Located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Grace International School (GIS) has established the same professional standard as other international schools, including K-12 curriculums, international teachers and students, under diversified cultural background. But its uniqueness lies in the fact that it specializes for the development of children of missionaries.
Opened in 1999, it attracted 176 students at once. Currently, the GIS official website states that currently, it serves 550 students that represent 350 missionary families who are serving in 24 countries and reaching out to millions of people, allowing parents to feel confident in the futures of their children, while they can continue to invest in their ministries.
It adds, "It is strategically located in Southeast Asia where missionaries can serve many unreached people groups in the 10/40 window, where more than half of the world's unreached population live."
Therefore, Southeast Asia has been the key area for missionaries to explore. The school works as a solid backup force for many missionaries.
The school began from a dream: to serve the missionary community in Southeast Asia
"It began with a dream. " The school said when recalling its history in 2014, the 15th anniversary of its founding.
"A decade before Grace International School became a reality, the dream of a school which would serve the missionary community in Southeast Asia began to stir within the heart of GIS founder Gene Foltz. These dreams were fueled by stories of missionaries forced to leave ministries and return to their home countries due to a lack of suitable schooling options for their children...Gene, his wife Sherrie, and their children were living and serving with New Tribes Mission in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when God first began to spark Gene's imagination with the vision of what would later become Grace International School. With a population of 2,500 missionaries in Chiang Mai, and those numbers growing exponentially each year, the need for a school was quickly becoming an urgent reality. "
Chiang Mai is chosen as the training and gathering place by many mission institutions thanks to its crucial geographical position. "It is located within Southeast Asia. One-third of the world's population lives within a three hour plane ride from this city. The location of Chiang Mai makes it a strategic hub and launching point for Christian workers. Its beauty and amenities make it one of the most livable cities within Southeast Asia." Meanwhile, the low price of commodities and inexpensive housing choices contribute to the preference of missionaries, adding that the country's open religious freedom policy that allows any religion to develop here.
Eventually it has become a key mission base in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. Western missionaries who try to do cross-cultural missions in the beginning and want to know and adapt to the Asian culture prefer to stay here for some time.
"In 1995, Gene assembled a board formed of representatives from 12 mission organizations. These men met regularly to pray for the opening of a school, and to plan how to bring it about. 'The unity we experienced was miraculous,' shares Bruce Geske, a member of that first board. "There had been a spirit of division in Chiang Mai, but this brought people together. People began thinking, 'If we can set aside our differences for the sake of education, we can also do this in our ministries as well, for the sake of the gospel.' "
Then it was founded, becoming a significant assistance for the Southeastern mission.
A sister of the school staff said that they have co-operative relationships with ninety mission organizations who first help their missionaries apply for the school. Later, many missionaries can fly to their ministries after their children and families have been arranged.
Usually, they return periodically to gather with their families with their spouses who stay here to take care of their children. Because of the school, some missionaries who had to leave their fields for their children's education back in their home countries remain in their fields.
Professional education and serving attitude: missionary community can enjoy affordable and high-quality education
An important location for a school is professionalization. Therefore, the courses, teachings and quality of teaching are designed according to international education standards. It adopts the US' AP course system for K-12 education.
As a result, many missionaries' children can study from kindergarten to the twelfth grade and then apply for universities directly. She said, "A lot of our children return to their home countries like U.S and South Korea, who continue to study in universities." During the launching process, a key theme goes like this: The most important attitude the school should have is to serve by providing affordable education for missionary families.
"With many missionaries working from a less than adequate budget, a financially sustainable education for their children is imperative. In order to keep tuition costs down, the board took a leap of faith and made the decision to ask each teacher to raise his or her own support rather than be paid a salary by the school. Some might argue that many potential teachers have opted not to come to Grace as a result. In reality, the benefit of this core value has ensured that GIS attracts and sustains teachers who care enough to raise their own support in order to teach and disciple the students of missionaries in Southeast Asia."
Now the teacher group includes 50% Americans and 30% Koreans. Many Korean missionaries serve in Chiang Mai so many teachers come from Korea and the rest are from the Europe, India and Thailand.
The sister said, "My work is to find new teachers. We require that the new teachers recruited every year to commit for one year. "The reason to require one-year commitment is that many can't afford one year. Moreover, people from countries like U.S. are accustomed to resume their original work after leaving their jobs for a year. Even though, a large percentage have stayed here for two or three years and even a decade. "Maybe they never intended to stay for such a long time in the beginning, but they love the ministry here, so they remain. Later, they returned because of their parents' death or other reasons."
One former student at Grace wrote, "I have yet to hear about any other place with so many teachers that genuinely care for their students. Any person who is crazy enough to fly over to Thailand to teach for free is someone of strong character and even stronger faith. It's these types of teachers that give you something to take home to think about besides homework."
At the same time, the directors of the school train the faculty to make or repair many equipments including desks and chairs on their own to control the expenses. "We only pay the material fees so the cost can be much lower."
In addition, it offers programs to develop spiritual growth, various sport training, art, music as well as society and campus activities. Many children who are well educated here keep their faith, too.
The sister introduces that there are only a few schools of this type in the world. She knows some are in Germany, Taiwan and the Phillipines. She tells CCD that it is not only a professional school for missionary communities, which has a good standard of international school, but also a school for Christians and missionaries.
The ministry of GIS has allowed missionaries to remain on the field, while their children have not only received a quality education, but have also been loved and discipled by staff and teachers. "It's hard to find another place like this where so many people are investing in our kids on so many different levels. The fact that our kids have a good school to go to has kept us on the field." shared one of the missionary parents.
New challenge of building a new campus: Look forward to different witness under harsh conditions
Rooted in Chiang Mai, the school has walked for 17 years since its birth, growing into a tress sheltering missionaries' children and giving them education around the Southeast Asia.
However, it faces a difficult trial after 17 years: it has to move to another place because the current place bought over a decade ago cannot be transferred into its name due to a legal dispute. It plans to build a new school allowing to reach 1000 students and serve over 500 missionary families serving in some of the most unreached areas of the world.
The story goes back to more than ten years ago when the local housing commission made a new policy, telling them that the land belonged to public. According to the law, the school was not able to have the land so it was forced to give it back. Having gone through a-decade in court, GIS lost the lawsuit. Meanwhile, they couldn't get the money back for the land's owner goes bankrupt.
A local missionary tells CCD that missionaries often encounter these obstacles like how they are not permitted to purchase lands in countries like Thailand which has a strong state power, therefore, many ministries are affected.
Faced with the unreasonable law and having lost the appeal, the school staff accepted the school's faith with calmness despite feeling pity over the students and the community. She continues, "The surrounding people who know this regard it irrationally, but we hope our calmness will give a different witness to let the neighbours wonder why we stay so calm."
In the trial, the school doesn't forget its development and hope to minister students. They already have 33 acres of land in the city and launch a fundraising for the future construction with the plan to begin building by January 1, 2017. Their goal is to finish the 1000 student facility by the beginning of the 2018 school year, serving 500 missionary families whose parents serve in the unreached areas.
They believe that God has prepared abundant grace on the road for GIS.
Know more about GIS: www.gisthailand.org/