“Adventism is outside the mainstream of Christianity. It’s different. It’s misunderstood. It’s not socially respectable. Adventists live with a different rhythm than most people: we’re at church while others are shopping; we’re shopping while others are going to church. We make sure we get to Cracker Barrel early on Sunday mornings, before the ‘Sunday Christians’ get out. Adventist employees are sometimes fired for not working on Sabbath. Adventist soldiers are sometimes called cowards for refusing to kill.
What I think all of us desperately want is a life where our beliefs have a harmonious relationship with our social, economic, and political contexts. It’s stressful to be different. We don’t want to have to choose between church and football. As a teenager, it was intimidating to ask to take the ACT on Sunday. I inconvenienced a lot of people and had to drive to another state. Adventism introduces tension into our lives which we would rather live without. It strains some of the important connections we have to society. Basically, Adventism is a religious minority group.
That ‘Adventism rhythm’ is just a different way of living. It’s a huge thing to ask of people. Adventists pursue social justice and yet have zero faith that mankind can ultimately fix this mess. We plan our careers while thinking Jesus is going to come soon. Sabbath is this day around which the week is planned. Sabbath asks us to stop pursuing economic security and just enjoy what God has already given you. The way we view death and creation and education is just different. Adventism isn’t just a church, it’s a lifestyle; it’s a worldview. When you invite someone to be Adventist, you’re asking them to turn their life upside down and try living with a different rhythm. Instead of work, work, work, the new beat is work, work, rest. Your dance is going to be out of sync with the music everyone else hears.
That’s why I love Adventism, by the way. I’m genuinely worried that I’m too comfortable. Being different isn’t a virtue, but I think Adventism asks some really good questions about our often unquestioned commitments to this world.”
Matthew Lucio is a pastor and operates the Adventist History Podcast, a monthly exploration of the history of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
“My parents got a new pastor from Venezuela. They're at a church plant and he's technically hired as a Bible worker while he works full time in roofing. He came to the US because of the political chaos in his home country. For about half a year he's been working to bring his family to Minnesota, where he is. Finally this week, his wife and kids were scheduled to fly to Minnesota to live with him. However, he has no credit and hasn't been able to get an apartment.
So my dad has worked for an apartment company for two decades and talked with his manager to see if they would rent out an apartment to the pastor where my parents live and where my dad works. No go. The manager says he has to talk with the supervisor. The supervisor sends him to the regional manager. My dad keeps getting sent up the ladder to where he has to send a message to the owner of the multi-million dollar company. They said, ‘Because we know you, your work, and trust you, we’ll let this guy and his family rent from us for 14 months to build their credit.’ Boom. They’re in! They move in next week!
Y’all, this is the gospel! We have zero credit on our own but Jesus has a long work history, and a flawless one at that! He says to the Father, ‘Look at my record.’ The Father sees the credit of Jesus and says, ‘I have a room ready for you.’”
“I feel represented in some church decision-making. I have good local church leaders, and I typically agree with them. But I don't feel represented in that I can't make my voice easily heard. I don't feel represented when I listen to Annual Council. The young people I see only reaffirm the GC in their current stances.
Where is the young voice that challenges the GC? I look around and see people my age pleading for the church to become more vocal on issues of social justice. I read my Bible and I see constant themes of restoration and caring for the marginalized - the widow, the leper, the slave. Instead, I see our GC President urging the church to be less involved. And I guess I don't feel very represented in that.”
“I was once told by a mentor that there are two types of leaders: those who are flashy, charismatic, and get by with flair alone. The other type may not be as naturally talented, but works hard, quietly developing their character and skillset over a long period of time. He then asked me: ‘Which one do you want to be?’ Personally, I have seen many great leaders burn out because they relied on their charisma alone to get the job done. I want to last in ministry, or whatever I put my mind to. Plus, it’s less pressure. I want to be better tomorrow than I was today. And, in five years’ time, I want to be able to have the hindsight to look back and see how far I’ve come.”
Jesse Herford is a pastor and cofounder of Burn the Haystack with Josh & Jesse, a church talk podcast seeking to “Keep the best and burn the rest!” of Adventist practice and culture.
