Rebuilding What Matters

Minnehaha Students Returning

Rebuilding What Matters

By Donna Harris | September 4, 2018

Last summer an explosion destroyed part of Minnehaha Academy, a preK–12 school operated by the Northwest Conference. Staff members Ruth Berg and John Carlson were killed and several others were injured. President Donna Harris reflects on what their community has learned in the past year and how they have drawn together.

You can view previous articles on Minnehaha here.

This past year we have been reminded that God provides for those who grieve in Zion and bestows on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Isaiah’s words have been a healing balm for Minnehaha Academy. We have been exceedingly blessed by the generosity, support, and counsel of many. While we continue to grieve the tragedy of August 2, 2017, the inspiring stories of God’s grace and beauty in the aftermath have strengthened our school community.

Our trials have drawn us closer to God our sustainer. Something about deep pain and heartache can soften our hearts and sensitize us to listen more intently to God’s still, small voice. This year we have emphasized faithful prayer, the cornerstone of spiritual practice, in chapels and throughout classroom learning activities. Each day at 8:45 a.m. when the bell chimes in our temporary administrative pod offices, we gather to give God thanks and to bring our petitions to him. We are so encouraged to learn of the many people who are fervently praying for Minnehaha every day.

Recently a parent approached me at the end of a busy and trying day. She grasped my hands and with tears flowing, whispered, “Donna, I want you to know that our family has been praying for Minnehaha and our church has kept your weary arms raised.” Just as Aaron and Hur held up Moses’s arms while the Israelites fought against formidable enemies, that timely encounter sustained me.

Tragedies such as what Minnehaha faced prompt us to assess our lives and evaluate our priorities.

The testimonies we have shared are reminders of the importance of making every moment count and focusing on what is most important. These are things we know, but sometimes in the frailty of our humanness we fail to practice them. We are letting our loved ones know how much we cherish them, showing appreciation for what is sometimes taken for granted, and striving to build positive memories each day. And we remember to make the main things—the people God places in our lives—the main things.

Our faculty, staff, and students are deeply learning the benefit of perseverance. The class of 2018 placed a sign on the fence surrounding the school that read, “You Can’t Shake Our Foundation.” Their experience will have a profound and lasting influence on their lives, already evident in the way they navigated unfamiliar rhythms and substantial change with grace and strength in a building one-third the size of the space they had been accustomed to. I was inspired by their steadfastness. They made this past year special by finding new ways to create community, planning activities to build a storehouse of special senior memories, and finding opportunities to be thankful in spite of challenging circumstances. Our staff and faculty have modeled incredible resilience and have made the experience of students the priority. We have all relied on the promise of Psalm 121:2: “Our help comes from the Lord; he will not slumber or sleep.”

We are leaning on one another a bit more because we know we’re better together. We have thought, planned, and prayed about the opportunity to reimagine our school. We have contemplated critical questions. How do we honor our mission, the sacrifice, and legacy of our founders in the reimagining? What do we add? What do we sunset? What are our strengths? What needs to be reinforced? How do we deepen the layers of our relationships with one another? And how do we honor God in the midst of our trials? Our journey is not just about rebuilding. We are touching the minds and hearts of students who will graduate and go on to make this world a more beautiful place.

So with confidence in our Lord and Savior, we will rebuild. We will grow stronger as a community. The brick and mortar that was lost is not the heart of our school. The heart and soul of Minnehaha Academy that our friends and colleagues Ruth Berg and John Carlson embodied is our mission to provide high-quality education integrating Christian faith and learning—that remains unchanged! Our partnership with students and families remains steadfast and our committed faculty and staff will continue to build upon our reputation of excellence. We know that God will expand our territory and create a new thing.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland 
(Isaiah 43:19).

About the Author

Donna Harris is the president of Minnehaha Academy, a preK–12 school in in Minneapolis, Minnesota, operated by the Northwest Conference of the ECC.

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