Grants Pass Students Aim to 'Be Extraordinary'

It has been an extraordinary year at the Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist School. In fact, this year’s theme is "Be Extraordinary!" The pastoral staff of the Grants Pass Adventist Church has taken this theme to heart, devoting time three days each week to teach Bible classes. Pastors Christian Martin and Tony Rodriguez, along with church elder Chuck Austin, have felt blessed to have this interaction with students and teachers. These men see time committed to the school not as additional workload, but an extension of ministry right in the heart of the classroom.

The school has three Bible classes: fifth/sixth grade, seventh/eighth grade and ninth grade. In a typical week, Rodriguez introduces the Bible lesson on Mondays, Austin focuses on the memory verse on Tuesdays, and Martin’s focus is application on Thursdays. 

“I’ve been very amazed how open they’ve been. Some have shared of bouts of depression they have been facing, how they have been able to overcome. It’s been exciting to see their transparency,” says Rodriguez. He has enjoyed the ability to have open dialogue with the students. His time at the school offers more opportunities for interaction, versus a once-a-week chapel time. "We can have discussions about baptism. It's easier, open and better received," he explains. This work is, indeed, very pastoral.

Rodriguez knows the blessings of teaching children, both at school and during Sabbath School at various times during the year. Another special blessing is the interaction with non-Adventist students at the school. “What a privilege it is to present the Bible to those who don’t know the Adventist message — or the Bible, for that matter. ... You can see how they are processing things,” he adds.

At the center of each lesson is prayer time. When working with the ninth-grade class, that group has an assigned prayer coordinator who takes prayer requests and praises, then shares updates to prayer and leads the class in prayer. 

The return of ninth grade has been an exciting development at the Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist School. This has provided a boost in overall enrollment by 10 students. In fact, the school year began with 75 students enrolled. This ninth-grade class, says Martin, is “large enough to create engaging and dynamic teaching opportunities." The class is large enough that students receive all the social benefits expected in a high school or academy. The majority of students in this grade come from families who have home-schooled their children through the elementary grades.

Austin has a distinct focus with his Bible students. His approach has been to treat the time as a typical Bible study. “It’s very spiritual, not just academics, drawing [students] closer to Jesus,” he says. In a typical 45–50 minute class, he works with the students to learn a memory verse. Students read that verse several times, then discuss and dissect the meaning.

Topics such as grace, love and fellowship are discussed. Other discussions have covered forgiveness, anger and how one might know God exists. Students begin the week by writing the memory verse. From there, they have a choice of writing two or three sentences or drawing, summarizing what the Scripture means personally. Austin describes his mission, saying, “I want to give them a thought for the day to just connect them with a spiritual concept.”

For Martin, his time with the students has not only been about having fun, but also being spiritually focused. At the beginning of his classes, lessons often start with an "ice breaker," to know the students better, to establish trust. He shares, “My personal goal has been [for the students] to say, ‘How can I apply the lesson into daily life? How can this make a difference in my life?’" Martin’s work at the school has been about opening young hearts, ministering to each of them.

While grades are far from the primary focus of Bible class, it is an actual course. The students are earning a grade for their work. Students are quizzed each Friday by either Philip Ermshar, Grants Pass Adventist School principal and seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade homeroom teacher, or Amy Whitchurch, fifth- and sixth-grade homeroom teacher. Reading the Bible every day is an ongoing assignment. The spiritual rewards far outweigh any grade. Martin summarized the most important aspects of the class. “It’s about the study of the Bible, God's holy Word. It is devotion. It’s drawing them closer to Jesus.” 

Martin is aware how vital this school ministry is to the Grants Pass Church. “The time we’re spending at the school with students is feeding into the relationship we have with them at the church," he says. "It communicates to the church at large that we support our school.” Entire families are reached when church and school are brought together by pastoral support. Students are reached when they learn about Jesus in a safe environment. This ministry plays right into the school’s Bible text this year: "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1).

Featured in: January 2016