Praise God that the Student Missionaries (SMs) are back in the islands! The student missionary program has been an integral source of support for our island schools since its inception in the 1970s. Our schools all over the region depend heavily on the SMs as they make up more than 50% of the teaching staff. I can’t recall a time, other than 2020, where SMs were not a part of our schools. They have been instrumental in the spiritual and academic blessings we have offered our students for 50 years now.
So, you can imagine the difficulty of trying to operate a school without them. Needless to say, we were not prepared to face this reality when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our schools in early 2020. Many of our schools had to face the reality of closing their doors months early as the families and university coordinators of the missionaries were reaching out to the Guam-Micronesia Mission (GMM) to get them home. It was devastating as many of our SMs were torn between completing their mission and returning home to be with loved ones in a time of chaos and uncertainty.
One of the many stories that reached us at GMM was of a student missionary who was determined to stay, telling her parents, “Why should I abandon and leave my kids when this is the time they would need me most?” This was a testament to their dedication to fulfilling their calling as a student missionary to the islands, even in the face of death, as the pandemic continued to spread throughout the world. It was truly a test of everyone’s faith that God still had all things under His control. After much prayer and discussion, we asked all our schools to release their student missionaries to return to their families and wait out the storm of the pandemic.
After much consideration, the North American Division finally approved the reopening of calls to the islands. Missionaries could come and serve for the 2021-2022 school year! We placed about 130 teaching calls in November 2020. We could feel God working as much interest began coming in from North America and around the world, including Africa, South America, Asia, and the South Pacific. This all happened while the pandemic was still in full swing in many of these countries and posed a very real risk for the islands.
Once we got through the first hurdle of reopening the calls for SMs, road blocks began popping up left and right. The islands of Micronesia remain COVID-free and leaders are very cautious as to whom and how they should reopen their islands. Each island has their own protocols and the biggest challenge was trying to comply with each one while maintaining the safety of our SMs and schools.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is unique in that there are four island states that make up the nation. Each state government and the national government has their own set of protocols and priorities, so there were multiple levels and entities that we had to negotiate with to get the proper approvals for our SMs. FSM borders were still on lockdown, with exceptions made for stranded citizens and essential workers.
We welcomed the first batch of SMs to Guam on July 19th while we continued the lengthy negotiation for their seats on the pre-approved flight lists into the FSM. Thankfully, Mr. Franky Edward, the Principal for the SDA School in Pohnpei, took on this difficult undertaking with fervor, working through the multiple chains of command in both the state and national governments so that we were finally able to secure seats on the August 16th flight into Pohnpei. As of this writing, we have managed to place nine missionaries in Pohnpei, two in Kosrae, and two others in Yap. We are expecting several more in the coming weeks and months while the islands are still open. God’s Hand was ever present as we navigated through the roadblocks.
While we struggled to get all the missionaries into the FSM, the Marshall Islands had their own challenges, including an extensive quarantine process. SMs had to undergo 14 days of quarantine in Hawaii and then another 14days upon arrival in Kwajelein. As the Marshall Islands only has one governing body, the process to have them approved was not as difficult as for the FSM. Thanks to the able leadership of Mr. Enock Migiro, who is serving as the VicePrincipal in Delap, we have been able to welcome seven SMs for the 2021-2022 school year.
We praise God that the principal in Palau, Mr. Abner Sanchez, was able to bring most of his missionaries through Guam and that they are now safely teaching in Palau. Saipan was able to bring in a student missionary to help in their elementary school and one to assist in the Child Development Center.
Overall, with God’s grace and guidance, we have been able to bring back around 30 student missionaries into the islands just in time for the 2021-2022 school year. With many more on our list, the goal is to bring in as many as possible during the first quarter. There are 20 more waiting to be cleared for entry into the Marshall Islands and the FSM.
We offer our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the school principals, local teaching staff and volunteer teaching staff from our local churches for stepping in to keep the schools open in 2020-2021 without the aid of any SMs. Many of our pastors and church members volunteered as teachers, some even juggling full-time jobs to do so. Many local teaching staff took on additional workloads to bridge gaps normally filled by SMs. Their sacrifice and sleepless nights allowed us to continue to provide Christian learning for our deserving students.We praise God and thank them for their commitment to our schools in these times of need.
We thank the North American Division through our mission offices and universities for recruiting and sponsoring the young men and women who are now serving in the islands. The Guam-Micronesia Mission thank you for your trust in our care and your continued support of the student missionary program.
In the midst of all these challenges and tests of faith, we have seen and felt God weaving His power, grace and miracles throughout. We are not back to 100% capacity, but God has ensured us that we have the help and hearts of service needed for this school year. We are even more firmly entrenched in the belief that God will never fail us if we put our trust and dependence on Him.
Miracles are real, whether through flashes of lightning or whispers in the wind; our schools are standing testaments to this. God brought our schools through a year of uncertainty and fears of losing our schools onto firm ground, where we stand upon the promise from Deuteronomy 31:8 that “the Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”