Book Excerpt: 'My Fundamentalist Education'

"You can use your coupons for an occasional evening out," he urged, and the school would get 50 cents of every dollar spent on greasy burgers and fries. "Remember BK!" my teacher enthusiastically reminded us every day thereafter. We went home that week with flyers pinned to our shirts urging Keswick families to consume large quantities of V8 juice and Franco-American gravies, so that the labels from the cans could be steamed off and redeemed by the school for cheaply made audiovisual equipment; soon Cathy and I were sending our own sodden stack of tomato and cream-of mushroom soup labels by the kitchen sink at home.

The school had taken its name from a holiness movement that originated in Keswick, the principal town in England's Lake District, in the late nineteenth century. The Keswick faithful's defining tenets were separatism and outward markers of piety, a worldview that required a "strenuous and visible morality," as one historian described it. The school was affiliated with the Moody Bible Institute, one of America's oldest fundamentalist Protestant institutions, based in Chicago, which has trained generations of missionaries, ministers, and Christian educators since its founding in 1886. Moody added to separation from the world a corresponding commitment to winning souls to Christ. "I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel," Dwight L. Moody once said of this form of evangelism. "God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, 'Moody, save all you can!'"

Keswick began not as a lifeboat but as a thirteen-acre chicken farm -- a dilapidated property containing little more than oak trees, some diseased citrus, that very log cabin next to the playground, covered in tongue-in-groove cypress, and a garage, where the owner housed the more aggressive birds he used for cockfighting.

In 1953, a recently widowed mother of two children named Ruth Munce bought the property, hoping to transform it into a private school where "God would be the sum of the equation, the Bible a textbook." The chicken house became the senior classroom, the log cabin the lower school, and the Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School was born.

Munce was Christian royalty of a sort; her mother, for whom she named the school, was the woman who pioneered the Christian romance novel and wrote more than one hundred of them before her death in 1947. Ruth Munce, writing under the name Ruth Livingston Hill, was known to have kept the fledgling Memorial school afloat by publishing her own Christian romances, earnest salutations with titles such as Morning Is for Joy and The Jeweled Sword. The school grew modestly during the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1978, just about the time I arrived to begin my first day of school, it became part of the Moody Bible Institute and changed its name to Keswick Christian School.

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