Europe, or the “Old Continent,” the cradle of Western civilization, is the second smallest continent in the world, after Australia, covering about two percent of our planet. The Inter-European Division (EUD) covers most of mainland Europe from Portugal to Romania and coordinates the activity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 20 countries (11 unions), serving a population of 340 million citizens, with the help of its approximately 180,000 believers.
Throughout the current territory of the EUD, more than 12 major languages and numerous local dialects are spoken. Most people in the EUD countries declare themselves Christians (76 percent), with Europe hosting 26 percent of the world’s Christians. About five percent of the European population is Muslim (2.4 percent of Muslims worldwide; therefore, Islam is the second most widespread religion in Europe).1 From an economic point of view, one-third of the planet’s wealth is located in Europe, the wealthiest continent.2
The EUD territory has also been the cradle of specific genres of music, starting with the Early Music Era (after the fall of the Roman Empire) and continuing with the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras. Moreover, in the EUD area, the first foundations of world higher education were laid, starting in Italy with the University of Bologna (1088) as a pioneer, followed by six of the world’s oldest universities in the following cities: Salamanca, Spain (1134), Sorbonne, France (1160-1250), Padua (1222), Naples (1224), Siena (1240), Italy; and Coimbra, Portugal (1290).3
Located within the current territory of the EUD was the first Adventist mission destination outside the U.S.A. In 1874, J. N. Andrews settled in Basel, Switzerland, where he launched a brave canvassing missionary activity, established a publishing house, and printed Les Signes des Temps.4
During the 2015-2020 quinquennium, Adventist education in the EUD achieved significant progress in concept and image—even if quantifiable results are still a work in progress.
- The relatively small number of members (the second-smallest Adventist population of any division) diminishes the ability of the church to mobilize dramatically and create a rapid impact;
- The impressive cultural diversity prevents the church from addressing people using a unitary message;
- The generally negative birth rate steadily decreases the school-age population that could be enrolled in our schools;
- Free or state-subsidized education seems much more attractive to many, taking into account the cost of private church education;
- The relatively small number of study programs (both at secondary and tertiary level) makes our schools less attractive than others;
- The better remuneration offered by the state or other private educational institutions prevents us from increasing the number of qualified Adventist teachers;
- And, last but not least, convincing church members, pastors, and parents that Adventist educational institutions have high academic standards is a battle that we fight daily.
Despite these obvious and seemingly insurmountable barriers, EUD schools continue to develop conceptually, train wholistically, grow numerically, and significantly impact the general population. For example, the overwhelming majority of our primary and secondary schools have the largest percentage of their students coming from religious traditions other than Seventh-day Adventism; have either reached their maximum admission capacity or have significantly increased their enrollment; have long waiting lists, and have fulfilled the legal requirements for receiving state accreditation.
Adventist Education―A Strategic Field for the EUD
For the 2015-2020 quinquennium, the EUD administration proposed, and the executive committee voted, that Adventist education should be considered one of the division’s strategic areas of emphasis by adopting the following top priorities:
- To provide greater access to Adventist education (both to church members and the general population) with emphasis on primary through secondary levels, having as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) an increased number of kindergartens, elementary, and secondary schools close to densely populated areas.
In seeking to achieve this objective, one of the most visionary decisions was the division’s approval of a five-million-Euro financial grant to develop primary- and secondary-education institutions between 2018 and 2022.
- To operate education institutions as community-service and outreach endeavors, having a KPI to ensure that our existing education institutions are centers of influence for their communities. To help primary- and secondary-education institutions develop their missionary potential, the division voted to support the schools struggling to meet current expenses, especially those that do not receive any financial support from the state, by giving them an operating fund.
- To address the viability of theological training institutions, having as a KPI to use the human and financial resources of the existing theological institutions as efficiently as possible.
To foster professional excellence in ministerial training and practice, the EUD Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (BMTE) has defined an appropriate curriculum for pastoral education. It has outlined standard criteria for employment in our territory. In addition to this, the EUD BMTE is seeking to help theology students achieve a better understanding of their calling and of what pastoral ministry entails: a higher level of maturity to tackle questions and issues as they relate to real-life situations, as well as a more explicit focus on the practical aspects of ministry and the way theological issues impact mission. To reach this goal, the EUD BMTE members have drafted and voted the Core Curriculum Content for Ministerial and Theological Education in the Inter-European Division, which includes a significantly increased emphasis on topics relating to practical theology.
To meet the demands for the ongoing training of the division’s Adventist school staff, during the past quinquennium (2015-2020), we organized training courses for presidents/directors, business managers, fundraisers, Bible teachers, chaplains, cooks, librarians, dormitory deans, and Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (AAA) team members. The division also co-organized other events, such as the biennial Convention of the European Theology Teachers (ETTC) in partnership with the Trans-European and Euro-Asia divisions and several schools of theology, and, through its representatives, it joined meetings that facilitated thematic knowledge and dialogue among teachers, such as conventions for teachers in Germany, Romania, and Spain.
