It was hard enough on my dad when my mother joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but now she was asking him to move our family to another town so their kids could go to an Adventist school. This was more than he could take. He stormed into their bedroom, yanked the suitcase from under the bed, and began stuffing it with his clothes.
My dad had been raised in a home by deeply devoted Adventist parents and had attended Adventist schools all the way through his first year of college. Though all his siblings and cousins remained strong Adventists, he left the church in his early 20s. He married a girl who wasn't particularly connected to any church at all, and he was quite happy with that. Had it not been for his mother, things would have stayed that way. But his mother had been witnessing to his wife, and now his wife had been—he shuddered to think of it—baptized.
"I never wanted a religious family," he reminded my mother as he stuffed more clothes into the suitcase, "and I still don't!"
Though a generous man, known for his fairness and honesty, my dad was a strong leader who was used to things going according to his plan. My mother is a peace-loving woman who would go to just about any length to avoid a conflict, let alone a flat-out confrontation.
However, this was no ordinary circumstance. She took a deep breath and consciously softened her stance, her voice, the look on her face.
"I believe you're the man you are because you had a Seventh-day Adventist education," she said quietly, "and I want our children to be like you."
Somewhere between the dresser and the suitcase, my dad froze. He and my mom stood looking at each other for a long, immeasurable moment. She knew he was reviewing his own childhood, evaluating the future, picturing his own kids one by one, wondering if he was willing to pay for something that just moments before he would have paid to avoid.
Mom doesn't remember that they ever discussed the matter again. Dad's only answer was to put his clothes back into the dresser and begin making arrangements for a move. All six children were soon enrolled in Adventist schools, and they continued in Adventist schools as long as they wanted to, several of them into college.
I was the seventh child, born shortly after that move. My father's business began to prosper, I believe, in answer to my mother's prayers about our tuition. Daddy paid my way through the local church school, helped my mother run the Home and School organization, and cooked for the annual school picnics.
When the pastor came into my elementary classroom for a Week of Prayer, I had the opportunity to meet with him privately in the little school kitchen. "Jesus came into my heart today," I told him. "I could feel the doors opening for Him!" I'm not sure he fully appreciated that sun-splashed, glowing moment, but I've never forgotten it.
By the time I was in academy, I had done some spiritual drifting and had some heart-hardening experiences. But Week of Prayer came along and once again the Lord used it to get through to me. After a brutal struggle in the dormitory prayer room, I recommitted my life to serving God.
During my tumultuous years of college, I worked on campus for a saintly old Bible teacher whose encouragement kept me growing. A science teacher gave me good reasons to believe in creation when I had begun to wonder. The Righteousness by Faith movement of the 1970s reaffirmed the "Jesus Loves Me" doctrine I had learned at home and in elementary school.
I realize, of course, that nothing is perfect, including Adventist education. From growing up through the system, raising my children in it, being married to a conference administrator, and serving on an academy staff, I have a fairly intimate understanding of Adventist education. When it comes to the negative side of things, I've seen it all, and have personally survived some soul-wrenching scenarios. Tell me any horror story from the Adventist educational system, and I will join you in your grief and outrage. If it's within my power to do so, I will work long and hard to bring about God-honoring changes. But I will not be surprised. I am beyond being surprised. (Where else would the old devil rather do battle?)
And yet I marveled when I walked down the hall of the academy where I worked and caught a glimpse of an entire classroom of students bowed in prayer and realized that on that campus alone it happened dozens of times every day. I was privileged often to spend the first hour of faculty meetings in a season of prayer for students and their families. I know more than one teacher who was up half the night (again), talking with or praying for their students.
I was there when a trouble-making student finally gave his heart to the Lord and became a spiritual leader on campus, and when a young woman caught the vision for the global mission of the church and determined to be a part of it. Public schools can teach math and English, but they can't come near this, and this is what education is all about.
Yes, the financial sacrifice required to pay tuition to an Adventist school can be staggering. Our two children were in an Adventist college at the same time, so I know the cost of investing in Adventist education. Would I like to drive a nicer car? remodel the kitchen? buy more clothes? go on a great vacation? You bet! But would I accept that Lexus in place of my son having had teachers who prayed with him?
Could the relief of trading in my avocado-green stove (yes, I had one for many years) really overshadow having our children in an environment where most people seek to know and serve God? Could a week on Maui every year replace having my kids with me in Heaven?
Of course, there's no guarantee my kids will choose Heaven. But I can guarantee I'll do everything within my power to increase that likelihood.
My dad never officially reclaimed the Adventism of his youth, but he lived out the principles of the Scriptures he had learned in the 1920s and 1930s—the same ones I learned in the 1960s and 1970s.
Our kids learned them in the Adventist schools of the 1980s and 1990s, and now in this new century. Those scriptures remained deep in my father's heart, they are deep in mine, and I pray they will remain deep in the hearts of our children.