Friday, November 21, 2014

The Open Doors and Open Arms of China...

Our 17 preschoolers walked like ducks in a row down the hall, and I stepped aside to watch them.
“Are you Mr. Kapanka?” asked the little girl at the end of the line.
“Yes, I am.” I replied.
“Did you really eat rattlesnake soup?”
“yewwwww!” moaned the other 4-year-olds.

I had to laugh. Who would have guessed that after two weeks in China, my first question from students would be about rattlesnake soup?

It is actually very good. So is eel, squid, roasted snake, snails and lots of other menu items I politely tried each day. (Though I must admit, after five days, I was glad to see a KFC at Tienanmen Square.) 

(Double-click on photos to enlarge.)

I have been eager to tell our CCS friends and family about a recent opportunity I had to represent CCS in China. This extensive trip came at no cost to our school….thanks to our friends at  In 14 days from October 23 to November 5, we logged 18,000 air miles, which is roughly the same as flying around the world at Chicago’s latitude. With the exception of some educational sight-seeing in Beijing, the trip was all business involving international student fairs, meetings with investors and school/local officials, and visits to various schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Nanning, China, (as well as 3-days in Bangkok, Thailand).

I was asked to bring as many Calvary promotional items as possible, but knowing little about this fast-developing nation, I was not sure how receptive students and parents would be to our CCS materials. Imagine my surprise on day six when we pulled up to one of the largest high schools in Zhengzhou, China, and saw a large electronic sign welcoming Calvary Christian School.
As I visited with English-speaking students across China, it was clear that many of them long to experience an American education.  Since returning from the trip, our school website has been read by many Chinese guests (probably students and public officials). We welcome them to our site.

Calvary has been home to international students every year since 2002. This is our first year to have Chinese-speaking students. This recent trip represents a strategic expansion of Calvary’s international presence in that part of the world. What an honor it is to share Calvary’s perspective on education and the beginning of wisdom—if for no other reason than to help them understand that America’s greatest values are not determined by Hollywood and hip-hop music. 

Like our Chinese friends, CCS values the heritage and ideals of our ancestors and founding fathers as well as the wisdom found in ancient words. The differences are important, to be sure, but communication begins where the common ground of shared life overlaps.

One of our pending plans could provide a business opportunity to partner with a new private school in Shanghai (pending approval) that would both broaden our educational influence abroad and strengthen our footing here at home. Each year, a certain amount of international students will continue to study here at Calvary during the school year. Plans also include possible summer programs. In both cases, host families can share life and model personal hope and purpose in this ever-changing world and ever-smaller planet. We will keep you posted about these opportunities to share open doors and open arms with China.

Words cannot express the experience of seeing this vast country on the cusp of unimaginable development and new educational horizons. It was an honor to be introduced to fellow educators in this far-away land. Please take a moment to view this photo-montage showing highlights from the trip. 

If you are reading this on the CCS website and would like to read against a light background, this article may also be read at [To Begin With on Blogger.]
For some awe-inspiring professional time-lapse video footage of China CLICK HERE.

Update March, 2015: As is always true when blazing new trails, some of the details of this post have changed in the subsequent months, but opportunities in China continue to develop, and we continue to commit them to prayer as they unfold.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

9-11 Bicentennial Salute to "Ragged Old Flag"

On Thursday, September 11, 2014, the CCS school family paused in the middle of Eaglemania activities to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 attack and the 200th Anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which was written on September 14, 1814. The Ceremony included special recognition of all veterans in the audience, a video-poem called “That Ragged Old Flag,” a reading about Francis Scott Key’s lyrics by Board President, Dr. Tom Watkins, the Marine Corps League Honor Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance by our elementary students, and our National Anthem by the HS Band, sung by Audrey Walker.

Below is the video and some pictures from the event. The large 8 x 10 flag hanging over the band was purchased with the help of scores of $1 student donations. It will be known as our "Star Spangled Banner Bicentennial Flag."


