Current student and family testimonies.
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â€œTen years ago, I was digging through garbage dumps for food. Today, Iâ€™m on my way to college. I stand before you now as a living testimony of Godâ€™s amazing handiwork,â€ shared Ephraim Bird in his Hope Academy graduation address.
Running a 9:26 two-mile and having placed second in state, it would be simple for Ephraim to find his identity in his amazing running ability. Instead, he chooses to find his identity in what God has done in his life. As he puts it, â€œknowing that God has given me this talent has helped me to glorify Him instead of myself.â€
On a deeper level, a remarkable aspect of Ephraimâ€™s story is that his journey of developing a Christ-centered identity didnâ€™t begin on a cross country track in Minnesotaâ€Šâ€”â€Šit began in a garbage dump in Ethiopia.
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â€œWhatever we needed to do, we did to survive,â€ he explains. As a seven year old orphan and caretaker of his younger brother, it was not uncommon for young Ephraim to go door-to-door seeking scraps, eating out of garbage dumps, and begging for money in order to provide food and necessities. â€œSometimes we would steal,â€ he shares. â€œStealing was a big part [of our survival].â€
Following the death of the boysâ€™ father and mother within an eight month period, Ephraim and his brother were in a time of turmoil, shuffling between relatives, foster parents, and orphanages in an already poverty-stricken area. During this time, Ephraim describes himself as a â€œcheater and a liar.â€ He would often work together with his brother and friends in order to steal or cheat others, even creating their own language so that no one else would understand.
In an area with limited education, Ephraim struggled to learn and was disruptive in class. Although the boysâ€™ orphanage taught the Bible, he says that it had no impact on his life. â€œThe Word was there, but it wasnâ€™t implanted in me yet.â€
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While in fifth grade, Ephraim learned that his younger brother would be adopted by a family in Minnesota. Though at first Ephraim was very sad to be separated from his brother, he was soon informed of an unlikely surpriseâ€Šâ€”â€Šthe family that adopted his younger brother would like to adopt him as well.
After a three-year transition period, Ephraim finally landed in the United States on December 7, 2008, when he officially became part of the Jeff & Widdy Bird family. Completely fresh to American culture, Ephraim struggled to keep up, initially placed in fifth grade at Hope Academy (while his age was equivalent to eighth). â€œEverything was new for me. I didnâ€™t know any English. The culture, the people, everything was totally different.â€
Regardless of the disadvantages that he faced, Ephraim was determined to succeed. With the help of his supportive parents, friends, and family, Ephraim worked hard to improve his skills. That summer, he jumped two grade levels and was promoted to the eighth grade class the next fall.
During the next year at Hope, Ephraim was greatly impacted by the Christ-centered education he received from godly teachers. â€œGod opened my eyes to see spiritual things at Hope,â€ he describes. â€œMy teachersâ€™ care for me reflected the goodness of God.â€
That same year, Ephraim also gave his life to Christ and chose to be baptized. â€œI had never really accepted Jesus nor had I professed faith in Him before. It was a new walk. I know that my life has a purpose, has a meaning, and it is meant to glorify God in all that I do.â€
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Ephraim says that teachers at Hope have taught him that men and women of God, like Jesus, are called not to be served, but to serve. He desires to use the talents, skills, and experiences God has blessed him with to make a difference in the lives of children like him. â€œA big part of my past is how people have poured into my life, and I want to do the same,â€ he shares. Ephraim would like to return to Ethiopia to bring hope to the orphans in his home country, as well as support local adopting families. His mission, as he proudly exclaims, is even a part of his name. â€œMy name, Ephraim, actually means to be fruitful and multiplyâ€¦ and I take that seriously. Hope Academy has equipped me to be a man of God.â€
â€œLord-willing, Iâ€™ll return to Ethiopia to bring hope and opportunity to the orphans of my homeland. And maybe someday, there will be another little orphan standing here at this podium [on graduation day].â€
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My name isÂ Dashon and Iâ€™m in 10thÂ grade at Hope Academy.Â Iâ€™ve been a student here since 7thÂ grade. At my old school in 6thÂ grade, some of the kids were in gangs, kids were bringing drugs to school â€“ Yes, in 6thÂ grade. And the teachers didnâ€™t really know what to do, and it seemed like they just didnâ€™t care.
So when my baseball coach, Pastor Erickson, told me about Hope Academy â€“ I was interested. I talked to my mom and she said sure â€“ and I got in.Â What I noticed right away was that the teachers cared, and my classmates cared about school. But there was one big problem. Me.
