Virtual Week of Prayer Touches Young Hearts
In January, Oakwood Adventist Academy (OAA) in Taylor, Mich., was scheduled to participate in Outdoor Education at Camp AuSable with resident naturalist Dr. Gordon Atkins and retired teacher Craig Morgan. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions snarled any plans for what is normally an exciting opportunity for 5th graders to travel north and experience an encounter with God through His created works.
Because Outdoor Education was cancelled, the Michigan Conference offered a virtual Week of Prayer with Dr. Atkins, available to any schools who requested it. Seeing the value and importance of spiritual programming, OAA principal Connie Hickman arranged for a school-wide Week of Prayer to be held January 4-8. Niles Junior Academy 5th and 6th graders joined online, too.
Instead of basking in the beauty of camp, students huddled around their computers and tablets at home while engaging in nature talks over Zoom. Would it be possible to simultaneously minister to children ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade via virtual education? The answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’
Usually, when a parent sends their child to camp, they only hear of the activities and experiences after they take place. This time, I listened to all of the presentations, questions from students and spiritual lessons as I supervised my 10 year-old’s morning routine. Dr. Atkins spoke of everything from birds and beasts to the bonds of water molecules, and wove observations about our loving Creator throughout. After a week of presenting these kind of object lessons, Dr. Atkins appealed to the students’ deepening spiritual interest. I overheard his appeal to those who were thinking about surrendering their lives to Christ in baptism, and saw my son’s hand raise as he accepted Christ’s invitation.
Through discussions in her 6th-8th grade classroom, Hickman could tell the Week of Prayer made a lasting impression. “If you ask the students what the speaker talked about the day before and they remember it, you know it’s making an impact,” she said.
Sixth-grader Carely Ramos said, “I liked how he did Science-Bible type of lessons and applied them to our daily life.” Fourth-grader Charlie Thomas observed, “He shared an interesting thought that butterfly metamorphosis is like baptism, going into the water and coming out clean.” Fifth-grader Luke Loeffler liked how Dr. Atkins connected his teaching with spiritual lessons. “His ministry was helpful in my walk with God,” he said.
Shortly after the week concluded, Hickman reached out to Taylor Oakwood church pastor Jarod Thomas, sharing that 14 of OAA’s students had made or reaffirmed a decision to be baptized.
OAA 3rd-5th grade teacher Patricia Costa invited Pastor Thomas to share follow-up Bible studies with her students once a week. “The students were interested, and it was a huge opportunity for them to continue purposefully learning more about the Bible,” she said. Hickman and K-2nd grade teacher Jennifer Brummett arranged for the pastor to study in their classrooms, too. For the older students, the teachers made time in the class schedule, not just for those who made decisions, but for the entire class, knowing that everyone would benefit from a focused review of the fundamentals of our faith. As a result, seven additional young people decided to surrender their lives to Christ.
When asked why Dr. Atkin’s presentations and appeal were so well received, Costa said, “I think some students were scared, confused, and overwhelmed with the pandemic’s requirements, the coronavirus effects, and having to be isolated from each other. Dr. Atkins was another person, not a teacher or a parent, that reminded them that God is in control. If God cares for the smallest animals and plants in nature, He certainly cares for children.”
A number of factors influenced these young people’s decisions for Christ, and many church ministries had a hand in encouraging and supporting these students. Hickman says that seeds were planted in multiple ways: parents studying with their own children, meaningful Bible classes, intentional Weeks of Prayer and Friday morning Chapel sessions with district pastors.
Pastor Thomas agreed. “This really has been a team effort. It’s amazing to see how God has worked through parents, teachers, the ministry of Camp AuSable, and local church pastors to reach the hearts of these kids. Everyone is participating in the ministry, but ultimately it is God that gets all of the glory,” he said.
Recently, Pastor Thomas was privileged to baptize the first-fruits of the 21 Oakwood students who made their decision during virtual Week of Prayer. Siblings Lila Loeffler and Luke were baptized in the chilly waters of Camp AuSable’s Lake Shellenbarger at the close of their week-long camp experience this summer.
While the virtual option was a "less-than-ideal" substitute for the Outdoor Education program usually run at camp, Dr. Atkins says that its success has prompted them to think about continuing this program after COVID restrictions are lifted and students are able to return to camp for Outdoor Education. Across the conference, 18 schools participated in the virtual Week of Prayer and 104 students made decisions for Christ.