“When I was about 16 our family essentially lost everything. We went from being quite a wealthy family with tons of assets and a chain of businesses to having almost nothing. That Christmas we ended up celebrating it in a little motel as we didn’t have somewhere to live permanently. Moving from a place of total financial security and overflow to something like that was a huge character shift for me.
The worst of it all happened over the course of 6 months, and I feel like I spent most of that in denial and thinking everything would be fine. Looking back, my memories have changed but mostly because now as an adult I can understand a lot more what my parents were going through and why they were making decisions they were making.
It changed me in a number of ways. I had an addiction to a particular subscription-based game and honestly found all my value and identity within that game. When all this happened we didn’t have the money to pay for it anymore, so I had to quit and began to understand who I really was and who I wanted to be. It was also when I began to actually value what we had.
I was a pretty greedy kid and always wanted so much stuff. When that stopped, I kind of had a chance to really look around a realise that we already had a lot of great stuff. For example, we had a music business but I just never really enjoyed music for whatever reason. Once all this happened I actually began to really find a love and passion for music and started a band with my friends. We sounded terrible, but we had real fun doing it! All of this was monumental in me rediscovering Jesus, who He called me to be, and that all my value is actually found right at the cross.”
Joshua Stothers is a pastor and cofounder of Burn the Haystack, a church talk podcast seeking to “Keep the best and burn the rest!” of Adventist practice and culture.
“I have a lot of fears that vary in intensity and rationalness. I’m scared of heights and big furry spiders and things that jump out at me in the dark. I’m also scared of trying new things in front of people. Lately, though, I’ve been realizing that I’m very afraid of not being in control and of making decisions in relationships. I usually want to have everything figured out before I move forward in almost anything, and I didn’t realize until recently that I tend to operate this way when it comes to dating. That philosophy sucks in dating, and life in general for that matter. Because unless you just want to live vicariously through Netflix and never actually love anyone yourself, you have to take some risks. But that’s really hard for me. I have a very high sensitivity to relational discomfort. And I’m really really scared that this fear of pain will keep me from a relationship that could be beautiful.
Obviously, fear like that doesn’t usually come out of nowhere. Divorce is kind of a family tradition where I come from. I feel lame giving that as a reason, because nowadays everybody and their dog is divorced, so it seems like it shouldn’t affect me that much. But I think it has. When I was fourteen, after my parents split, I wanted to get away from home. So I went to a conservative boarding academy that had a very strict philosophy on relationships and no-dating policy. I bought into it all pretty hardcore. I thought it would keep me safe. I promised myself I was going to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t go through what my mom did.
Now I’m at a point though where I’m realizing that I’ve probably been a little too careful. There’s a guy I’m talking with right now who is amazing- and has a jawline for days. I had a crush on him for the longest time. Man, I always felt like an idiot around him. But then, once he told me he liked me, I started panicking and shutting down. It’s been hard for us to move forward, partly because I didn’t realize how afraid I am. There are other factors involved, nothing is ever black and white I’m learning, so who knows what will happen? But I’m honestly really grateful to be in a place where I’m forced to be present for the scariness, to stay in a space where I don’t have it all figured out, and to see that it’s not the end of the world.”
“No matter how many bullets flew the sky outside my apartment complex, nothing could make me ashamed of the barrio I grew up in. I’m a brown girl born and raised in LA. Many look at me and think that I grew up in a perfect Adventist household, but it was a far cry from that. My mother was sixteen when she had me and my father was a sad soul drinking away his depression for most of my life. The cops visited my house often, 911 was something I’ve never been afraid of calling.
I was on the way to ‘becoming a statistic,’ as my mother would say. Latina, sixteen, and pregnant. Let’s just say that God saw me, His daughter, understood my struggle and also saw my potential. He called unto me and bade me ‘follow me.’ Since that day I have never looked back. Instead of ending up pregnant I begged my mom to get baptized in the church. I’m eternally grateful that, me, a poor Latin girl, can be of value to God. That He saw me. Now it’s my time to give back to every woman who may have thought that their future was to be a statistic, to show them what life is really about.”
