Sabbath exams: problem or opportunity?
When I began my studies in Physics at the Central University in Venezuela—the most prestigious in my homeland—I was apprehensive, as most Adventist students, that I would have to face the problem of exams scheduled on Sabbath. At the beginning of each semester I earnestly prayed that God would intervene so that, if it was His will, there would be no such an exam. But that day finally arrived.
During the last semester of my second year, I enrolled in Mathematics III and Mechanics I. The first day of classes, the Mathematics professor announced that, in order to relieve the pressure associated with examinations, he was planning to schedule them on Saturdays. My mind began to race: “Should I ask for an exception at that moment or should I approach the teacher at the end of the class? What would I do if he rejects my request for a different schedule? Why was God allowing this to happen to me?”
I decided to approach him in private at the end of the class. I explained to him the reasons for my request and, to my great relief, he told me that he would help me by scheduling the exams on Wednesdays. I was so thankful!
In the Mechanics I class I had a chance to become friends with several fellow students and to share with them my Christian faith and hope. In addition, I became well acquainted with the teacher as we shared our common interest in vegetarianism and in the German language. During a recess period, while we were talking informally in the corridors, he asked me if I practiced meditation. I answered in the affirmative, saying that every day I spoke with God in prayer and reflected on His Word. As we came back to class, he spoke briefly about the benefits of meditation and added, “There are many who say that they believe in God, but do not follow His way. To truly follow God’s way requires total commitment.”
I wanted to speak more clearly with this teacher about my faith, because I sensed that he was a sincere seeker, but I did not find the opportunity to do it. Toward the end of the semester I read on the official bulletin board that the final exam for Mechanics I was going to be given on Saturday. Although apprehensive, I felt that God was giving me a chance to witness to this teacher.
At the end of one of our classes, I explained to the teacher that I could not sit for the exam on the scheduled date. He wanted to know if my request had to do only with that particular Saturday or with any other Saturday. Hearing my affirmative reply, he inquired if this applied also to Friday evenings. I sensed that he suspected that behind my requests there were religious convictions. The teacher said that he would see what he could do to help me. That night I prayed to God, “Lord, I am ready to witness for you to this teacher, but you need to give me the opportunity!” The following morning, after class, this teacher wanted to confirm if my decision to request for a different date for the final exam was definitive. I answered that it was, “even if my life was at stake!”
“Are you not overstating it?” asked the teacher, intrigued. This gave me a chance to quote his own words to the class, when he said that to truly follow God’s way required our total commitment. I explained that each Sabbath I had a personal appointment with God and that it was a priority in my life. Praying silently, I also gave him a brief outline of the biblical foundation for my convictions and told him about the Seventh-day Adventist Church, of which I was a member.
The teacher then announced to the Mechanics I class that one of the students could not take the final exam on the scheduled date for reasons of conscience. He said that if all 33 students signed a formal request, he would take it to the Studies Coordination Office and see that the date was changed. That is precisely what happened. What a relief and what a joy!
Building on these conversations and friendly contacts the teacher had with other Adventist students, we invited him to attend a lecture on nutrition presented by an Adventist physician and sponsored by the Adventist Student Group at the Central University of Venezuela.* He was well impressed, and we continue to pray for him. But that was just the beginning...
As a result of these incidents, all my fellow students in the Mechanics I class learned about the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose members enjoy worshiping God on the seventh-day, and about the advantages of a healthy lifestyle, based on God’s instructions. They spread the word throughout the School of Sciences and soon we began seeing the wonderful results of our witness and our prayers.
By God’s grace, two of my fellow students in Mechanics II started studying the Bible with us and later joined the Adventist Church through baptism. One of them was Javier—now my fiancee—and the other John. Another student, Eduardo, is considering taking a similar step. Three other students, who were not taking the Mechanics I or II course were also baptized. Several members of the Adventist Student Group are now engaged in Bible studies with about twenty young men and women, most of them fellow university students. We trust in the promise of the Bible, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Ecclesiastes 11:1, NIV). And I am not the only Adventist in the School of Sciences—now we are a dynamic group!
Some readers may think, “She was simply lucky and now everything is easy for her and her fellow Adventists at the university.” Don’t believe for a moment that our testing is over. God knows why. This year, again, I have exams scheduled on the Sabbath. Fortunately, John and I are students in the same class and together we approached the teacher. He said that he knew fellow professionals who are Adventists and that for them the Sabbath is a very special day, from sunset to sunset. In addition, he told us that last year another Adventist student in his course decided to withdraw from class because the exams were scheduled on Sabbath. We were so thankful for her faithfulness to her convictions! I can imagine the reaction of this teacher if he had seen inconsistency among Adventist students.
I also know an Adventist student who is pursuing a degree in Management at my university who had to enrol in the same course 7 successive times because the examinations were always scheduled on Sabbath and he always refused to take them on that special day. Since he could not have the date changed, from a human point of view he “wasted” two and half years. But God knows the ultimate results. Many teachers and students learned of my friend’s loyalty to his faith. I believe that his witness can be used by the Holy Spirit to awake the conscience of others and lead them to God’s truth. What is an apparent “waste” and defeat can become a victory and an eternal gain. “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:6, NIV).
Out of my own experience, I wish to make a personal appeal to Adventist university students everywhere. Don’t pray that God will free you from facing classes or exams on Sabbath. Rather ask Him to give you wisdom and strength to face the challenge and become a faithful witness. What may appear to be a problem in your studies may be an opportunity that God presents to you to share your faith with your teachers and fellow students. Because “how shall they ask him [God] to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14, LB).
The eternal destiny of many students and teachers on university campuses everywhere hangs on the balance. Your next exam scheduled for a Sabbath and your tactful loyalty may well be the factors that will give them a chance to know God, accept His saving grace, and join His family on earth.
by Rebeca S. Diez
(*) The Adventist Student Group at the Central University of Venezuela (Grupo Estudiantil Adventista de la Universidad Central de Venezuela) involves Adventist students in mutual spiritual support and in evangelistic outreach. We welcome contacts with Adventist students from other campuses and other Adventist student associations. You can communicate with us in Spanish, English, German or Portuguese. Write to me or to Javier Escobar, one of the Group officers, at the following postal address: Apartado 47-797; Caracas, 1064-A; Venezuela. You can also use E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; or firstname.lastname@example.org.