Sometimes people don’t choose their professional path in life, it chooses them. Or rather, God chooses for them. That’s exactly what Pedro Ojeda, principal of Holbrook Indian School (HIS) in Arizona, will say if asked why he chose education as a career.
“I was known to emphatically state that I would never teach or preach,” Ojeda recalled of a time in his life when he was quite confident about what he wouldn’t do. “But once God guided me towards Adventist education by clearly closing other doors at two major times in my life, I never looked back.”
Pedro Ojeda was born in Cuba a few years after the current system of government was established. His parents, who were missionaries for many years, were fortunate enough to have heard of the Adventist message via Voice of Prophecy radio, and they studied at the Adventist college in Cuba before the new regime shut down religious expression.
The family moved to Jamaica when Ojeda was just a little tyke, and he attended Adventist schools all his life, starting in kindergarten at the Adventist school at what was then known as West Indies College in Jamaica. He completed middle school in Puerto Rico and high school at Walla Walla Valley Academy (WWVA).
One of his fondest memories from school is when he arrived one week late for his sophomore year at WWVA—and late to his first class, which was a Bible class. Ojeda, who was very shy due to his Jamaican accent and, in his own words, his “deer caught in the headlights” demeanor, recalls the how the boy who sat next to him made him feel very welcome. Ojeda was so shy, in fact, he was voted "most shy" his senior year. Despite his shyness, he very much enjoyed actively participating in Pathfinders. Ojeda went on to attend and graduate from Walla Walla College with a degree in business administration and a concentration in marketing.
Though he said he would never teach, God led him to teaching opportunities. It was while teaching in Montana that he was diagnosed with non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early 2002.
“That was the worst year of my life,” he said. “But God crafted a miracle through a great team of doctors at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. I should have died from that disease. I have been in remission since January 3, 2003. So I cannot say I overcame this challenge, but rather God did that for me.”
The impact of the experience was deep and extensive. In spite of losing his teaching job, the family, which now included his wife and two daughters, stayed in Bozeman for 11 years, but they were productive years of meaningful experiences, including holding down various other jobs and developing lifelong friendships.
“I find that every experience I have had, including working in construction after cancer, has been useful in my service as principal now,” Ojeda said. “I no longer wonder why certain things happened to me. It all had a purpose.”
As far as teaching itself, something he said he would never do, today it is something he loves and has a passion for, especially at HIS. “Someone told me that once I met the students at HIS, I would fall in love with them, and it is so true,” he said. “Young people everywhere, but especially marginalized ones like ours, desperately need love, acceptance, consistency, and opportunities.”
Ojeda loves to provide students with that love and acceptance, and he is a strong believer in Adventist education for this and so many other reasons.
“Adventist education has given me a strong sense of family. It has been a blessing to be a part of a group that has its foundation in Jesus,” he said. “Early in my career I decided not to be someone that gets disgusted with hypocrisy and leaves the church because of it. I recognize that I am the worst sinner in the room and should follow God's principles to the best of my ability, which includes not giving up on people and believing that through a personal relationship with God anyone can choose to change. Overall, I believe Adventists are loving and accepting people who believe in serving others no matter how difficult it may be.”
Apart from the faith and spiritual aspect, Ojeda also believes in the whole person approach of Adventist education. At Holbrook, this approach
is referred to as MAPS: Mental, Academic/Arts, Physical, and Spiritual wellness. “Adventist education covers it all in a balanced way,” he said.
For students or families who may be wondering if Adventist education is a worthwhile investment, he offers a few words of encouragement and “food for thought.”
“I encourage them to take a look at pop culture and the pervasive influence of social media and ask themselves if that provides lasting fulfillment and happiness,” he said. “Adventist education helps guide students in delaying gratification, unlike the current culture of ‘I want it now,’ and dares them to be a God follower, which is good and lasting. There is nothing temporary or fleeting about following God.”