Bethel Community Education: A New Kind of Christian School

Bethel Community Education: A New Kind of Christian School

Do you ever have one of those encounters where you meet someone for the first time and you know
something special is happening? On November 22, 2016, I met a church member for the first time
named Sandi Nicely. She was standing on our front porch that cold, fall evening with homemade soup,
salad, dessert, and gifts in toe for our three children. My husband, Matt, and I invited her into our small
foyer, and for the first time, I shared with a complete stranger a call God placed on my heart years prior.
Matt looked at me with eyes wide open knowing I was going to tell this person about the crazy dream I
had to start a school. I looked at Matt, looked back at Sandi and spewed out the vision. “God has filled
me with a desire to start a Christ-centered school while attending one of my master’s classes at Calvin
College (during 2009). It will look different – the learning, the model, the concept – but make no mistake it
will be rooted in Christ.”

This time Sandi looked at me eyes wide open, grabbed my arm, and said, “Yes! It’s about time. When
you’re ready, tell me.” When she pulled out of our driveway all Matt and I could think was, What in the
world just happened?

Let me pause to share with you why Sandi was at our doorstep in the first place. On May 27, 2016, I was
diagnosed with a spontaneous carotid artery dissection on my left side. One thing I appreciate is honesty
and bluntness, but when the ICU doctor entered our room that evening and Matt asked him, “How
serious is this?” His response, “Grave,” was not something I appreciated or could begin to comprehend.
There were so many questions and thoughts going through my mind. What in the world is going on? Am I
going to die? Please protect my family whatever the outcome. Be with Matt and our children. God, didn’t I
hear you say “ Now is the time to start a school?”

Months prior to the diagnosis, I had returned from Denver, CO with a job offer to be the Head of School
for a brand new Christ-centered, learner-driven school that would be made available to all learners and
all families regardless of their socio-economic status. Of the various opportunities and job offers over my
years in education, this one was definitely the most appealing, yet Matt and I knew we were not called to
leave West Michigan. In fact, we had a strong feeling this school would be located somewhere in West
Michigan, we just didn’t know where in West Michigan.

During April 1016, I immediately created a to-do list to get things rolling. I thought I heard God say, “Now
is the time!” I had the vision of what God wanted me to do. I was eager. Little did I know how God was
going to take me (and our family) on such a life transforming journey. Fortunately, that Memorial
Weekend in 2016, God stopped me in my tracks. Yes – fortunately, God had more to teach and prepare

As I laid in the ICU saying my goodbyes (unbeknownst to my children ages 6, 6, and 8 at the time), my
husband sat peacefully beside me holding my hand. It was then that we learned how we had absolutely
no control over life. As extremely painful and hard as that was, God was molding me more fully into his
plan for my life. We discovered the importance of first finding our rest in God – being still in his presence.
We learned the importance of humbling ourselves and waiting patiently to listen to God’s voice and
discern his will. He taught us to trust in him day to day and yes , often times, moment by moment. Rather
than us trying to do good things for God, he taught us to follow his will in bold faith and obedience for his

That’s why Sandi was at our house that night just two days before Thanksgiving 2016. She met use
where we were at in my healing process. She met our needs.

Fast forward to this school year. Bethel Community Education (BCE) opened its doors this September
and we are currently renting space at Camp Roger. The mission for Bethel Community Education is to
empower learners to use their God-given talents to join in Christ’s work. BCE welcomes learners of
varied abilities and is made available to families regardless of their socio-economic background and
religious belief. The team at Bethel believes each person is created in the image of God with a purpose
and plan to bring him glory. We are a community rooted in Christ in an inclusive environment where
curiosity and wonder enhance learning. We have a passion for inclusiveness, a desire to meet learners’
where they are at, and an understanding that difficult struggles are an opportunity for greatest growth
moments. We are a Christ-centered school that empowers learners to struggle, develop grit and
perseverance, and recognize we are all presently and forevermore a life-long learner and disciple for
God’s glory!

This past summer I made a call to Sandi and told her, “Now is the time.” Now Sandi serves as Bethel
Community Education’s Advancement Director. Our teacher, Nicole Zimmerman, and our bookkeeper,
Ruth Clark, were both one of those encounter stories where it was evident that God was at work. We
can’t wait to see what more he does at BCE!

My name is Amy Zwiep and I am the School Director of Bethel Community Education. If you’d like to
learn more about Bethel and encounter a new kind of Christ-centered school, I invite you to visit our
website at: or check us out on Facebook or Instagram. Bethel Community Education’s
Board of Directors are: Doug Vanderwell (Board President), Sally Zwiep (Vice President), Craig Nicely
(Treasurer), and Katie Mulder (Secretary).

Written by Amy Zwiep

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