Being pastor of a church without a church school was a new and unsatisfactory experience we faced on assuming pastoral duties in southeast Washington, D.C., in 1949. The church members, flinty-nine in all, were meeting in a lodge hall, with all of its unsanctified sights, sounds, and smells. Several children of the church were making the strenuous effort necessary to attend a church school across the city. The round trip by public conveyance required three hours daily. Most of the children of the church were in public schools. Our need for both a church and a church school was very real.
As we prayed the way soon opened to move our Sabbath services to a lovely Methodist church. Then our immediate need was greater for a school than for a church. Since divine counsel tells us that a school is needed just as much as a church (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 109), and since the one need was at least temporarily supplied, we turned our attention and prayers toward our school need. Some wise and successful farmers build their barns before they build their houses, so that the barns help build the houses. Our Catholic friends often build their schools first as an aid to building up their parish and church.
"Schools should be established where there is as much as possible to be found in nature to delight the senses and give variety to the scenery. . . . We should choose a location for our school apart from the cities. . . . Let our students be placed where nature can speak to the senses, and in her voice they may hear the voice of God. Let them be where they can look upon His wondrous works, and through nature behold her Creator."—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 320.
"Our children should be removed from the evil influences of the public school, and placed where thoroughly converted teachers may educate them in the Holy Scriptures."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 204.
For a small congregation to reach such an objective in an area where land values are very high, constituted a huge challenge. But we had a huge promise to plead: "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
We told our members that there were conditions under which we might expect help from "sons of strangers" and "forces" (margin, "wealth") from "gentiles." Those conditions were within our reach. They are not impossible of fulfillment for any congregation however small or poor. From a chapter in The Desire of Ages, "The Least of These, My Brethren," which makes the destiny of the church hang on one point (namely, what we do or fail to do for Christ in the person of the poor and suffering), we have this encouraging statement, which leaves us without excuse:
"A company of believers may be poor, uneducated, and unknown; yet in Christ they may do a work in the home, the neighborhood, the church, and even in 'the regions beyond,' whose results shall be as far-reaching as eternity."
As members we sought to respond to the privilege of yoking with the "unwearied servant of man's necessities." We understood that we could expect not only aid and resources in our building needs, but, what was of greater value, enrichment of our spiritual life.
"The reason why God's people are not more spiritual minded and have no more faith, I have been shown, is because they are narrowed up with selfishness The prophet is addressing Sabbath-keepers, not sinners, not unbelievers, but those who make great pretensions to godliness. It is not the abundance of your meetings that God accepts. It is not the numerous prayers, but the rightdoing, doing the right thing, and at the right time. It is to be less self-caring, and more benevolent. Our souls must expand. Then God will make them like a watered garden, whose waters fail not."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 36.
The Starting Point
For several years a committee of the Washington Dorcas Federation had been looking for a location for a downtown health-welfare center. Shortly after coming to Washington we were asked to join the search with that committee. The present four-story welfare building soon came to our attention, and was secured. With other churches in the area we joined heartily in a work of ministry to the poor. Soon we began to experience the fulfillment of the promise—to be like "a watered garden, . . . whose waters fail not."
Of the good king Josiah it was said, "He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him" (Jer. 22:16).
The first tangible evidence to our members that our "garden" was being "watered" came when a non-Adventist responded to a presentation of our need of a school by donating two acres of ground, "beautiful for situation."
This is next to ground where the man had just refused five thousand dollars an acre for a twelve-acre plot. It was also ideally situated for serving a sister church three miles away, which had a small school in the church on a crowded lot. This church group were interested in joining efforts with us if a mutually suitable site could be found. But months of searching had not produced a prospect at any price as pleasing as that which the Lord picked out and gave us without price. It was well situated for both churches.
We had not gone far in our plans for a school building on the two acres that had just been deeded as a gift from a "stranger" when we became aware of a legal requirement that called for more divine and human influence working together. Near the District of Columbia the National Park and Planning Commission has jurisdiction over building permits. The commission stipulates that no institution with a "regular course of study" can be located on a plot of ground with less than five acres.
This requirement posed quite a problem and considerably tested OUT confidence in the leading of our great Leader. But God helped us through, though not without obstacles. Our present site of 5.42 acres represents land deeded in whole or in part as gifts from four different non-Seventh-day Adventists whom the Lord touched by His spirit of benevolence. The promise is if we sow benevolence we will reap benevolence.
Because of the direction our building faces, the approach from our left required a deed from a man by the name of Hitt. We finally found him in Louisville, Kentucky, and he gave us his deed without charge. The approach from our right required a deed from a man by the name of Witt. He also cooperated in a wonderful way and deeded us two lots. One free and one for less than normal value. Since he was an influential local businessman, we asked him to give us a letter that would help us with others. Businessmen are frequently glad to do this, but he was sorry to decline the request for a letter, explaining that he would be in trouble with his Lutheran brethren if he did that, for he had charged them $14,500 for their church lot a few blocks away not long since. Mr. Witt has gone to rest, but like many others whom the Lord has used, he maintained a wonderful spirit of helpfulness while he lived. His children have continued to be helpful. Thus Mr. Hitt on our left and Mr. Witt on our right, as "sons of strangers," were prompted by the Spirit of God to help make ready a place for others to "build up thy walls." There is a sequel to this Hitt and Witt story yet to be told, we are sure, in the Judgment day.
