General CBF

Student success

By Mary van Rheenen


Mary van Rheenen and her husband, Keith Holmes, serve among the Romany community across Europe

A friend of ours serves as the academic dean of a community college. The entire institution’s focus was “student success.” They do what they can to assist students in succeeding. As I write this, my husband, Keith, and I are on our way to help with a family camp in Poland. Keith and his brother Ted will be helping with English lessons for advanced adults. Our sister-in-law, Bev, and I will be leading the beginners. Our motto is also “student success.”

Too many Romany students still do not study in institutions or with teachers who are even passively interested in their success. Take the Romany children in a village on the edge of the Hungarian-speaking portion of Romania, for instance. (Parts of Europe are even more linguistically complicated.) There is a Hungarian-language and a Romanian-language primary school in the village.

The Romany children are shunted into the Hungarian one. Is this because they speak Hungarian? No, it’s because the Hungarian school needs more students to stay open. The Romany children speak neither Hungarian nor Romanian at home but their own Romani language. No provision is made for their first language, nor to the fact that they may not know the language of instruction when they start school, nor with the fact that any advanced education will be in Romanian. Learning Hungarian first, in this situation, is definitely not an asset for them.

Situations like this touched the heart of Marleen, a talented educator from our Dutch church. Marleen designed a Parent-Child Club where parents could begin teaching their children school-related skills in the language of their choice.

This program was also written partly at the request of Hanneke, a Dutch woman who works with Romany churches in Romania. Hanneke wanted to do Bible study with Romany women, but the women always brought their small children to the meetings. The Parent-Child Club works with, instead of against, this Romany cultural situation.

This is a complicated linguistic situation as well. I’ve assisted in getting the materials from Dutch to English so that they can be translated into other languages like Romanian. Hanneke and her helpers can organize the activities in Romanian; the Romani-speaking mothers can do the activities with their children in whatever language the children know best. This leads to student success.

Romany children learn concepts and behaviors (like listening and taking turns) which will transfer to any formal school setting, no matter what language that school uses. The children learn them more easily because they already know the language and the “teachers.” They can succeed. Success often leads to more success.

This approach reminds me of another teacher who is focused on student success. He knows what we’re made of and takes that into account (He knows our frame…Ps. 103:14). He purposefully uses language he knows we will understand, whether that be idioms common to housewives (Matthew 13:33), day laborers (Matthew 20:1) or merchants (Matthew 13:45). What language is He using with you?

Mary van Rheenen and her husband Keith Holmes are CBF field personnel serving the Roma community in Europe through language resources. Support their ministry through the CBF Offering for Global Missions at

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