When Jessica Burmester left the U.S. in 2012 to serve as a missionary in Haiti for what she planned to be a two-year stint, she could not have even begun to imagine how that journey to the Caribbean would change her life. Five years (not two years) later, she returned to her home here in Rochester––two kids in tow, not solo as she had been on her departure.
Jessica returned to the U.S. not as a missionary, but as a mom.
It’s a remarkable journey, really, one that inspired us from the first moment we met Jessica and her kids nearly three years ago––Lovinsky, now an 8th-grade student at RCLS, and Lydia, now a spunky Prekindergarten student in RCLS’s Early Childhood program.
The Burmesters are, in most ways, an unlikely family.
“When I went to Haiti in 2012,” Jessica recounts, “I met Lovinsky through the ministry I was doing.” Very quickly, she and Lovinsky developed an “unexplainable connection,” which ultimately led her to adopt the young boy God had brought into her life. Shortly after Jessica decided to begin adoption, she and Lovinsky moved from the Haitian countryside to the city of Port-au-Prince, where she began teaching at an American school that Lovinsky attended as a student. It was a busy time, as Jessica also started a business working with Haitian artisans to produce and sell their goods. Even so, Lovinsky began to pray that God would bring him a sister, something Jessica thought was sweet but also a little ridiculous. In retrospect, it appears Lovinsky anticipated something his mom did not, for three weeks into his fervent prayers for a sister, baby Lydia came into their lives.
“God is so good!” Jessica marvels. A single mom––an expatriate in Haiti–– was now mother to two incredible kids. God is good, indeed.
When I met them at an RCLS open house three years ago, the trio was still adjusting to life as a family in the United States. Lovinsky’s first language was Creole, a reality that presented some challenges to learning in the classroom, even if his proficiency in English was such that the challenges were at least partially masked. Additionally, here in Rochester, he spent 5th grade in a public-school classroom in Rochester––a fine experience, but one that lacked the faith environment his mom wanted for him.
These concerns prompted Jessica to seek an education alternative. Leaving their Christian community in Haiti was hard, Jessica explains, and she did not want her kids to “drift from their faith” as they were “bombarded by the American lifestyle,” one more fast-paced and, often, more materialistic than the life they had in Haiti. Instead, she wanted a school that would partner with her efforts to raise kids with “a focus on Jesus.” She also hoped for a school that was big enough to offer her kids the opportunity to “expand their horizons” a bit through activities and other students in the school.
Just as she hoped, Jessica found that opportunity for her family in Rochester’s first Christian school. Indeed, to know Lovinsky is to know that he has tried it all. Cross country, soccer, basketball, theater, choir…these programs have all benefited by the participation of this great kid. In these and in the classroom, where hands-on learning opportunities have reinforced his language and academic development, Lovinsky has found a nurturing place to settle into being an American teenager. Lovinsky’s mom says he has “really appreciated his teachers and how they are always so willing to help,” an advantage she says has helped her son make “great gains” academically. She notes that Lovinsky is also thankful for all of the friends he has met, in his own grade and across the school, where he is regarded as a young man of great integrity.
Now, as Lovinsky approaches his last semester on the RCLS campus, Jessica looks back in gratitude for the experiences he has had in middle school and that Lydia is just beginning to have in Early Childhood as she approaches Kindergarten.
“Both of the kids have had an amazing experience at RCLS,” Jessica says. “It is so fun to hear Lydia talk about her friends at school and watch her build relationships with them. And, of course, she loves her teachers.” As an Early Childhood student, Lydia is yet too little to have participated widely in all that RCLS has to offer a student, but she did really “rock the Christmas program” in Preschool last year, Jessica jokes.
She says that Lovinsky, too, has been blessed by his experience at RCLS. “It has been a great place for him to get connected and really learn some good values about what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus. He was met with open arms and grace from his classmates and teachers as he transitioned into the school. The teachers have been so great with him and really helped him to learn and to be the best student he can be.” She notes that the benefit of RCLS has not just been social or just spiritual, though these are much of what brought her to the school. Instead, there is an emphasis on the “whole child” that she values.
“Lovinsky is learning to be proactive when it comes to homework and studying,” she explains. This has been a critical tool for her son’s academic development, but, she says, “I also love that RCLS is not just about the academic aspects” of childhood. Instead, she appreciates the whole picture that the school presents, perhaps particularly initiatives such as grade-level or schoolwide projects and service hours, which work to foster a habit of caring for others.
When Jessica considers what it is that she hopes for her children, she does not hesitate to say that she wants to raise kids who are confident and faithful, young people who know they are children of God. When she considers Lovinsky’s next stage of learning, for example, she knows “that going from a private school to a public school may be challenging,” but she sees in Lovinsky a kid who is “confident enough in who he is to spread the love of Jesus to everyone who knows him.”
Having had opportunity to watch him interact with others in the past few years, I can testify that this is exactly the type of son Jessica has. Consider that once I recruited him to interview on the local news about a service project RCLS had done for the local Dorothy Day house. I coached him, gave him the questions the reporter might ask him and then “non-religious” answers that might communicate to a broad audience, and put him in front of the camera.
And when the reporter asked Lovinsky why he had participated in RCLS’s service project?
“I just know that Jesus has done so much for us. This is what God asks us to do––to serve others in return––so I am glad I get to do it,” Lovinsky responded. No hesitation. No lack of confidence. Just believable, humble conviction.
This is a kid with eyes on Jesus.
From missionary to mom. Separate lives to a shared name. Rural Haiti to Rochester. This is just one of the families that call RCLS “home.” How grateful we are to be a part of their journey.
RCLS is blessed to be included in the journeys of 325 of Rochester’s most remarkable kids. Our families encourage us with their faithfulness every single day.
If you would like to peek back at the Burmesters’ Haiti journey, take a look at Jessica’s blog, entitled, most appropriately, Our Journey. An entry on March 31, 2017 marks the culmination of the family’s five years in Haiti.
And if you are a family who seeks an educational community made up with families like the Burmesters, please learn more at rcls.net. Early Admissions for Early Childhood and Kindergarten is open now. Early Enrollment begins for later grades on February 1.