September 26, 2015

First Adventist School Opens in East Timor

, SSD, with Kevin Costello and Adventist Review staff

For some children, the start of the school year is a dreaded time when they have to say good-bye to summer fun.

But students at the first Seventh-day Adventist school in East Timor can’t wait for opening day Monday.

School staff had expected about a dozen children to enroll for kindergarten and English as a Second Language classes at the school, the recipient of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering that will be collected by Adventist churches worldwide on Sept. 26.

To the surprise of teachers, 32 children signed up for preschool and first grade.

The Timor-Leste Adventist International School, located in East Timor’s capital, Dili, has limited space in its current temporary building, so teachers decided to offer morning and afternoon classes to avoid turning away any children.

Local church leaders “credit the unexpected enrollment total to a community approach that involves building relationships and meeting practical needs in the community,” the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, which includes East Timor, said in a statement Friday.

A Filipino missionary couple, Janette and Manuel Lonoza, arrived in East Timor in late June and quickly began making friends with the community children. In July, they invited the children to attend regular game times cohosted with local church members and young people associated with the Adventist Church’s One Year in Mission initiative.

Next Janette Lonoza, her assistant Maria Morais, and the rest of the team offered a free children’s ESL program based on a program that the Lonozas had developed in the Philippines. English is needed to enter first grade, which is only taught in English.

First grade teacher Stephanie Haddad and principal Mai-Rhea Whitty quickly joined the activities upon their arrival this summer.

School staff also visited the homes of potential students, and church members shared news about the school with friends and family.

“Members have been praying for such an Adventist school for years,” the division statement said. “Donations from the upcoming Thirteenth Sabbath Offering on Sept. 26 will hopefully make this a reality.”

The school hopes to add more grades next year but needs a larger building.

Offerings collected this Sabbath will also be distributed to two other projects in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division: a nursing school in Bangladesh and a church building in Sri Lanka. Contributions can be placed in the Sabbath School offering or made on the Adventist Mission website.

East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. The Adventist Church entered the area in the 1970s and opened its first and only church in 1992. Organized as a field in 2009 and a mission in 2011, the Timor-Leste Mission oversees the one church, three companies, and more than 500 members across the country of about 1.2 million people. East Timor, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, is one of only two Christian countries in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division. The other is the Philippines.

Watch a 7-minute video about East Timor produced by Adventist Mission for the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering.