Adventist education encompasses the world

Adventist schools overseas-increasing in number, breadth, and depth-are helping to meet the church's need for a well-trained work force.

Victor S. Griffiths, Ph. D., is the associate director of the Department of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

With 5,218 schools, 35,319 teachers, and almost three quarters of a million students in 142 nations, the Seventh-day Adventist school system is probably the largest educational program sponsored by a single Protestant denomination. Currently, some 558,000 students attend its elementary schools, more than 133,000 attend its secondary schools, and its colleges and universities provide tertiary education to some 43,000 students.

In the United States and Canada enrollment in Seventh-day Adventist schools, at 63,108 students, is fourth to that of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools (194,404), the National Association of Episcopal Schools (78,438), and the Christian Schools International (67,627). Adventist schools (K-12) in these two countries number 1,100 second only to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's 1,754.

Education has not always played such an important role in our church. As one Adventist author stated recently, education was the last major institutional development within the denomination it was preceded by the establishment of a strong publishing work that focused on developing and disseminating gospel literature (1849), a centralized ecclesiastical organization (1863), and a vigorous health-care program (1866).1

In fact, it was Adventist laity who first provided formal academic nurture for children of the church. The earliest substantiated records tell us that between 1853 and 1872, lay members in Buck's Bridge, New York; Battle Creek, Michigan; and Amherst, New Hampshire, began sporadic attempts to educate their children. During this period the church contented itself with providing religious instruction through its Sabbath schools and the Youth's Instructor, its magazine for youth.

The first denominationally sponsored church school was opened at Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1872. This school, though open to the children of Adventist Church members, had as its primary focus the education of older students who would help to spread the gospel to the world. By this time, at least, the church's leadership had become persuaded that a school should be established under its supervision. The reasoning ran that by establishing such a school, the church would be guaranteeing that its ministerial force would be prepared for their duties by those who had known the faith from its beginning and were considered capable leaders.

In 1874 this school became Battle Creek College. Eight years later, with the opening of an academy at Healdsburg, California, and another at South Lancaster, Massachusetts, the beginnings of a secondary system emerged.

Church schools aid missions

The year 1874 also marked the beginning of the church's first venture into overseas mission work. John Nevins Andrews was sent as a missionary to Eu rope. Within 25 years the church's missionary enterprise not only encompassed Europe, but had extended to Africa, India, Central and South America, the Far East, Australia, and the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The establishment of church schools accompanied this advance in soul winning. In his study of the relationship be tween school attendance and church membership Warren Minder wrote: "The growth in educational facilities was slow until the 1890s. During that decade five colleges, many academies, and more than 200 elementary schools were established in the United States. This same period, according to Brown (1972) and Cadwaller [sic] (1975), witnessed new Adventist schools in Canada, England, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Africa, Argentina, Denmark, and Brazil."2

Claremont Union College, founded at Kenilworth, Cape, South Africa, in 1893, was the first Adventist school to be established in Africa. From this educational center, later known as Helderberg College, were to emerge generations of mission workers who would evangelize the other areas of Africa.

In 1894, after the founding of Claremont, A. T. Robinson, then president of the Cape Conference, met with Sir Cecil Rhodes and asked for a piece of land upon which to establish a mission among the Matabeles of Rhodesia. Rhodes instructed Dr. L. S. Jameson, the administrator in Bulawayo, to permit the Adventist representatives to select whatever land they needed. They selected some 12,000 acres, upon which they built Solusi Mission. This mission, which was the base for the church's first workers among the Matabele people and the locus of its first converts among them, also became the site of the first school among the Matabeles.

In India, where direct evangelism proved unproductive, the opening of elementary schools to educate village children became the means of wooing adults to listen to the gospel. Jessie Louise Lowry, daughter of one of the pioneer missionary families, recalled for me how her father, after unsuccessful efforts to communicate with the adult Hindu population, decided to gather the illiterate village waifs and teach them to read the Bible and its stories. Soon the children were recounting to their parents what they were learning. The parents in turn expressed enough interest that the missionaries were able to begin work among the adults.

Likewise, in the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, by teaching the neglected Inca Indians to read, Fernando Stahl both provided a basis for teaching them the gospel and made them participants in modern civilization. Though at first fiercely opposed by the landed gentry, politicians, and the dominant national church, Stahl persisted. In gratitude, the citizens of Plateria, Puno, Peru, have built a monument to this pioneer educator. It stands in the Plaza de Armas, in front of the municipal building and in front of an Adventist high school that continues to contribute to the education of the people of that area.

