This review of the Encounter Curriculum is a follow-up to a previous article here at the Compass Magazine.
Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying… ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’ (John 4:41-42)
The journey started with a simple request. Over 3 years ago, I remember seeing a post in an interoffice newsletter about an Australian Bible curriculum that would be previewed; interested teachers were told to contact the Union Office. I was in my 4th year of teaching Bible, and was constantly looking for new ways to get students to share my passion. I personally believed that the Bible should be the student’s textbook, and constantly sought for different ways to lift the principles from our Crossroads series into our lessons by adding activities, videos, discussions, etc. It wasn’t always easy for me, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
Being in Canada, I remember speaking with another religion teacher from a school across the border, who told me that her students begged to get out of their textbooks and into the Bible. However, without a constant clear contextual roadmap, intimidated students begged to go back from the Bible alone to the textbooks! We did the best we could by God’s grace, and a couple of students still occasionally come back and reflect on how much those Bible classes meant to them. Yet I wanted to improve, and sensed that previewing another curriculum might provide that opportunity. Despite time challenges, after consideration, I was off to my first NAD summer Bible Committee; my search for growth and professional development was about to take a God-sized leap!
This journey into previewing a new Bible Curriculum started with a team of Division and Union directors, associates, teachers, pastors and chaplains from all over North America, and, of course, the lead writer who came from across the globe! After brainstorming as a group about our ideal Bible curriculum, she shared and modeled the ENCOUNTER curriculum. We could clearly see that it was designed to not only inform students of Biblical truths, but to transform the learner’s heart and strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ. The teachers were so convinced that this curriculum met our ideals that we no longer wanted to pilot the mere 3 units offered, but the entire year! We didn’t want to have to revert back to “old wine” after giving students a taste of the “new.”
Nevertheless, I had my questions about how some of the material and resources used would work with students in my personal context. Our students are predominately of a different ethnicity than the mainstream, and relate to different types of music. Yet, it was agreed that the curriculum should be piloted as received in order to give a fair evaluation. After further negotiation and with much excitement, we had our marching orders!
Both the Crossroads and ENCOUNTER curriculums lay a solid biblical foundation for the hope that we have as Adventists. The latter, in particular, clearly emphasizes which of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs are communicated within the first unit. The first difference which caught my eye, however, was the differences in scope and sequence. Crossroads started Grade 9 with the “Inspiration of the Bible”, how it was written, and how to know it can be trusted. ENCOUNTER devotes a whole unit to the reliability and endurance of the Bible throughout history within Grade 11, and thematically ties in God’s sovereignty in Earth’s history as seen in the Book of Daniel, Jesus’ future deliverance of His people as seen in the book of Revelation, and the Holy Spirit’s leading throughout the history of the Adventist church.
The first 3 units of Grade 9 were atypical from what we would expect, as ENCOUNTER began with the existence of God, and the importance of faith and trusting God’s Word. They address how we can know that He is real (and the vital role that faith plays), what God is truly like, and how to have a relationship with Him. I initially attributed these differences to the fact that in the Australia/New Zealand conferences where ENCOUNTER was first developed, it was not uncommon to have more non-Adventist students meeting Christ for the first time than ones who grew up in the faith. (I personally have become convicted that Adventist Education should be the primary vehicle for evangelism, and wholeheartedly believe that ENCOUNTER is perfectly designed to introduce Christ to a world that needs to know Him.)
Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t notice until I taught these units how many of our students in older grades still had these lingering questions about their faith. When I would ask the 8th grade students who were taking ENCOUNTER whether they still questioned the existence of God, they no longer had the concerns that older students did. I quickly started using some of Ty Gibson’s well-designed “Digma” videos and other activities/stories to help supplement the higher grades and meet the students where they were.
I especially appreciated the intentional inclusion of testimonials, whether from videos, or inviting colleagues and church members (who were not Bible teachers or pastors) to give students living examples of what a relationship with God looked like. The best part was seeing students who could personally relate to the diverse testimonies of others, and were challenged to look at their relationship with God differently!
As the units progressed, I marveled at how the units were leading the students through Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy in such an intentional way. Students weren’t complaining about reading Ellen White any more. In more than one semester, I had students asking to read Jerry D. Thomas’ Messiah, or White’s Love Under Fire on their own time. They had opportunity to dig deeper, and the ones who took advantage of it, benefited.
My experience (now 3 years in) has not been without its challenges. Each class has its own personality. The first class I taught was practically falling over themselves to get into the Bible, contribute to discussions, and participate in activities. The next class was the opposite, and since I learned that those who do the “talking” do the “thinking,” I would constantly pose questions, but receive little-to-no response. I often fall back into “piloting” mode, finding it difficult to condense lessons (we are given much more resources than we need, which is a good thing), so my units regularly exceed the recommended time.
Each year, we are encouraged to adapt the curriculum to suit the needs and knowledge of our students, and through that process I still see things that I can do better. Yet, I still marvel at my young student who tells me that her picture of God has changed completely for the better, all because of studying Revelation through ENCOUNTER. I love seeing how engrossed students are while moving through different stations which teach them about the sanctuary and its connection to Christ, which equips them to share their new found knowledge and faith.
When I hear a student say, “This is hard,” it’s not because of a task that’s laborious, but instead because there’s a challenge question that they are being asked to reflect on in a journal, and the Holy Spirit is impressing them to go deeper. At that point, I ensure that students who wish to keep their responses between themselves and God can seal up their responses on that page, and many take me up on that offer.
My experience teaching ENCOUNTER reminds me so much about the Samaritan woman at the well. God used her personal encounter with God, as she was learning, to bring others along to learn for themselves. My role as teacher has truly become even more of a facilitator, as students are being encouraged to learn about God for themselves, with me guiding them through the Word. At the same time, I’m learning right alongside them, not giving the impression that I have mastered this subject in any way, but that I am being mastered by Him who loves me with each passing day. Just like the townspeople, their faith will not hinge only on what I have told them, but also on what they have come to see and know about Jesus Christ and His Word for themselves.
Teaching this curriculum has taught me so much about how God views me, my students (His children), my teaching, my faith, and, most surprisingly, His Body (the church). It truly shows me how the educational branch of our organization operates, and how God chooses and uses individuals from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and leads them to make critical decisions for His body. What has left the deepest impression on me is the countless number of times that, as a committee, we have stopped our meeting to earnestly seek God’s direction on how to proceed, both individually and corporately. I have been both personally challenged and enriched by not only the curriculum and the way it was written, but by the prayers, encouragement and example of our directors, who are led by His Spirit in Adventist education.
May this movement, which He has established, continue to draw all students, teachers, and families to Christ and His enduring Word, so that we can better know the Savior of the world for ourselves and, in turn, share Him with others.