college entrance


Investing time

Bitter experience offered an opportunity for those who expected the Second Coming to ensure they kept their feet on the ground. Because Adventists neglected their farms in 1844, they had no crop to harvest. Thoughtful leaders understood that they had lost credibility. Thereafter, while they continued to expect the Second Coming, leaders encouraged a focus on manual work such, particularly as farming. This would improve prospects for future generations. In fact, the church would model schools suitable for keeping members grounded. Adventism began multitasking.

Half a century later, Argentina provided a textbook case of the church’s shift from neglect of earthly concerns such as farm work, to multitasking. Adventists took the idea of a model school along as they migrated from Kansas in North America to Argentina. There, they focused on a project that demanded great personal sacrifice from individuals and families. They encouraged new converts at church in a mud-brick hut to donate land and part of their wheat harvest to start a college. Members pooled funds to buy bricks. And to get the project going in the busy harvest months, one member contributed two months of masonry work.

The beginnings of Colegio Adventista del Plata (CAP, or River Plate College) were modest. Nonetheless both founders and students had a clear sense of purpose. At first, facilities were so limited, students had to bring along their own bed and bedding. The first of those students had sold his farm, cattle, and cheese-making business in Uruguay in order to attend school.[1] So it was not too difficult for school managers to prioritise investment in farming and specifically, in a registered dairy herd.

Development followed as agriculture and dairying at CAP attracted the local community, the wider public and the media. Nationwide recognition brought extended visits to the school by state officials. All were keen to observe an unfamiliar model of co-education, residential schooling and a curriculum that combined academic study with industrial work. And as it pioneered a new approach to school provision, CAP gained accreditation from the state.

Development continued. By the time I arrived at Puiggari in the central Argentine province of Entre Rios, seventy years of multitasking at CAP had produced a college with an enrolment of over 200. Six months on campus allowed me to see how it would progress, by 2002 to the status of Universidad Adventista del Plata, (River Plate Adventist University) with over 1,400 students.

El Toro Campeon

Proud handler shows prize champion in the Holstein herd, one of the features at Colegio Adventista del Plata, Argentina, 1971

Obviously, a flair for masonry work remained intact, as featured in the night-time view of CAP’s main entrance that headlines this blog. Just as clearly, dairying continued to be a priority, with celebrated champions such as this still cared for by future pastors and other professionals-in-the-making.

Multitasking that prioritised farm work was the business of another outstanding school I visited,  Instituto Adventista Agro-Industrial do Amazonas (IAAI, Adventist Agro-Industrial Institute, Amazon State). Covering 24,000 acres along the Highway from Manaus to Itacoatiara, IAAI was larger than the Caribbean island, Montserrat.

It struck me that while those who founded Adventism in Michigan feared time was running out, they were sufficiently in touch with reality as to invest time planting roots on earth. On checking, I discovered that by the year I was born, the urgency Adventism felt about the end of time had driven it into an extraordinary position. It invested in what, within half a century was the largest Protestant school system in the United States.[2]

Not only was Adventism the leading provider of Protestant church schools in its home country. By 1950, its unusual investment produced the largest Protestant church school system world-wide.

Adventism modelled school provision globally. The result was institutions such as Akaki School, founded in Ethiopia by Norwegians who rented an empty shed. Since they had no books, paper, or pencils, they improvised, using lime and stones for chalk until matters improved in 1943. The state offered them a site, complete with a building that was a dynamite factory during the war.

Model schools included Skodsborg Fisioterapieskole (Skodsborg School of Physiotherapy) in Skodsborg, Denmark, accredited by Danish authorities in 1947. By 1950 the state recognised its Diploma of Physiotherapy, and placed its courses on an equal footing with courses at the University of Copenhagen. In the mid-1950s, Skodsborg would have the largest number of patients, students and staff of any institution in world Adventism.

Adventist Church School

Outdoor Church School at Cayes, Haiti, 1943. Murray, W E. “The Antillian Union.” Review 120, 38 (23 Sept 1943): 12-13.

Significantly however, the influence of Adventist schooling was more pronounced in the Caribbean than elsewhere. Proportionally, relative to its membership, in schools such as the one pictured above, it provided nearly as many places  in Haiti as it did in North America. Nevertheless, provision in North America was statistically less impressive than where I was born, in the South Caribbean.

This blog reflects on emergence of schools in several places, including my native Trinidad and Tobago. In the process, it unwraps finely meshed personal and institutional histories. The story starts in Tobago, with  Moravians and my grandmother who showed me witches’ broom in cocoa trees, in lessons related, not to magic, but to circumstances outlined in Facing Reality: From Armageddon to Cocoa Beans.

[1] Greenleaf, F. A Land of Hope – the Growth of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South America.Tatui, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2011. 55.

[2] The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Vol. 13 (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 181.