The Euro-Asia Division (ESD) territory comprises what many perceive to be post-Soviet countries. These nations encompass many cultures with complicated pasts. The territory is indeed immense and spans 13 countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. To comprehend the size of the ESD territory, imagine taking a 10-hour non-stop flight―this is what would be necessary to cover the division from its westernmost to its easternmost point. One would also need as much time to travel from the north to the south.
This world region has thousands of cities and towns, in which more than 300 million people reside. They are members of various ethnic groups and several world religions. For decades, people were taught to be atheists, and then there was a deep hunger for God followed by a wave of skepticism, with people trying to fill the void in their hearts with various things. This is our current heritage. Deep in their hearts, many people in the EAD’s territory feel they lack something authentic. They understand that their modern “gods” are superficial, but they find it difficult to make this first step toward the Creator―either because they do not know Him or lack trust.
Where Are the Church Initiatives in This Division?
Opening and supporting schools in ESD is the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s best opportunity to tell people about God’s love. Ellen G. White offered this challenge: “God expects more of the schools than has yet been brought forth.”1 Adventist schools, then, not only meet the temporal needs of students, preparing them for life on this earth but―also in partnership with God’s Spirit―prepare them for a more abundant life that will not finish here but will last into eternity. This is sacred work.
In the ESD, church and school work hand in hand, but even more than that―church is school, and education in ESD is oriented toward leading students to the Redeemer. Church members keep this goal ever before them by asking the question: “What more can we do to fulfill the responsibility to provide Adventist education for our children and young people?”
Adventist Education Is a Life-transforming Experience
The growth strategy of the Euro-Asia Division is first and foremost oriented toward making Adventist education available to as many young people and children as possible. All children must have an opportunity to receive a Christian education and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, which will lead them to help others experience this abundant life in Him. “Our church schools are ordained by God to prepare the children for this great work.”2
At the end of 2019, the ESD had 72 schools (43 elementary, 27 secondary, and two higher education institutions). The nine unions also operate more than 70 education centers where children and adults are taught foreign languages, music, sports, etc. Preschool and kindergarten classes offered at some of these centers are also effective means of meeting the needs of students, parents, and the surrounding community, thus reaching their hearts.
During this past quinquennium, one of the goals of the Euro-Asia Division and its unions was to open 50 new elementary and secondary schools. Forty-five were opened between 2015 and 2019. The division’s enrollment as of December 31, 2019, was 3,826 students in the elementary- through higher-education levels plus more than 2,000 in various education centers that also include preschool classes. The numbers are not large, but for a young division with a communist and atheist heritage, the dynamics of Adventist schools’ growth encourage church members to do even more for this noble and sacred cause of revealing God’s character to people through education. The Bible admonishes us: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV).3
Our primary goal in the ESD is to lead people to God, and we are encouraged in this work as we see the Holy Spirit in action. Not only do we have baptisms of senior school students and university students, but we also have teachers adopting the three angels’ messages and being baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We have parents so profoundly influenced by the transformed lives of their children that they start attending church and getting ready for the most important decision they will ever make―allowing Jesus to be the King of their lives! The church is revived when God’s work is the focus of education, and we are seeing and experiencing multiple blessings.
Adventist Education Produces Radical Change
This story is typical of many occurring in Adventist schools each year across the Euro-Asia Division. Such stories inspire us to keep up the remarkable ministry of education commissioned by the Lord Himself!
One day, Natasha’s4 mother called the principal of an Adventist elementary school and said: “I neither understand a thing about religion nor do I know anything of various denominations. I just saw your sign [Christian School],5 and now I am absolutely positive this is what I have been looking for.” School principal Tatiana engaged Natasha’s mother in a conversation, during which she asked her some questions. Here is the story she told.
During her pregnancy, Natasha’s mother kept thinking that her unborn child ought to attend a church school. She did not know the reason she constantly had this haunting thought because neither she nor her family had any link to religion whatsoever. When Natasha was old enough to attend school, her mom chose a private school that was famous for its creative approach to education, which took place in the atmosphere of complete freedom: Children were allowed almost everything and were encouraged to develop in the way they preferred―creatively and without any correction. When, in the 2nd grade, Natasha demanded to have her hair dyed pink, her mother became really alarmed. She realized that all these blurred lines of discipline would ultimately have an unpredictable, and possibly detrimental, effect on her daughter. So, when she saw the sign for the Christian school, which she later found out was an Adventist school, she recalled the longing she had felt when she was pregnant and realized that the dream she had for her child had been fulfilled.
