A blog by Steve Miller, Principal of Christian Outreach School (COS)

Offering Beginning Chinese

Posted on July 9, 2013

COS will do something this year that I'm quite sure we've never done before -- offer Mandarin Chinese. I just received curriculum materials in the mail this week, and am very pleased with them, except for one thing: the lesson plans are all written in Chinese! Well, the course will be improving my Chinese skills, too. We're looking for students who are willing to accept the challenge of learning, over the next three years, one of the world's most important languages.

Not everyone is called to learn Chinese, and some people are naturally better at language learning than others, but we Americans, and especially we Christians, generally need to improve at learning foreign languages as a way of following our nation's calling to be a light to the nations. God is saying over His people, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" He desires our hearts to stir with the answer, "Here am I; send me!" Prayerfully considering learning a foreign language is something all believers, but especially young people, can do to partially answer that call.

Today I read a short article in the magazine published by my alma mater, Valparaiso University. (View it here.) It was about a current Valpo student, Julia Yuan, who tells about how she pursued her dream to come from Hangzhou, China, to study in Indiana because of her father's stories about his warm experience as a visiting scholar at Valpo in the early 1990s. I was quite touched to read the story, because her father was a friend of mine during my last two years at Valpo. I met him at a monthly international student outreach dinner organized by a math professor. He asked me a lot of questions about the Bible and I had opportunities to share the Gospel with him. Little did I know that God would call me to China, and that eleven years later in 2002, I would visit his little family in Hangzhou.

You don't have to speak a foreign language to reach out to international students or foreign immigrants in our country, who are often quite lonely and in need of help in a strange land. I should know, as I've been a foreigner myself. But if you have sincere care and the skills and courage to communicate even a little in an international friend's home language, you can often bless their socks off and open the door to a friendship. Even in Jefferson County, which is not exactly a cosmopolitan place, we can easily make friends with workers in the Chinese restaurants by conversing with them in their native language. I can chat with students and friends in China online. You don't have to be totally fluent for a foreign language to be useful.

In China, I'd often repeat this sad but relatively accurate joke: "If a person who speaks three languages fluently is called 'trilingual,' and someone who speaks two languages fluently is 'bilingual,' then what do you call someone who only speaks one language?" The answer: "An American." You see, we Americans often have no need to learn a second language, since English is increasingly becoming a world language, and unlike Europeans, we live on a continent of mostly English-speaking countries (except for those Spanish-speaking ones beneath us.) This has caused us to become somewhat lazy linguistically. While most of us take two years of something in high school and never use it, the rest of the world is learning a foreign language starting in elementary school, and often in preschool.

Some might say, "Hey, that's proof we live in a great country. We're blessed." But we Christians should know that we have been blessed in order to be a blessing, and that our country was founded in order to bring God's love to the nations. And as much as the USA is criticized abroad, much of the world wants to be like us and desires to come visit us here. Will we greet them with kindness and respect in their own language, or just let Hollywood continue to do the talking for us?

As noted earlier, COS will start offering beginning Mandarin Chinese in August, and continue with intermediate sign language. Next year, we will offer Spanish again. The Chinese course will meet five days a week after lunch, and be open to our 7th to 12th graders, home schoolers, and even adults who have the time and commitment to try. It won't be easy or quick, as learning foreign language never is those things, but it should be interesting and rewarding. I think that Chinese language skills will be increasingly valuable in the job market. It can be an investment in the future as well as in God's kingdom. Please pray about whether God would like you to learn a foreign language, even Chinese.

Future Generations

Posted on June 26, 2013

Last week we drove to Tennessee where we had a Miller family reunion to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My parents rented lake cabins and we did a lot of fun activities, including swimming, volleyball, canoeing, and hiking. It was great.

The best part of it, though, was our fellowship and times of worship and prayer together. You see, among the ten adults and fourteen grandchildren, all of us have faith in Jesus and love Him. What a blessing! Later this summer, we will celebrate my wife’s parents’ 50th anniversary. All eighteen of us in the Ittzes clan are also walking with the Lord.

