Isaiah 54:13 is a text that God impressed on my heart soon after my arrival as a missionary to Liberia in March 2012. Although I had trained and worked as a nurse in Northern Ireland before going to Bible College, and although I arrived in Liberia with a completely open mind as to what I might end up doing, I was rapidly drawn down the road of teaching.
Almost immediately upon arrival, I noticed that the majority of the children I met either could not read or were very poor readers. As I gained some awareness of the education system from personal experience in visiting and volunteering in schools and from the testimonies of both Liberian nationals and foreign missionaries, I became more troubled about the future of Liberia’s children. I enjoyed meeting affectionate kids and friendly teachers, but most were very candid about the problems they faced. Many schools, both public and private, struggled with administrative challenges, limited resources, and poorly equipped or maintained buildings. Sadly, many teachers were poorly trained and inadequately paid. Some children did not get a chance to start school until they were eight or nine years old. For example, I encountered one fifth grade class with an age range that spanned 12-19 year-olds, several of whom could read only a handful of words each.
Ever since, my burden has increased and we as missionaries here have been praying for an open door. In February 2021, we were delighted that the North American Mission Board approved a Christian school pilot project to begin a preschool class (3-year-olds) in September 2021. This will allow us to test the waters and see how the Lord leads us.
Providing a truly Christian education in the Liberian context is not going to be an easy task, as it requires a biblical philosophy of education, materials that have mostly been written from a biblical worldview, and born-again and academically well-qualified teachers. Very few Christian schools here, if any, meet those criteria. Curriculum from Christian publishers may be used but it appears that some struggle to discern between a biblical and a progressive educational philosophy. For example, even though truth is absolute and has its source in God, some local teachers act as if it is relative when it conflicts with their cultural norms. They often say, “This is Liberia”— meaning, “This is the way we do it here and it is just as good as your way.” This is actually a reflection of the progressive notion that truth can be constructed, interpreted, or adjusted according to a child’s environment, community, or feelings.
We plan to try to resolve this difficulty by setting up a comprehensive, in-service teacher training program that will not only address academic deficiencies but also teach biblical doctrine and a scriptural, educational philosophy. We have already selected a curriculum from a Christian publisher, and we also hope to hold teaching sessions for parents.
Please pray that the Lord will give Mr. DiCanio and me much wisdom, discernment, and grace for this new work, that God’s Name will be glorified as we teach our students in the ways and Word of the Lord. May our students grow into godly men and women who will exert a righteous influence on their families, churches, and nation.