By the end of 7thÂ grade, I was failing a lot my classes â€“ and I just got down on myself, and got angry at the teachers. In the Upper school we have something called the ASC or â€œAcademic Support Centerâ€ where you have to stay after school to finish your homework. I was there almost every day.
Mr. Hutton runs the ASC and helped me understand Algebra, and Latin, and Science â€“ and to get my homework done. He and his wife even had me over to his house â€“ and weâ€™d work on our homework.
So Â things started to change in me — I realized learning requires perseverance and patience. My mom says so too.
In 8thÂ grade, I started doing better. I started getting C’s and a few Bâ€™s. During summer session, we read Victor Hugoâ€™sÂ Les Miserables. This is still my favorite book Iâ€™ve ever read at Hope. Nothing teaches patience better than reading a 1000-page book.
Last year, in 9thÂ grade, I really started applying myself. I realized that my grades were going to matter for getting into college. Now this year, my goal is to be on the B-honor roll.
One of my favorite classes this year is Humane Letters â€“ which is sort of history and literature together. Right now, weâ€™re studying the Westminster Confession of Faith and next weâ€™re reading Mary Shelleyâ€™sÂ Frankenstein. I also like our Christian Apologetics class.
When I think about how Iâ€™ve changed these last four years, I would say Iâ€™ve grown in putting my trust in the Lord â€“ and Iâ€™ve become more patient and slow to anger. And I really want to do my best â€“ and work heartily as unto the Lord.
As I think about my future, right now my goals are to graduate from High School with at least a 3.0 GPA, then go to the University of Texas.
Then Iâ€™d like to go to seminary and become a youth pastor or pastor â€“ like Mr. Erickson. I’m grateful for everyone who isÂ praying for us here at Hope Academy, and helping provideÂ a school like Hope Academy.
Abraham Norman (Class of 2014)
Abraham Norman delivered this address at the Commencement Exercises of the class of 2014 on Saturday, May 30, 2014. Abraham will be studyingÂ at Hillsdale College (MI) in the fall on a full-tuition scholarship.
My fellow classmates, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, it is an honor to have the opportunity to address you today. I am so thankful that God has blessed me by placing each and every one of you in my life. We have the unique opportunity of being able to count each other as more than friends, but family.
There were times where we all were not as close as we are now. Times where it seemed we were constantly battling each other. But, we wouldnâ€™t be able to consider ourselves true family if we never had conflict and overcame that conflict. By Godâ€™s grace throughout the years he has helped us to mend the relationships that were broken.
There are not many other senior classes in the world today that know each and every one of their classmates as well as each of us know one another. Not many others have had the opportunity to get the irreplaceable education we have received here at Hope either. To have a rich classical education immersed in Christ centered values. It is this that will make each one of us as an individual stand out in the world.
When a group of architects begin to construct a beautiful sky scraper, they donâ€™t start with the top of the building or the interior of the building or the exterior of the building. The group of architects does not start with the weakest part of the sky scraper, but the strongest part.
The first item that is used to construct the building is the cornerstone.
But the cornerstone alone is not sufficient for a building. The next step in the process is building the framework. Â If someone were to come and remove that framework of a sky scraper, it would come plummeting down into a heap of nothing.
Like the construction of a skyscraper, ourÂ time here at Hope Academy has been the construction of who we will all become as men and women of Christ.
Jesus Christ isÂ our cornerstone — but Hope Academy is our framework.
Because of the education we have been able to receive her at Hope Academy we are prepared to go out into the world and face its numerous problems. Not to only just face the many problems the world throws at us but to face them, and conquer them.
But Hope Academy is not our frameworkÂ just because of the education received here but most importantly because of the strong Christian faith that it instills in all of us. The reason that we are able to use our knowledge gained here at Hope to combat the worlds rising issues is because we have been rooted firmly in the word of God.
There will come times in the future for each one of us that others will try and knock us down. The world will cast its evils at us in hopes of causing us to come plummeting to the ground in a big heap of nothingness just like the sky scraper without a cornerstone or a framework. But ultimately the world will not succeed.
Our frameworkÂ is Hope Academy and we areÂ rooted in our unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. My charge for you today, my fellow classmates, is to go out into the world fearless and full of courage. To face the issues and problems in the world head on, unwavering. With the creator of the universe on our side there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
I would like to end with this. I am truly, truly blessed to have experienced this part of my life with you all. There is no other group of people in the world that I would have rather accomplished high school with. And listen when I say I love each and every one of you more than you know. I am so excited to see how the Lord uses us for his glory.
Now go out into the world and do great things. Illuminating the dark and bringing Christ to the world.