August 7, 2020

‘Navigating the New Normal With Christ’

Phillip Castell, Inter-American Division, and Adventist Review

Confronted with closed schools and fear and concern for COVID-19 coupled with government-issued constraints on assembly, leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica hosted the first ever virtual Service of Thanksgiving and Consecration to God.

Conference administrators, pastors, teachers, and a group of 689 students from the church’s 27 high and preparatory schools from across the island participated in the service, held in late June 2020 under the theme “Navigating the New Normal with Christ.”

Educators and students alike gave thanks to God for His leading in the church’s educational system, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted the service to be held virtually through the church’s online platform. All five of the region’s church conferences participated.

“The service was held to express gratitude to God despite the pandemic and invoke His blessings on our students as they matriculate to another level of their education,” said Michael Henry, education director for the Adventist Church in Jamaica. “We also are grateful for the fact that through technology, we were able to complete the academic year and allow the students to celebrate their achievements in a united way, though virtual.”

The government of Jamaica ordered schools to be closed on March 13, 2020, after the coronavirus’s first case was identified on March 10. Government reports state that 10 people have died of COVID-19, and 855 known positive cases have been detected as of July 28, 2020.

Since March, schools have had to adapt to online classes. A small percentage of students in some remote areas could not be reached virtually, and lessons were printed for them by the schools and delivered by teachers or picked up by parents.

Additionally, the church’s eastern region, which hosts online services each evening, has used the opportunity to conduct three online classes daily, Monday to Thursday, that are available to anyone interested. The program caters to a wide cross-section of students covering English, mathematics, Spanish, social studies, science, and a learning-to-read course, among others.

“This online platform allows us to make a contribution to the students who are at home and need continuous learning,” said Donna Brown, education director of the East Jamaica Conference of the church. “We use the opportunity to integrate faith and learning, not only to children enrolled in our Adventist schools, but also to share this learning experience with others.”

Students are joining classes on the platform from the wider Caribbean, the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. The goal is to promote Adventist Christian education.

Benefits of Adventist Christian Education

During the online service, Henry said that education is only as good as the philosophy that undergirds it, and Adventist Christian education looks through the lens of the Adventist philosophy.

“This cannot be separated from the mission of the church,” he said, noting that in Adventist philosophy, the work of education and redemption are one. “One of the purposes of Adventist Christian education is to transmit our Christian heritage from generation to generation,” he added.

Meric Walker, executive secretary of the Adventist Church in Jamaica, challenged young people to be steadfast in God’s Word.

“As the new norm threatens with immorality on every side, students, I say to you stand on the Word of God,” Walker said. “Do not vacillate in the pool of popularity, but stand for principle and righteousness.”

Commenting on the service, the student representative for the St. Ann’s Bay High & Preparatory School in St. Ann, Anthony Andorn, said he found the environment very welcoming. “The feedback I received from the coordinators was encouraging and boosted my overall confidence in public speaking,” Andorn said.

Following government guidelines, schools in Jamaica are scheduled to reopen on September 7. “What we have been planning is a blended approach — a combination of face-to-face and online instructions. Social distance requirements will be followed,” Henry said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.