The Growing Demand for Adventist Primary and Secondary Education
Despite the relatively small number of primary and secondary schools in the EUD, the quality of the education offered continues to grow, and enrollment is on the upswing. Moreover, schools eagerly share how they came into existence in the respective communities and continue innovating with bold, visionary ideas for the future. Space limitations allow for only one example from each union with primary and secondary schools:
- Austrian Union―When a new local church building was being planned on the Bogenhoffen campus, they reserved enough room for a primary school, which it currently manages;
- Bulgarian Union―In 2019, the first education project (a kindergarten) launched through the initiative of a group of young lay people, with the support of union leadership;
- Czecho-Slovakian Union―The first Adventist school in Prague, which provides primary and secondary education, recently completed its first AAA accreditation process. A businessman boldly initiated the building project in the capital of the third least-religious country in the world5 by offering the church a completely renovated and properly equipped building for this purpose;
- Franco-Belgian Union―In the courtyard of the well-known Faculty of Theology in Collonges, France, a highly regarded primary- and secondary-level school is currently operating;
- North German Union―In the very secular territory of the former German Democratic Republic, the church in Oranienburg operates a primary- and secondary-level school. Recently the North-German Union invested two million Euros for a new building;
- Portuguese Union―Setubal Primary School offers classes for students in four different grades using the two classrooms that also host the children’s Sabbath school on Saturdays. Their daily devotions are held in the potluck room of the local church;
- Romanian Union―In 2015, Excelsis School in Ploieşti opened with 38 students in a space purchased and decorated by the local conference. Since then, it has doubled its enrollment each school year;
- South German Union―Rastatt Adventist School operates in a former public school provided by the local town hall;
- Spanish Union of Churches Conference―Due to extreme lack of space, one of the oldest Adventist schools in Spain, Colegio Adventista Urgell, built a large sports field on the roof of the local church;
- Swiss Union―The Adventist school (K-9) in Zurich is enjoying the results of the German Swiss Conference’s initiative to build new headquarters that would house three institutions: the local church, the regional conference, and the Adventist school.
Currently, the Adventist Church in the EUD runs 41 elementary schools, 31 secondary schools, and three worker-training schools (nursing schools). In addition, we also have eight tertiary-level institutions in our territory (mentioned in order of their founding): Friedensau Adventist University, Friedensau, Germany (1899); Czecho-Slovakian Union Adventist Theological Institute, Sazava, the Czech Republic (1920); Adventist University of France, Collonges-sous-Salève, France (1921); Adventus University (formerly Romanian Adventist Theological Institute), Cernica, Romania (1924); Italian Adventist University Villa Aurora, Florence, Italy (1940); Sagunto Adventist College, Sagunto (Valencia), Spain (1942); Bulgarian Theological Seminary, Sofia, Bulgaria (1948), temporarily closed; and Bogenhofen Seminary, Bogenhofen, Austria (1949). Four of them are founders and beneficiaries of the international Adventist Colleges Abroad (ACA) program, which brings to these schools students from around the world who are interested in foreign languages and cultures (French is taught at Collonges, France; German at Bogenhofen, Austria, and Friedensau, Germany; Italian at Villa Aurora in Florence, Italy; and Spanish at Sagunto, Spain).
Out of characteristic generosity, God frequently provides signs of His goodness and confirmations that Adventist education brings more people to Christ6 than most other current missionary church projects. There are so many amazing stories about children and young people from all over the EUD who have found salvation in Jesus Christ because of attending our schools, and faculty who have experienced the same from teaching or serving as educational administrators at our schools. Below are a few examples of how Adventist education continues to transform lives.
About 15 years ago, a businessman in Prague was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He soon discovered the Spirit of Prophecy books and read them prayerfully. This is how he found out that Adventist parents should send their children to Adventist schools. However, since there were none close by to which he could send his children, he was inspired to start one. As a businessman, he used his resources and proceeded to open the first Seventh-day Adventist school in the third most secular country in the world, the Czech Republic, where unexpectedly, confessional church-based schools are ranked higher than state or private schools. Currently, 159 out of the 209 students at Elijah School are non-Adventists. Here is what some of their parents say about their experiences:
“After two years of home schooling, I wrote on Facebook that I was looking for an inclusive school, promoting acceptance and personal approach. The answer I got was discouraging: “You won’t find such a school in Prague.” Finally, I got the info about Elijah School. Two hours after we got there, my boy told me: ‘I like it here!’ . . . and finally, he was back to the kind of school we had been dreaming of for two years.”
