The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is an island country situated in Southeast Asia. Along with the Philippines, it is one of just two nations in Southeast Asia where Christianity is thought to be the predominant religion. Timor-Leste gained independence in May 2002. Previously, it existed as a Portuguese colony until 1975 and was later released from Indonesia's annexation in 1999. Since then, Timor-Leste has dramatically expanded many areas of its country and continues to thrive independently.
The government of Timor-Leste prioritizes giving its citizens access to high-quality education. There are primary schools all over the country, but the quality of teaching and resources is frequently inadequate. Secondary education is often restricted to municipal centers. There are currently four colleges and one primary university in the nation.
With this significant national need, the Adventist Church in Timor-Leste saw the opportunity to offer Adventist education at the heart of the nation’s city capital, Dili. Currently, the church runs the coeducational elementary and high school known as the Timor-Leste Adventist International School (TAIS). Founded in 2015, it is the only Seventh-day Adventist institution in the nation. It is a mission school, mainly serving non-Adventist students.
Since its establishment in 2015, the school has grown its enrollment and offers a quality education system applauded by parents and the nation’s ministry of education. It provides a holistic approach to teaching reinforcing the overall development of the student’s physical, social, moral, and spiritual aspects.
As the school continues to grow, the community sees it as an avenue to establish their children’s career paths and assist them in character development. It has been a positive challenge for the school to know the community is encouraged to enroll their students in TAIS. However, the facilities and resources can only accommodate a few students. This issue magnified the necessity to further expand the school, improve its facilities, build more classrooms, and serve more students in Dili.
Thriving amid the pandemic, 2022 paved the way for Elder Ted Wilson, Adventist Church president, his wife Nancy, and leaders of the Adventist Church in the Southern Asia-Pacific region to visit and fellowship with our church in the country and inaugurate the newly established buildings of Timor-Leste Adventist International School.
"This school is an exhibit of God's unending miracles from the beginning until the finishing of the construction," said Chris Anderson, president of the Timor-Leste Mission. "We can only attribute the success of the completion of this project to our God who provides."
In his inaugural message, Elder Wilson reminded the church about God's provisions and abundant grace for everyone. "This school just shows how generous our God manifested through His people's faithfulness. It is a blessing to have this school at the heart of the city and be a blessing to children and their respective families."
Timor-Leste Adventist International School has 16 new classrooms, a school auditorium, a library, a dormitory for teachers, and an administration building.
Looking Back on God's Providence
Acquiring land in Timor-Leste is a challenging feat, not to mention looking for land at the heart of the capital that can provide a conducive space for holistic learning that will be offered to students through primary and secondary education. For more than five years, church leaders in Timor-Leste prayerfully sought to find a piece of land where they could build the school. After being colonized by two countries, issues of land ownership and the legitimacy of titles were big concerns. They also continue to be primary considerations in buying land. Although there were available lots within the city, many were either expensive or the space was not enough to meet the standards the school wanted to offer its students.
In 2018, Peter Koolik, a retired contractor who volunteered his time to build churches and centers of influence worldwide, was given the assignment to develop the Timor-Leste Adventist International School and expand its services to accommodate more students.
Looking for land to build the school was his first assignment. Land property in Timor-Leste ranges from US$2 million and even more. Most of the properties available are located away from the capital and limited in space. After much prayer and searching, a desirable site with more than 1.2 hectares of land at the center of the city, two kilometers from the mission headquarters, suddenly became available.
Dropping from a property price of more than US$2 million, the land owner sold the property for US$1.2 million after hearing the purpose of the purchase and the advocacy of the church in heralding Adventist education for the country of Timor-Leste. Many people would like to purchase this prime land. Still, the owner reserved the land for the Adventist Church with no down payment, contract, or promissory notes because he believed the church’s purpose was valuable to the community’s growth. It didn’t take long; the transaction took place, and the land ownership was granted to the mission.
“This property is exactly what we have prayed for, and it came exactly at the right time," Koolik said.
That same year, Koolik met David Stafford, an Adventist architect based in Australia. Encouraged by their passion for serving the mission through their God-given talents, they agreed to lead the project of developing the Timor-Leste Adventist International School. The school was chosen to be one of the beneficiaries of the 13th Sabbath offering in 2022, from where most of the funding for developing the school will come.
“I believe that Peter and me [sic] crossing paths in Australia was providential and led to opportunities where we can best serve God’s mission,” Stafford shared in one of his onsite interviews.
Early in 2019, with a team of contractors spearheaded by Koolik and Stafford and the leadership of the Adventist Church in Timor-Leste, the architect’s brief was initially established to understand different perspectives and goals of the client, the site, and the designer. With much prayer, the team finalized the design. It was a collaboration of ideas with a deep devotion to developing TAIS as a premiere school that offers holistic quality education. That same year, the construction of the school was initiated.
In 2020, temporary school buildings were established. Ten classrooms were put up and ready for the student's occupancy. However, the pandemic hit worldwide.
"It was humbling to see the school taking shape month after month, and you just can't help but be amazed how this school was put together through God's grace," said Inacio Da Kosta, executive secretary for Timor-Leste Mission.
The lockdown in Timor-Leste didn't last that long, and before 2020 ended, it was already lifted, and life was back to normal. Work and education were back to their usual routine, and students started attending school.
The resumption of the TAIS construction started towards the end of 2020. Two years later, the school construction was finished, and prayer and hard work resulted in 16 classrooms, a school auditorium, the administration building, a library, and a housing lodge for the teachers.
“I strongly believed that God intervened in this whole process; I praise God because I get to see His working in our midst and how lives of people were touched throughout the transaction,” Koolik said.
The project experienced several challenges upon reaching its completion. Due to inflation, the effects of the pandemic, and various factors affecting the financial capacity of the project to be finished, the construction was almost left undone. Still, through individuals whom God has inspired, a considerable amount of donations came in to finance the remaining stages of the building and complete the project as planned.
"God is gracious, and His mission will not be hindered; His ways will always push through to fulfill His purpose in reaching people for Jesus," Koolik said.
The school's operations are not only focused on its completion but also on the quality of education it imparts to its students. Since its establishment, the school has been blessed by Adventist Volunteer Services teachers who are skilled and passionate in dedicating their time and effort to give its students a commendable quality of education.
Looking back at the school's humble beginnings, from a small room at the mission house with more than 30 students in 2015 to an all-time high enrollment this year of more than 300 students, this center of influence will serve its purpose in providing Adventist education to students and parents in this city. It will expand its influence not only in education but also in building relationships with the community. It will also establish a good rapport with people searching for hope and healing in Jesus.