This is a picture of what remained of the original "Star Spangled Banner" from 1814 before it was restored by the Smithsonian Institute in the early 21st Century.

The Star Spangled Banner
By Francis Scott Key, September 14, 1814.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The first stanza ends with an earnest question because the outcome
of the battle was unknown until the light of day:
“Is our flag or the enemy’s flag waving over Fort McHenry?”

The first stanza is descriptive, but the fourth stanza is prescriptive.
It goes beyond describing what happened on that night in 1814
and prescribes what must always be true of a people whose hope is in the Lord.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beneath the Cross: Update on the CCS Crosses Booklet Published for Easter 2014

[If reading this on the school webpage, it is recommended to read at the original site at this link.]

During the weeks leading up to Easter, our personal focus is quite naturally on our Lord's final days with the first disciples. Our thoughts turn to the cross during the same weeks when it preoccupied our Savior's thoughts. The cross was on His mind in Jericho (Matthew 20) days before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We know it was on his mind during the Last Supper. The cross grieved Him hours later in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His trial. The significance of His crucifixion is evident in every word Christ spoke from the cross itself.
It is true that the empty tomb of Easter signifies new life through our risen Lord, but it is the empty cross that depicts the sacrificial work referred to in His final words: "It is finished." It is understandable, therefore, that the empty cross has been a reminder of atonement and a symbol of  faith for nearly two thousand years.

A few weeks before Easter, 2014, I had an unexpected encounter with the cross. It was not a mystical spiritual experience as much as a moment of jaw-dropping wonder associated with the more common use of the word epiphany: "A sudden, intuitive perception... usually initiated by some simple... or commonplace occurrence....  We always knew there were some cross-like architectural features of our building; some were subtle; some were obvious; but one was enormous and is most noteworthy in that it had gone unnoticed for the first fifteen years of our building's existence. It was this last discovery that prompted the small booklet in the photograph above.

Within days, 800 copies of the booklet were printed (in the school's volunteer print room) and provided to our CCS families, friends, and community. Copies were at restaurants, doctors' offices, Family Christian Bookstore, etc. A copy was also sent to the Muskegon Chronicle and the editors chose to make it their feature story on the front page of the Easter Sunday Edition. It was also in this Mlive version posted on Good Friday, which received nearly 7,000 views in its first week. During which time the various versions of the video below received over 1,000 views on Youtube.

There may someday be a second printing of the booklet, but because copies are only available at Family Christian Bookstore at this time, we are providing this on-line abridged version.

If you arrive early to Calvary Christian Schools, before the rising sun has chased off the moon, the crosses the front entrance are likely to catch your eye. In all, there are sixteen window-crosses in the rotunda, but only seven can be seen at a time from outside.

The rotunda is more than a gathering place before and after school; more than the spot where seniors say goodbye after their last chapel; more than a resonate chamber for the choir’s Christmas carols; more than a place of ceremony or hand-held circles of prayer in times of need. In this particular building design (discussed later) the rotunda’s form serves a higher function.

In historical-architectural terms, the rotunda would be called “the crossing” of a larger feature called the “transept.” The crossing is often surmounted by a spire, a dome, or a tower to provide a vertical emphasis intended to draw the eyes and ears heavenward.
This vertical emphasis is integrated in all we do at CCS, but it is symbolically suggested by the tall columns and high dome of the rotunda.

Upon entering the building from any point, you may notice that you are stepping through double doors that form a stylized cross. You may also notice the small manufacturer’s label at the bottom of each door (enlarged to the right). The choice to use a door company called CROSS was intentional. We have spoken with a long-time employee of this family-owned business, and he assured us that it is no coincidence that company's motto is "The only way to enter." The founding family and much of the work force are Christians who want to give God the glory for all they do. Their Cross products are sold around the world, and their label on each door at CCS underscores the theme of crosses throughout the building.

