Much of the world’s culture encourages children to live with a “main character” mentality, to focus inward, make self-serving decisions, and live day-to-day without acknowledging the needs of others. Contrarily, Santa Fe Christian encourages students to practice the posture of selfless giving by volunteering and investing in others, globally and locally, through a positive campus culture and longstanding Global Ministries and Community Partnerships (GMCP) program.
The GMCP program has been a core program at Santa Fe Christian for decades and has contributed to the school’s position as a top private school in San Diego. Many students identify these self-service opportunities as pivotal moments in their walk with Christ, their future decisions, and forging impactful relationships that have lasted far beyond the high school experience.
How does Santa Fe Christian foster these complex character-building skills in young Eagles? What do these experiences mean to SFC students, and what is the driving factor in keeping this program alive?
Upper School’s Janelle Ruge and Augustus Garcia recount their experiences leading 20+ global ministry trips with Santa Fe Christian. They share their passion for continuing the GMCP program and the impactful work God has orchestrated through the trips and outreach projects, year after year.
SFC Students Express Empathy K-12
From kindergarten through 12th grade, SFC students participate in multiple community outreach projects that are charitable, unique to SFC, and life-changing. The ongoing practice of self-service presents students with an understanding of diverse communities. Students grow in leadership development and teamwork skills and acquire a posture of empathy and responsibility through community outreach.
Janelle Ruge explains, “Our goal at SFC is faith formation. We emphasize spiritual growth in our students in everything we do.” Whether experiencing another culture’s worship style or focusing on others’ needs through a Christ-led lens, elementary through high school students learn to think outside of their comforts and routines, leading to impactful experiences.
The Lower School program introduces selfless work through monthly chapel themes, daily classroom practice, and a national week of service called Give Thanks Give Back. Additionally, students prepare for this week by writing letters and donating their own Halloween candy for service men and women overseas. Donating their ‘hard-earned’ candy is a sacrifice of selfless proportions for young children.
Ms. Ruge reflects: “It’s really exciting for our kids to get a taste of the world outside of themselves from early age.” This is why the Give Thanks Give Back tradition has been a Lower School staple for over fifteen years. During Give Back week, students K-5th grade prepare, pack, and pray for over 50,000 meals to distribute globally to communities in need. The packing party is bustling and fun for all grades and reinforces the “three Rs” (Responsibility, Resiliency, and Resourcefulness) that Lower School teachers foster throughout the school day.
This foundation of civil action and responsible service provide essential building blocks for lifelong character development — a foundation upon which the Middle School at SFC builds through continued service.
Community partnerships and volunteer work become more complex as children grow toward adolescence at Santa Fe Christian. Students can serve people groups located locally and out of state.
Most notably, seventh graders may participate in a mission trip to Tucson, Arizona, a city with one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. There, students work with kids in the adoption system, paint old chapels, and serve food to families in need. The experience of giving in service to others is truly transformative in SFC’s young missionaries.
Some return as seniors to mentor a new group of middle schoolers through the experience. Strong relationships are built between seventh and twelfth graders that last far beyond the SFC experience.
Assistant Principal Kristi Ellis recounts: “It’s incredible to watch the students give so much of themselves through hard, meaningful work.” Middle schoolers who go on this trip get to encounter God’s people in different settings and circumstances in a way they have never before experienced, and they come back, hearts changed.
In eighth grade, there’s an opportunity to take the passion and understanding they learned in Tucson to serve local communities in need located in San Diego. GMCP focuses equally on answering the biblical calling to serve communities around the world and close to home.
Providing middle schoolers a chance to experience both types of service prepares them to expand their reach on a global scale when they reach high school at SFC. Augustus Garcia explains that there is a pretty clear Biblical example of short-term ministry projects, both locally and globally. “Certainly, we want to be a benefit and not a detractor of the communities we serve. In Acts, Jesus sends disciples out two by two without any of their belongings, out of their comfort, to share Christ’s message, heal others, and serve their physical needs.” And SFC is doing the same – it’s no wonder that when students are asked to leave the routines they know and get outside their comfort zones, they find the greatest life transformation.
