The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is an island country situated in Southeast Asia. Along with the Philippines, it is one of just two nations in Southeast Asia where Christianity is thought to be the predominant religion. Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, gained independence in May 2002 after serving as a Portuguese colony until 1975 and being released from Indonesia’s annexation in 1999. Since then, Timor-Leste has expanded dramatically in many areas and has continued to thrive independently.
The government of Timor-Leste prioritizes access to high-quality education for its citizens. There are primary schools all over the country, but the quality of teaching and resources is frequently inadequate. Secondary education is often restricted to municipal centers. There are currently four colleges and one primary university in the country.
The significant educational needs within the country has created opportunities for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in East Timor to offer Adventist education in the heart of the nation’s capital, Dili. The church runs a coeducational elementary and high school known as the Timor-Leste Adventist International School (TAIS), which is situated close to the Timor-Leste Mission office in the capital city. Founded in 2015, TAIS is the only Seventh-day Adventist educational institution in the country and mostly serves students from other faiths.
Since its establishment, TAIS has offered an excellent curriculum that is applauded by parents and the ministry of education in East Timor. TAIS provides a holistic approach to teaching and caters not only to the mental growth of its students but also to the overall development of their physical, social, moral, and spiritual well-being.
The school has been a welcome addition to the community, which views it as an avenue to establish their children’s career paths and assist them in character development. The school’s enrollment has increased, and school officials have been encouraged by the community’s reception to their presence, but the original facilities and resources could only accommodate a few students. This fueled the push to expand the school, improve its facilities, build more classrooms, and serve more students in Dili.
TAIS now has 16 new classrooms, a school auditorium, a library, a dormitory for teachers, and an administration building.
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson, his wife Nancy, and other leaders of the Adventist Church in the Southern Asia-Pacific region recently visited the East Timor congregation to fellowship with them and inaugurate the newly established TAIS buildings.
“This school is an exhibit of God’s unending miracles from the beginning until the finishing of the construction,” Timor-Leste Mission president Chris Anderson said. “We can only attribute the success of the completion of this project to our God, who provides.”
Wilson also reminded the church about God’s provisions and abundant grace for everyone. “This school just shows how generous our God manifested through His people’s faithfulness,” Wilson said. “It is a blessing to have this school at the heart of the city and be a blessing to children and their respective families.”
Looking Back to God’s Providence
Acquiring land in Timor-Leste is a challenging feat. After being colonized by two countries, issues of land ownership and legitimacy of titles remain a big concern and are among the primary considerations in buying land. Searching for land at the heart of the capital city also proved challenging. For more than five years, Adventist church leaders prayerfully sought a piece of land where they could build the school that could provide a conducive space for holistic learning for primary to secondary level students. There were available lots within the city, but those were either too expensive or the space was not enough to meet the standards the school wanted to offer its students.
In 2018, Peter Koolik, a retired contractor who volunteers his time to build churches and outreach centers around the world, was given the assignment of developing TAIS and expanding its services to accommodate more students.
Looking for land to build the school was his first assignment. Land in Timor-Leste ranges from US$2 million and up. Most of the properties available were located away from the capital city and had limited space. After much prayer and searching, a desirable site with more than 1.2 hectares (3 acres) of land at the center of the city, two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the mission headquarters, suddenly became available. After hearing about the purpose for the purchase, the land owner dropped his asking price of more than US$2 million down to US$1.2 million.
Many people wanted to purchase this prime land. Still, the owner reserved the land for the Adventist Church with no down payment, no contract, and no promissory notes because he believed the church’s purpose was valuable to the community’s growth. The transaction took place, and the land ownership was granted to the mission.
“This property is exactly what we have prayed for, and it came exactly at the right time,” Koolik said.
That same year, Koolik met Stafford, an Adventist architect based in Australia. Encouraged by their shared passion for serving the mission through their God-given talents, Stafford agreed to lead the project of expanding TAIS.
“I believe that Peter and me crossing paths in Australia was providential and led to opportunities where we can best serve God’s mission,” Stafford said in one of his onsite interviews.
Construction started in 2019, and a year later, temporary school buildings were established. Ten classrooms were prepared for students. Then the pandemic hit.
“It was humbling to see the school taking shape month after month, and you just can’t help but be amazed how this school was put together through God’s grace,” Timor-Leste Mission executive secretary Inacio Da Kosta said.
The lockdown in Timor-Leste didn’t last long. Before 2020 ended, the lockdown had been lifted and life was back to normal. Work and education resumed their usual routines, and students started attending school in person again.
“I strongly believed that God intervened in this whole process; I praise God because I get to see His working in our midst and how lives of people were touched throughout the transaction,” Koolik said.
The project experienced several challenges due to inflation, the effects of the pandemic, and other factors. Still, through individuals that God has inspired, a considerable amount of donations came in to finance the remaining stages of the building and complete the project as planned. The school was also chosen to be one of the beneficiaries of the 13th Sabbath Offering in 2022, where most of the funding for developing the school will come from.
“God is gracious, and His mission will not be hindered; His ways will always push through to fulfill His purpose in reaching people for Jesus,” Koolik said.
The school’s operations are not only focused on its completion but also on the quality of education it imparts to its students. Since its establishment, the school has been blessed by Adventist Volunteer Services teachers who are skilled and passionate in dedicating their time and effort to give students a commendable quality of education.
Looking back at the school’s humble beginnings, from a small room at the mission house with more than 30 students in 2015 to an enrollment high this year of more than 300 students, leaders believe this outreach center will serve its purpose in teaching Adventist education to students and parents in this city. It will expand its influence not only in education but also in building relationships with the community. It will also establish a good rapport with people searching for hope and healing in Jesus.