"The Esther School is a self-sustaining Christian day school in Nyangwenya, Zambia. Opened in the fall of 2012, the school equips orphaned and under-resourced children to serve God, their families, and their communities to their fullest potential."

Dana Krol ’14 and Dave ’11 and Jill Honderd Draayer ’13 are staff members of The Esther School, a Christian day school in Chongwe, Zambia. We had a chance to connect with them via email about their Calvin experiences, vocational direction, spiritual walk and what they’re learning on their journey.

Spark: Tell us about your Calvin experience.

Dana: Calvin was a hugely formative four years. Calvin offered many opportunities for personal and professional growth. Dorm life showed me how to live in community. Professors challenged me to think beyond the “easy answer” and fellow classmates engaged me in thought-provoking conversations. In addition, my on-campus jobs placed me into leadership roles that prepared me for my work at The Esther School.

Dave: I had many great teachers, especially in the kinesiology department where I spent the majority of my time. I grew significantly during courses Dr. [Brian] Bolt taught. He showed great confidence in his students, to the point where he would send sub-par dancers like me to teach swing dancing to a large group of local high school students! While these types of challenges were intimidating and even uncomfortable at times, they were also the most rewarding. I was forced to branch out from what I knew best. Reflecting back on that, it is clear now God used it in part to prepare me to move across the world to serve Him in a place very unfamiliar.

Jill: When looking into colleges Calvin was an easy choice for me. The college has a wonderful special education program. I could play soccer and my older sister was attending there. In special ed, the professors do a great job at challenging you as a student. They encourage you to get involved in programs around campus (read below). They encouraged us to get engaged in the world around us. I loved participating in activities like Ready for Life and Special Olympics while attending Calvin. I had chances to get involved in the greater community and see how God can work through different people and organizations.

Spark: What did you do after graduation? How did that lead to what you are doing now?

Dana: It was more what happened before graduation that led me to my current position. During my time at Calvin, I had the opportunity to travel abroad. I toured Southeast Asia with Capella and spent a semester in York, England. These experiences opened my eyes to the vastness of God’s creation and the beauty in the cultures around the world. I knew after graduation I had to see more. Paired with nonprofit work for various classes, I saw a need in the world that I hoped I could aid.

Dave: I graduated mid-school year, so I fell back on my longtime summer job and painted until teaching openings began to pop up. I was fortunate enough to find a great part-time P.E. teaching and sports coordinator position, which I did for a year before landing a middle school P.E. job in the school association where I was once a student.

Jill: I met Dave my first year at Calvin, while he was a senior. We dated for two years before getting married the summer after my junior year. At the time he was teaching P.E. at a local private school. We always talked about doing mission work but had unofficially decided to wait until we were retired. However, God had a different plan! I wasn’t sure where God was calling me to teach but knew I would be teaching somewhere. Dave and I were in constant prayer and trying to discern where God was calling us a couple. At the end of May we sent an email to family friends who were in missions in Zambia. They had a prayer request saying they were in need of a first-grade teacher and P.E teacher. Dave and I prayed constantly over this, and we knew God was calling us to teach in Zambia.

Spark: What do you do at The Esther School?

Dana: The Esther School (TES) is an outreach of GEMS Girls Club. My position is sponsorship coordinator and communications specialist. Every student has a sponsor from North America who provides funds for their tuition, school supplies and uniform. My job is to provide steady communication to these sponsors as well as keeping the communication flowing from TES to supporters in North America. Responsibilities for this include taking pictures, making videos, updating the website and writing newsletters. It’s an exciting and humbling place to be!

Dave: I serve as the school administrator. This entails many of the same day-to-day tasks of an administrator from North America but also adds some responsibilities that are unique to TES. I oversee all aspects of the Family Investment Program, as we do not require monetary fees from parents/guardians. We do, however, require that each family invest 16 hours a month working at our school per child. Families serve in our kitchen, classrooms, agriculture fields, with construction projects and lead income-generation endeavors. It is cool to see the community take prideful ownership in its operations and growth. I also oversee the food program, which serves each student with a healthy breakfast, snack and lunch.

