God created us hungry.
We are born with two immediate hungers: the hunger for nourishment and the hunger to learn.
Our universal condition as learning beings makes education a central article in any declaration of rights.
Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”
Who, not what, does a hunger for education look like?
Education, while constructed as a civil institution, is in its final form an undeniably individual endeavor.
We may measure the average scores of groups of students, but education is ultimately seen in the flourishing of each individual human life.
So, it is no surprise that education has been the mission and ministry of Baptist Christians for hundreds of years.
From our confessions of Imago Dei and our distinctive belief in sole competency, we value each individual person as precious and loved by God – so loved by God that God seeks each one of us for relationship.
The early Baptists and early Baptist missionaries were focused on education as a means of facilitating each person both in human flourishing and spiritual growth.
Education is still a hallmark of missions and ministries that enrich, empower and transform lives.
Who does a hunger for education look like? It looks like a 12-year-old girl, refugees or desperate people being served by selfless teachers and courageous Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) field personnel.
Think of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani s/hero at 12. It looks like millions of girls, especially, because 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school age – half of them in sub-Saharan Africa – will never enter a classroom.
Whether in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa, CBF Global Missions field personnel – sent and supported by CBF churches – continue the transforming work of education in the name and spirit of Christ around the world.
I have served as honored teacher in South American and African villages for literacy, migration and maternal and child health initiatives alongside local pastors, teachers and missionaries.
Learning happens in terrible light, across language barriers and in spite of many hardships because people are worthy of investment and they are hungry for education.
Everyone learns; my life and spirit have been forever formed by these encounters.
Glimpses of these faces and changes can be found on “Mission Bites.” See, especially, “Mission Bite 49, Sept. 5, 2017” and “Mission Bite 48, Aug. 29, 2017.”
Who does a hunger for education look like? Charlie Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children supporting and advocating for public school education.
At no time since its fragile beginnings has U.S. public education more desperately needed clear understanding and strong support than right now.
The challenges that schools face are worth our best efforts because the stakes are so high.
“We call public education a moral value. People are made in the image of God. Not just some people – all people,” Johnson asserts. “And that means that we get to name God’s world. It’s a fundamental human right. That requires the best standards of knowledge that we have.”
The public schools are not an instrument of social salvation, but they will – if given the resources to do so – make an enormously positive difference for the common good.
Although not every child attends public schools, our failure to attend to the needs of public education will negatively impact 100 percent of our society.
Most state constitutions have something similar to what Article 7 of the Texas Constitution says. “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Johnson has organized more than 2,000 pastors for the support of public education in Texas.
“There is a foundation of faith in the education of a child that has a spiritual element to it; you’re illuminating and enlightening that child,” he says. “What we do in our movement is underscore and highlight the moral foundations of public education. This is a basic human right. It’s like food.”
Johnson continues, “Every child deserves a quality public education and it is the responsibility of the public to ensure that they get it. … So we come along as pastors, ministers and priests and say that here’s what faith stands for. It stands for the education of every child. It is a public trust. It’s an enterprise owned by every person in the community and it’s a charge before God, a divinely appointed responsibility.”
Who does a hunger for education look like? Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College, and the resurrection of a historically black institution of Christian higher education.
The story of Baptists and higher education can be told in many chapters. But an unusual story of Christian transformation and commitment to urban needs began in 1997.
The Lord led Cosby to encourage the St. Stephens Church of Louisville, Kentucky, to buy and convert into a lifestyle enrichment campus the original four-acre campus of what was known as Simmons University.
When established in 1879, Simmons was the first black-owned and operated educational institution in the state of Kentucky, but lost the campus due to foreclosure during the Great Depression.
In 2005, Cosby was named the 13th president of Simmons. Two years later, because of his obedience to God’s guidance to buy Simmons’ original campus a decade earlier, Cosby led the college back to their original campus.
Simmons has secured accreditation and been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a member of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
Simmons will be the new campus home for one of CBF’s partner seminaries, the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, which will have a campus site in Louisville on the Simmons University campus in early 2018.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Human Rights Day 2017 (Dec. 10). Previous articles in the series are:
Suzii Paynter is the current co-director of Pastors for Texas Children, and the former executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She lives in Austin, Texas.