Fifty Non-Adventists Participate
On July 13, 1952, the first anniversary of the passing of the late Howard J. Detwiler, for whom the school was named, the exterior walls went up in one day. Here we quote from "A Brief History of the Howard J. Detwiler School," given by H. W. Bass, educational secretary of the Potomac Conference, at the school's dedication on September 6, 1954:
"Then the miracle began to happen. Doctors, ministers, clerks, teachers, housewives, children, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, cooks, painters, masons, bricklayers—all descended upon this spot from week to week, and from the ground arose this school. The children hauled bricks in their little wagons; the women painted, cooked, and encouraged the men; the men dug, pulled, mixed cement, and carried lumber. The ladies served a banquet every Sunday and holiday to the busy, hungry workers. Everybody worked. The same spirit of emergency and devotion that marked the building of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day seemed to prevail. 'I am doing a great work; so that I cannot come down' (Nehemiah 6:3) seemed to be the theme of all the workers."
Some fifty non-Adventists assisted with this project, and each was given a copy of Drama of the Ages (large edition) as a token of appreciation for their gift of labor or material. Some were very appreciative of the book. (In the Trenton, New Jersey, church-building project mentioned earlier in this series, 128 non-Adventists participated.)
The first section of the building, 68 by 44 feet, included two classrooms to accommodate about thirty pupils each, wide hallways, roomy lavatories, heating and storage room, utility closet, kitchen, and principal's office. The value was $40,000; the cost in cash, S9,500. After doubling our enrollment during the first year of operation, we extended the hall another thirty-one feet, with an additional classroom on each side. This makes four classrooms now being used by our four teachers for ten grades. The cost of this addition in cash was about $5,000.
From the front door of our four-teacher school as it now stands, we face a lawn, then the circular driveway and parking lot, beyond which is a lovely woods extending farther than one can peer into. The sights, sounds, and scents that surround one there prompt thoughts of God. At this season, in the evening the song of the wood thrush, "sweetest sound in nature," according to the late Arthur W. Spalding, can be heard. There is much in that natural setting "to delight the senses and give variety to the scenery," including an inviting spring of cool water. Not only is it possible for our students to "be where they can look upon His wondrous works, and through nature behold her Creator," but the school also is not far from a bus line and has ample frontage on a paved street.
A brick-laying class, for which credit is given, is taught by Donald H. Miller, our ninth and tenth grade teacher and principal. This class is continuing to improve the property by extensive brick flower boxes and retaining walls. Students have helped and learned considerable in connection with several of the building operations involved. Thus an effort to follow another aspect of the counsel from the Lord is being made. Speaking of intermediate schools, Sister White says:
"Intermediate schools are highly essential. . . . And the students are to be shown the true dignity of labor. They are to be taught that God is a constant worker. Let every teacher take hold heartily with a group of students, working with them, and teaching them how to work."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 203.
Benevolence, the Answer to Many Problems
Not only should our children be taught the dignity of labor, but many of the problems faced by our young people in this intense and hectic age would largely be solved if we could instill the principles of benevolence in them at an early age. What might be the key to a great lessening of apostasies among us is also touched upon in the following reference:
'The Saviour has given His precious life in order to establish a church capable of caring for sorrowful, tempted souls. . . . It is because this work is neglected that so many young disciples never advance beyond the mere alphabet of Christian experience. The light which was glowing in their own hearts when Jesus spoke to them, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee,' they might have kept alive by helping those in need. The restless energy that is so often a source of danger to the young, might be directed into channels through which it would flow out in streams of blessing. Self would be forgotten in earnest work to do others good. . . . They will not be longing for exciting amusements, for some change in their lives."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 640, 641. (Italics supplied.)
Let us note once more that the Master Physician has prescribed the same "remedy"—"benevolent deeds"—for the spiritual maladies of adults as well as for "restless" youth:
Adult malady.—"The greatest sin which now exists in the church is covetousness."—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 194.
Remedy.—"Constant, self-denying benevolence is God's remedy for the cankering sins of selfishness and covetousness. God has arranged systematic benevolence to sustain His cause and relieve the necessities of the suffering and needy. He has ordained that giving should become a habit, that it may counteract the dangerous and deceitful sin of covetousness. Continual giving starves covetousness to death."—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 548.
Maladies of youth.—"Restless energy . . . often a source of danger." "Longing for exciting amusements."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 640, 641.
Remedy.—"Helping those in need. . . . Restless energy . . . might be directed into channels through which it would flow out in streams of blessing. Self would be forgotten in earnest work to do others good. . . . They will not be longing for exciting amusements."—Desire of Ages, pp. 640, 641.
"The Great Teacher cooperates with all the efforts made to relieve suffering humanity. Teach the students to make a practical application of the lessons they have received. As they witness human woe and the deep poverty of those they are trying to help, they will be stirred with compassion. Their hearts will be softened and subdued. . . . We must now see what can be done to educate the students in practical missionary work."—Welfare Ministry, p. 106.
The One Deciding Factor in the Judgment
In our intensely busy program of carrying on the great work of God at home and abroad we are in grave danger of losing sight of the fundamental principles upon which Christ founded His kingdom and the measuring rod by which we will be judged in the end.
"Christ on the Mount of Olives pictured to His disciples the scene of the great Judgment day. And He represented its decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and suffering."—The Desire of Ages, p. 637. (Italics supplied.)
Shall we not review these principles for ourselves as workers and then bring them anew to our church members? How simple is the formula for saving our own souls and for solving the ever-increasing and perplexing problems and temptations facing our youth today! May God help us all to see anew the simplicity of the gospel.
What blessings are promised when we will work as Christ worked, remembering that "we shall find His footprints beside the sick bed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps."—Ibid., p. 640.
(Continued next month)