For more from Valerie Sigamani, follow Wild + Faith on Facebook or on Instagram @wildfaithmagazine.
“I think ‘Growing Young’ verbalized and organized my thoughts and feelings about church, and how to tangibly and intentionally reach youth and young adults.
I got involved with Growing Young through God's providence. I had a passion for ministry in various lines, children and young adults. After going through ‘Next Steps’ by Allan Martin via the Adventist Community Learning Center, I was inspired to share the information that I had learned. I did this through small groups and sermon series.
I began gathering my young adults to study ‘Next Steps’ as well. I guess I caught Allan's eye with all the things I was doing with and for young adults, because one day he reached out to me and asked me to join the ‘Growing Young’ Facebook thread. I did. And I learned a lot during the first month of just being an observer. Eventually my Union, through his encouragement, asked me to join the cohort training in Pasadena. I accepted. So essentially I was led through God's providence and through great leaders like Allan Martin, who is a great example of keychain leadership- opening the doors of opportunity for the younger generations to sit at the table with prominent movers and shakers.”
“One of the best things about living in 2018 is that we have the opportunity to connect with others across oceans and national boundaries within seconds. The internet and technology have given us the ability to learn anything we could imagine, build relationships and communities, create social movements, and bring our ideas to fruition like never before. The way that technology is impacting every aspect of our lives, from our healthcare to our shopping habits, gives us new opportunities to create ideas and products that can be disseminated globally and make a positive impact on a large scale.
On the flip side, technology can also erode our relationships. Rather than strengthening our relationships through increased connection opportunities, we become distracted and unable to be fully present. The inability to live fully in the moment robs us of the simple joys and memories that can only be properly enjoyed when we are fully present. The best and worst part is that the choice is ours; we have the responsibility to decide for ourselves how we want to let these powerful tools impact our lives.”
📸: Autumn Goodman
“In July of this year I was diagnosed with Gullian Barre Syndrome. I’m not the best at explaining things scientifically, but the basics of what happened was my whole body slowly started to shut down. My muscles weakened, my ability to eat and drink was lost, and then I dealt with even respiratory problems. I was in the hospital and physical therapy for a total of fifty days in order to get back in shape. Today, I’ve gotten much stronger again and I have been truly beating this syndrome thanks to the Lord.
It was challenging to see my own body deteriorating over time. The syndrome, before getting better, has to get worse. It was terrifying, saddening, and just overwhelming to see myself losing the ability to do simple things like pick up a book or even move my own feet. But through each and every single day I had people who loved me close by. My parents, girlfriend, and church family came to spend time and pray for me. I was encouraged and surprised to see how much people cared for me.”
“I've been extremely lucky to be able to travel for work. I'm mainly a portrait photographer, but will occasionally film or photograph various humanitarian efforts here and there. A camera can be a ticket to infinity—cultural flair, affliction, wonders behind walls, rabbit holes, insecurities, understanding, catalysts for conversations that wake up tangible connection and remind us that friendship is sometimes just simply one perspective away.
Some people stay in the same country their entire lives. Some people spend 6 years in Taiwan as missionaries, and in the process adopt a baby girl with a cleft lip to raise in the mountains of Virginia. In that particular case, travel eternally changed me before I ever went anywhere. But whether you’re hopping a log in the woods behind your house or jetting to a curious new land, I've come to the conclusion that we're all just simple people going from point A to point B. After all, curious new lands are somebody's backyard and someone else's normal.
If travel is another avenue to provide perspective, and perspective empathy, and empathy love in action, then by all means travel. But there is golden value in remembering that we impact the lives around us whether we travel or not. Compassion doesn't need to journey overseas, though sometimes it does, but a smile costs nothing and needs no translation.”
📸: Bradley Bennison
“For my whole life, planning has been something I just don’t enjoy doing. So many of my life decisions are spontaneous or immediate. Because of this, my future tends to sit on the back burner while I focus on the now. I would want to spend a single day 10 years from now just to see where God has taken me, and to give myself the peace of mind that even though I fail to have a plan for myself, God has planned for me.”
