It took me by surprise. Not the prayer. His prayer was short and simple. “Lord, bless us today and thank you for our food.” There were a few more words I don’t remember because at that point I was profoundly grateful for his simple prayer. 

Sam* had come to our school four years earlier. He had never seen a Bible before, but on the first day of school, he brought one as part of his school supplies. He had a hard time making sense of the book. It had lots of pages, and some strange words, but he seemed to like the stories. 

One day, as the class wrapped up morning worship, Sam raised his hand and asked, “Can you pray for my grandma? She is sick.” Soon, he was talking about Jesus, and His death on the cross for our sins. 

It is customary in our classroom to pray for our meal before making our way to the cafeteria. Students are invited to pray, but only a few will occasionally volunteer; the majority are too shy. On this particular occasion, Sam raised his hand. “May I pray?” he asked.

The reason this moment was so significant for me is that Sam’s family are all Buddhists. They did not bring him to our school because of their Christian beliefs.

Before entering our school, Sam knew nothing of the God we worship. Nothing about Christ, or how to find books, chapters, and verses in the Bible.

But on that day, Sam had chosen to participate in one of the most cherished practices of our faith: prayer. Talking to God, as to a friend. Then I thought about Sam’s journey through our school, and the mission of our little Adventist school. 

The mission of Adventist education

We frequently refer to the goal of Adventist education as one of “redemption,” and when we talk of redemption, we talk of evangelism–to bring mankind into a relationship with God. “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one, for in education, as in redemption, other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Education pg. 30. 

But how many times do we see elementary schools as centers of evangelism?

Many years ago, I attended a meeting of pastors and principals in the conference where I was serving. One of the pastors addressed the assembly, expressing his opposition to his church deviating precious funds to support the local school rather than investing in church evangelism. That was many years ago, and I am glad most of my pastor friends see our schools as centers of evangelism, yet I still wonder how many well-intended church members continue to see Adventist schools as financial burdens, rather than the centers of evangelism they truly are. 

Two years after enrolling Sam in our school, the family enrolled his younger sister as well. One day Sam learned about Pathfinders and wanted to join the club. His parents agreed. Not long after, his sister followed him there too. 

Sam’s story sheds light on an Adventist reality: our existence. We are here for a reason, and that reason is to take the gospel to all the world. In other words, our raison d’etre as Adventists is evangelism. To bring others to the knowledge of the three angels’ messages. What better place to start than our schools? 

It’s not a secret that our churches are aging, and we are struggling to replace the members we are losing. Some churches are becoming empty buildings, sparsely occupied once a week on Sabbath mornings. It is time that our education and ministerial departments come together and realize that we are one, and in order for our churches to thrive, we need to grow together, and for that we need to invest in evangelism of the young. 

*Not his real name

Joel Reyes in the principal at Intermountain Adventist Academy in Grand Junction, Colorado.