The significance of this particular spring in the history of Calvary Christian Schools (CCS) will become more evident as we anticipate celebrating our 35th Anniversary in the 2014-2015 school-year. This year marks our fifteenth in the building since relocating here in the fall of 1999.

Past, present, and future students of CCS will be forever grateful to the donors, congregation, and leadership at the time of this building’s design and construction. Calvary continues to be a setting where the Creator God, the Truth of His Word, and the Gospel of Christ are the foundation upon which parents and the school partner to build a well-rounded Christian education.

Neither a church nor a school is defined by bricks and mortar and buildings. They are defined by the people who gather within their walls (and by their desire to serve God and others beyond them). That being said, a school building’s needs are unlike a church in that schools must meet special codes, zoning requirements, and construction considerations. It is a blessing that the CCS facility satisfies those conditions while also turning our eyes to the cross in small and large ways. May this booklet be an encouragement to the thousands of friends who brought this facility from vision to reality.

The shadows created by the high rotunda windows  move down the wall and across the floor throughout the day like a giant solar kaleidoscope.

Beneath the Cross of Jesus                                     
By Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1830-1869 
1. Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
the shadow of a mighty rock
within a weary land;
a home within the wilderness,
a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat,
and the burden of the day. 

2. Upon that cross of Jesus
mine eye at times can see
the very dying form of One
who suffered there for me;
and from my stricken heart with tears
two wonders I confess:
the wonders of redeeming love
and my unworthiness.

3. I take, O cross, thy shadow
for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
the sunshine of His face;
content to let the world go by,
to know no gain nor loss,
my sinful self my only shame,
my glory all the cross. 

Shadows of the three windows 
between the rotunda 
and cafeteria reflect 
Luke 23: 32-33 (ESV):

“Two others, who were criminals,
were led away to be put 
to death with him. 
And when they came to the place 
that is called The Skull, 
there they crucified him, 
and the criminals, 
one on his right
 and one on his left.” 

Near the Cross
Frances J. Crosby,  pub. 1869

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
bring its scenes before me.
Help me walk from day to day
with its shadows o’er me.

There are no stained-glass windows in the CCS building, but there are moments when observant students may notice the next-best thing. Each of the eighteen large exterior windows in the educational wing (including one in each classroom) frame an outstretched cross. In the early morning or late afternoon light, depending on the location of the window, the sun’s position casts the window's shadow upon the colors of the carpet below… the effect is almost like stained glass.

Just across the rotunda from this shadow of a cross on the floor is the chapel where another photograph of a cross-like image was taken through the window looking up (a ceiling light behind the transept of the cross creates the glow).The following photo and poem are from page 10 of the booklet is a photo-enhanced image of the grout lines in the floor tile of the entry way. The poem is exactly 100 words (20 of which are in the words "all else" used ten times). The full meaning of the short lines may be best understood with the help of the links in the red text below. 
“Who else but the wholly shattered can make the broken whole? What else but sorrow-spattered love can drench the soul? When else but dark can light be willed? Where else but at the brinked abyss are ancient echos filled? Why else all this? How else can it be spanned?” He sighed and raised His hand. "All else Is disregarded hint, Scribbled reason, mumbled rhyme. All else amounts to pocket lint in time….No other else— on that He does insist.” His hand went to His heart to point the way. Like stones they missed all else He had to say.

The 16-page booklet contains many other pictures, but the one that prompted the jaw-dropping moment of awareness is the one depicted in the second half of the video above and depicted even more accurately in the aerial photograph below (used with permission of Marge Beaver of Photography Plus. Check out her portfolio of National Landmarks.)

As explained in the booklet and Mlive article, I was doing some work with Google satellite images of CCS (zoom in at that link) related to future considerations for the school, when all of a sudden, the image created by the silver (metal) roofs of our building standing in high-relief from the surrounding black rubber roofs of the building. I had never seen what I saw in that moment, and I have talked to hundreds of others equally familiar with our building who also had no idea what could be seen from above. We have indeed been walking in the shelter of a 306' by 154' cross. That's bigger than a football field.