Graduating SFC students have developed a reverent understanding of the short-term impact and eternal value of creating positive change within communities worldwide. Their hearts have matured in love for others, and most have procured opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus locally.
The Global Ministry and Community Partnerships program acknowledge that high schoolers are ready for an elevated level of service. These opportunities are available through annual global ministry trips. Each year, juniors and seniors can apply to join a GMCP team. This year, they are traveling to Israel, the Dominican Republic, France, Nepal, and Costa Rica, and each trip focuses on something unique to the area.
Ms. Ruge explains that there are different types of trips with varying focuses, “While all of our trips have a different focus, they all share a common purpose that gives them that ‘SFC touch.’ There are two main objectives for every GMCP trip. First and foremost, to glorify God as we mentor students in spiritual formation. Secondly, to develop empathy and build cross-cultural connections.” These trips are an incredible opportunity for students to step away from their daily routines, leave behind their normal comforts, and escape the busyness of their schedules to re-shift their focus in service to others.
In addition to becoming agents of change, this unique program provides students with experiences that encourage personal growth, relationship formation, and future planning.
Global Ministry Transforms Students’ Perspective
Eighty-five percent of SFC students participate in a global ministry and community outreach project while attending Santa Fe Christian. They learn to step outside their personal needs and comfort zones to serve others, and they return transformed as responsible, global citizens excited about being part of the work that God simultaneously directs worldwide.
While these integral trips provide avenues for high schoolers to do good work and serve others, they also grant life-changing experiences for students who answer the call to venture abroad. Mr. Garcia describes that some students are unexplainably drawn to go on a trip, and they are welcome because “the reality is, the Lord shows up, meets them there, and moves in these students’ hearts.” Students experience God’s grace, His goodness, and faithfulness throughout their trips, and they return with high spirits and renewed energy in their Christian walk.
Aaron, an SFC Senior, experienced the beauty of Costa Rica and was reminded of God’s creativity and artistry in His creation. Similarly, CJ, an SFC Junior, was inspired by the open expression of faith in Israel and was moved by visiting the places where Jesus walked.
CJ shares: “It’s not easy to be different and stand for your faith, but we are not called to hide our faith. We are called to preach to all nations. When we were in Israel, it was eye-opening to me to see three different religions openly and proudly expressing their faith in the same city. They had no shame in expressing their religion and being excited to share with others. I think we can all learn from the people of Israel, especially the Christians of Israel, put our faith out there, and share the light and the love of God. We’re not made to hide our lights but to share them and help others with the light and the love.” CJ attributes her strengthened faith to visiting the paramount locations of Jesus’ ministry.
Similarly, Class of 2015 alum Luke Vandertie remembers studying the historical context of Biblical events and foundations in Mr. Garcia’s class. He is thankful for the opportunity to deepen his understanding of the Bible on the shores of rivers and lakes described in Jesus’ time. He recounts grasping his Biblical knowledge like no other when friends got baptized in the Jordan river and as Mr. Garcia and Mr. Litz taught in various historical spaces throughout Israel.
Though CJ, Luke, and Aaron traveled separately, they all experienced God in a new and transformative way, thanks to SFC’s global ministry trips.
Relationship building is a pillar value at Santa Fe Christian. The Global Ministry and Community Partnerships program enable students to form meaningful relationships with those abroad and with team members, class peers whom they might have missed the chance to know closely. “We build a team and expect students to work within the collective effort.” explains Mr. Garcia, “When we take the focus off ourselves and open our hands and say I’m willing to do whatever, I’m willing to serve whomever, then that’s when transformation takes place… It’s we before me.”
Abroad, the GMCP teams quickly form unique bonds where each person is encouraged and supported through triumphs, unknowns, and exciting new challenges. Catherine Kuiper, SFC Spanish teacher and Dominican Republic chaperone, encourages team bonding by inspiring students to put themselves last and to think of others in unique ways throughout each day. The challenges are simple like get on the bus last, carry a team member’s backpack, or sit next to someone new on every leg of the trip. Mrs. Kuiper notes that as students think less of themselves, they focus more on supporting their team, and ministering to others. Thus relationships flourish.
