June 25, 2008

A New Direction

2008 1518 page26 cap WAS SOMEWHATof a burden to mymother during my youth. Despite the commandment to honor our parents, I didn’t honor her very well. Mother didn’t join the church until I was a teenager, and my father never did. I felt closer to my father growing up, and whenever I wanted to do certain things Mother wouldn’t approve of, I just tucked myself under my father’s wing.

Even at a young age, I could see the burden Mother had for me, her firstborn. I could see it in the many prayers she prayed for me; it was reflected in the way she looked at me every day. However, as a headstrong teenager I didn’t appreciate it. To be honest, I rejected her prayers because I wanted to do other things. Like my friends, I wanted to live life in the fast lane.
Coming to a Decision
One evening my mother and father were sitting at the table in our home while we kids were in another room. They were speaking softly, and somehow I had a feeling they were talking about me. My mother did most of the talking. A couple of days later they approached me and said, “We’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it would be best if we sent you to the United States. You have an aunt and an uncle there, and we think going to America would be good for you.”
I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
2008 1518 page26My parents, especially my mother, thought that by removing me from my friends, the Lord might just find me and I’d respond to God’s calling.
About the same time our pastor, along with his family, came to our home on his day off to spend the day with us. He had a son about my age who talked with me about his school. He went to a large boarding school, Colegio de las Antillas, on 250 acres of land about five hours away. He told me about all the great things he did there. He said it would be wonderful if I went to school with him.
Looking back on it, I think I was being set up. But I became enthused about it nonetheless. That September I boarded a bus headed for the boarding school.
When we arrived, they were expecting the pastor’s son, but not me. They said to me, “Your name isn’t anywhere. You haven’t applied. You’re not here!”
Fortunately, our former senior pastor was dean of students, and he said, “It’s OK; we know his mother and family; we should accept him.” I went to school there that year and the year after. I honestly enjoyed school and had many friends. I even found friends with whom I could get into mischief from time to time. We saw it as a challenge to see how far we could bend the rules without breaking them.
In my second year I received a copy of a letter that had been sent to my mother. My mother forwarded it to me, along with a note from her to me. In it the principal had written, “Silvia, we’re not quite sure what to do with your son. If things don’t change, he will not be able to finish the school year. You’re going to have to take him back.”
When I read that letter and my mother’s note, I could imagine the tears she must have shed at receiving the letter. She had such hopes for me; she continually prayed for me.
I took the letter, marched into the principal’s office, and told the secretary I needed to see Walton Brown immediately (Brown eventually became director of education at the General Conference). Very kindly, without an appointment, he received me. I put the letter in front of him and said,  “Dr. Brown, what’s this letter about?”
He looked at me and said, “It’s your behavior and your conduct. It’s been reported, and we have counseled you.”
“I go to school; I don’t miss classes; my grades are good.”
Brown patiently replied, “It’s not really about school. Actually, you’re a little disruptive in class, but that’s coming along.”
The school operated what was called a “cooperative program.” We attended school four hours a day, worked four hours, and studied for two hours in the evening. The problem wasn’t the work part—I had worked in several departments, always being given additional responsibilities because I was a hard worker. The study period, however, was a different story. I could be a little mischievous. Even after a 10-hour day, I still had enough energy to get into trouble with my friends. It wasn’t unusual for us to scoot out of the dorm after lights out at 10:00 p.m. In the morning teachers would notice our footprints in the woods, and put two and two together.

In those days boarding schools had an “invisible fence” that separated boys and girls. The fence, being invisible, however, allowed the use of hand signs and signals by which we used to communicate with each other—at a safe distance, of course.
In the midst of one of my great communication schemes, the chair of the Religion Department found me sitting with a couple of friends. The girls were nearby, and we were trying to communicate to them without being caught. Pastor Aeschlimann was a great gentleman, and I respected him a lot. Originally from Argentina, he taught at the nearby college, as well as some upper-grade classes in the high school I attended. This distinguished gentleman walked over to me and said, “Oh, Francisco.”
We students knew that when he started a sentence with the word “oh,” he was serious.
So I perked up and said, “Yes, Pastor Aeschlimann.”
“When are you going to accept the Lord?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to say. “Didn’t you read Dr. Brown’s letter?” I asked. “I may not finish the school year here.”
He took that opportunity to talk with me, counseling me and ending our conversation by praying with me.
Caring About Others
I ended up finishing that year at school. Before graduation I accepted Jesus as my Savior. Dr. Brown gave me a big hug. I looked at him and said, “Wow, this is good; this is amazing.”
I would not be writing this today if it weren’t for a prayerful mother who understood the secret for my life, which I did not understand, and prayerful teachers who cared for me beyond my intellectual development. They cared for me in terms of the spiritual development of my character.

Questions for Reflection

1. What was one of the pivotal events in your life that changed you for the good? Describe it briefly.

2. As you look back on it, what other forces were working in your favor?

Where might you be now if it were not for the godly influences in your formative years?

How are you working to influence the next generation of Adventist youth?

I wasn’t changed by the buildings, fixtures, or facilities of the school. My classmates weren’t perfect. We were crammed into bunk beds, three high, that were lined against each wall in a 10 x 14 room with no private bathrooms. We complained about the food. But caring, Christian teachers impressed me to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. When my island country, Cuba, became involved with the atheistic principles of Communism, I resisted the temptation to go with the flow and seek advancement in that system. My teachers taught me character, and they, with my parents, molded my mind.

For this reason, I go back to the principle stated many years ago by Ellen White: “True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (Education, p. 13).
At that Adventist boarding school we shared a love for learning and a passion for Jesus that caused me to change the direction of my life. The course I’ve chosen continues to this day. The difference in my life wasn’t because of the books in the library, or the Ph.D.s behind my teachers’ names. It wasn’t the high-tech classrooms; our classrooms were rudimentary and well behind the times. What made the difference was learning to know Jesus and accepting His gift for me.
Is there any greater accomplishment you could wish for your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren than to have it said about them as it was said about Jesus, that they grow up “blessed by both God and people”?
I thank God for Christian teachers who commit their lives, and sacrifice daily, to educate our children for eternity.
Frank J. Perez is chief executive officer of Kettering Adventist HealthCare, in Kettering, Ohio. This article was first given as a sermon at Kettering Adventist Church, and the style has been largely maintained throughout.