Travelling back to the 1950s, Davao Christian High School, formerly known as Davao Chinese Gospel School, started as a kindergarten with less than ten students. Lourdes Chiew, a member of Davao Chinese Gospel Church (presently Davao Evangelical Church) was one of its first teachers. She, together with her fellow church members Bona and Valeria Lim, provided one of the Philippines' earliest Christian Education. This feature is the untold, personal story of Lourdes and her memories of the early days of Davao Christian High School.
ON STARTING A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
“We were the originals!” Chiew proudly declared.
At the time, there was no Christian education in the Philippines and, according to her, this became the motivation of Bona Lim and many others to start a Christian school.
“In those days, even in the United States, Christian Education was fairly new and there was none in the Philippines. At the time, I went to Ebenezer Bible School and they had none. I was wanting to get trained… to start a Christian Education Department,” Chiew explains.
The youngest from the first batch of teachers, Chiew started teaching in her twenties as a fresh college graduate and shortly after she became a Christian.
“For me, it was my way of serving the Lord, reaching out to the kids, and I’m sure it’s the same way with the rest of us,” she stated as she explained the importance of teaching children during their formative years.
Chiew shared that one of the challenges the school faced in the early years was the limited space provided by Davao Chinese Gospel Church when it was still located at Villa Abrille Street. “A lot of people think that we started school at Rafael Lim’s house. We didn’t. We started when the church was still at Villa Abrille Street. The church was still there and we started the school there.”
Word about the school spread to church members and friends. Soon, more students came to attend the school as the year went by. To accommodate the unexpected growth of population, Atty. Rafael and Carmen Lim graciously offered the first level of their residence to the school. Later, the school moved to a rented room along Villa Abrille Street and afterwards returned to the Davao Chinese Gospel Church building.
According to Chiew, the school also found another challenge in creating a structured education for the children. “Everything was new. We had nothing to go by,” Chiew recalled. “But the pastor’s wife [Too Siu Pao], she was actually the leader and she was very good at it – both she and Bona. She had a lot more preschool knowledge than Bona and the challenge became to integrate Christian Education to that. I was basically an assistant at the beginning when we just started… as we increased, Bona’s sister, Valeria, came in.”
In 1954, the first batch of 14 kindergarten students graduated. Then, in 1957, a board of trustees was organized, with Job Chen as the first chairman of the board. By 1959, Grades 1 to 4 classes were offered in Garcia Heights, Bajada. In 1962, the first batch of 14 elementary students graduated.
After teaching in the school for a year from 1953 to 1954, Chiew went to Ebenezer Bible College and Seminary. Two years after, she left for the United States to further study Christian Education while her sister, Anna, started helping out in the school. After graduating from Wheaton, Chiew wanted to come back to the Philippines “but the Lord closed the door.”
“I lost my reentry permit and they would not renew it, so I couldn’t come back. I don’t know why, I’ll ask the Lord that when I get to heaven,” she jokingly remarked.
ON HOW SHE BECAME A CHRISTIAN
Lourdes was the first to become a Christian among her eight siblings. Her mother died when she was four and her father had remarried. Her stepmother was the first to open her eyes to Christianity. During Christmas, her stepmom would emphasize Christianity by gathering the family and telling the children stories about salvation. She recalled that she would always ask her stepmom, “How do you get to heaven?” and her stepmom would reply, “Just believe.”
“I tried really hard to believe mentally, and I know there was no change, and that’s why over the years I kept asking her, ‘How do you go to heaven?’” she said as she recounted her early years.
In her teenage years, Lourdes said that she became depressed even if she wasn’t aware of it at the time. She would sit in her bedroom and do nothing but worry. Her siblings were loud and energetic but she was the only one who was laid back. Her father would come in her bedroom and say, “Why don’t you smile? You look like you’re halfway to the grave!” After her father left, Lourdes would run to the nearest mirror and watch herself force a smile on her face.
“I tried to smile, but the smile looked so artificial,” she said.
The routine went on; as her father visited her in her room to tell her to smile, Lourdes would in turn face the mirror and smile in front of it, but she said it never worked.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, business and school establishments all closed down. Many people retreated to the rural areas for shelter and refuge. Lourdes call those times “the jungle.”
She recalled that with all the chaos happening around, she sat in their nipa hut and contemplated about salvation. She thought, “Gee! If I get hit by a bomb or by the splinters and die, where would I go?”
During the war, they were surrounded with Catholics. However, Lourdes saw that there was no priest around to baptize her or to confess her sins to. And even if there was one, she thought that the priest might forget to intercede for her. She said to herself, “That is not fair! Now that I need the priests around to give me salvation, they’re not even around.”
Lourdes said that she didn’t know how to believe until the war ended in 1945. A Mrs. Lim was holding evangelistic meetings and Lourdes was invited by her friend to attend. She went and saw that there were American missionaries from China who spoke perfect Chinese without an accent. Lourdes was so impressed by the service that she returned the next day. It was on the second day that Lourdes accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
When her father heard that she had become a Christian, he became so glad, and she knew exactly why.
“I went to the mirror and I looked at myself smile, and it comes from within,” she said.
Before she taught at the school, Lourdes was a member of a “Young’s People Group,” an assembly consisting of 10 to 15 people. However, as time passed, people stopped attending and no new members were coming in. There came a point where only three people were left, including Lourdes herself. The church missionaries, who were probably discouraged with the decline of membership, asked the group whether or not they wanted to continue meeting. Despite the numbers not being on their side, Lourdes said that they all chose to stay.
“My biggest reward is that decision, because that was what made this church grow,” she said as she recalled how the church started blooming after they had made the decision to continue. “The Young People’s Group started multiplying and then before I left, we already had missionaries from that group.”
“It just proves your faithfulness is more important,” Lourdes says, “The moral to the story is don’t give up. It really is the Lord’s work. It’s not ours.”
ON HER THOUGHTS ABOUT DCHS AT THE PRESENT
Currently, Davao Christian High School accommodates more than 2,200 students in its two campuses located at V. Mapa and C.P. Garcia. Looking at the school presently, Chiew said that she did not expect the school to grow into something this great and recognized from only having fourteen students at the beginning.
“I don’t think we expected it to grow this big. We just did our job. We were just interested in reaching the kids… we were reaching out to the spiritual parts of the kids.”
When asked what message she wanted to impart to present and future teachers, Chiew answered, “You have to be very careful to keep your objective in front of you all the time. For example, like Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University – they all started as a Christian School but now it’s all fallen out of the wayside.”
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