Jill: We welcomed a beautiful baby boy into our family in November 2014. Prior to that I was the first-grade teacher. Right now I am currently returning from maternity leave and filling in the cracks where needed. I serve as a resource teacher and provide some students with extra help. I am able to meet with students from every grade and give them the one-on-one and small-group attention needed to master skills.

Spark: How does your faith come into play with your work and life?

Dana: I’m immersed in it. When you serve at a Christian school, faith weaves its way into the classroom, on the playground and staff meetings. I’m surrounded by coworkers and students who show the love of Jesus. The children sing and pray so passionately and sincerely. Faith follows me home. I have the joy of living in community and being able to fill and be filled by my colleagues. That being said, the challenges of living where I work, and living abroad, frequently bring me to my knees. But with these challenges comes joy. When I am stripped of the comforts of home and the closeness of family, I have nowhere to turn but to Jesus.

Dave: We are here because of God’s leading. Our faith makes it possible for us to live and work in Zambia. It would not be possible otherwise.

Jill: TES is surrounded with people of our community. Every day we have a chance to be an example of Christ in our words and actions. However, every day I am shown that the people here are impacting my spiritual walk in so many ways. The people in our village have little option but to trust God. They teach me time and time again not to worry when somebody is sick but instead bring your fears right to God.

Spark: Any interesting stories to share? Do you sense that you’re an “agent of renewal”?

Dana: In our case, being an agent of renewal means bringing the hope of an education to the children of our village. It means equipping our students to positively affect their families and communities. It means preparing our students for a future where they can be servant leaders in whatever field they choose. I also see our students being agents of renewal now. They teach their siblings how to read, write and speak English. They share Bible stories they hear in class to people in their village. It is truly a blessing to see their hearts already serving Jesus.

Dave: We all have an interesting story to tell. Here, there is a grandfather who faithfully bikes 20 km a day to bring his granddaughter to and from school. There are boys and girls not much older than our students who come to work around campus so their siblings can attend. There is a second-grade student who shares the day’s Bible story with his younger siblings and neighbors. There are first-grade students who work in the fields and watch cattle immediately after leaving school. We are constantly reminded and humbled by the commitment of this community.

Jill: At the end of the year first-grade students are allowed to buy a children’s Bible at a discounted price. One afternoon a mother of a student came to buy a Bible, insistent that she had to buy one for her son. She then went on to say every day when her son gets home from school he runs to all their neighbor kids to tell them the Bible story he heard that day.

Spark: What have you learned?

Dana: This year has taught me the importance of grace. We need grace from God. And we also need grace for each other. We need to receive grace, and we need to give it. I have also learned that it’s not me that can do it, but God. If I’m overwhelmed by the tasks before me, I’m reminded that Jesus is already behind it. It takes away the pride and the fear. When I think something is beyond my capabilities, I’m reminded that it is within God’s. My advice to others is to listen to when God speaks and to respond with a “yes.” Don’t put limitations on God’s power by saying, “I can’t do that.” Allow Him to work through you. When we say, “yes” to God, we put ourselves in His plan, whether that’s across the world or across the street.

Dave: One of the most humbling things I am reminded of from living here is the reality that opportunity is everything. I am reminded that it should be no surprise that these students are thriving. They were simply given an opportunity to use and develop the unique gifts God gave them. It should be no surprise that this community is full of talented people. They simply needed a platform to carry it out. It is unfortunate that opportunities are so drastically different simply depending on your location in the world.  We are blessed to play a part in providing much-needed opportunities.

Jill: I have learned that in all circumstances you must truly trust in God. He always gets you through whatever you need. We have gone weeks without running water, been sick with malaria, had buildings collapse and delivered a baby in a foreign country. Every time God wrapped His hands around us. He brought the right people around us and gave us the scripture we needed to hear. Every single challenge we faced God showed us His wonderful grace. Nothing is too big or too small for our God. He has continually taught us to not fear but to trust Him in all circumstances.