“After our first Friday night performance, I was as shaken as the character I portrayed. I changed out of my costume, listened to a few friends whisper to me that I had done a good job, and sought solitude. I found it in the chapel in the woods. We had a wooden cross erected behind the stage there, and I fell to my knees and began to cry.
I was overwhelmed with emotion, with guilt over mistakes I had made, and with feelings of inadequacy over the importance of my role in the lives of the campers who were making decisions for Jesus that night. I knelt there, crying and praying, fearing that somehow, through some missed line I might be responsible for not reaching a camper that night. As I knelt there pouring out my heart, it began to rain. I didn’t notice the rain immediately, but in one crystalline moment I became aware of the rain washing the fake blood off of my hands and arms. As the rain washed the blood from my body, I felt God there with me in that moment. I felt his forgiveness washing away my sins. I knew that I had been forgiven.
It has been 10 years since then, and I still go back and work at Timber Ridge every summer. I am now the assistant director, and help with the nightly dramas. I no longer act in them though, and sometimes my duties keep me too busy to really appreciate them, but I still feel God’s presence in that place. Whenever I have doubts, get discouraged, or question my faith, I remember that moment in the woods. I remember a time when I had no doubts whatsoever, and that memory has been a lifeline for my faith ever since.”
📸: D’arce Peter
“As social vice I plan the events for students through the year. I try and provide atmospheres that help students connect with each other and make memories that will last after they graduate. The welcome party was a 90s party and it was very colorful and fun. The banquet we’re having will be very ethereal and classy. It just depends.”
“Do you get to participate with everyone else?”
“It depends on how much I'm able to delegate. The first party kept me pretty busy, but for this next one hopefully I'll be able to sit and enjoy. But usually I'm taking care of business.”
“I’m most afraid about being so packed with responsibility that I forget who I am. I’m afraid of doing so much for God that I forget to spend time with God. I fear of becoming apathetic towards my personal and spiritual growth.
It’s honestly one of the most nerve racking tasks I’ve ever taken on. Knowing that I represent an entire student body—leaders of our churches and communities—strikes fear into my bones. But at the same time, I feel so loved and supported not only by those at Southern, but also by God Himself. Seeing so many people get excited about a vision that God gave me a year ago is one of the most humbling things I’ve ever experienced.
This year, my hope is to celebrate and motivate the talents, aspirations, and passions of every student at Southern Adventist University—in order that they may edify the larger body of Christ. Our Student Association is giving our students opportunities to become better world-changers, truth-seekers, and kingdom-builders. Through entrepreneurial incubators, talk shows, night markets, and social gatherings, we plan to help our students grow into the men and women God intended them to be. Before I leave Southern, I pray that at least one student would come to know not only themselves better, but also the God that created them to be better.”
📸: Joshua Supit
“Simply put, the ‘unchurched’ are people who haven't found themselves connecting to God through a church. My husband and I live in Edmonton. One of our friends told us that he read there are approximately 600,000 people in Edmonton and surrounding areas who don't know who Jesus is. Edmonton has a population of 928,182, according to the last census. That's 65% of the population that probably doesn't go to church.
I think sometimes the problem with church is we have this expectation of people who walk through the front doors: It's expectations of how to dress, how to worship, how to act, or even how to speak. Imagine someone walking into an Adventist Church with no context or knowledge of Adventism and being greeted with, ‘Happy Sabbath.’ From that first interaction, I think we've lost them because that's Adventist lingo that someone who hasn't grown up in the Adventist Church won't understand. Then it's usually followed by more Adventist lingo and traditions that the average ‘unchurched’ person is unfamiliar with.
Sometimes church feels like it's become a gateway to Jesus. As if we're the only access point to having a relationship with Him. When really, going to church is just one form of expressing that relationship. I sincerely believe the only way Adventists will be able to connect with the ‘unchurched’ is to realize that we shouldn't be a barrier to Jesus. What I mean is, I don't think people should be a certain way or act a certain way before they meet Jesus. There shouldn't be some sort of test people need to pass before they can get to know Him. Jesus is for everyone: The moment they want to get to know Him is the moment they get to meet Him. Church should never be about screening who gets to have a relationship with Christ.