Weeks later, at the start of the school year, Natasha enrolled in a 3rd grade with only five other children, all of them from Adventist families. The kind, dedicated, and highly qualified teacher got the children involved in reading the Bible and studying it seriously. Although initially she was not good at any classes, the excellent teachers at the school helped Natasha quickly catch up with her fellow students, who also became her friends. She found in the school an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and respect. At the morning devotionals where the elementary students studied from a Bible for children, Natasha tried to absorb everything she heard.
After about two months, Natasha’s mother called the school principal and said: “Tatiana, my daughter loves your Bible lessons; she is so much inspired! She has become friends with her fellow students and has fallen in love with the school. She tells us everything that goes on there and has us pray before meals. I am so happy I brought her to your school! This is exactly what I had been looking for her!”
Not long ago, Natasha’s mother texted the teacher a request to tell her in detail what Seventh-day Adventists believe. She said in her message that Natasha wanted to adopt the Adventist faith and “will be changing everything in her life.” This mother wanted to know more about what needed to be changed in their lives.
This is not the end of the story for this family. Their life path with God is just starting!
Can God Change People’s Lives Through Our Ministry?
For more than 130 years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has supported the education offered to our children and young people, and countless lives have been transformed. Can young people in the modern world experience the same transformation? Can God still change lives? Empower individuals to remain faithful to His Word despite whatever happens? Fulfill His will? Show His beautiful plan for living to people around? Our answer is a definite Yes! This is the essence and goal of true education, education built on the principles of God’s Word, with the goal of restoring God’s image in each human being.
Remember, somewhere near you there lives a family who is desperately looking for the sign “Adventist School.” The Lord is capable of answering the aspirations of such people through our ministry! Our great Lord opens opportunities through the atmosphere of love and acceptance that reigns in our schools, universities, and education centers. Through the biblical worldview taught to children when they are still young, our schools can help them and their parents make the most important decision in their lives―to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and live a more fulfilled life! We want to utilize these opportunities to the fullest.
An Expression of Appreciation
The ESD education team is comprised of faithful ministers, education directors of the nine unions, conference and mission leaders, and lay members, all working together to provide educational opportunities throughout the ESD territory. We are thankful to the Lord for the support we have received from the world team of educators and leaders of the General Conference with whom we have been working―this is what truly uplifts the spirit of many lay members in our territory and really propels God’s work of education! We are also grateful to each sponsor who has provided resources, input, and expertise to build, purchase, and reconstruct buildings for schools. We appreciate everyone’s prayers on our behalf and are grateful to the Lord for the wisdom, vision, and generous hearts He has given to our supporters. We pray for you, and we want you to know this. Together, this tremendous support is helping to develop education throughout the vast territory of the Euro-Asia Division.
Our Vision for the Next Quinquennium
During the current quinquennium (2020-2025), the ESD plans to continue opening new schools and supporting its existing ones. Throughout the ESD, we want to apply this counsel from Ellen White: “There is urgent need of schools in which the youth may be trained to habits of self-control, application, and self-reliance, of respect for superiors and reverence for God. With such training, we might hope to see the young prepared to honor their Creator and to bless their fellow men.”6
We will support our higher educational institutions in their desire to open new academic programs to attract more students. One of our highest priorities is to make sure that the atmosphere at all our schools, from elementary to higher education, is truly Adventist—an atmosphere that is distinct and observable in everyday functioning, strengthened by the beliefs and worldview held by committed Adventist educators. This is the reason denominational accreditation for primary and secondary schools is being implemented. This is also the reason we are preparing new teachers through a newly launched bachelor’s degree program in primary education, as well as training those teachers who have taught for many years in our schools about the Adventist philosophy of education. Our firm belief is that every teacher needs to have this sense of Adventist identity to be able to embrace and share Christlike attitudes of love, tolerance, and acceptance. We will keep issuing a digital edition of The Journal of Adventist Education in Russian for the same purpose―to help educators and students, parents, and lay members be transformed into the image of the Master Teacher. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV).7 This is the ultimate goal of education in the Euro-Asia Division.
Publishing Note: Due to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and the twice-postponed General Conference session, this quinquennial issue was delayed. Reports in this issue cover the 2015-2020 quinquennium.
Ivan Riapolov, “Adventist Education: A Life-transforming Experience for Students, Parents, Educators, and Church Members in the Euro-Asia Division,” The Journal of Adventist Education 83:4 (2021): 16-20.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Ellen G. White, Christian Education (Battle Creek, Mich.: International Tract Society, 1894), 82.
- __________, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1943), 176.
- Quoted from the New International Version of the Bible. New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Names used with permission.
- The sign for this Adventist school says “Christian School” although it is operated by Seventh-day Adventists. This signage is more meaningful to people in the community, since many are more familiar with the word Christian than with the word Adventist.
- Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publ. Assn., 1923), 64.
- Quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible. New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.