The character of Christian education

While missionaries were finding that education based on the study of the Scriptures could assist in sharing the gospel, the church's premier counselor, Ellen G. White, was warning that a classics-based curriculum that focused on rationality and pride of self-fulfillment was not the kind of curriculum best suited to developing the talents of Christian youth. In 1893 she published the book Christian Education, in which she gave a comprehensive apology of the philosophy that should guide the concepts, content, and methods of an educational program that was truly Christian.

She wrote that students should not be led into the cramming of facts and extensive memorization, and that they should be guided to consider the development of the spiritual, social, health, and vocational aspects of their lives as just as important as that of their mental capacities. She counseled teachers to make their students' salvation, their ability to function effectively as spiritual persons, and their development of character foundational to their other learning. Excellence in education demanded more than the mastery of academic subjects; it also included preparation for a life and a vocation marked by loving service for humanity.

The teacher's modeling of spiritual values, the work ethic, and community service were an integral part of the curriculum. The church's educational pro gram and its educators were to exemplify moral, spiritual, and ethical values that would help each student become a candidate for eternal life.

This emphasis did not proscribe rigorous academics. When early in the twentieth century the church's educators experienced major resistance to accreditation, Ellen White urged that the feeder schools to the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University) provide the accredited preparation that would secure government recognition of the degrees the medical school granted.

Growth outside the home base

The educational system that was but a seedling in 1900 has spread its branches far. At the turn of the century it was comprised of 220 elementary schools, 18 secondary schools, and 8 colleges, almost all in the United States and Europe. To day the Adventist educational system has 961 elementary schools, 214 secondary schools, and 11 colleges in Africa; 2,320, 326, and 32, respectively, in the Americas; 334, 63, and 25 in Europe and the Pacific; and 786, 172, and 15 in Asia and the Far East.

Not only has the number of these over seas schools increased, their enrollments have grown also. In 1988, Philippine Union College had 3,959 students; Korean Sahmyook University, 2,006; Mexico's Montemorelos University, 1,311; and Peru's Inca Union University, 1,307.

The courses of study the world's tertiary schools offer have become increasingly diversified and sophisticated as well. No longer are schools in the United States the only Adventist schools to offer degrees in medicine, nursing, and other health-related professions. Mexico's Montemorelos and India's Vellore (a Christian school with which the church has a special relationship) offer degrees in medicine, preparing doctors to serve the church. Korea has a school of pharmacy, Denmark a noted school of physiotherapy, and on all continents Adventist schools offer nurses' training.

While most of the Adventist schools offering graduate education are still to be found in the United States, graduate training in education or theology may be obtained in church-operated schools in the Philippines, India, the Americas, Eu rope, and Australia. Of the more than 42,000 students in post-secondary institutions, the majority are registered in the following academic clusters: health and health-related areas, 8,020; business and associated fields, 7,099; education, 5,905; and religion, 5,273. Three other groupings trail at some distance: the applied sciences, 1,861; the natural sciences, 1,295; and the humanities, 1,256.

Changes in the makeup of the church's missionary personnel reflect the growth throughout the world of its educational system. Between 1901 and 1960, the church sent out 5,925 missionaries, most of them from North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. While national workers comprised part of the missionary enterprise during this period, they tended to work in areas near their homelands for example, Solomon Islanders worked in the South Pacific and New Guinea and those from Latin America and the West Indies served in island and continental nations adjacent to their homelands.

Since the mid-1950s a more universal sharing of human resources has gradually come to characterize the work of the church as its colleges have been upgraded and its national workers have received better training. Graduates from our schools in the Philippines have served in Africa, the United States, and the West Indies. Black Americans have served in Africa, South and Central America, and the West Indies. Latin Americans have served throughout their continent, in Europe, Africa, and the Far East. Missionaries from India have gone to the Far East, Africa, the West Indies, and North America. And increasingly, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans are becoming a part of the mission work in places such as Brazil, the United States, and Australia.

Today, as in earlier years, the church looks to its schools to provide the core of its work force. To maintain the quality of instruction as well as the values and methods that have set this educational program apart, it uses a system of accreditation that complements and supplements the varied forms of governmental and professional recognition.

As in the past, Seventh-day Adventist educators seek to integrate the spiritual, vocational, and academic aspects of Christian education. They strive to turn out graduates known for their character development, competence, and commitment to service.

1. See George R. Knight, "Spiritual Revival and Educational Expansion," Adventist Review, Mar. 29, 1984.

2. Ed.D. dissertation, Western Michigan University, 1985, p. 17.


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Victor S. Griffiths, Ph. D., is the associate director of the Department of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

June 1990

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