This design is not a miracle. It was part of the architect's plan from the very beginning. It is called a "cruciform design" and it has been used in church/cathedral construction for more than a thousand years. We just didn't know there was a large cruciform design at the heart of the CCS building. From below, we must think very vertically, our perspective must change, to imagine the magnitude of this cross. Tens of thousands of people have passed beneath it unaware that it hovered over them. There are now tens of thousands of people who know this story, but we dare not miss the most important point as we share it with others:

Just as this roof design was part of the architect's plan from the beginning, so was the cross of Christ part of God's plan from the time of man's fall through Adam's sin (as explained in Romans 15:12-21). The plan is not seen by all, and in fact, “...the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”    I Corinthians 1:18   Until we see the Truth of the Gospel... we cannot wrap our faith and understanding around it, but once the Holy Spirit reveals how Christ's finished work on the cross applies to each of us, we are humbled and lifted up at the same time. We are broken and fixed in the final blink of our Savior's eye. As Newton's hymn says once we realize we are "lost" we understand we've been "found." He further explains the paradox with:  "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fear relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed." 

The conclusion of the booklet includes an explanation of the cruciform design used in Christian architecture through the centuries. It can be seen in simple structures (such as this sketch of an old Norman Church.  It is also executed in a grand scheme in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

What makes the CCS use of the cruciform unique is that it is not executed within the building's place of congregational worship but rather as the central floor plan of an entire building. It is essentially the main traffic area with the chapel occupying the place often called the "chancel" of a cathedral. 

To measure this large cross, I used the athletic department’s “rolotape” (a wheel with a long handle and an “odometer” that counts feet as you walk in a line.) As I rolled the wheel through the rotunda, someone said, “Doing some surveying?” I paused for a minute and smiled, “You know that great hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’? Well, I am actually doing that. Someday soon I’ll explain what I mean.” 
The video above was also put to the music of "When I Survey" at this link.  
(Original version by Isaac Watts  1674-1748.)
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 6:14

The empty halls and rooms depicted in the booklet do not reflect the thousands of lives touched by this ministry through the years. Other materials about this fully accredited K-12 school are available. This booklet and the accompanying video found at the website below highlight some architectural features that reflect this setting’s intention to be a place of both spiritual and academic formation. The cross itself (actual or emblematic) is not the object of our worship. The cross is a reminder that Christ’s sacrificial atonement for sin is a life-changing subject worthy of study and praise.

The place where congregants sit in historic cathedral-like buildings is called the “nave,” from the Old French noun for “ship.” (The word “navy” comes from this.) That term was used because the high vaulted ceilings of those architectural masterpieces often  resembles the hull of a ship. We have no vaulted ceilings at CCS, but our overarching “ships” include: worship, discipleship, scholarship, stewardship, leadership, fellowship, friendship, sportsmanship, etc.  The word “equip” is derived from an Old French verb for ship— “eschiper” to be exact—which means “to prepare for a voyage or long journey.”  Such preparation is our goal for all who enter the way of the cross at Calvary.

Mission Statement: CCS exists to provide an exemplary Christ-centered education, led by teachers dedicated to assisting the home in equipping students with the truths, knowledge, skills, and values that advance the pursuit of God’s purpose for their lives.
Calvary Christian Schools
5873 Kendra Road, Fruitport, MI  49415
Phone: 231-865-2141

The printing of this booklet was donated to CCS. Additional copies may become available if a second printing is warranted. Donations welcome. All proceeds help defray future printing costs.

Project Update: The previous photo of the building from above was photo-shopped to fill in the missing silver space. A week after this story was published in the Muskegon Chronicle, ten gallons of aluminum paint was donated to the school. When the weather permits and the volunteer help is available, the black rubber room between the rotunda and the grand foyer will be painted to complete the full cross as seen from above. When asked why the steel roof was not designed to complete that gap, the architect explained that to get the full vertical effect of both the foyer and the rotunda there had to be a low spot in between. 

