Building musicians, building character

Every class and activity at Maranatha pairs Biblical standards with excellence, and our Music Department is no exception. “There are so many elements of music that help students grow,” says Steve Gordon, chair of the MCA Music Department. “Music builds self-discipline, and music requires that you not only improve your own skills, but that you always listen to and listen for others.”

Music is an excellent way for students to practice being part of the Body of Christ, Mr. Gordon says. “Making music in an ensemble parallels what it looks like to be in the Body of Christ: you’re no more important than anyone else, and yet, no one can play your role for you,” he explains. “You have a unique purpose. If you can function in a music ensemble, you can function in the local church.”

Furthermore, music has far-reaching benefits academically. Students who participate in music consistently perform higher on college prep exams like the ACT, and sharpen their skills in both math and in english. “Students not only have fun making music and gaining musical skills, but they build confidence in themselves and learn the importance of being prepared, practicing and collaborating with their peers.”

Maranatha Music - Steve Gordon

Highlights from Maranatha’s Music Department

In its debut year, the Symphony of Sound allowed students across the Music Department to showcase their musical abilities and talents. All ensembles who were preparing for upcoming music contests performed during the special showcase, including junior high soloists, the high school choir, junior high band, a high school jazz ensemble, a small boys’ barbershop ensemble and an a capella vocal ensemble.

In January, junior high students competed at the Prairie View Festival. “Our choir and ensembles all received superior ratings,” says Mr. Gordon. Eight soloists, as well as the junior high choir and band, participated.

Senior high students competed in contests at the end of March and in April. At the Solo and Ensemble Content in Atchison, nine of 17 performances received the highest marks possible, with other performances earning high scores as well.

MCA student choir

Twenty Maranatha students competed in the State Contests in April, receiving near-perfect ratings. Seven soloists and two vocal ensembles participated, both singers and instrumentalists. Eight of the nine events earned the highest marks possible, and the remaining event was just one point shy of a top score.

In addition to small ensembles, students from the Music Department traveled to the Large Ensemble contest in April. The full concert band and full concert choir participated in this significant event, with both groups receiving superior ratings as well.

MCA music

Furthermore, the Junior and Senior High bands prepared this spring for their outstanding performances for the MCA community. They each held concert and award evenings in May, and their music created a festive environment during the May 20 Graduation.

These recent accomplishments simply add to the legacy of excellence within the Maranatha Music Department. Twice in the past six years, the band has been selected to play for the prestigious Music Educators Association Convention in the state of Kansas. Just three bands are selected each year. In 2018, the choir will travel to New York City for its third performance at world-renowned Carnegie Hall. The students will perform the Easter portions of Handel’s Messiah on Easter Sunday. The band also travels every four years to Washington, DC, to perform.

This year, students were able to grow musically and in their character. “Music helps our students build community and connection,” Mr. Gordon says. “When we make music together, something knits our hearts together, and we practice being part of the Body of Christ.”

A career of service: Celebrating Mr. Wagner

The year was 1986 when Galen Wagner began his Maranatha career. Since then, more than 900 students have passed through the doors of his classroom, all of them impacted by his passion for the Gospel. As Mr. Wagner completes his final year at MCA and prepares to retire, we celebrate his commitment to our community and dedication to our students.

“I love teaching,” Mr. Wagner says. “In the 31 years I’ve spent here at Maranatha, I’ve never had a bad day.” Mr. Wagner is chairman of the Bible Department, and has taught in the Bible Department for 20 years after teaching fifth and sixth grades for his first decade at Maranatha.

“What I’ve always loved most is teaching the Scriptures to the students,” he smiles — and that’s always been the core of his focus as an educator. “We begin every class with prayer and we invite God into our classroom. If we saturate our students with God’s word, that sets the foundation for how they perceive life and how they approach life.”

Mr. Wagner has taught more than 31,000 hours of classes taught at MCA, reports Mark Schultze, Maranatha Superintendent. “He has certainly modeled for our students a life of dedication and service to Jesus,” he says. Mr. Schultze points to Mr. Wagner’s nearly 20 mission trips to Russia and Italy to train pastors, as well as his faithful continuation of teaching as a cancer survivor.

In 2012, Mr. Wagner was awarded the MCA Apple Award for Teacher Excellence, and this year, he received the Career Service and Achievement Award from ACSI (the Association of Christian Schools International). But the defining moments of his career have always been moments when he is mentoring students, Mr. Wagner says.

“I’ve enjoyed the personal relationships I’ve gotten to build with students over the years, and I’ve been blessed in that respect,” Mr. Wagner says. “One particular year, there was a group of eight young men, and we met once a week after school to pray and share a relationship. Those young men have really stepped up and grown in their faith.” The group graduated nearly 10 years ago, but Mr. Wagner still stays in touch as their mentor. “They are all doing great, and it’s just been a joy to have been part of their lives.” Mr. Wagner has many similar stories, and he reflects with much gratitude on all the students he’s gotten to teach.

