Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
As it relates to AFM and to GoTential, strategic education of children is of utmost importance for the mission task that remains on earth. A passion for Christ, a passion for the lost, and a willingness to blend work and spiritual enterprise all hinge on careful, intentional education. I believe it is important for all Adventist teachers, pastors, moms and dads to ask themselves, “How can I improve my teaching efforts to bless students with a Christ-like desire to spread the gospel?”
In my understanding, Adventist education exists for four primary reasons:
1) To imprint our youth with a Biblical worldview.
2) To foster Christ-like character.
3) To impart knowledge that equips youth for useful life work.
4) To lead youth to make lifetime commitments to participate in God’s church and mission no matter their career.
Like a car needs four wheels, all of the four points are essential for our gospel movement to move. Perhaps it seems odd to read an article about education in a mission magazine, but it shouldn’t. Let me share my story.
When I first came to AFM in 2000, the organization had a problem: it had gone three years without receiving any new missionary applications! After some analysis, it became apparent that the drought in applicants was a symptom of a bigger denominational problem: children of the 1980s were not being given a burden for missions, soul winning or evangelism. So when they became adults they were simply blind to the needs of the unreached. In a nutshell, between family, church and the school system, the total education package was not producing a will in youth for mission endeavor.
Since 2000, things have improved greatly. By God’s grace, AFM has had hundreds of applicants in that time. In fact, this summer we graduated our largest group of trainees ever.
My vision for youth on fire for mission is rooted in a personal experience. When I was 24 years old, I attended an Evangelical conference called “Urbana.” 17,000 teens and college students came together in a stadium for five days over Christmas break to talk and pray about unreached people groups! I was simply amazed at the hunger of these young Christians to carry out the Great Commission. In addition to the nearly 200 ministries focused on reaching the nations in creative ways, youth in a thousand small groups were plotting their own pathways to unreached peoples. Some even trekked across North Africa with solar-powered DVD players to show the Jesus movie to Muslims.
I left the conference so motivated and inspired about what can happen in the heart of a young person with their sights set on lifting up Christ. I was forever changed. For the first time in my life I felt a taste of what it might have been like to live in the early Adventist movement when the spirit of foreign mission expansion overpowered every other interest. I saw in eyes of those non-Adventist Christian young people a sacrificial fire ready for martyrdom, with no other goal but to bring the glory of Christ to the nations.
Now I am a missionary who leads tentmakers—lay men and women who have taken secular jobs overseas specifically so they can be a light in the Middle East, Central Asia and the communist East. They are brave men and women, bright and bold for Jesus. I admire them. Yet I wonder: why do they number in the hundreds and not the tens of thousands? I can’t help but ponder how we could expand the missionary pipeline by better educating our youth. How are our schools shaping course requirements to enable graduates to communicate the gospel in their professional capacity? How is a tentmaking mentality woven into the curriculum? Are we aiming to graduate accountants, nurses, computer science majors and engineers who can easily and naturally tell Jesus’ story to their coworkers? And what about the knowledge of the world’s tribes, languages and peoples? Are we inspiring students with a strategic focus on Christ’s Gospel Commission?
Last week, AFM held its annual children’s day. Through laughter, costumes, stories and new experiences, we worked to equip 127 sixth-through eighth-graders for new life vistas. The kids loved the day, and their eyes were forever opened to a culturally diverse world that is waiting for them to pray, give or go. It was a great day, and I hope others like it will be planned by leaders elsewhere.
Ultimately, we Adventists educate because we want young people to have a bigger life—mentally, morally and spiritually—and to help others do the same. A select few can become missionaries and make Bible work their career. However, everyone can make their career their offering to God—in how they do their job, by the kindness they show and by giving voice to their hope in Christ. I think this tentmaker mindset is what Jesus had in mind when He said to his very diverse spectrum of followers, “You are the light of the world.”
Let us educate strategically to help young men and women dream about reaching the nations. Let us graduate men and women equipped for careers and inspired to make their careers serve their Christian calling. In the power of the Holy Spirit, our movement will be unstoppable.