According to statistics, the world’s population is approaching 8 billion people. It is impossible to know the exact number, since figures change every second. Many are born, many others die. Those who are born are more than those who die so the world population keeps increasing.
Currently, however, our world feels threatened as it has never been threatened before. The reason? A virus called COVID-19. It has affected us in such a way that we are inside our homes, fearing we might get infected and suffer its consequences, which could be even deadly. As a result, the world has come to a standstill.
When we look carefully at current statistics on the effects of COVID-19, we find that those affected are still a minority as compared to the world’s population. As I write these lines, I am told there are about 2million infected, and more than 131,000 deaths. For the common observer, these do not seem impressive figures. But there are scientific and human issues involved that transform the current situation into a cause for concern. The death of only one person is a tragedy. There is always great pain for relatives, and a great loss for society in general.
In the context of our Christian experience, statistics point out that 70 percent of young people leave their faith. Among Seventh-day Adventists, several people assert that the percentage of young people leaving the church is above 50 percent. Despite this, it seems there is no such concern as to take emergency measures to fix what is broken.
Strategies to win and keep young people as part of their Christian churches is usually called in-reach or retention evangelism. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has developed several of these throughout its history. These include Sabbath School, which takes into account biblical and spiritual training as it reaches the participants’ minds according to their ages; the Youth Department and its clubs, whose goal is to train for service and to channel young people’s interests toward highly educational activities. A relatively new initiative in our church is the Children Ministries Department, which does an extraordinary job of addressing the spiritual, physical, and mental needs of children from various perspectives.
The best strategy is Seventh-day Adventist Christian education. Its mission, as expressed by its ideologist Ellen G. White, “It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come”—Education, p. 13.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has, a sound worldwide educational system, which many consider the biggest educational system belonging to a single faith. Across Inter-America there are 1,100 Adventist educational institutions of which 15 offer university-level education. Overall, 170,000 students receive Adventist education from 11,000 dedicated teachers.
Studying at an Adventist school is an experience that impacts the life of the student. As students seek high-quality academic training that allows them to function as outstanding professionals, these schools make efforts to prepare them to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, which, we believe, is very near.
Taking this into consideration, it is appropriate to label Adventist education as an evangelistic endeavor. In fact, it is the longest evangelistic drive that may take place in the Adventist Church. A student attending an Adventist school invests from five to nine hours a day learning about the gospel of Jesus, for 160-260 days a year. Between 1-16 years, if one finishes undergraduate studies, and even more if one pursues graduate studies, the hours spent under the influence of Christian teachers, could add up to between 800-37,400 hours.
Undoubtedly, it is an experience that impacts the life of a student. Their testimonies confirm it. In a survey of former students of Adventist schools, 81 percent express that “Attending a Seventh-day Adventist school is what helped me most to develop my religious faith.” A study that followed up 15 and 16 years old subjects for 10 years, with the sample divided almost in half between those attending or not attending Adventist schools, produced the following findings: The more years a student attended an Adventist school, the higher the subject rated his or her commitment to Jesus. It also helped them to increase their Bible study, and most of them said: “My relationship with Jesus is sounder and stronger now, and religion is important for my life.”
A primary student from the Bertha de Witt Adventist School in Peñas Blancas, Honduras, prays in a special prayer corner she decorated in her home just as in her classroom. Adventist schools all across Inter-America closed early in March due to the pandemic social distancing measures endorsed throughout countries in the territory. Adventist education definitely fulfills its evangelistic mission, and the most efficient evangelists in the Seventh-day Adventist Church are educators working in their schools, colleges, and universities. However, the big tragedy for our church is that most of the students attending Adventist schools are not church members. Working on behalf of those children and young people is a privilege, but Adventist education was inspired by God to preserve the children and youth of the church but many are not benefiting from it. Estimates show that in Inter-America, only about ten percent of Adventist children and youth attend an Adventist school. In Inter-America, young people between 18 and 27 years old  who are members of the Adventist Church total 605,450. These are students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies, but students at Adventist universities only total 18,000. Even if all of them were Seventh-day Adventists, this would be just 2.97 percent of the overall youth population, but the truth is, not every student in those universities is a church member, which makes the figure even lower.
We are losing our children and young people, and we are not making the most of the resources available to prevent it. Our losses are greater than those caused by the coronavirus around the world, but we are not taking emergency measures.
Ellen G. White admonished all of us when she wrote, “While we should put forth earnest efforts for the masses of the people around us, and push the work into foreign fields, no amount of labor in this line can excuse us for neglecting the education of our children and youth”.
The Adventist Church stands out, among many other things, for its rapid growth around the world. But we can’t think of ourselves as successful as long as we keep losing our children and youth.
Heaven wants us with our children. What a joy it will be for families to arrive together to enjoy the home Jesus has prepared for His people. However, for that to become a reality, we must work for our children’s salvation, making the most of the redemptive strategies provided by the Lord, including Adventist education which is one of His best. Having our church children attending a different educational system, will mean they will be receiving an influence that will not contribute to their salvation for between 800 and 37,400 hours. We cannot let this happen.
By: Gamaliel Flórez, Inter-American Division Education Director