An adventure into partnership

Navigator College is a Lutheran school in Port Lincoln, situated on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. As an emerging school within the Lutheran education network, Navigator has been working hard to develop opportunities for its students, including service learning, a key aspect of Christian education. As our school established its learning program, we were keen to develop a Service Learning concept for our senior school students. But we also knew we would need to reach beyond Port Lincoln, beyond South Australia, perhaps even beyond Australia. We would need a way to deliver activities year after year; activities which would ‘stretch’ our students to see and experience the world beyond our local region, beyond what is familiar.

We were blessed to know of the work that Glenice Hartwich had done with church and school groups, especially in liaison with Lutheran Education Australia (LEA). LEA leaders (the late Adrienne Jericho and his successor, Steve Rudolph) had been enthusiastic supporters of Australian schools establishing partnership-school relationships, so there was experience and resources available to help us find the right school in an overseas context.

Narrowing down the options meant taking in a lot of factors: what context would fit our curriculum and offer a genuine experience of service learning, safety of students, language and cultural experiences, identifying needs and how the partnership could mutually benefit the partner schools, as well as costs of excursions. We prayed, we had meetings and we exchanged many emails, as you can imagine!

Eventually we identified SMA Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungun (SMA GKPS) school in North Sumatra, Indonesia, as the school which we would like to partner with. SMA GKPS is a secondary school, with a nearby primary school. It seemed to offer an opportunity for a whole-school focus for Christian studies at Navigator. It offered all students involvement in raising much-needed funds for SMA GKPS, making gifts for our new friends, and the future possibility of integrating SOSE, English and language studies into the partnership. It was exciting to anticipate the benefits for each of our schools. Students and staff from Navigator could learn about Indonesian traditions, culture and ways of living, while SMA GKPS students and staff could learn about our version of best pedagogic practice from Australian education, as well as Australian culture and the traditions we take for granted. We hoped our interaction would result in mutual learning.

The next step was to undertake a reconnaissance visit to SMA GKPS, which meant a visit to our new partner school. We needed to meet our partners in person and work out a productive itinerary for visiting students, as well as meet our obligations of a risk analysis and duty of care. Our first visit had a range of objectives:

– initiate face to face contact with our prospective partners at SMA GKPS

– identity firsthand the areas of need and where our school/students could be of assistance

– establish a relationship with the church through the Bishop.

– identify communication channels, so students from Navigator and SMA GKPS could contact each other

– begin discussions to develop a memorandum of understanding between the schools

– worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and

– identify with and embrace people of social, cultural and economic difference.

We were introduced to Ridwin Purba, a member of the GKPS church, who became our liaison officer in Indonesia. Ridwin worked with us to develop the itinerary for our reconnaissance visit, and then the first trip of 10 students and four staff members. SMA GKPS had seen a decline in student numbers in recent years (from 900 to 300). The authorities thought this might reflect a lack of quality in resources and education being provided. Our proposed school partnership was one way that this might be addressed, as we could help with resources and quality teaching methodologies. SMA GKPS were looking to rebuild their enrolments and their status within the local area.

Our reconnaissance visit was an amazing educational experience. We were welcomed like royalty and experienced rituals and traditions of our new cultural family. We were humbled as we witnessed people living in incredible poverty, which was superseded by their attitude of making the most of what they have. We came away with much excitement and enthusiasm about our new endeavour.

We prayed for our partnership to be blessed and looked forward to the opportunity which had opened for our students. We wanted them to enjoy the experience but also learn from it. There would be aspects that might shock our students, but we also believed that they would be able to provide support and opportunities to the SMA GKPS students which would be of benefit. We hoped that after their experience, they would come home appreciating all the more the blessings of God.

If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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