but in His acts of loving service, and when Jesus’ time on earth had come to an end, He was missed. If our doors closed tomorrow, we hope we would be missed, too.”