JAGDEESHPUR, India (Mennonite Mission Network) — Mennonite partners who organized a new English-language school in Jagdeeshpur, India, hoped for 85 students in the first year.
More than 140 enrolled.
The new St. Stephen’s Model School that began in the ground floor of Sewa Bhawan Hospital in the 2008-2009 school year is more than an educational facility—it is a ministry. Leaders from the area church, school and hospital hope English instruction prepares students both for higher education and more prestigious careers and for learning a bit about God.
The school is a combined effort from Sewa Bhawan Hospital and Emmanuel Hospital Association; Bharatiyah General Conference Mennonite Church; Evangelical Trust Association of North India; Menno Christian Education Society; and St. Stephen’s Group of Schools (part of the Church of North India).
For the first year, classes are offered from nursery classes through fourth grade. Administrators hope to increase the grades over time.
Tushar Naik, Sewa Bhawan Hospital director, said English education is now optional in the Chhattisgarh province, which means anyone wanting to learn or perfect their English-language skills must pay for the instruction. St. Stephen’s, Naik said, offers a sliding scale based on income so that English is offered both to those who can afford to pay for it and for those who cannot.
The response from the community, Naik said, has been inspiring. More than 500 people attended an inauguration ceremony in the fall.
“There is no other alternative for our children,” he said.
The Rev. P.K. Bagh, chairman of Bharatiyah General Conference Mennonite Church, said the school and partnership are important for the future of the church. Naik said the same holds true for the hospital. Jagdeeshpur students who are taught in English will have opportunities to continue to college and postgraduate work, which is primarily taught in English, Naik said. Ideally, he said, these children will become the next generation of Indian doctors to work at Sewa Bhawan Hospital, where Naik and his wife, Kanchan, are the only two full-time physicians.
The Jagdeeshpur area already has a strong literacy rate, compared to other parts of the country, Naik said. An improving local economy means more and more students are ready for additional educational opportunities.
The school offers an optional course that teaches stories about Jesus as well as morale-building stories from other faiths. In general, Naik said, students learn more about Christian belief at St. Stephen’s than in other schools. Assemblies include Bible verses, Christian songs and the Lord’s Prayer.
As the teachers are from all faiths, it is not a practice to preach the faith of any religion. But all the teachers are repeatedly reminded and encouraged to practice Christ’s love to children and others,” Naik said. “God started something wonderful here.”
The wonders may expand. Bharatiyah General Conference Mennonite Church has proposed starting another St. Stephen’s school at a church complex in nearby Saraipali for next school year. The other organizations are discussing possibilities.
Sewa Bhawan Hospital sits just yards away from Jansen Memorial School—another Mennonite school started by local leaders and former General Conference Mennonite mission workers, now run by MCES for students in upper grades. Mennonites also started the hospital.
Menno Christian Education Society, Emmanuel Hospital Administration and Evangelical Trust Association of North India are trusts that administer former North American Mennonite mission schools, hospitals and land holdings in the area.
Mennonite Mission Network is a partner to the Mennonite organizations involved in the school collaboration and former mission workers have helped support the school financially.