Open Doors partners are increasingly using bridge schools to support Christian communities and help futures burn brighter for persecuted Christian children. But what is a bridge school?
Around the world, one in seven Christians faces persecution and discrimination for their faith. And many of those Christians are children. Often they experience persecution because they are part of a Christian family – others will be persecuted by their
own family. Open Doors’ aim is that every child persecuted for their faith will be protected, provided for, and given an education to give them hope for the future and ensure the long-term survival of the church. One of the steps towards achieving this
aim is ‘bridge’ schools.
“Bridge schools are often supplementary classes provided for children studying in government or district schools – though sometimes they are the only available school to the children who attend,” explains Priya Sharma*, an Open Doors local partner in
In the case of Roshan’s* story
, in India, there was no other school available in the community. The bridge school run by Open Doors isn’t supplementary,
in his case: it is his primary source of education.
“The focus is on providing quality education for underprivileged children”
Priya Sharma continues: “The focus is on providing quality education for underprivileged children, with the aim of strengthening the foundations laid by the existing educational system. The support classes provided by bridge schools not only enable the
children to perform better but also ensure that they remain in school and do not drop out due to bad performance. Bridge school teachers are closely involved with local schools as well – helping monitor issues like attendance.”
Christian children facing discrimination in school
In communities where other schools are available, Christian children aren’t always able to attend. The bridge school might still be the main place that they can receive a safe and undiscriminating education.
“Children can be discriminated against in school due to their Christian faith.”
“One of the reasons the projects are needed is because children can be discriminated against in school due to their Christian faith,” says Priya Sharma. For example, in a community in Ethiopia, Ermias* knew his young twin sons Fasil* and Ezana*
faced dangers on the way to school
– and even persecution from the teachers. “We would be sending our children to school because they need to be educated – but until they came home each day, we would be worried about the risk,” he says. “Even in the
schools, there are pressures. They would refuse to give them their deserved grades – they would lower our children’s test scores.”
Many Christians can’t afford the existing schools. “Along with persecution, poverty is another reason,” says Priya Sharma. “These children are enrolled by their parents who are mostly daily wage labourers and cannot afford the huge sums that private
schools charge.” This might be indirectly connected with persecution – in many countries and communities, Christians face discrimination in the workplace and so don’t have employment or are rejected for better-paying jobs. Still worse, many Christian
mothers might not be able to afford schooling because they have been widowed by violent persecution, and have thus lost the family’s breadwinner.
Why are they called bridge schools?
The reason these schools are called ‘bridge schools’ is because they bridge the gap between Christians and members of other faith communities.
“The bridge school projects run by Open Doors local partners are set up to provide assistance to children of persecuted families, but they simultaneously build a healthy environment for Christian children to thrive amongst other kids of different faith
communities,” explains Priya Sharma. “These schools don’t only serve persecuted believers but children of other faiths too.
“The schools allow Christians and children of other faiths to coexist, grow and have fun together in a healthy environment.”
“Parents and children of other faiths approach bridge schools as they offer free education. The schools provide a space where communal harmony is a practised value – they allow Christians and children of other faiths to coexist, grow and have fun together
in a healthy environment.”
These schools aren’t faith-based, but show the love of Christ through this unconditional offer of education to any children in the community. Priya Sharma adds: “There are spiritual activities like prayers and songs, but children of other faiths are
not forced to take part.”
Fasil and Ezana’s village has seen change
In Fasil and Ezana’s village, it has transformed the way Christians are viewed. “It has created a platform for us to show Jesus is a Saviour,” Ermias says. “Parents of the children and the staff have a good impression of us, and of the church.”
“Doing good to the community that is persecuting us – that’s the only way we can change the community.”
“Doing good to the community that is persecuting us – that’s the only way we can change the community,” adds Pastor Yohannes, who runs the church where the school is situated. “The families who used to throw stones at the church have now started sending
their children to this school. They feel a sense of belonging.”
Similar schools are being run by Open Doors partners in many countries around the world – offering brighter futures to the next generation of the global church, as well as helping these courageous children today.
*Names changed to protect their identities