The ‘we before me’ objective emboldens students to reach out to others in the communities they visit. When students humbly enter a community with God’s truth and love in the forefront of their minds, positive change occurs, and community partnerships are strengthened.
“Being invited into a community is a privilege.” Ms. Ruge reflects, “For someone to open up their lives to us for a whole week is pretty impactful and special. It needs to be protected and respected… We have a desire to come along side the people we are working with to be part of their community and their goals for a short time.” To that end, the focus of Santa Fe Christian’s global ministry trips is to serve others.
SFC’s goal of maintaining long-term partnerships with schools, churches, and communities worldwide has a significant impact. “The connections and partnerships are humbling as students experience life in a different community – longstanding partners express their gratitude, and we get to revisit the bigger projects and goals these places are working on.” describes Mr. Garcia. These experiences profoundly impact students, who become agents of positive transformation in their jobs, communities, and families.
The Global Ministry and Community Partnership program at Santa Fe Christian inspires responsible global citizenship among the student body. By participating in age-relevant programs that provide relief and support to communities in need, SFC students often pursue roles and opportunities to serve beyond graduation.
SFC Alum of 2013, Hayley Bennett Lyle, shared how SFC mission trips facilitated her first experience of the developing world at a young and transformative age, opening her eyes and heart to the world and the depths of God’s heart. Hayley recounts, “From Uganda to rural Fiji, these trips, though brief, opened my eyes and my heart. The opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in these environments and genuinely get to know the people there profoundly shaped the way that I see the world and the depths of God’s heart.
“I think that you cannot truly understand the developing world and our intrinsic connection to it unless you actually go there and build relationships there. It may bring up deep questions, but those questions spark us to grow, to know God in a deeper way, and ultimately bring positive impact to the world.” Hayley’s initial experience of serving alongside the SFC community overseas began her deep passion and commitment for future mission work.
After graduating from SFC, Hayley spent a year in India in the mission field. Her travels allowed her to write an autobiography for a man she met there. Her book The Barefoot King now sheds light on the cast system and God’s faithful hand in using the most desperate situations for good.
Erin Vandertie, SFC Alum 2017, went on multiple ministry trips with SFC. “We’re going there to serve, but the communities we visit truly teach us more than anything.” Her time volunteering in underserved communities with SFC led Erin to ask critical questions about the world, which led her to study social work.
Sara, an SFC Senior, learned about leadership and the impact she can have on others, especially younger children. Sara describes, “it was an incredible opportunity to serve the people in the Dominican Republic… The kids over there craved attention and love. They didn’t care that we didn’t speak the same language. They still wanted to hang out with us and get to know us… Something that I specifically learned was how much impact I can have on others, even at my age.” Sara is humbled that the students remembered her name and looked up to her.
The experience helped Sara form an identity in leadership, an invaluable trait that will undoubtedly continue on throughout her future endeavors. Not only does global ministry help shape student hearts, relationships, and futures, it makes a significant impact on others.
Initiate Community Change
SFC’s commitment to global outreach is broader than week-long mission trips. High school leadership teams, clubs, and athletics teams regularly visit a local shelter and homeless recovery center in downtown San Diego. Students independently belong to the National Charity League, student-run volunteer clubs, and the National Honor Society, volunteering in multiple avenues, from tutoring to beach clean-ups to senior care.
Mr. Garcia expresses that while the Upper School trips are incredible, it’s equally important to have that “heart of service in our own community because if we neglect the needs that are right in front of us, we have missed a huge aspect of what it means to be a disciple and servant in the eyes of Christ… Our community partnerships and our ministry start right here at home. When you look at the mandate that God gives us in the Bible, it says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses [locally] …and the ends of the Earth.'”
Prepared for the Future
Volunteer and ministry work is vital for students to learn the value of selfless work and become responsible global citizens. Santa Fe Christian Schools is providing students with opportunities to participate in outreach programs and become agents of positive transformation. By investing in the growth of its students, SFC can prepare them for a bright future and a lifetime commitment to a heart of service and philanthropy.