It's been weighing on our hearts lately. My husband and I don't want to be a barrier to Jesus. We want to be that big flashing arrow that points people in His direction. They don't have to go through us to get to Him, but we're more than willing to point them in His direction if they ask.”
“Do I have any regrets? Absolutely! Those who don't have regrets are either non-human or are deceiving themselves. Another way of saying that I have regrets is that I have acted selfishly. I have hurt others, hurt myself and hurt God. Regretting something is the first step towards repentance, and then forgiveness. While it is true that I have many regrets, that does not mean I wallow in my failures.
One of my favorite authors, Ellen White, puts it this way: ‘If one who dailycommunes with God errs from the path, if he turns a moment from looking steadfastly unto Jesus, it is not because he sins willfully; for when he sees his mistake, he turns again, and fastens his eyes upon Jesus, and the fact that he has erred, does not make him less dear to the heart of God. He knows that he has communion with the Saviour; and when reproved for his mistake in some matter of judgment, he does not walk sullenly, and complain of God, but turns the mistake into a victory.’”
“I feel like I spend a lot more time thinking about school than I do the coffee shop. But they're interlaced, in a way, because I always study where I work, and when I go in to study I end up working a little bit, too. School, to me, looks like a lot of work that I don't necessarily want to do, like certain assignments and papers, in order to get to what I'm actually excited to do, which is anything clinically. Oddly enough, I haven't been as stressed about nursing school as I thought I would be. It's a lot of work, but it's definitely been doable after a good amount of time management.
Clinicals are a chance to actually practice and observe the theory you've been studying during lecture. I enjoy them over lectures because I'm more of a hands-on learner, and also because it gives me a chance to practice what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my working life.
I eventually want to open up my own coffee shop, hopefully somewhere within walking distance of my church so it can be part of a ministry there on Saturdays. If nothing were to go wrong, I'd want it running as a business during the week, but running as a non-profit on Saturday, where all the proceeds go toward the church. That would be something i wouldn't mind doing until the day I die. I'd want for it to be a specialty coffee shop. I'd want there to be actual employees working there everyday except for Saturday, and then on Saturday have volunteers work there during church hours.”
“Now, I need to give a little context as to why the moment I am about to describe was a critical moment in my life. It was the year 2013. The spring semester of my junior year of high school. I was attending Forest Lake Academy at the time in Apopka, Florida. For many years I had struggled with internalized racism, which is basically racism or prejudice and discrimination towards your own people. In this particular case- black people, which, I might also add, can be common among the ‘non-woke.’ I would always tell myself, as a child, that I wanted only to marry a white man with blonde hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. Plot twist- this is not the case anymore. And just for your information I’m not interested in describing my personal preferences in partners, which is men.
Moving forward, on this particular Holy Sabbath day something was different. And- lucky me- I got to attend a super-ultra conservative church with my super-ultra conservative dad and be at church at 2 in the morning because ‘we love Jesus.’ So my dad, brother, and I got to church around 9:45 am for Sabbath school and all of a sudden I saw a huge bus on the parking lot that said ‘Bass Memorial Academy’ on it. Yo, it was lit! I was excited because this meant that there would be new people at my ultra-conservative church. This meant that there would be new young people at my ultra-conservative church that currently had 3 people my age. This meant there would be new young people at my ultra-conservative church who would be boys. I loved boys. I was basically boy crazy. But my father didn’t need to know that. So, yeah, ya girl was pumped.
As soon as I hit the Sabbath school classroom I started scanning, and there he was: he was a smooth dark chocolate man with the height of a prince, and given his wardrobe attire you knew he was featured on #AdventistFashion. Now I had to act cool, calm, collected, and ignore him, because at this point I didn’t have the swag that I do today. But for some reason I could not keep my eyes off this dude. I wasn’t staring, because that’s creepy, but I would glance frequently when he wasn’t looking. Super casual, you know? So, he ended up talking to me and we were cool. Church ended and he was gone, just like that. Psych! I found him on Facebook and sent him a friend request sincerely thinking nothing of it. I promise, I had no agenda, cross my heart.
