Ten years ago, after more than 40 years in education, Mart and Toy van Vuuren obeyed a prompting of the Holy Spirit to start a matric finishing school to uplift disadvantaged youth.
Mart recalls she had R30 in her bank account but God promised to protect them and guide them step by step — and, she says, He has been faithful with more miracles of provision, protection and personal growth of students and teachers than can be mentioned.
Recently the Matric Academy of Excellence in Zwide, Port Elizabeth celebrated its 10th anniversary at a joyful year-end event where nine members of the class of 2020 testified about how the school had impacted them personally, academically and spiritually.
Looking back on the past decade, in which they have faced hardship and danger including theft of laptops and equipment and being confronted by armed intruders on several occasions, with Mart once requiring stitches after she was assaulted with a revolver, she says: “We realised that they can take our earthly possessions and harm us physically, but they can never rob us of our faith. The Word says faith will be tested …… and only by His mercy our faith will overcome these demonic attacks. We know and personally experienced that Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith and in the years that lie ahead, it will be our source to continue until He says we need to stop.”
With the arrival of Coronavirus and lockdown, the school faced a daunting start to 2020. And in the midst of these obstacles Toy experienced life-threatening health challenges, twice making miraculous recoveries after he had lost consciousness.
“This was where God has really showed us His greatness and how to operate and assist our students daily with notes and motivation.
“We started our second term on the second of June and immediately doubled up the periods on our timetable to work in the lost time of April and May.
“By the end of July we were back on track and up to date with our teaching,” says Matric Academy of Excellence principal Mart.
Another lockdown challenge was losing nearly 50 students, resulting in a drastic drop in income for the school which does not receive government or private funding — and which sponsors a large group of students who cannot afford fees.
Rather than responding with a spirit of fear, Mart said she decided to raise her teachers’ salaries in April and to provide food parcels to families of their neediest students from the end of March. Since then they have been regularly feeding more than 200 families.
“We say thank you to those teachers who have have donated part of their salaries towards our food fund. Where on earth do you get people like this? May God bless them in abundance because it has helped us a lot.
“Our thanks to Marshall and Alwyn from Shoprite who had the patience with us after hours to select the necessary items because we started to buy 50 x 11 items at a time. We appreciate their generous gift with our recent purchase. May God bless them,” says Mart.
Since its launch in January 2011, based on seven biblical values from the Book of Proverbs — honesty, integrity, discipline, humility, diligence, caring and respect — the Matric Academy of Excellence has helped numerous students to pass matric or improve their matric results while at the same time taught them biblical principles and provided them with the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
The spiritual equipping happens mainly in daily development classes led by Mart. And during their time at the school the most students come to Christ or are transformed by developing a deeper relationship with Him.
The subject teachers — including Toy who teaches physical science and maths literacy — are all Christians and play a vital role in reinforcing the Kingdom ethos of the school.
A successful innovation at the school is study periods between subject lessons, where students reinforce what they have just learned in class and are able to get further help from teachers.
Indeed, the life-changing spiritual impartation they received during development classes and the powerful habit of disciplined, daily study that was inculcated during study periods, were singled out for grateful mention by students who testified at the recent year-end celebration.
Other common themes in the student testimonies were how they had arrived at the school lazy, unmotivated and with low self esteem and had since become diligent, goal-oriented, committed to taking responsibility for their future, self confident and more respectful of others.
One of the students, Anathi Mnyanda, said before she arrived at the school she was anxious and angry with God and others because of the death of her father.
“Today I am no longer angry at God, because I know today His plan is to prosper me and not harm me, He has plans to give me hope and a future, Jeremiah 29:11 teaches us. Even through troubled waters, I walk in faith in Him, proving His faithfulness because He is trustworthy,” she says.
Another student, Siyanda Mc Konie, 29, said before coming to the Matric Acadmey of Excellence she had recently quit drugs and was trying to get back on her feet.
“I had been living on the streets for the past couple of years because growing up without a mother that has not cared for me since day one, I refused to adhere to my grandmother’s rules. I wanted to be my own boss at a young age. And it has cost me dearly. Unknowingly that I lived outside the will of God.”
She said: “Matric Academy of Excellence has given me a new concept on how to live my life moving forward, based on Christian principles. This is where I started to unlock my full potential and I started to believe that I can do anything I set my mind on through Jesus Christ.”
Mart says that the school does not advertise its services “but God always sends us hand-picked students.” — from all over the country.
She says the school is open for enrolments for 2021 and that as an incentive to current students she is offering them R200 for every new student they introduce.
Mart van Vuuren can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org