Another mother shared her story: “My teenage girl was having fun at the state school, but I was looking for something different. I suggested a three-month challenge. After two weeks, she let me know that she was no longer interested in returning to her previous school.” Another student confessed that he has never looked for an excuse to stay at home since enrolling in Elijah School, such as telling his parents that he had a sore throat.
We are looking forward to more exciting experiences coming from Prague in the current quinquennium.
The principal of Maurice Tièche, the K-12 Adventist school in Collonges, France, shared two instances of unexpected feedback received a few years ago. A well-known French architect was designing renovation plans for the home of Jacques Chirac, a former president of France. One day, she notified the family that she would be absent from work since she had to travel to the province of Haute-Savoie to look for a school for her daughter. Jacques Chirac’s daughter, Claude, who overheard the conversation, asked: “What kind of school in that area is worth sending your child to?” When the architect answered: “Maurice Tièche,” Claude Chirac's reply was the following: “Yes, Maurice Tièche is indeed worth all the effort!” and then she added a list of other arguments in favor of the school.
A similar experience involved Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing, the wife of another former French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. She warmly recommended the Maurice Tièche boarding school to an Adventist family from Paris since the president’s grandson had been a student there about 10 years before. The Adventist family followed her advice and sent their two children to Maurice Tièche to prepare for their baccalaureate exam.
Another transformative experience comes from Romania. After the long period of communist supremacy, the Adventist Church in Romania entered a broad and complex process of multilateral development. Adventist education had not been a priority since the beginning of the last decade of the previous century, so when discussions started about the prospect of transforming the theological seminary in Bucharest into a university, union administrators realized the institution did not have enough qualified staff (administration and faculty) to manage the transition effectively. Therefore, the Romanian Union decided to appoint as president an Adventist teacher in training to manage the current activities of the institution. At the same time, the legal and external representation was entrusted to Dr. Ion Toma,7 a non-Adventist teacher who met the legal criteria and would serve as rector. With this leadership, the university kept improving in all aspects, and in 2016 received institutional accreditation from the Romanian government for the maximum legal term (five years) and with the second-to-best rating (“Confidence”). During his more than 10-year service as rector, Toma made a decisive commitment to maintaining the institution’s growth until it received its final accreditation. What did the university offer him in return? More than anything else, Cernica was for Toma the place where he discovered the spiritual dimension of life and where his heart started to change gradually―to the point that in 2017, he dedicated himself completely to a relationship with Jesus and was baptized into the Adventist Church.
In the new quinquennium, Adventist education will continue to be a priority within the EUD, both in terms of financial investments and valuing its contribution to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The following are some of the new initiatives planned:
- Ensure that all Seventh-day Adventist schools are eligible and prepared for the AAA accreditation process. This will help increase the awareness of both the Adventist and non-Adventist public regarding the value of informal education (in general) and formal Adventist education (in particular);
- Facilitate the access of our schools to public/European Union educational funds;
- Mediate the development of collaboration between our schools on Erasmus and Erasmus+ projects8 (both for students and faculty) and in other areas of common interest;
- Create a database describing the needs of the Adventist schools in the EUD; and
- Convene a quinquennial EUD teachers’ congress.
With ongoing favorable financial and mission-minded support, we will continue to build on what we are already doing so that Adventist education in the EUD will continue to be a transformative force in the lives of students, teachers and administrators, and parents.
Publishing Note: Due to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and the twice-postponed General Conference session, this quinquennial issue was delayed. Reports in this issue cover the 2015-2020 quinquennium.
Marius Munteanu, “Refreshing News From the ‘Old Continent,’” The Journal of Adventist Education 83:4 (2021):21-26.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Europe Facts (2015): https://facts.net/europe/.
- Laura Tucker, “Ten of the Oldest Universities in the World” (2015): https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/10-oldest-universities-world.
- Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2000), 141-143.
- Oishimaya Sen Nag, “The Least Religious Countries in the World,” WorldAtlas (July 11, 2018): worldatlas.com/articles/least-religious-countries-in-the-world.html.
- The total number of baptisms for the 2006-2020 period was 451,639. Statistics provided by the Department of Education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. For more, see John Wesley Taylor V, “Joining and Remaining: A Look at the Data on the Role of Adventist Education,” The Journal of Adventist Education 79:3 (April-June 2017): 39-46. Available at https://jae.adventist.org/en/2017.3.8.
- Name used with permission.
- The EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (Erasmus and Erasmus+) programs provide educational opportunities for individuals of all ages and organizations in countries within the European Union (EU). Erasmus provides students with student-exchange opportunities to study at any college and university within the EU, and Erasmus+ offers an additional layer of educational and vocational training, job placements, volunteer opportunities, social mobility, and linguistic development. For more information, see Erasmus at https://www.erasmusprogramme.com/post/what-is-the-erasmus-programme; and Erasmus+: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about_en.