Parishes, schools and agencies

Richard Boonstra: A life lived in sharing the Gospel

Faithful friends and mentors

By Rachael Lopez

January 21 2020 

In my first year of school, Mr Boonstra was teaching my eldest sister Year 6. I remember he would come into our class and teach us about God with songs and Bible stories. Recently, 26 years after I my schooling began, I visited Merri Creek Anglican where Mr Boonstra is now the Children’s Minister. The church meets at Clifton Hill Primary School and after the first few songs, I brought my toddler upstairs to the library, where all the kids sat on the floor. They sang songs, listened intently and engaged in Mr Boonstra’s teaching. It brought back memories of Friday morning assemblies at our little country school, which were more like mini church services. To those who aren’t his students, he’s just Richard. I met up with him to find out where he’s been since leaving my home town of Warrnambool in 1998, and how he ended up working in an inner city church plant 20 years later.

For those 19 years, Mr Boonstra was the founding principal of a non-denominational Christian school in Bairnsdale. It started in an empty room with 34 kids: “This would have been overwhelming if not for the supportive school community to work alongside and, of course, the unwavering knowledge that God was driving the venture,” he said. It was through learning on a biblical study tour to Turkey about the Apostle Paul’s journey that Richard and his wife Jenny received their next steps. Just as strongly as Richard felt called to Bairnsdale, he knew it was time to leave.

“I felt the school needed someone with new ideas, fresh thinking to continue growing the school. I’ve always had an attitude of ‘It’s your job, God, not mine, it’s your school. Please don’t let me hold onto it too tightly’.”

So they moved to Abbotsford in 2017, and made Merri Creek Anglican their church home.

The Revd Peter Carolane, who leads Merri Creek, suggested he apply for the job as children’s minister.

“Richard had lots of energy, extensive experience as an educator, and was enthusiastic about the ministry of our church,” Peter said. He was impressed with Richard’s diverse church background and how it influences his ministry approach.

“He grew up Dutch Reformed, and this brings a strong focus on Bible teaching. He also has attended Pentecostal and house churches.”

So in 2018, Richard began two very different roles: teaching prisoners, and teaching kids about the Bible. He splits his time between being National Coordinator of the Prisoner’s Journey program with prison fellowship and his church work.

For the kids at Merri Creek, Richard creates his own curriculum. At the beginning of Sunday School, between 35 and 40 kids gather for a 15 minute presentation with a talk, songs and memory work. This is followed by purposeful activities for three different age groups. Learning the chronological order of the Bible is an important aspect of his teaching.

“The big narrative is of the message of God’s rescue plan, the message of salvation. All the stories we learn about relate back to that,” he says.

Richard Boonstra at Merri Creek Sunday School

A great inspiration for Richard was his own parents. “My dad, every night at home after dinner, would read a story from the Bible. We would do that as long as I could remember. We knew all the stories, and I want kids at Merri Creek to have some of that. But not just the story on their own but placed in a framework.”

As well as integrating the children’s curriculum with the church’s preaching calendar, Richard also prepares standalone messages during the year to help kids think beyond themselves. Stories about our Christian heritage and mission help the kids glimpse life in different contexts. From Year 7 onwards, Richard attended classes once a week at the Reformed Church in Moe where his family worshipped. As well as going through the catechism, they were also taught Church History.

“I wanted kids to understand that we stand on the legacy of those who have gone before us who’ve fought, maybe died and struggled for the Gospel in years gone by.”

In reflecting on my own love of the Bible and Church History, I can see the impact of those who have taught and inspired me. One of those is Mr Boonstra.

Rachael Lopez is a writer who explores both ancient and future practices of discipleship and worship. Her blog is www.alivetradition.com