“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV). This was the call and response given by musician Nicole C. Mullen for the commitment service that closed out the 2023 North American Division (NAD) Educators’ Convention held this August 7-10 in Phoenix, Arizona. For three days, educators from across North America, some traveling from Caribbean islands and corners of British Colombia and islands in the Pacific Ocean, gathered to hear about new ministries designed to support schools and be blessed by breakout sessions. Throughout the event, many attendees indicated that they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
On the morning of the fourth and final day, teachers who would step into classrooms that following week felt anticipation, exhilaration, and appreciation. Nicole C. Mullen set the tone through her music. Then G. Alexander Bryant, president of the NAD, rose to speak. He began by thanking Arne Nielsen, the vice president of education for the North American Division, his team's dedicated work in making the conference such a blessed and well-executed event. Bryant then addressed the teachers, recognizing their oft-overlooked efforts to invest in their students and uphold the tenets of Adventist Education.
It is the observation of upholding Christian principles in every avenue of a child's life that was a core facet of Bryant's keynote address, which drew on the conference’s theme “Something Better.” As he opened with Daniel 1:3 and Deuteronomy 6:7, Bryant shared the biblical examples of the Children of Israel, the Children of Kings, and the Children of Princes being brought together to train as the best in the land.
Bryant drew from the famous story of Daniel and his peers exceeding the other men into the present day, sharing how our children exist as Children of Israel. He observed, “The Children of Israel had a plan that the Children of Kings and the Children of Princes didn’t have. And the plan was, they would have been taught the Word of God.”
As he continued, Bryant acknowledged that, like the children of Israel, there is mounting pressure to appease secular standards and methods, encouraging the downplay of Christian principles in our schools. However, it is our commitment to prioritizing the spiritual health of the child that leads to their success. Like the Children of Israel, teachers must commit to the values God is calling us to follow, and not the fickle standards of the world. And like the men in that story, they proved that their methods allowed them to be 10 times better.
Bryant declared, “They had God’s plan, and because they followed God’s plan, they received God’s favor and they received something better.” Teachers’ impact and import are within a legacy agenda given by God. Many of the teachers were reminded that they hold a critical role in the upbringing of children.
“Teachers intersect the lives of students at critical times in critical ways. God uses you to speak — sometimes it’s not a word, it’s a smile, it’s a touch on the shoulder. God is using you to fulfill His plan,” Bryant said. “All of us have teachers that we can look back on and say they intervened in our life at a critical time. All of us have stories. And guess what? You are some student’s story. You are a fulfillment of God’s plan. You are the secret sauce to something better. You are the instrument that God uses to transform and change lives. You will be the reason some student tells their story of how you intervened at a critical time and changed the trajectory of their lives. God’s plan and God’s favor bring about something special.”
Bryant acknowledged that teachers who have found their calling in education are often faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. He did not dismiss the challenges facing teachers on a yearly, sometimes daily basis. But he also reminded attendees that, in recognizing factors that are out of an educator's control, they are still called to courageously do what God has placed them to do, which is to teach. “When the deck is stacked against you, you [still] teach.”
This is a rousing call, serving to recognize the special calling of educators, recognize that issues exist, and encouraging them to prayerfully persist nonetheless. Bryant's words are a reminder that all educators who are able to see their students as children of God worthy of more than the bare minimum and exist as more than a statistic are under God’s watch care.
Bryant concluded by saying, “The results of our teaching doesn’t end with a graduation or diploma. … Your teaching ends when one day He that shall come will come and shall not tarry. God desires all children to have something better not only down here, but something better out there. That’s why we teach.”