Reciprocal Serving in Partnership

By Kaye Mathwin-Cox

It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of an experience that has opened the many opportunities a service learning partnership gives. Building a partnership school relationship between SMA GKPS school in Pematang Raya, North Sumatra, Indonesia, and our year 11 students has given our whole college a strong focus on servanthood, as well […]

It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of an experience that has opened the many opportunities a service learning partnership gives. Building a partnership school relationship between SMA GKPS school in Pematang Raya, North Sumatra, Indonesia, and our year 11 students has given our whole college a strong focus on servanthood, as well as an understanding of the issues that affect a country near to us.

The Navigator College, SMA GKPS school and Margaretha Orphanage partnership began in 2012 with our very first year 11 contingent embarking on a visit of a lifetime. Many had not left South Australia, let alone Australia, and it was an incredible responsibility for a school. After a ‘reconnaissance’ visit earlier in the year and with the support of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) International Mission, we knew that the risks of travelling overseas to an unfamiliar country were lessened by the knowledge that the partnership school was chosen for us with the understanding of our context here in Australia and, reciprocally, in Indonesia. The LEA and LCA International Mission were a valuable resource in finding the right partnership school.

At Navigator we believe that our excursions and camps have a strong purpose and link to our curriculum. Therefore the proposed service learning visit to Indonesia meant that we would offer a very purposeful experience whilst learning that we can serve God in service to others; yet also receive such incredible benefits ourselves through the partnership.

The initial visit began with the year 11 cohort visiting the school and orphanage with the express purpose of teaching English, sharing Christ with one another and building relationship and recognition of our cultures. Each year Navigator College staff and students improved their skills to teach ESL students and refined activities to engage the communities. Each year Jittan, the principal and staff of our partnership school did the same, building a bigger and better life experience for all our students.

The response from our students are many and varied. All will experience a culture shift of some sort but as the experience gathers momentum student responses included: giving up vital teenage material possessions, taking on extra chores around the home, speaking powerfully at whole school meetings and other engagements to choosing Palm Oil (as a consequence of seeing the spread of the plantations) as the subject for their research project. However it’s not just us serving the Indonesian students; it’s reciprocal. They serve us, by way of introducing us to their culture, through songs, dance, cooking, worship, traditions and most of all their incredible hospitality. They invite us into their homes and treat us as honoured guests. We experience culture at the absolute core, which results in our students verbalising the beauty of the Indonesian family culture, and the importance and respect of family within that culture. This in turn has built a strong sense of the value of serving others.

Jittan Saragih, the current principal of SMA GKPS Sondi Raya has also taken our visits very seriously. In 2013 I was humbled by an invitation to join his family as his sister in a traditional ceremony involving 400 guests, music, dancing and a feast. I liken the ceremony to a wedding and, now in Indonesia, I am known as Kaye Saragih, with many Indonesian relatives who just love to tell me that I am their brother or sister! Additionally he has made many changes to the school since he visited Navigator College and enrolments have grown from a declining 150 students to over 400, with SMA GKPS school now the school of choice for many students.

Our annual visit has evolved to incorporate whole school fundraising in order to invite three members of the SMA GKPS school to visit us each year. This was a real turning point in our relationship as we were able to expressly share in our style of teaching, learning and educational administration. Now, each year, either two teachers and one student, or one teacher and two students visit us for a month, and join in our classes to experience life in an Australian school. They stay with families of the college and share in the cultural experiences of living with an Australian family. They teach the students through our LOTE program and attend church each week, sharing their culture with the congregation whilst experiencing the church culture of Australia. Most importantly they immerse themselves in our Australian culture and school life.

Looking back over the evolution of the partnership, the relationship has developed and is maintained through a continuity of attendance. Having a regular leader visiting each year has meant that we could experience, reflect, improve upon and evaluate with our staff and student team. Each year various staff join us on the service learning ‘journey’. Through the debriefing process they too express a life changing experience that, upon their return encourages them to continue to build our Navigator community to incorporate service learning locally and beyond. This has the effect of perpetuating a succession plan for the continuation of the program into the future.

From reception to year 12, our students now have the opportunity to share their relationship with their North Sumatran friends through curriculum, cultural experiences, sharing of language and through support of one another. Our four-year journey has been one of great growth and there is still much we can improve on. However, the reward comes in the knowledge that we are serving our Lord through this mutual and richly rewarding experience.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45


If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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