I do not say this with any kind of pride or to boast, nor to make anyone feel bad who is not surrounded by Christian family, for it is all by of the grace of God. Both of our sets of parents will quickly and humbly give all glory to God for what He has done in our families. The reason I’m writing about this is to show what God’s will is for Christian families. When He commands us to make disciples of all nations, for married couples, the first disciples we should be making are our own children. It’s not His intention that it be left up to chance or circumstance whether our kids follow Him or not.

Here’s what God says in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:7-10, author’s emphasis). Obviously, God’s will is for everyone to serve Him. But the promise here suggests that believing families should expect a thousand generations beyond us to love and obey Him, to serve Him as the only God. That should be the norm, because of His will and His love.

However, we can look at the world and see that this does not happen automatically. I try to think about reasons why our parents’ children and grandchildren are all serving the Lord, because we want it to continue in our family and in the families of all believers. Devotion to prayer, fellowship, and the Word of God is something that both sets of our parents have had in common. They’re not perfect, but they value and maintain their relationship with the God who has shown them His love and His commandments.

Our parents have done this in many ways, but one is that all the kids in our families have been educated either in Christian schools or home school. I’m not saying that Christians aren’t in public schools, but school environment is an important factor in the formation of our children’s faith and values, especially because they spend the majority of their waking hours in that environment. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” As I consider this verse, it leads to an obvious question: Is all the time our kids spend in educational settings at formative ages going to be spent training them up in the way they should go? Or will it be spent some other way? Even if only for that reason, Christian education, at home or in a school, is vitally important.

Christian schools aren’t perfect, just as homes aren’t perfect. God’s grace is necessary everywhere. As for spiritual environment, the Lutheran schools I attended had lots of room for improvement, and, honestly, COS does, too. But at school and at home, we strive to build and maintain our children’s connection to the God who loves them and has saved them. His plan is to walk with them, and their children, and their children’s children, as far as the generations continue. As parents, as educators, and as disciplers, we have an extremely important part in that plan.

A Significant Calling

Posted on June 10, 2013

When Natalie Roth, a COS alumnus and former student of both Cathy and me, spoke to the students at the chapel service recently, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was exciting to hear her tell about how the Lord called her into mission work and about the great things that happened on her recent trip to India. I was also thrilled to learn that for the next two months she’s going to be serving Chinese leaders in a time of special training here in Missouri. I’m excited for her and amazed at what the Lord is doing. As a teacher, it’s great to see a former student willing to follow God’s call into His harvest field.

On the other hand, while listening and looking at her photos, I found myself feeling a little jealous. The place in India where she’d spent time was the same place I’d been to on my first short-term trip when I was eighteen years old. She said she’d visited the same orphanage and met the same people where our 1987 team, led by former COS teachers Tom and Naomi Vrhovnik, had helped construct a building and minister in villages. Then she talked about getting to spend time serving those Chinese leaders this spring, I thought of the ten years we’ve spent in China, and how few Chinese we meet here in Jefferson County now.

But after the service, when Natalie remarked to us how it seems like a large number of the current students at COS seem to have a call to serve the nations in missions, I was encouraged. You may or may not know that the original vision of Christian Outreach, given to its founders in the early 1970s, was to have a missionary training school. That’s one reason why God provided this beautiful, large piece of property out in the boondocks. That school eventually morphed into a seminary, which ended up closing in the early 1990s. The mission agency that operated from here, Bible and Literacy League, moved away a few years later. But that doesn’t mean that the Lord hasn’t continued to fulfill His purpose to reach out to the nations through this church and school. In fact, one time this year I felt the Lord encouraging me that, for now, COS is the missionary training school that He has here. In a sermon at COC last summer, guest preacher Jonathan Griesse, another COS alumnus who currently is a teacher/missionary at an international school in Germany, compared COS to a volcano that has been shooting out hot, glowing rocks throughout the world.

I know that God has a calling on some of our students to serve Him overseas in the future. Others may not be called to go to other countries, but they all have a holy calling to labor in His harvest field. Everyone does. Sometimes we may see the work we’ve been given to do as insignificant or drudgery (I’m personally thinking of grading 4th grade math and reading papers or preparing economics lessons for three students), but what we do is never insignificant in God’s eyes. We must never underestimate the importance of His calling to us. And make no mistake -- whether you are aware of it or not, He is calling you to serve in His kingdom.

“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’” - Luke 19:17