Great Lakes Adventist Academy (GLAA) is a special part of the Adventist Educational system in Michigan. Now in its 36th year of operation, GLAA has been a blessing to hundreds, if not thousands, of high school students from across the globe.
At GLAA, students and faculty members are family. Teachers incorporate spirituality into history and math, and it’s not uncommon to see students studying the Bible together or reading Desire of Ages in the cafeteria.
Delwin Garcia, who has served as GLAA’s principal for the past 11 years, understands the importance of this school, the importance of the responsibility God has entrusted to the staff. “We know statistically that kids are more likely to stay in the church if they attend Adventist schools,” Garcia says, “We see this as evangelism.”
Academic courses include the sciences, mathematics, English and literature courses, and, of course, Bible classes specifically designed for each age group to draw closer to Christ. Staff don’t bid the students farewell as soon as courses finish, rather, they take turns supervising dinner and recreation times in the evening. They take that time to minister to the students.
Growth Happens Here
The first couple days can be quite shocking to a first-time student. Grace Busch, a senior, explains that when she came as a freshman, it was really hard. “I’m a homebody,” she says, laughing, “and I have a close relationship with my parents.” She had met GLAA staff at LIFT (Life Improvement for Teens, an annual retreat at Camp AuSable) and knew that she wanted to attend.
“I’m honestly really happy to be here,” she says. “I feel like I’ve grown as a person here, and the staff are really supportive.” Busch explains that if she is having a bad day, the staff notice. She also credits GLAA with her spiritual growth. “I love the spiritual atmosphere,” she says “I have made great friends that I know will last for all of eternity. We try to keep our conversations spiritually minded, Christlike, and we can sense that among the way the staff interact with each other and with the students.” When Busch graduates, she plans to pursue veterinary medicine.
Spiritual growth among students is the faculty members’ goal. Linda Johnson, ladies’ dean, wakes up early every morning and walks the halls of the dorm. Johnson stops by every single door and prays for every single girl, every single morning. Rhett Sietz, taskforce mens’ dean, explains that dorm worships are tailored to combat the issues and struggles the deans see in the student body.
Students are given the opportunity to have spiritual leadership positions in the church, as well as the school. Jeff Akenberger, GLAA’s chaplain, explains that the students are teaching the entirety of the adult Sabbath School for Cedar Lake, and also rotating between the children’s divisions.
They do the job of the Sabbath School Superintendent as well. “Sometimes it takes longer for them,” he says, “they bumble a little bit, but that’s okay. This is a training ground.” Akenberger is taking the high school years, when minds are impressionable, and showing students that they can be in leadership positions. They are being “prepared to be church members,” says Akenberger, members who are active.
Akenberger also teaches Sophomore and Junior Bible classes. Each class has two textbooks. Sophomores have the Bible and Desire of Ages, and Juniors have the Bible and The Great Controversy. “One of the best things,” says Akenberger, “is familiarizing students and encouraging them in the reading of Spirit of Prophecy.” Students often leave high school and college and transition to young adults without a foundation, without an understanding of what they believe and why we read Spirit of Prophecy. Akenberger is instilling in his students a love for the Word of God and Spirit of Prophecy. “The idea that you take a 14 to 16 year old, and they just spent the last 10 months of their life reading [Spirit of Prophecy] every day—that’s life changing,” Akenberger says. “These books prepare them to be church members.”
The Juniors memorize Bible studies on Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. They work through the texts, memorizing key texts from the studies, and then take a test. Akenberger acknowledges that while all of texts may not stick longer than the test, they will remember certain verses and, more than that, they will realize that our beliefs are pulled straight from the Bible. Every belief can be backed by Scripture.
Only after the students have been steeped in Spirit of Prophecy and our beliefs do they transition to World Religions and Ethics in Senior year. Often, students will be thrown into world religion classes when they have no idea of what we believe. Akenberger is building his students a foundation. Studying the Spirit of Prophecy will “embed our beliefs into their mind and develop their characters,” he says.
Students also give each other Bible studies. If a student wants to study with someone, Akenberger sends a student. “Giving Bible studies is not difficult,” he says, “they’re just following the Bible study guide, and they don’t pretend like they have all the answers. Adults feel like they need to know all the answers.” Akenberger is breaking down barriers that prevent people from witnessing. Often, adults feel that they are unable to give a Bible study because someone may ask a question they are unprepared to answer. Akenberger is showing GLAA students that it’s okay to not have all the answers all the time. “They just call me if they have a question,” he says, “and that’s okay.”
Akenberger has a special passion for Youth ministry. He has been working with youth for years, and sees the significance of mentoring youth through their teen and high school years. “The whole conference can change in a decade based on what we do here,” Akenberger says. Millions of dollars are invested into GLAA for that very reason. GLAA is the future church: future church members, Sabbath School leaders, treasurers and pastors.
If every student leaves GLAA with Adventist beliefs cemented into their minds, the church will be blessed and grow, not only with the flood of students returning after college, but with the missionaries being trained during their high school years. The teaching staff and the rest of the faculty members trust daily that the Lord will give them opportunities to “live and breathe Jesus Christ” to the students.
If you would like more information about GLAA, or would like to speak to a staff member, please visit glaa.net.