The new school year is underway in Brazil, but days before returning to their classrooms, 2,700 teachers participated in a Seventh-day Adventist Education Congress in Foz do Iguaçu, Parana, February 5-7, 2023.
Under the theme ‘Enquanto Ele não vem, eu vou além’ (Portuguese for ‘While He Doesn’t Return, I’ll Go Beyond’), teachers from the southern states of Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul met for connection and inspiration. They serve in 73 Adventist educational institutions with more than 53,500 students.
The event, which takes place every five years, is intended to motivate and empower teachers, show appreciation to them, and provide special moments among co-workers.
“Our gathering had two goals,” Rubens Silva, Adventist Education director in southern Brazil and main organizer of the event, said. “First, to emphasize how much we appreciate and value each teacher. And second, once they feel acknowledged and valued, to encourage them to fulfill our mission and hasten Jesus’ return.”
The uncertainties that the world encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in challenges for education. Teachers had, at times, to reinvent themselves as they struggled to adapt to a new reality. A musical staged at the opening of the conference by Paraná Adventist College illustrated some of those challenges. With special effects and technological tools, the musical reminded the audience about some of the challenges during the pandemic and how teachers’ resilience and trust in God were essential to keep moving forward and “going beyond.”
Every part of the program sought to reaffirm a sense of belonging and purpose in each participant, always emphasizing their individual and collective connection to God. Daily Bible reflections by Odailson Fonseca and lectures by guests from different areas contributed to the development of each educator.
“When you understand a little bit about the human beings we work with, an event like this is extremely important for our practice,” neuroscientist Rosana Alves, who was one of the speakers, said. “What we experienced was amazing! We talked about emotions, about the brain. It is an honor to participate in something so great.”
General Conference education associate director John Wesley Taylor V and Adventist Church leaders in the South American Division and southern Brazil also attended.
“The event has been fantastic,” Taylor said. “I was impressed by the educators’ joy and their commitment to provide not only quality education but also an education that incorporates moral and ethical values. It’s a tremendous pleasure, a privilege, to witness this.”
The Adventist Education network is closely connected to salvation. It is one of the reasons that the February event includes testimonies, prayer, and a baptism. Eight people gave their lives to Jesus through baptism.
Organizers shared the story of Jamile and Samuel Santos. Mother and son were baptized after the teenager got acquainted with the Bible at the Adventist school he was attending. “I really got to like Adventist culture because I made friends and teachers were also a good influence,” Samuel said.
Later, as Jamile witnessed positive changes in her son, she became interested in knowing more about what he was learning at school. Eventually, both were acquainted with the Adventist message.
“I wanted to know why he was a different person, and I began to learn from him day by day,” Jamile shared. “I was already a teacher, but in 2022, I got a job at Boa Vista Adventist School in Curitiba. From then on, I came into contact with many people who influenced me, taught me the Bible, and prayed for me. Both of us are a fruit of Adventist education,” she said.
The event was a true gathering of generations. Some teachers are at the beginning of their careers, while others boast decades of dedication to Adventist Education. One of them, Dirce Huf, recently completed 50 years as an Adventist teacher.
“It went so fast!” Huf said. “It was a very good and blessed time. I feel very happy. I look back and would like to know how many families have been impacted. But my greatest desire is to find them all in heaven.”
Huf said that now it’s time to slow down. “It’s not going to be easy. I feel that God is calling me to a new mission, but I don’t really know what it is yet, one that He will show me,” she said.
On the other end, Natalia Lavagnolli has just become part of the Adventist Education network. An art teacher, Lavagnolli has taught at other schools for seven years but is now getting acquainted with the Adventist philosophy of education. “I was just hired by Maringá Zone 7 Adventist School,” she said. “It’s a great gift from God to be at this event. I feel loved, cared for, and looked after by everyone.… I am leaving this place renewed.”