Barb and John Van Meerbeke
Since many people have strong convictions about how a covenant child should be educated, we thought that the best way to start the conversation would be to share some background about us and the experiences that influenced our decision about how to educate our children.
We were raised in church-going families. To our knowledge, our parents didn’t consider anything but public education. My (Barb’s) dad was on the school board. Homeschooling wasn’t on people’s radar back then.
Faith was meaningful to both of us as we set off for the University of Delaware, so we got involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) as soon as we arrived on campus. We connected with a large community of believers. God used Will Metzger, our IVCF staff worker, to encourage our growth in Christ. We were the “guinea pigs” for Will’s book, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People, now in its fourth edition. We were plugged into small-group Bible studies, and we were encouraged to share our faith in our dorms and classrooms. “Friendship evangelism” was a regular theme. It still is.
We were married during the summer after college, and we set off to the North Shore of Boston to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We settled in at First Presbyterian Church—an OP congregation where professors and OP ministers Carl Schauffele, Meredith Kline, and Burton Goddard worshipped.
At First Pres, there was a healthy and loving debate going on about public, Christian, and home schooling. For us, the ideas raised by different parents and educators were interesting and new. Our Christianity was one where living in the world and teaching our children to live in the world was a no-brainer. We believed in a sovereign God, and so our plan to send our children to public school was an extension of our faith. Yet we listened carefully. We didn’t have any children yet. We decided that we would try to live in an area where the public school system would provide a quality education. If this was not possible, or if we started to see negative outcomes in terms of how our children were growing and learning, we would reevaluate.
Our children attended schools in North Andover, Massachusetts, and in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Both were good school systems. We talked a lot to our kids about what went on at school and about their relationships at school. We paid close attention to what they were learning. We got to know their teachers. There were occasionally unpleasant situations, but they provided us with opportunities to talk to our sons about life’s challenges. They sought out both Christian and non-Christian friends, and we tried to teach them about how to think and act “Christianly” in the world.
In the public schools, they had access to excellent teachers and facilities. There were excellent processes in place when their learning styles differed from those of other students. Some teachers commented that there was something different about the Van Meerbeke boys. In these instances, we thanked God for giving us opportunities to talk about our faith. Each of our sons went on to earn degrees at secular universities—Dickinson College, Boston University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—where their faith was challenged some more. God protected them. They grew in their faith.
Today they are all thriving in fields they love: medicine, hospitality management, and architecture. We think that they are good problem solvers and good critical thinkers. They are gentlemen. By the grace of God, they are believers. They are active in good churches. Two of them married Christian girls that they met at school. The third is dating a believer. We are blessed beyond what we ever imagined. Praise be to God!
Public education may not be the best choice for everyone. However, we hope that our story will show that public school education can be a good and reasonable choice for covenant children.
John Van Meerbeke is the pastor of Living Hope OPC in Gettysburg, Pa. Barb is his wife. New Horizons, February 2016.