He arrived at Prestonwood Christian Academy late last summer, an eighth-grader 7,000 miles from home. And over his 10 months at PCA, David Zhao made close friends, touched lives, and saw his life change forever.
On his final day at PCA before returning to his family in China, David waded into the shallow pool in front of Prestonwood Baptist Church. With Bryant Forshee, Minister to Junior High Students, guiding him, David crossed his arms, leaned back with a splash, and emerged from the water wearing a huge grin.
David Zhao, a Prestonwood Christian Academy student from China, is baptized by Minister to Junior High Students Bryant Forshee as middle school students look on.
His baptism was the culmination of his time at PCA and Prestonwood, and a dream he had held close to his heart almost from the moment he arrived in America.
As he rose from the pool, wearing a “Redeemed” T-shirt, his classmates and teachers broke into cheers, smiling and chanting, “David! David! David!”
Bryant first met David last year, in the heat of late summer at a PCA football game.
“We connected,” he said.
“It was small talk at first, but then I saw him at another football game and we talked about faith and I shared the Three Circles (evangelism teaching) with him, and he typed what I was saying into his little electronic translator,” Bryant said.
But when Bryant asked whether he wanted to give his life to Christ, “he said, ‘I’m not ready yet.’”
David spent the school year living with Dr. Donovan Kelly, Bible Department Head at PCA, but David didn’t discuss being baptized until about a week before he waded into the pool.
David serves at Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls during the PCA Minimester in March.
“When he mentioned it, I explained to him what (baptism) was, why we as Christ-followers do it, and the symbolic significance that it has,” Dr. Kelly said.
“Once he came to a relationship with Christ, he was pretty set on getting baptized.”
And as it turns out, David had been thinking about it for quite a while.
“I considered this for almost a year, since I got here,” David said. “The impact (of Christianity) here isn’t just a little bit. It’s a lot!”
Dr. Larry Taylor, Head of School, said the combination of the church and the school can have a powerful impact on young people uncertain about their faith.
That’s especially true of the school’s international students, who often arrive in the United States with little religious background.
But when they become a part of a Christian family, and hear God’s Word every day in school and church, things begin to change.
With more international students expected to arrive each year, the challenge is finding them homes.
“We’ve been able to find homes for all of our international students (for the 2018-2019 school year) using our school staff and parent body,” said Phil Armstrong, the Middle School Assistant Principal, who coordinates the international student program.
“However, we are in great need of building a pool of potential host homes for the coming years,” he said. “This will allow us to best match homes with students in the future.”
David gathers with other international students and PCA staff members.
The cost of sending an international student to a private high school in the United States is considerable—$50,000 or more in some cases. Still, many families in other countries are willing to pay it.
The costs at PCA approach $40,000 a year, not including plane tickets and other incidental expenses, Dr. Taylor said.
Families of international students pay host families monthly for food and shelter, he said, and also pay for specific programs including English language classes.
The number of international students is growing as is the interest in PCA.
“We could have had 40 students just this year, but we’re doing this in a limited way so we can do a good job with the students,” Dr. Taylor said. “We’ll probably add five to six to seven new international students each year.”
For international students, academics are key. But for PCA, there’s something more.
Teaching these young men and women in a Christ-centered setting is an incredible opportunity, Dr. Taylor said.
“These students are receiving a Kingdom Education, and when they go back home, they’ll share what they’ve learned.
“So for us, there’s a big mission component to this.”
Members of Prestonwood Baptist Church interested in hosting international students in the future can contact Phil Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.