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An Educated Beginning: Annual Council Diary, Oct 8


While an expanded LEAD Conference on Adventist Education kicked off the activities of the 2017 Annual Council, it was news of what action might be taken against the unions that have ordained women that everyone wanted to hear. The members of the General Conference and Division Officers committee gathered Thursday evening to consider a revised action document. This time the language was more pastoral with the threat of any potential punishment left undefined. The item will now be slotted into the schedule for the Annual Council business session where a very full agenda awaits the General Conference Executive Committee, including a proposal that a 29th fundamental belief be added regarding Adventist education.

Popular Adventist historian George Knight gave the first plenary address for the annual LEAD Conference. He was at his charming best as he traced the combined history of Adventist education and mission showing how they impacted each other. For the first thirty years of the church’s history, there was not much interest in mission or education, he noted. But in the 1870’s there was a shift. In 1874, John Nevins Andrews was sent as the first official missionary to a foreign land, and the first college was opened. These should be seen as one event he contended, because of the close tie between mission and education.

Adventism mirrored evangelical Protestantism, he suggested. It was the evangelist Dwight L. Moody who initiated the student volunteer mission movement and missionary colleges were established to prepare large numbers of workers to staff mission outposts. 

Twenty years after Adventism opened its first college in North America, it began to establish schools around the world. By 1900, the system had been internationalized.

As in Adventist mission, so in Adventist education. In 1880, the denomination had two schools. By 1900 that number had mushroomed to 245.

“Education stands at the center of the Great Controversy,” he said. The minds and hearts of the coming generation are ground zero. If you don’t win the hearts and minds of the next generation, we’re finished.”

In another presentation, Jairyong Lee, the president of Northern Asia-Pacific Division, told of the Mongolian Dormitory College. After seventy years of no religious freedom in Mongolia, in 1990, the door for religious belief opened. A lay missionary family from the United States moved there and did their best to spread the gospel. In 1993, two young ladies were ready for baptism. Since then 2,300 have been baptized, and 70% of them are young people, university and high school students. When Lee visited Mongolia, he met with college students who were sleeping in the local Adventist church because they had no where else to stay. He suggested that the Mission look into creating a place for students. So the Mongolia Union Mission converted two floors of their office building into a dormitory. Of the 39 students who have stayed in the dormitory, five have been baptized, he said. Dorm activities include daily worships, special Bible study classes, week of prayer sessions, Sabbath programs, counselling, music and mission programs. Last month, on Sept. 2, a pastor started a vocational junior college. Fifty people have already enrolled, and many are planning to stay in our dormitory. “If you can’t establish a college immediately, consider building a dormitory,” he advised.

La Sierra University Professor Lisa Kiddo gave a presentation on the success of Adventist Education sharing the results from her studies of student performance on achievement tests. Students in Adventist schools outperformed the national average on standardized tests in all subjects, for all grade levels, she siad. The student factors leading to success included having a healthy relationship with their parents, having positive friends, taking care of their health, and having a positive spiritual outlook. Higher achievement was also associated with teachers who give students extra help and who interact with students about personal issues.

Adam Fenner of the North American Division, described the Adventist effort to create MOOC (massive open online courses). There are over 60 such courses now available, including a faith and science course, based on the conference held at St. George, Utah. 

Alayne D. Thorpe, the dean for the School of Distance Education and International Partnerships at Andrews University, made one of the first presentations at an Annual Council about home schooling of Adventist children. She credited Raymond Moore, the author of Better Late than Early, based on the writings of Ellen G. White and the Bible, with helping to provide the foundation of the homeschooling movement in the United States. Since that book appeared, the Internet has spurred the  58% growth rate in the number of students being home schooled. Governmental regulations have also been loosened, all 50 states now permit homeschooling. A growing number of parents believe that it is primarily their responsibility to care for the education of their children and who share a belief that they can do it as well, if not better than, traditional education. Is collaboration possible between homeschooling and traditional Adventist education, she asked? She answered in the affirmative telling of a number of Adventist schools that have opened their doors to homeschool co-ops. Co-ops provide support for homeschooling through the use of shared facilities, shared curriculum, joint mission trips, resources for parents and students, and tutoring and homework assistance. She noted the common mission that parents who homeschool their children share with Adventist education—wanting to teach children to reflect God’s character.

The last presentation of the day was made by vice president Geoffrey G. Mbwana on the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education. In a short power point presentation, he described the historical developments that led to the creation of the Board in 1998 and 2000, and the development of the handbook. Recently the Handbook has been revised and the particulars are to be voted upon by the Annual Council business session. He said an attempt has been made to focus on broad principles  and allow the Division Boards to develop the specifics  that respond adequately to the needs in their territories. One of the listed duties of the Board that has proven to be controversial within the academic community is the requirement to have theological faculty of Adventist colleges and universities endorsed by the IBMTE as part of their hiring process. The particulars of this process were not considered in this presentation. 

There is more to come on Adventist education on Friday. The business sessions will commence on Sunday.


Photo Credit: Brent Hardinge / Adventist News Network

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.

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