what do you mean you can’t go to the party on Friday night?” “You’re not going to the dance competition on Saturday. What? Are you crazy? This is the biggest one of the year!" “Hey! Why can’t you come to our movie night on Friday?”
These are the kinds of questions I've been confronted with since starting at a non-denominational high school this year. The girls cannot believe I would give up my Friday nights and Saturdays to attend church rather than go to the movies, a concert, a party or the high school formal. Whenever I tell them, “I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. It’s my religion and we believe that Friday sunset to Saturday sunset should be a rest day to spend time with God”, I get mixed reactions.
Some of the girls look at me as if I have totally lost my mind; others give me a little smirk and taunt, “Let’s see how long you can keep up this useless religion of yours”.
Others give me a genuine look of pity and promise that they will fill me in on all the excitement I am bound to miss out on.
Life is very different from my days at an Adventist primary school. Even though the majority of students there came from non-Adventist families, everyone understood the Adventist lifestyle. School events were organised to respect the Sabbath. And our faith was an integral part of school life. It has definitely been a shock to the system moving to my new school.
I hadn't always planned to go to a non-denominational school. It was only after my parents went to speak with the principal—who is a Christian—and they saw the morals and values of the school, that we considered it. But we still weren’t sure until God opened up the way through a scholarship to the school. But why did He do it? Mum has explained that it's because God wants me to help minister to this largely secular group of girls. Not by preaching in the quadrangle or criticising them for not believing in Christ. Rather, my strategy is to pray that my actions and words reflect those of Jesus; that He can shine out of me. After a few weeks of this strategy, however, I was a bit discouraged that no-one had come up to me asking for Bible studies or whether I knew a pastor who could baptise them. I began to have doubts that this really was God’s plan for me. If it was, why wasn’t it working?
I soon realised that this was an unrealistic and detrimental way to look at trying to minister in a secular environment. I needed to first consider the small impacts I was making. One of these was the influence I was having on my best friends who used swear words and blasphemy during conversations. They replaced the s-word with "shivers" and "Oh My God" with "Oh My Goodness". I found this very encouraging—that they were subconsciously not swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain as much as they used to (or at least at school and in front of me). These little things made it clear to me that I could be a positive influence on my friends, even if they still had secular views.
Probably the best and most rewarding moment I’ve had trying to share my beliefs with my peers is when my friend asked me why I couldn’t attend an athletics event on a Friday night. When I explained to her about the Sabbath, she looked quite disinterested. After I finished she replied with a simple “Oh, that’s cool” and walked off. A few weeks later we were talking about the school’s biannual musical, which was being held after sunset on a Saturday night. When I told her that I was so excited to go, she looked at me in bewilderment and asked, “Wait, what about your Sabbath?”
I was taken aback—in a good way of course. I was ecstatic that she remembered our conversation, especially when her response at the time gave me the impression that her head was in the stars. Trying to maintain my cool through all of this, I calmly replied, “Wow, you remembered about my Sabbath. I’m impressed!”
“Well, yeah, of course I did. Hey, I told my mum about it too. She is actually quite interested. She used to be religious, I don’t think Seventh-day Adventist, but she isn’t so much anymore. Anyway, it really appealed to her.”
I haven’t heard about her mum since, but this experience made me feel like all the trying was paying off. Even if her mother looks into Adventism and rejects it, maybe she will come back in 10 years and think, “What is that religion of the girl my daughter told me about?” At least the seeds of interest have been planted in her heart and, for the moment, that is the best thing that can happen.
Even with all these little victories, I’m still waiting for the moment when someone comes up and asks me directly to tell them more about God. Maybe it will happen, but maybe it won’t. All that I know is that God’s positive influence on a secular crowd doesn’t have to be immediate or large-scale. The change in their hearts might not even happen during our time at high school. They could decide to discover more about Christ years after we graduate, and they may even have conversations about Him with their own families and friends. And all this comes from the seeds God has let me plant in their hearts. But for now, I don’t regret missing Friday night parties if it means I can share my faith with curious peers.
Emi Price did some holiday work experience at Adventist Record.