When I first entered Longburn Adventist College (LAC), New Zealand, I was drawn to a message made out of white stones embedded in the concrete footpath. It said “The Home of Opportunity”.
It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the same message was also embedded at the other entry to LAC. This uncomplicated artefact is often referred to and somehow retains the purpose of LAC. Over LAC’s 109 years a much wider range of artefacts has been created: the large brass bell that was the “communication hub” (in the early 20th century) of the school, the plaques that remember some of the individuals who influenced LAC, and the plaques that affirm Christ as being central to everything we do. Different artefacts with different stories culminating in what “makes” LAC.
Recently, a Maori carving (pou) was unveiled. The process took some 18 months from its conception to its completion. During that time the majority of work was not around the construction but the message that this artefact would have. Unlike other artefacts on the premises, the school community had an opportunity to reflect on what it wanted to “say” as people entered the school grounds.
The carvers of the pou had made it very clear that this was not their carving, but LAC’s. It is a rare gift when an organisation can ask itself, “What do we want to say about who we are?” Unsurprisingly, there was much discussion, banter and negotiation around this gift. That this artefact, taonga, was in a Maori context provided additional challenges but also, and more importantly, became part of the message itself. Different people in different cultural contexts, with one answer and one God. The pou’s message for each of us is “Growing together, becoming one in Christ”. This statement is all-inclusive. It is not a Maori pou as such; it is our pou, just as different cultures will embrace the other artefacts. Alongside the pou is an information panel that explains both the Te Reo (Maori language) and English meaning. I particularly enjoy the co-existence of different cultural symbols that unite us rather than divide us. When the time comes, surely we will be sitting at God’s table and there will only be one table for all our uniqueness!
As a school, we are now looking to using all of our artefacts as a context for learning, celebrating the vision that we have and that our forefathers had. Surely what is truly important will never change over time. Perhaps it is good counsel to ask ourselves what statement of intent we are leaving behind.
Growing together, becoming one in Christ, in the home of opportunity.
Go to www.lac.school.nz to view the story of the pou.
Brendan van Oostveen is principal of Longburn Adventist College.