The architect shared with me that he is humbled by the "object lessons" CCS is drawing from his work. I will close with one more derived from his explanation of the low roof we intend to paint silver. It is that same low roof area under which the three cross-like windows form the three shadows on the floor (see photo on left in middle of this story). Just as there are mountains and valleys in life, it is often after passing through a low point that we most appreciate the high points. It is when we are most consumed with the low "horizontal" aspects of life that we most need the uplifting "vertical" relationship with our Heavenly Father. When walking the 306' cross toward the chapel, it is just after the "low point" of the three shadow crosses on the floor (suggesting Good Friday) that one steps into the rotunda which turns the eyes heavenward. 

© April, 2014, Tom Kapanka,

Monday, April 7, 2014

As the Twig is Bent

In the corner of our front entry, there's an old copper umbrella stand that holds not one umbrella but a small collection of walking sticks.

The corkscrewed stick (beside the stand in the picture) is one I started making  more than 40 years ago, though I only found it in 2006. How can that be true?

In 1970, my Dad and my brother and I were clearing trails on a large wooded acreage we would someday call home. Dad's chain saw was howling away and spewing wood chips in the air while Dave and I were hauling off wheelbarrows of cut wood to the south side of the barn.

During a break between loads, I noticed three saplings about twenty feet from the blazed trail. The trees were about six inches apart and stretched up toward the sparse sunlight of the dense woods with a few branches high overhead. For no particular reason, I decided to braid the three saplings together like rope, mindful not to uproot or break the thin trunks.

When Dad stopped to put some gas in his saw. I showed him the trees and asked if I could leave them like that or would it kill the trees.

"It won't kill them--at least not right away," he said, gripping the starter rope of his saw. "But one thing's for sure: In a few years,  you won't be able to undo them. 'As the twig is bent so grows the tree.'"

The saw started before I could ask him what he meant.
That happened more than 45 years ago, but I remember the smell of the chain- saw smoke in the air, the feel of the cold autumn day, and the sound of Dad's voice as he said the words.

I thought about those words the rest of the day. The thin trunks that were flexible enough for me to bend without breaking in 1970, would someday be impossible to straighten out. What Dad said, short of a miracle, applies to people and not just trees. It can be positive as well as negative. It is the principle behind Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The quote itself , however, is credited to Virgil, a Roman poet from the 1st century BC. I did not know this fact in 1970. I would not know it until four decades later when the true meaning of the words finally hit home.

My father passed away in 1995. I had forgotten all about the braided trees until a few years ago when my siblings and I had to sell the land.  I went for a walk by myself, sentimental about the old trails, now overgrown from disuse, and the days when we had made them. That's when I remembered braiding the saplings all those years before, and walked to that part of the woods to see what had become of them.

When I got there, I did not see three braided trees—just one tree standing alone. The other two had long-since died and rotted away. This tree was also dead. No leaf or bark remained, but it was evidently made of stouter stuff, still fixed in every gentle twist I had imposed when both the tree and I were young. It broke with a crack from the ground, and a few years ago, I cut it to length, sanded and sealed it, and added it to my the collection. It reminds me of my father; it reminds me of what he said that day;  it reminds me that the influences that shape us when we're young remain long after they are gone.

That is why choosing the right educational setting is so important. Based on most state-required “hours of instruction,” the average student spends over 15,000 hours under the influence and supervision of school teachers during his/her K-12 education. The quantity of time at home may be greater than the time spent at school, and ideally the influence of the home is even more compelling, but imagine the educational advantage of having the school and home on the same page. Imagine students not needing to compartmentalize the lessons of life. Imagine a school setting that purposefully integrates learning with life, science with conscience, facts with faith, theory with wonder, and wonder with belief.  

