Golf Course to Seminary and Back to School

Columbia Adventist Academy (CAA) in Battle Ground, Wash., has been blessed to have fantastic principals over its 104-year history, and the last three years have been no different with Jeff Jackson and his story of God’s using CAA to shape him for God’s use. When he decided to go back to his first love of teaching, CAA was once again faced with finding a disciple of God to lead His “chosen” school.

God lead in the search process and Gene Heinrich, former pastor at the Rockwood Church in Oregon, with another story of God’s leading, has agreed to step into school administration.

Larry Hiday, CAA science instructor and alumni/development director, sat down recently with him to ask questions and hear a small part of that story.

What is your educational background?

I received my Bachelor of Science in agricultural economics in 1994 from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in Michigan in 2006.

What was your plan in obtaining that education and has your trajectory ever veered from those original plans?

I graduated high school with the plan to become a high school agriculture teacher. My sophomore year dreams of living a fast-paced life as a commodities broker on the Chicago board of trade led me to change my major to agricultural economics. But at last, the spring before I graduated from college, I asked Sarah to be my wife and began pursuing a more family-friendly career. Among other things this included three years as the director of adult education in the Oklahoma Vocational Education system. Then, after about 10 years into my pursuit of entrepreneurial dreams, God gave me a clear call to pastoral ministry. It was at that point that we sold nearly everything we owned and moved from the golf course to the seminary in Berrien Springs, Mich.

Is there anything that sticks out to you in your call to be the principal at CAA as a “God thing”?

Since rededicating my life to Jesus in 1999 God has surprised me several times with unexpected offers to demonstrate total trust in Him. If you would have asked me back in February if I could ever see myself serving as CAA’s principal, I’m sure the answer would have been no. It appeared to me that God was leading me toward a position in conference administration. However, after weeks of prayer and many sleepless nights, I asked God to clearly show me where He desired me to serve His church. The next morning out of the blue I received a call to consider becoming principal of CAA. Over the next two weeks, as crazy as it sounded to me, God answered several prayers making it clear that this was His will.

Would you say you’re now “preparing for” or “beginning” a career in administration?

I would say both, and looking back I can see that God has been preparing me for this call in many ways. Becoming principal at CAA is the beginning of what I hope will be the most exciting and rewarding phase of my discipleship.

Do you have any biblical heroes who help you understand this calling and how God uses people to accomplish His will?

I’m not sure he would make anyone’s hero list, but I can sure identify with Jonah. As I look to the future I’m praying I’ll identify much closer to men like Joshua, Samuel, Daniel and Nehemiah. 

There’s a quote that “God doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies the called.” Does this resound at all with you?

That’s definitely been my experience. Within weeks of graduating from seminary and beginning my pastoral career I found myself leading one of the largest churches in the Oregon Conference. Humanly speaking, I definitely wasn’t qualified, but God provided me with a team that made leading the church a real joy and I expect He’ll do no less as I begin to serve at CAA.

What challenges about the principalship excite you?

The thing that excites me most about being principal at CAA is the opportunity I have to help the church realize a culture shift I believe must take place if we are to fulfill Jesus’s mission. The Seventh-day Adventist Church must become more interested in relationships than we are in behaviors. I see CAA as the perfect place for me to put my last 11 years of preaching into practice.

What promise and/or text is meaningful to you in this situation?

Two come to mind. First, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5) and “If you lift me up I will draw all people to Me” (John 12:32).

What is your “take home” and advice to the students that you will be working with as you share your journey with them this year?

God’s plan is for you to become an invaluable resource to your family, school, church, community, and the world at large. Surrender you life to Him. Follow Him wherever He leads and you will spend eternity reaping the benefits of His faithfulness.

In addition to prayers, what support would you like from the broader community of Christians?

The most important thing you can do to support CAA and Adventist education in general is to value the youth and young adults in your community. Value them so much that you are willing to build relationships with them that reflect Jesus love above everything else.

Featured in: December 2017