And then it happened. He slid into my DMs! He was cool, I was cool, the conversation was cool. So, I asked him if he had seen any cute girls at the theme park that he was at, and do you know what he said? He said, ‘No, but I saw one in Orlando.’ So I was like, ‘Oh word? Who was it?’ He starts his lil’ description talkn’ ‘bout, ‘she had golden brown skin and pretty brown curls and blah, blah, blah.’ At this point my heart is pounding out of my chest on the other side of the computer and I started to freak out. But I had to make sure he was talking about me. So I asked if he was talking about one of my other friends who also fit that description, and he was like ‘nah.’ So then I started to ask what this girl was wearing and then he asked who I thought it was. I knew it was me, but I was too nervous to admit it. What if this dude was trying to play me?
Picture this: I’m sitting in the computer lab at school with another one of my girlfriends. She reads our conversations and blurts out, ‘He’s talking about you, stupid.’ Duh! But I couldn’t admit it, stupid! So when I turned to get something in my backpack on the floor, this girl decided to respond to the message with ‘me’ and hits enter before I could chop her stubby fingers off. I was furious and mortified! And then the dreaded moments came where the stupid conversation bubble pops up, then goes away, pops up again, and then disappears for like 10 years. Finally, boom! Out of nowhere he responds: ‘Ding, ding, correct.’ Granted, my brain was so frazzled. I couldn’t understand what was on the computer screen, until I did. Then was I relieved. And that was the moment that made me realize that my black was beautiful. It took someone else to see that beauty in me for me to begin my journey of self-love and pro-blackness. Hashtag stay woke.”
“If you could change one thing about humanity, what would it be?”
“Make everyone more vulnerable to one another! It's something that is killing our ability to connect and really see. It prevents us from taking risks with others, and really anything in life. A lack of vulnerability causes us to run into our echo chambers and prevent dialogue with those that we disagree with. I know this is loaded, but I feel like if certain politicians would apologize for mistakes they made, be more transparent and let us see them as people, then we could get more done.”
“How does a person learn to be vulnerable?”
“Short answer: read Brené Brown, she's amazing! Long answer: be open to getting hurt and realize that without that risk, life isn't as rich. I think that's the crux. We struggle with dealing with pain and disappointment, so we avoid anything that can cause that to happen. The key is to see yourself as a worthy person, who deserves belonging. And no circumstance can change that.”
“I have for a long time taken the stance that God has not promised only good things will happen to us, but that He has promised to be with us and help us through whatever happens to us- good or bad. I have said this many times to my children. Having had a long career in the medical field, I have witnessed many bad things happen to many good people. Some with very negative effects on people around them.
About a year ago a life event solidified my feelings on Romans 8, which I have heard quoted all my life when something bad has happened. My daughter, who was pregnant at the time, went for her 20 week check up. She found out that her baby, my grandbaby, had, at best, some hand deformities and, at worst, hand and foot deformities and possibly other abnormalities. Understandably, she was shaken to the core.
Along with family and friends, we began to pray. Although I have prayed for many things in my life, this became something that was in my thoughts almost constantly. I would wake up at night and converse with God and ask for healing of my granddaughter. For the first time in my life, I reminded my God that in Hebrews 4:14-16 He said to approach the throne boldly. I also reminded Him that He said if we had strong enough faith we could move mountains. I had faith, and I claimed His promises. I approached Him boldly and asked repeatedly. I believed, and I knew that if He decided to He could make the doctor's predictions wrong and make my granddaughter’s hands and feet whole.
All this time I was trying to support and love my daughter and her husband who were understandably shaken and upset. More than one person had told them that this was happening because they had not been going to church and not keeping the rules of the church as they should have. I assured them I did not believe God worked like that, and that I was disappointed Christian people would say something so very destructive.
My granddaughter was born perfect and beautiful, but she does have Ectrodactyly. In everyday language- she is missing all but her two smallest fingers on her right hand, her left hand has her 2 smallest fingers and her thumb. She is missing all but her big and little toes on both feet. It is almost certainly a genetic fluke and nothing my daughter or her husband did or did not do. Romans 8:28 was quoted to me, but it rang hollow in my ears. My grandbaby is perfect and beautiful in my eyes, but she will have some challenges and may struggle with thinking it all worked out for good. At some point she may be very angry with God. I can only speculate, as she is just six months old.
