February 26, 2022

The Day My Buddhist Student Asked to Pray

How often do we see Adventist schools as centers of evangelism?

José Reyes, for Mid-America Union Conference Outlook

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

Sam* had come to the Adventist school four years earlier. He had never seen a Bible before, but on the first day of school he had one among 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 our 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 was 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.

That moment was surprising and significant for me because Sam’s family are all Buddhists. Before entering our school, Sam knew nothing about the God we worship. He knew nothing about Christ or how to find books, chapters, and verses in the Bible.

But Sam was on a spiritual journey through our Adventist school — the mission field that was our little institution. And on that day, he chose to participate in one of the most cherished practices of our faith: prayer. Talking to God, as to a friend. 

The Mission of Adventist Education

We frequently refer to “redemption” as the goal of Adventist education, and when we talk of redemption, we talk of evangelism — bringing 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.”**

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 a long time ago, and I am glad most of my pastor friends see our schools as centers of evangelism. Yet I still wonder how many well-intentioned church members continue to see Adventist schools as financial burdens rather than the centers of evangelism they truly are. 

Two years after Sam’s parents enrolled him in the Adventist school, they enrolled his younger sister as well. Sam also learned about Pathfinders and wanted to join the club. His parents agreed. Not long after, his sister followed suit as well. 

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

It’s no secret that our churches are aging, and we are struggling to replace the members we are losing. Some churches have become 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. For our churches to thrive, we need to grow together, and for that we need to invest in evangelising the young. 

The original version of this story was posted on the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.

*Not his real name.

**Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 30.

José Reyes, for Mid-America Union Conference Outlook
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