Mr. Wagner may be departing the classroom, but he plans to remain as engaged as ever in learning. “I’m going to retire to a life of learning,” he shares. Mr. Wagner plans to continue working on writing his own translation of the New Testament, from Greek to English. He looks forward to reading and playing music as well.

Teaching runs in the Wagner family: Mr. Wagner’s wife is also in education, and she will retire this spring too. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner look forward to spending time together, as well as with their grandchildren.

“It has been a blessing to do what I love to do: to teach the Scriptures to students who love the Lord, alongside teachers who are also called to this mission, and with all of the parents headed in the same direction,” he smiles.

Glorifying Christ through Art Class

Now in its eighth year, the annual Maranatha Spring Art Show highlights and celebrates our students’ hard work. Faith is woven throughout every aspect of Maranatha, and the art program is no exception.

“My favorite part of my job is seeing students grow artistically,” says Danielle Williams, Maranatha art teacher. She began her career teaching students animation and animation software programming on the East Coast. Mrs. Williams has also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute, instructing students in drawing, painting, graphics, sculpture and more.

Students often come into the art classroom not considering themselves artists, Mrs. Williams says. “Students have the attitude that they’re not artistic — but they’re comparing their work to Rembrandt and Da Vinci,” she shares. “Every artist finds their own place and develops in that place. At the end of the year, we look at their work from the beginning and see the difference. Students really become encouraged and excited to learn.”

Maranatha Art Show

The Maranatha art curriculum complements much of what students learn in their other courses, even History and Math. “Art supplements what they’re learning in their core classes. I teach students that art is involved in everything. They may be studying anatomy in Science, for example. Through figurative drawing in art, they’re also learning about the human body, about proportions and limbs.

Faith is at the heart of every lesson Mrs. Williams teaches, she explains. “I tell my students that God is the supreme artist,” she says. “God has granted us this gift of creation, and through art, we get to see how diverse God’s creativity is. Every aspect of our world is characteristic of our creator.”

Child at Art Show

This theme extends to the annual Art Show, held this spring at Country Club Bank’s Shawnee branch. “The bank is generous to let us install student art all over the bank,” Mrs. Williams explains. “Because the art is up for a whole week, customers can see and enjoy it. It’s a great way for the community to see what we’re doing in the visual arts department at Maranatha.” During a past art show, the bank president even purchased a student’s watercolor as a gift for his daughter.

Furthermore, the show is an opportunity for parents to engage with their child’s creations. “Sometimes students think their parents won’t care about their art or won’t like it. But parents are often blown away by their student’s ability! It’s a great way for parents to see what we’re doing and how their child is succeeding.”

The show, which took place the last week of March, featured a wide variety of projects. Mediums included ceramics, drawings, paintings, folk art, mixed media and even book binding. The week culminated in a special Spring Art Reception, with student musicians also present and performing solos. “The Art Show gives others the ability to see student work. We’re often our own worst critics, but others are able to see the beauty in the work.”  

Soloist at Art Show

“I tell my students to remember that everything we do, we do to God’s glory,” Mrs. Williams continues. “As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, we’re called to glorify God in what we do, and we should be grateful that we’ve been given the ability and the gift to create art.”

Practicing Christ-like Love: Spring Break Mission Trip

The thread of faith is woven throughout everything we do at Maranatha, Spring Break included. More than 30 high school students, led by MCA Bible teacher and basketball coach Travis Thompson, headed to Texas for the annual Spring Break Mission Trip. “We are called to make disciples of all nations,” Mr. Thompson says, “and we carried that mission statement with us as we served.” (BE great and serve!)

Mr. Thompson grew up in Texas, and utilized his background to develop the robust mission trip itinerary. The students ate meals and stayed overnight at Sky Ranch, a Christian summer camp in Van, Texas. They spent their days serving in the cities of Longview and Tyler, primarily in partnership with homeless ministries.

The entire trip was active service, Mr. Thompson explains. “We were up early and stayed up late serving,” he says. “To me, it was an eye-opening experience for our students. We were constantly depending on God’s grace to serve well.” The students even broke a record for their service. While they served at a food bank, they broke the record for how quickly they assembled box lunches.

A significant aspect of the trip is removing students from their typical, comfortable surroundings, Mr. Thompson says. Showing students a reality starkly different from their own — homelessness — was cause for reflection. “We have so many blessings at Maranatha and in our community. Students got to see that whether you’re rich or poor, hungry or fed, God allows us to be content in all things. Students got to see how even though they didn’t have much, the faith of the people we served carried them through.”

The students participated in a number of activities outside of service too, including visits to the JFK Museum and Holocaust Museum in Dallas. The week wrapped up with an evening campfire, where students shared reflections on their service time.

