With a world to reach and win, Seventh-day Adventists are embracing alternate methods of educating children, young adults and even lifelong learners, delegates to the world church’s LEAD conference were told.
The Thursday afternoon discussion, moderated by Larry Blackmer, vice president for education with the church’s North American Division, included presentations on Adventists and homeschooling, urban education, online learning, and missionaries known as Waldensian students.
Blackmer noted a need for differing approaches in education.
“The status quo is not going to cut it in the 21st century,” he said.
One of those new methods is the creation of what are called MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses. These classes, available via an Internet connection, are used by major colleges and universities all over the world, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Australia’s University of Queensland.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has its own MOOC central, the Adventist Learning Community, where 60 online courses are offered through a North American Division project. Adam Fenner, who directs the center, said the number of people taking the online courses is “three times the enrollment of any Adventist university.”
He asserted that a world where information is changing so rapidly demands a strategic shift when it comes to learning.
“We have a leadership responsibility to communicate our vision and strategy and how to achieve that vision,” Fenner said. “If we are not constantly innovating, we won’t be able to keep up. We also have to empower people in ways we never thought of before.”
One of those empowerment means is a new entente between church educators and Adventist parents who homeschool their children, said Alayne Thorpe, dean for the School of Distance Education and International Partnerships at church-owned Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
“Ten or 15 years ago, homeschooling wouldn’t have been part of this conference,” Thorpe told LEAD delegates. “It’s a new day.”
She said at least 100,000 students are studying at home in Adventist families across the North American Division, and numbers overseas are growing.
That new day is not without its challenges: homeschooling parents need resources such as the Adventist Learning Community and distance school Griggs International Academy, which Thorpe supervises.
She said Adventist homeschooling parents want to raise children who reflect God’s character, just as those Adventists who send their children to church or public schools do. For the homeschoolers, Thorpe said, some families are forming co-ops, where they can find shared facilities; shared curriculum; joint mission trips; and resources for parents and students alike.
Ella Simmons, a veteran Seventh-day Adventist educator and a general vice president of the world church, said urban education is a conundrum for Seventh-day Adventists.
Even though church cofounder Ellen G. White urged a country lifestyle for Adventists, urban living is drawing more and more people.
“Some 54 percent of the world’s population resides in the big cities,” she said, and that number is growing.
Simmons believes Adventist education is a way to reach urban populations, and she cited a statement from White in her book Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7, which says, “We must do more than we have done to reach the people of our cities” (page 115).
Meanwhile, Jairyong Lee, president of the church’s Northern Asia-Pacific Division, said the lack of an Adventist college in a given location doesn’t mean church members cannot reach students. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, two floors of dormitories were added to a church office building to house students attending non-Adventist schools there.
The dorms offer a daily worship service, special Bible classes, a week of spiritual emphasis, Sabbath worship, and music and mission outreach programs, as well as counseling on educational and spiritual matters. In the last year alone, Lee said, five students were baptized.
“If we cannot establish colleges immediately, we can establish dormitories where we can provide an Adventist education,” Lee said.
Now, he said, a retired pastor has opened a vocational training branch of the division’s Sahmyook University in Mongolia, bringing even more Adventist education to the country.
Perhaps the most ambitious outreach in an educational context is Waldensian student outreach in the church’s Middle East and North Africa region. Leif Hongisto, president of the church’s Middle East University in Beirut, Lebanon, said the region’s “secular universities are a mission field in and of themselves.”
“Many students are open to considering a significant change in their worldview during that time” of studying, he said.
Like the Waldenses of old, who placed themselves in communities and quietly spread their message, the Waldensian students in the Middle East and North Africa come to study alongside others, learn about the local culture — and live out the Adventist message.
“Every day, Waldensian students are making friends … allowing God to work through them,” Hongisto said. “They learn something about their own faith by being challenged about their beliefs. As [they] live in the community, there’s a known impact factor of their faith being spread around.”
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