Full Circle: My Experience With Adventist Boarding Schools

Sequestered in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills, sits an Adventist boarding school. There’s a guys’ dorm and a girls’ dorm, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, an administration building and a chapel and a spattering of a few other structures, huddled in a forest clearing. A single road leads away from this group of buildings and crosses a little creek via a covered bridge before joining the main country road and the rest of the world.

Beside this road, just a stone’s throw from the guys’ dorm, there’s a scrawny kid with a sandy mop of hair. 1990’s turquoise shirt. With a weed-whacker in hand. The little two stroke engine buzzes and the strings whir as he goes about flinging grass left and right, working in that slow, sleepy teenager fashion. A good Christian boy about to be swallowed up by darkness.

He continues along the road, knocking down the overgrowth as he goes, when he realizes the trimmer isn’t working very well. There isn’t much string. He smacks the trimmer against the ground, but the procedure doesn’t release more string as it should. Again he tries it, but the string is only getting shorter.

Now he’s getting paranoid that he broke it. He stops the machine and tries pulling on the two ends of string but they won’t budge. He starts it back up and tries to complete his assignment.

It isn’t much longer before the last bit of string is eaten up and the weed whacker is useless. He’s left with the frightening prospect of taking the broken tool back to his boss, the school’s maintenance director.

This he finally does, exchanging the trimmer for a lecture on what a useless worker he is. “Don’t break any more of my stuff,” is the gruff command as he hands him a working trimmer. The scrawny teenager heads back to where he left off. He fires up the weed-whacker and proceeds to attack the grass once more.

I still remember that distant day in July. School hadn’t started yet. I was living in the dorm and working for the school through the summer to get a head start on tuition. My first experience at a boarding school.

I was excited when I first came, but immediately signs of trouble sprang up. I didn’t know how to connect with the other students and preferred being on my own. Something difficult to achieve when you live with everyone.  The staff came across as stodgy and old-fashioned. I chafed under their seemingly endless guidelines and regulations.

When the school year started, it wasn’t long before I was skipping class and getting kicked out of church for not wearing a tie. I became bitter and unmotivated. Lectured constantly and always getting into trouble even when I wasn’t trying. The weeks passed, and I only grew more miserable and increasingly rebellious.

October. That was as far as I made it. I caused too much trouble and was no longer welcome. My poor mother had to get time off work and come take me home.

Back in my home town, I enrolled in the public school and immediately started skipping class and causing my mother a tremendous amount of grief. The rest of the school year would see me getting suspended, threatened, lectured and moved to a special program for troubled students. Over and over again. Until ultimately I dropped out.

The irony was, I had gone to an Adventist school to become a better Christian, and I left a juvenile delinquent.

I’m in a cavernous two story room. The walls are concrete. Lifeless and impenetrable. In the center of the room there’s two round, stainless steel tables with bench seats attached. I notice that they aren’t bolted to the ground, but appear as though they’ve been cemented into place. In the corner there’s a mattress with bedding. In front of us is a row of four jail cells with inmates crowding against the bars. A set of stairs climb to a second row of cells with more men pushing up against their bars and looking down at us..  

I’m here at a county jail with a group of twenty high school students. It’s part of our school’s outreach program. Once a month we take a day to volunteer somewhere in the local community. Today we are bringing snacks, toiletries and songs to men otherwise locked away and forgotten.

We serve a Savior obsessed with restoration, a God who’s greatest pastime is taking our worse and turning it into our best.

I’m no longer the high school dropout, the rebel without a cause. I have a family of my own and a great job. At an Adventist boarding school. As the maintenance director.

What a skilled and thoughtful Creator we serve. Now I’m the one working with the students. I’m the one sending them out with the weed-whacker. And I get to tell them, “Don’t do the stupid things I did.”

Our boarding schools today remind me of a car without tires. One group talks about sending the whole thing to the junkyard, while another group doesn’t want to discuss what’s missing.

I’m no longer bitter about my time in a boarding school. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the poor decisions I made. But while the school was not responsible for my struggles, it did nothing to help me either.

This doesn’t mean we should throw the whole thing out. Christ desires to use our schools. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve witnessed students studying together, worshipping together, and getting baptized together.

I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good of boarding schools, and God has brought me full circle in my thinking. It is my belief that there will always be a need for them, and that their importance will become more evident as we approach Earth’s final days.

What is needed now is simple. We need more of Christ as revealed in His precious Word. We need the cross lifted high on every campus. We need faculty and staff burdened with the salvation of our youth. Let us then “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:38 KJV).”

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Paul Morgan is the maintenance director at Indiana Academy in Cicero, Indiana. He has worked as a Chrysler mechanic and an industrial maintenance technician and holds a degree in automotive repair and micro-electronics.