“We may have ‘Christian’ in the name of our school, but my question is always this: how do we represent the name of Christ as we go to serve?” Mr. Thompson says. “Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that we are all in ministry. We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries in Africa to practice ministry. We’re called to serve others, and called to show Christ everywhere we go. That’s a representation of what we learn in MCA classrooms and in our churches.”

Mr. Thompson affirms the students for selflessly giving up their breaks in pursuit of serving others. “These kids chose to give up their week of rest to sleep in an unknown place, eat unknown food and serve unknown people,” he says, “And in all of that, we see them thrive!”

“These students got in the trenches with the homeless people we served and were living out the Gospel every day,” Mr. Thompson continues. “I don’t know that I can put into words what these kids have done. They made a lifetime impact on these homeless people. I can assure you that the Christ-like love they showed for these people made an everlasting impact.”

Ultimately, it’s that Christ-like love that defined the mission trip — and defines Maranatha. “As a Bible teacher, it’s awesome to see our kids not only reading the Word, but living it out,” Mr. Thompson says. “We’re all striving to love Jesus more every day, and to take as many people with us to Heaven by loving those around us and sharing in the Gospel (The good news of Jesus).”

Faith in the English Classroom at Maranatha

Growing up, Duane Cilke never felt at home in the English classroom. Junior and Senior year were particularly frustrating, when he earned a D in English both years. “I didn’t apply myself academically as well as I should have,” he says. It was in his first English Composition class at junior college that Mr. Cilke found his calling, thanks to affirmation from his professor. Today, as a Maranatha English teacher, Mr. Cilke strives to offer that same encouragement to his students as he integrates faith into the classroom.

The life-changing assignment was about a line in a William Wordsworth poem. Mr. Cilke invested time in the assignment, and a week later, he earned an A on the essay. But more significant than the high grade was the encouragement his professor offered in the margin, calling him articulate and saying that he had a great gift. “The comment in the margin of a paper changed the trajectory of my life,” Mr. Cilke says.

“That was a pivotal point in my life, and the affirmation is still meaningful to me today,” Mr. Cilke recalls. “Because of that, there was a spark in me — if someone could make that kind of investment in me, maybe I could make that kind of investment in others.” He later transferred to Evangel University, where he earned his degree in English.

Mr. Cilke’s inspiration for integrating faith into his classes stems in part from his passion for a Biblical worldview. Two trainings towards the start of his career — one with Summit Ministries and one with the forerunner of Association of Christian Schools International — were especially significant. “Since then, I’ve done everything I can to equip myself to articulate a Biblical worldview,” Mr. Cilke explains.

Duane Cilke Maranatha

“Some schools set up their curriculum, and then they add a Bible class or a chapel or a devotional, making it a Christian school,” Mr. Cilke reflects. “But the difference with Maranatha is that Christ is at the center of all we do and is the hub that keeps everything else in perspective.” It’s with this mindset that Mr. Cilke makes faith and a Biblical worldview part of his curriculum in the English classroom.

Mr. Cilke’s sophomore English students study Homer’s The Odyssey and complete a thorough companion project calling them to reflect on their own life events and themes. “These students explore their souls and passions and what God is calling them to do,” Mr. Cilke says.

Also as sophomores, students write a position paper. Past topics have included abortion, human trafficking and immigration. They explore sources on both sides, then write their opinion backed by their research, exploring the role faith plays in the large issues of our time.

Mr. Cilke’s seniors write a thorough career paper, the culmination of assessments on spiritual gifts, their heart and passion, abilities, personality and experience. “We’re wonderfully and fearfully made and we’re unique, so this assignment helps students consider how they can glorify God in the optimal way based on how they are gifted.”

Faith integration is paramount not only to large-scale assignments, but to daily class discussions too. Recently, one of Mr. Cilke’s classes studied a poem by William Wordsworth that mentions the exhilaration of reflecting on nature. The discussion included Psalm 19, which considers the glory of God in creation.

And integrating faith extends beyond the curriculum: it’s part of Mr. Cilke’s relationships with students too. “I’m constantly praying for the kids and looking for opportunities to affirm them and encourage them.”

Mr. Cilke recalls a sophomore who was bright, yet kept to himself. “I felt called to encourage him,” he says. “I said, you have incredible ability and I believe you could do anything you want to do — but you’re not going to believe what God has for you if you start seeking him with all your heart! You can use your ability for yourself or use your ability as a servant.” That moment marked a 180-degree change in the young man. They’ve since kept in touch, and today, the MCA graduate is enrolled in seminary at Princeton.

“The bottom line for me is not that Jesus is an add-on or an addition to curriculum. He’s the core of our being, and the core of our classes here,” Mr. Cilke says. “My passion in everything is to see high capacity leaders realize their God-given redemptive potential.”