A 21-Year Odyssey

Dale and Principal David at NKST Secondary School in Katsina-Ala, Nigeria

In May of 2018, our Executive Director, Dale Dieleman, encountered a respiratory health issue that is now causing him to step down from his current role at Tent Schools International. After 21 years of service to our organization, we are deeply grateful to Dale for his friendship, his passion and his efforts toward pursuing the mission of education for marginalized children. He will be greatly missed. Please join us with your prayers for Dale as he transitions out of this role and into a new, and in many ways more difficult time, in his life and in the lives of his family members. Here is Dale’s personal farewell letter to all of you.

Dear Friends,

I am here, and that is actually something to celebrate. I am still breathing and counting every day as a blessing. In 21 years with this organization, nothing has encouraged me more than knowing that behind every breath of hope put into a project, a school, a student, a refugee or displaced person’s life, is the breath of life from God through you, our friends.

Now it is time for me to come to terms with what I am being taught through my illness. With that said, I am leaving Tent Schools International (TSI). I do not know what God has for me next, but I do know that this decision to say goodbye to all of you, and to the staff here at TSI, had to be made.

Visiting countries on every continent and meeting extraordinary people of faith wherever I traveled was a privilege I will always cherish. With these memories, one might think it would be easy to highlight some of the outstanding accomplishments we all worked so hard to achieve, in giving children who live at the margins of their communities an opportunity to attend a school, and a Christ-centered school at that. But at heart I am a teacher and a learner, and I confess that our achievements pale in comparison to the lessons I have learned, being taught by those who are on the front lines of restoring hope through their schools.

What has this 21-year odyssey taught me?

I have realized that all education is local. There is no universal learning apart from how knowledge and understanding is linked to the times and culture of those who are learners, of any age.

I have learned that, even in the context of so-called “biblical worldviews”, there are vast differences in which views are being presented and how they are being applied. For those who are oppressed or dispossessed of all they have, self-determination is of high value, and therefore the biblical worldview that works is one that sees and respects the determination of a people to be free of their oppression.

I learned what sacrificing time and talents means by walking with those who served on our HANDS teams over the years. There are debates about whether sending short-term teams is an effective approach, but in the case of HANDS, I would challenge any doubter to ask the students and teachers in the schools these volunteers helped construct if they were wrong in coming, and in showing the “hands of Jesus” as alive, well, and real.

I listened to whom I call true heroes of faith, namely teachers who go to battle against every negative force each day, and I have come to learn that referring to these saints and their faith communities as having “a faith which is a mile wide and an inch deep” is simply misinformed, and evidence of a lack of understanding of the marks of true faith.

My greatest teachers, however, have been the children in the schools our partners have established as they put their trust in the word of God. The children and their care providers believe education is their door to a life they can now only imagine. They go to school, barefooted, across miles, with little food to sustain them, but with hope that they too will achieve their God-given potential.

What is my hope?

I pray supporters like you will continue to contribute to their education.

I hope that we who are in a position to give do not embroil ourselves in debates over sustainability. After all, name one U.S. school, college or university – public or private – that is self-sustained. All are dependent on the good graces of those who believe that education can change societies for the better.

My hope is that the teachers I met and the thousands they represent will not grow weary of their calling.

I hope that we continue to engage in a global prayer ministry, such as TSI’s Prayer Tent. Prayer is our God-given gift to seek first the Kingdom, on behalf of the children and our own faith circles. Pray for healing. Pray for a worldwide faith initiative on education. The world needs our Christ-centered schools and the graduates that come through them, year after year, as long as we are there with them in prayer and other means of support.

May the Lord be with you all, and with Tent Schools International. I will cherish and miss you!

Sincerely, in Christ’s name,