When Tonja Rizijs Rasmusson ’00 was hired as Sacramento Adventist Academy’s religion teacher in 2000, it was rare for an academy to have a dedicated Bible teacher—especially a woman. Now, in her sixteenth year at the school, Rasmusson has earned tenure teaching religion and English, and she’s completing her second year as chaplain for preschool through grade 12. It’s a big job that encompasses presenting class worships and weekly chapels, planning community service days, fundraising and more. However, Rasmusson revels in her favorite part of the job—ministering to her students.
“My passion is in the teaching arena, and most of all, I enjoy being in the classroom with the kids,” she said. Rasmusson emphasizes practicality in her religion classes. “We talk about what’s important to the students and where they’re at in their lives, how to make good decisions, how to make religion a way of life, and living our lives like Christ—full of love, acceptance and forgiveness.”
That message of practical Christianity reaches both kids who have grown up in the church or are new to the faith. “Even students who came here to learn English or those who aren’t Adventist get to see what’s really important,” she said.
Teaching offers Rasmusson a unique perspective and constant points of contact with the youth to whom she ministers. “I see these kids every day, five days a week and sometimes more,” she said. “I’m at vespers, go on trips, and form real relationships with them.” She shares that for many kids, the school functions as their center for spiritual growth. “As an academy teacher, I’m privileged to be part of my students’ lives in a constant and personal way,” she said. “I’m here for them when they’re struggling with not getting a banquet date or their parents splitting up, and I’m here for the great parts of growing up, too.”
While studying at Union, Rasmusson majored in religious education and English education, with a minor in youth ministry. After switching majors and a year as a task force worker, she asked Dr. Virginia Simmons, then chair of the Division of Human Development, about dropping the English major in order to graduate early. Simmons surprised her by urging she keep both courses of study. “She told me she wanted my degree to be marketable, and I needed to stick with it,” Rasmusson remembered. “I’m grateful she did.”
She explains that being a teacher gives her a unique relationship with those to whom she ministers. “We’re a family. We look out for each other,” she says. “I’m blessed to be part of this ministry, to teach them about the Bible, and to see them at their best and share in their joys. And I’m privileged to have them let me in and ask for help in the bad times, too. Teachers don’t have to manufacture moments—ministry naturally happens in the classrooms, the hallways and the daily rush.” C
By Lauren Bongard Schwarz ’04, a freelance writer in Bismarck, N.D.