Build the Beautiful City: Deep Hope Among Invasive Blackberry Bushes

Darryl DeBoerFaith and Science, Teaching for Transformation, The CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Surrey Christian School 9th Grade Science class.
Surrey Christian School 9th Grade Science class posing on a wetland observation field trip.

Hannah Munnalall, first-year teacher at Surrey Christian School in Surrey, British Columbia, leads 9th Grade Science. Her Deep Hope for herself and her students is to cultivate God’s Garden City as His representatives by exploring God’s creation in the way He originally intended.

Hannah’s Deep Hope is important to her because though students often learn the facts of science, they don’t always anticipate what they can do with this knowledge. Hannah wants her students to view learning as a means to understand science and to use their knowledge as stewards in the world. This stewardship doesn’t have to wait until after graduation—they can practice it as ninth graders. To ensure that her students actively engage this mission, Hannah has chosen Build the Beautiful City as her Storyline.

Build the Beautiful City reinforces her Deep Hope while actively conveying to students that they are partners with God in rebuilding His kingdom in a fallen world. These words also direct how Hannah designs learning experiences for the students.

Build the Beautiful City Storyboard.

The ninth-grade science curriculum has several learning outcomes that directly connect to Hannah’s Deep Hope. Students are to experience and interpret the local environment and contribute to care for self, others, community, and world through individual or collaborative approaches within a local ecosystem. Hannah wishes to deepen this head knowledge of interconnectedness and sustainability through scientific field work. 

Habitat restoration field work is a way for students to apply what they have learned about plants, natural habitats, and ecosystems while practicing creation care to positively impact their local ecosystem and habitat. Hannah and her students travelled to Trinity Western University (TWU) repeatedly to participate in wetland conservation practices.

The students conducted field habitat observations in a wetland ecosystem, identified and inventoried plants in the surrounding second growth forest, and removed invasive species to encourage native plant growth. Students concluded their work by producing a research report to TWU that summarized TWU’s habitat and offered recommendations for how TWU can better care for the plants growing on their campus. These reports were submitted to an Ecology professor at TWU.

Students participating in field habitat observations in a wetland ecosystem.

Hannah sees a clear connection between her Deep Hope and the restorative field work of her students:

A lot of students learn best when they take what they have learned in the classroom and practically apply it in the real world. Beyond this reinforced knowledge, most of my students shared how good it felt to learn about plants and habitats, and then do something that makes a difference using what they learned. This is so important for students; they need to realize that what they learn can be used to make a difference in God’s world.

Student responses

After participating, Hannah invited the students to share their thoughts and connections on their field work. They speak both of their enjoyment and the importance of their work within God’s redemptive story:

I enjoyed the fact that we got to rip invasive plants out the ground—it was more entertaining than it had any right to be.

I feel this work is important because we are removing an invasive species that is disrupting ecosystems. Our work connects us to God’s story because we are restoring the world back to the way it was intended to work.

I liked walking in the forest and taking pictures to make the scientific drawings. I also enjoyed doing the habitat restoration by removing the invasive blackberry bushes.

Students participating in field habitat observations in a wetland ecosystem. (continued)

I think this work is important because we are called to be stewards of God’s creation.

This work is important to my faith and God’s because in Genesis 1:28 God speaks to Adam and Eve and invites them to care for His creation.

Every time we do God’s will, we bring His kingdom in the world, which is the whole point of building the garden city, to build God’s kingdom on earth by doing His will.

The students were not the only ones impacted by this work.  Hannah shares how the work impacted her as a teacher:

Watching students engage in real work in a real way to support their local environment was so encouraging for me to watch. Students worked together to make a difference, and they had fun doing it. It made me realize that students can be enabled to make a difference, and it encouraged me to empower students more. 

Students participating in field habitat observations in a wetland ecosystem. (continued)

Hannah also articulated how this type of schoolwork connects to the mission and vision of Surrey Christian School:

The mission statement of Surrey Christian is Educating for wholeness by engaging God’s world in the servant way of Jesus. Students were able to make this mission statement come to life by serving their community through ecological restoration. Pulling blackberry bushes is not glamourous; it was cold outside, and the work was sometimes painful. However, students joyfully did it because they knew that God calls us to steward the earth, and this is one way they can do this.  

Hannah’s final reflection of the experience circles back to her Deep Hope for the students: “My vision for my students is that they will continue to live as if they can make a difference. I hope that my students will see education as a way to learn knowledge that can be used to make a difference in the world. I hope they see how a simple action, like pulling out a blackberry bush, can show Jesus to the world.”

Hannah is just one teacher in one classroom in one Teaching for Transformation school. When I think of all the Christian educators across the world faithfully living out their call, I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.


  • Darryl DeBoer

    Darryl DeBoer is the K-12 Director of Learning for Surrey Christian School in Surrey, British Columbia, a Senior Fellow for the Center for Advancement of Christian Education (CACE), and a Teaching for Transformation (TfT) co-creator and school designer through the Prairie Center for Christian Education and CACE. He is passionate about designing "real work, real need, real people" learning experiences that invite, nurture, and empower students to play their part within God's story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.