One of my favorite Sabbath afternoon activities is watching songs and sermons on YouTube. On one such occasion Claude Alexander, a professor, prolific author, and powerful preacher, said, “If you should ever see a land turtle on a fencepost, know that it didn’t get there on its own; someone picked it up and put it there.”1
Because I knew nothing about turtles, land or otherwise, I turned to Google, where I learned that there are two kinds of these shelled reptiles—the sea turtle and its land counterpart, commonly known as a tortoise. I also discovered that land turtles are fascinating creatures. They feed on plants and vegetables, can range in size from a half inch to six and a half feet long, thrive in a variety of different climates, and can live more than 100 years. In fact, it’s reported that a land turtle named Adwaita lived for a record 255 years in India.2
Land turtles can also survive a long time without water or food. The North American desert turtle, for example, can last a year without hydration, and during the very hot, dry seasons will hibernate and live off water stored in its body, including what’s in its bladder.
Land turtles are resilient, yet for all their adaptability, ambidextrous accomplishments, and longevity, they cannot climb or fly. Because of this major handicap, if you ever see a land turtle on a fencepost, you can know it didn’t get there on its own; instead, someone picked it up and put it there.
I’m using land turtles and that application of the saying about ‘turtle on a pole,’ as a metaphor for successful Christian education: it’s the result we see at graduation time. I’m the product of Christian education which—to God be the glory—includes a bachelor’s degree in theology, a Master of Divinity, a Doctor of Ministry, and this coming August, a doctorate in leadership. I know its power to put turtles, like me, on the fencepost of lifelong success. I feel qualified to extol the benefits of Christian education. Although I have no silver, gold, or billion dollars to pay off all the debts incurred to acquire this kind of education, what I do have is a mighty, prevailing prayer, accompanied by an appeal: that as parents experience or watch the unfolding of graduation’s memorable moments, they resolve to keep doing whatever it takes to ensure our children receive this blessing in all its fullness.
I have seen and am living with an unprecedented confidence that there’s no mountain too high, no giant too big, no challenge too great, to overcome; and I have this confidence because of having been a recipient of Christian education.
To the students who are graduating this year—whether in May, August, or December—when your diploma is conferred, don’t forget to pay tribute, privately or publicly, to those who contributed to this particular achievement. And when you reach the zenith of your career in coming years, remember, like turtles on fenceposts, you didn’t make it on your own, and give thanks to God, who inspires others to support Christian education.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.