mong the many things I appreciate about serving at Adventist University Zurcher in Madagascar is the natural environment. The school is in the central highlands on nearly 500 acres of thick forest, and the resins from the pines make the air smell wonderful.

Ellen White wrote about the benefits of spending time among certain trees. She said, “There are life-giving properties in the balsam of the pine, in the fragrance of the cedar and the fir.”1

She also counseled parents and educators to help young people develop woodworking skills. So, in addition to offering academic courses, our university provides students with the opportunity to learn a variety of trades, which has the added benefit of providing income for the school.

Because the university sells wood, it’s not unusual to see tree stumps all over campus following fresh cuts. The Ellen G. White Center decided to make good use of them in an innovative plan called Project Joseph. The main idea was to relate to Jesus’ youth years and His experience beside his earthly father, as outlined by Ellen White in her book The Desire of Ages. Project Joseph helped strengthen the students’ skills and patience by creating a table for the center’s exposition room.

We selected a particularly big stump covered with the red-tinged clay-soil common in Madagascar. At this point, most of the students and faculty doubted the realization of the project, but they complied with the routine. In groups of two or three, they spent their break times removing the dirt from the bark with brushes and chisels. Then the center borrowed machinery that helped us with the finishing stage of the cleaning. The students were engaged full-time for a month polishing, leveling, and stabilizing the stump to make it perfect for mounting with a glass tabletop.

After the stump received its first layer of varnish, 12 men carried the approximately 770-pound piece of wood to the Ellen G. White Center to receive its second coat. Today, the table remains in the center as a testimony to those who patiently followed the example of Jesus.

Since participating in this first project, several graduates who have become pastors have started similar projects in Madagascar’s rural areas. By involving youth in woodwork, they follow Ellen White’s counsel: “There should be opened to the youth means whereby many may, while attending school, learn the trade of carpentry. Under the guidance of experienced workmen, carpenters who are apt to teach, patient, and kind, the youth should be taught how to build substantially and economically. Cottages and other buildings essential to the various lines of schoolwork are to be erected by the students themselves.”2

I’ve been pleased to be part of Project Joseph and see our young people developing skills that will serve them well. I want to thank all our church members worldwide who support Adventist University Zurcher and all our Seventh-day Adventist schools through their mission offerings and prayer. We are helping to prepare students for eternity.

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Cédric Lachenal is the dean of theology and director of the Ellen G. White Center at Adventist University Zurcher in Antsirabe, Madagascar.