The faculty and staff of CCS have more than 350 collective years in K-12 Christian education--250 of those years are right here at CCS. It is our pleasure to partner with Christian homes during these tender, formative years.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stone Soup

Do you remember the old folk story called “Stone Soup"? I was about four years old when I first heard this culinary classic read by Captain Kangaroo. I can still hear his voice giving life to each line.

The Youtube window below is the book Bob Keeshan read from but features a different storyteller. It's well done, but I would love to hear it again as I did as a child.The story has stayed with me all my life.

Some think it is about three clever soldiers and a naive village. Such a summation misses the greater lesson or "moral."  This story is about our natural tendency to put our own needs above others, to "play poor" in order to avoid being generous, to settle for surviving in isolation rather than thriving in community.  “Stone Soup” teaches us that when everyone puts “skin in the game” toward a goal that serves the interests of the whole group, it’s not just a better plan--it's the best plan and a much better way to reflect God the father, as illustrated in Matthew 7:9-11 (ESV)
"Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  … how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I hope you enjoy this tale about a village that had “nothing to give,” but through the contagious power of joining others willing to put "skin in the game," they set a table fit for a king.


Friday, January 24, 2014

The Homecoming Storm of 2014

One of my favorite author-narrators is Earl Hamner Jr., best known for his television show, "The Waltons,"
which aired through the Seventies. By "author-narrator" I mean a writer whose own voice is inseparable from the tone and rhythm his words pull from the page. If you remember the show or have watched its re-runs, you've heard Earl's voice toward the end of the show as the exterior of the two-story clap-board house is show (just before all the "good-nights" and the soft chord played on a harmonica). You can also hear his voice at this link as Hamner's reads the opening of The Homecoming, which was the basis for The Waltons. The story is about a blizzard that almost kept the father of the family from getting home in time for Christmas.

CCS has its own story of a Homecoming blizzard.

Tonight we were scheduled to play our Homecoming Basketball Games, announce the king and queen, and proclaim the winners of this week's class competitions. Last night at the Pep Rally, we introduced the teams and the court, and Dr. Tom Watkins, our announcer, optimistically reminded everyone to come to Friday night's games, but had all heard the forecast for today was blizzard conditions with -30 below zero wind chills. By 5:30 AM nearly every school in a 100 mile stretch along the lake shore had already canceled, and we had no choice but to follow. Even as I type, I can hear the wind howling outside, reportedly ranging from 30 to 40 MPH.

We will announce the rescheduled Homecoming Games ASAP, and we'll keep our 80 participants for Saturday's Homecoming Banquet posted if that also needs to be rescheduled. At the moment, we are still hoping for the best.

It is not the first time that a blizzard has effected Homecoming events, but it is the first time that it has happened since we had a school website. So as you're sitting there at home safe and warm, enjoy these pictures of the place you know you would rather be today--good ol' Calvary Christian Schools!

We would like to thank Mike Falkowski who plows our parking lot. Mike's daughter graduated from CCS in 2005. We'd also like to thank Mr. Kevin Dykstra who clears and salts the front walks of the school. Kevin and his wife Joanna have three daughters here at CCS and another one still at home. We'd also like to thank all the parents who just grab a snow shovel (located at each entrance) and pitches in as needed. 

These pictures were taken the morning after Wednesday, January 22, 2014, which set a record-breaking "lake effect" snowfall in a single day at CCS. Fifteen inches fell between daybreak and when the last car left the parking lot. (Actually, there were four cars left stranded in the parking lot as you can see in the second-to-the-last photo below.) The total snow depths and drifting will be much worse after today's high winds.

Many thanks to our snow-removal team for keeping up with this fierce winter and creating our own mountain range in the parking lot.

And below is what it looks like for some who try to navigate the lots before they have been plowed.

Drive safely until we meet again!
(Come to think of it, continue to drive safely even after we meet again.)