Convivium had a chance to speak with Hank de Jong, Executive Director of EduDeo Ministries in Hamilton, Ontario, and ask him about the work that the organization is doing around the world – and right at home on Barton Street.
Convivium: EduDeo has been faithfully working to “carry out God's call to make quality, Christ-centred education available for children in developing countries.” Take us back to the beginning: When did the idea to found EduDeo first take root?
Hank de Jong: EduDeo Ministries was started by Christians concerned for the well-being of children in under developed countries. They essentially used Christ-centred education as the vehicle to introduce children to the love of Christ. EduDeo, formally Worldwide Christian Schools, was founded in the US in 1986. It was formally incorporated in Canada in 1994, but nothing significant occurred until almost a decade later when the first full-time staff person was hired.
C: For those who are unfamiliar with the work of EduDeo, would you mind sharing how you put your vision and mission into action?
HdJ: Our vision is to see every community transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission – what we do to work towards the vision – is to advance Christ-centred education for children worldwide. We are convinced that one of the most powerful ways to impact communities is through the advancement of Christ-centred education, investing in the next generation of leaders.
There are several ways we advance Christ-centred education with our global partners. First, we invest in infrastructure improvements – we believe students need a safe learning environment. So many school buildings and classrooms are in rough shape around the world. Once repaired and improved, Christian schools in developing countries are often known as a safe place for children: emotionally, physically and spiritually. This is a great reflection of who Christ is in our lives as a refuge and strong tower.
Second, we invest in professional development for indigenous educators. We work with these educators (leaders specifically) on what it means to teach from a Christ-centred perspective – how to incorporate Christ into everything. We also provide funding for technology initiatives, provide funds for vulnerable children, and source Bibles and textbooks for schools.
C: How has EduDeo’s approach to its work shifted over the years? As you have advanced Christ-centred education in very distinct countries – including Belize, South Sudan, Nicaragua, and Haiti – how have your partnerships with local educators impacted your approach to aid?
HdJ: We focus very strongly on an asset-based approach to development. This has been a significant shift for us over the years. There’s a growing recognition that the solution for existing problems may very well come from within – we play a facilitation role. EduDeo doesn’t own or operate any schools globally. We come alongside existing networks and associations of schools and invest in their leaders. Very rarely do we get involved in the operational funding of any school – we focus on the human and social capital.
We also enter into new partnerships with our teacher training program. This program isn’t heavily financially resourced, but instead it allows us to build relationships of accountability and trust. Once we’ve built accountability structures and relationships we may move to wiring more funds for things like infrastructure improvement. This aligns with a good development principle of “not too much too soon” when it comes to finances. I think there’s a growing understanding that money (alone) doesn’t solve the world’s problems. Even with the funds we do send, there is often an incentive for the community to be involved at some level – either making bricks, volunteer labour or 10-25% funds for the project. In general, however, we focus more on the existing assets than on the overwhelming needs; especially since usually the needs are identified through a Western set of lenses.
C: You have been very open about your vision to “see every community transformed by the gospel” and your new office is located on Barton Street right in the heart of downtown Hamilton. How does your office seek to feed into the community of which you are a part?
HdJ: Our goal is to accomplish this vision through partnerships with others. Our vision is way too BIG to accomplish on our own. We try to stay laser-focused on our mission of advancing Christ-centred education globally, while also partnering with others to impact our local community: we want to support the organizations that are much better equipped than we are.
We also believe that organizations working together for the sake of God’s Kingdom, not any one organization’s kingdom, will reflect positively on our community as well. Simply being present in the area has afforded us many opportunities to serve and talk with those in the community, including the Barton BIA who regularly use our space to meet.
C: For those who are unfamiliar with Hamilton, could you share a little bit more about the significance of Barton Street to the city of Hamilton?
HdJ: Barton Street was one of the main economic hubs of our city. People lived, worked, shopped and worshipped in this area. With the steel industry less dependent of human resources, the community in many ways crumbled.
C: You have said that you are joining other local organizations of faith like 541 Eatery and Exchange, GOHOP, Helping Hands and many others already actively serving Barton Street. Could you tell us a little bit about how this partnership began and how your vision for working in your community formed?
HdJ: Our intent was to use the upstairs space and make the main floor space available to a local partner. We were open to anything that would contribute to the wellbeing of this community from a Christian perspective – it could have been a church, social entrepreneurship, or Christian organization.
We approached 541 Eatery and Exchange and asked if they had plans that required more space. So, on our main floor, they are developing a community kitchen to further develop relationships and teach about cooking and healthy nutrition.
When we moved into our upstairs space, we realized that we had more space than we needed. So, we invited True City, A Rocha and Save the Mothers to join us. While they have their separate space from us, we share a communal lunch room and shared space. It’s a wonderful community that God has brought together. We firmly believe God has been leading every single one of these partnerships, as well as the donor and volunteer response – which has been tremendous as well. What we’re doing seems to be resonating with people. People are seeing that the world is changing – the lines between local and global are becoming fuzzy. We also want to serve as a catalyst to say, we’re clearly called and passionate about our global work, but we cannot ignore the places where we live, work, play and raise our families.
C: EduDeo, in partnership with the City of Hamilton, is gifting a mural to 621 Barton Street. Tell us more about how the idea for this mural was born? What impact are you hoping it will have?
HdJ: Our building is on a corner lot and the neighbouring building, an old school, is set back from the road. The city is investing so much into this community to kick-start economic revival. Part of this is investing in murals along Barton Street and our building was identified as a suitable site. We applied for the $10,000 grant, submitted a sketch and the rest is history. We believe it accurately reflects the intent of our campus – to transform both local and global communities as we hold out God’s Word.
C: Moving forward, how can Convivium readers continue to work with EduDeo and the community of Barton street to partner in the renewal of the city?
Our building is on a corner lot and the neighbouring building, an old school, is set back from the road.
The city is investing so much into this community to kick-start economic revival. Part of this is investing
in murals along Barton St and our building, for the reasons mentioned, was identified as a suitable site.
We applied for the $10,000 grant, submitted a sketch and the rest is history. We believe it accurately
reflects the intent of our campus – to transform both local and global communities as we hold out God’s
C: Moving forward, how can Convivium readers continue to work with EduDeo and the community of
Barton street to partner in the renewal of the city?
HdJ: We are always looking for people to move our vision and mission forward. We are always looking for people to join one of our short-term work teams or to donate financial resources. Please contact us to learn more about
these practical ways to be involved! If you're interested in specific involvement on Barton Street, contact our partner 541 Eatery & Exchange.