My challenge is to have the right words ready for her when she asks her grandpa, “Why did God make me this way?“ I decided to go back and read all of Romans 8 and the chapters around it. I believe if you read all of Romans 7-9 you get the feeling that Paul shared my view that God has not promised everything will work out great for us. I think it’s clear Paul was saying that if we have a close walk with God, no matter what happens to us, it will be ok. I have Romans 8:35-39 highlighted in my Bible, and these verses say that though we face death every day, neither life or death nor demons nor angels will separate us from the love of God.
That is something worth clinging to and counting on. He is my Rock! My salvation! I will worship Him and follow Him no matter what. He is my God and my Father, and no one can take away the peace that passes all understanding that knowing Him brings. I hope I have the right words ready to speak to my grandbaby, that I can convey this message in a way that makes sense and softens her heart to a beautiful relationship with the God that made her unique and special.”
“At first it seemed like a cyst was forming on my chest but I didn’t immediately get it checked out. A surgeon said it could be a cyst, someone else said it could be a lipoma. Being a fresh graduate studying for his boards, I didn’t have medical insurance. Everyone had their own ideas as to what it could and couldn’t be. It wasn’t until I finally was able to get insurance through the long wait California has for those applying for MediCal that I finally was on track to getting treated. This is where the journey began- me being sent back and forth from dermatologists to general surgeons and finally landing in oncology, where their fears of what it could be turned out to be true. It was a cancer growing rapidly on my chest.
I can honestly say I had 2 moments of fear throughout this experience: first when the oncologist saw me and told me what I had, and second when plastic surgery explained to me the worst case scenario. Although I was in shock for a minute, giving my anxiety and prayers to God in that second brought me back to reality. After and before that I had already been blessed by countless messages and prayers. These have been the sole reason I’ve been my normal, happy self, because I know I have an army of prayers following right behind the Big Awesome Dude up above. I’m just super eager and ready to start the rehab of this process and see how my body heals after removing a chunk of my chest!”
“I think we’ve been so focused on issues that only pertain to Adventism that we have allowed neighborhoods and people to suffer while we stick to ourselves. We still have to find the balance between making Adventism better while showing the heart and hands of Jesus to those who are outside of our walls. We won’t be perfect, and trying to upkeep the image of perfection will draw people further from us.”
“Any ideas on how you can change that as a pastor?”
“One, speaking to the real issues people are dealing with in my congregation alone, and helping them to understand the heart healing that Christ can bring. Two, leading them out to invest more in the community, joining alongside organizations that are already making a difference, so we don’t convince ourselves that our way is the only way and best way. That way we’ll help from a pure and humble heart, rather than for show, and actually help with the hope to develop real relationships with those we’re helping.
The most effective evangelistic tool I’ve used has been friendship. It requires time, patience, empathy, and genuine love. You welcome people for who they are and desire to get to know them- not for what you can get or give, but for who they are as a person. You meet them where they are. You don’t drag them to you, you love them, you care for them and war for them even when they can’t see it. It means still being there, for real for real, even if after the first month, year, 10 years, nothing happens. It’s not up to us to make a seed grow, it’s simply our job to plant it. Friendship means being loving, which requires honesty, learning about the things people do and sharing the things you do, and talking to them about things other than church. Friendship requires being real, being you and letting Jesus work with that, and not with who we imagine ourselves to be.”
“I was shopping in a mall outside Orlando, FL when a young woman walked up holding her child. She saw my ‘Adventist. Human.’ shirt and asked what it meant and if I was Adventist. She told me she had just moved to the area, but had been having trouble finding a church for her and her son to attend. I was able to give her a list of some churches to check out and hopefully find a home for her and her son. I would have never been able to help her find a church if I hadn't been wearing that shirt that day.”
If you want to support Humans of Adventism and open yourself to more conversations right where you are, consider ordering one of our shirts at teespring.com/adventisthuman .
“I have always known that I am a sinner in need of God, but I have never felt my inadequacy as deeply as I do now trying to raise two beautiful young boys. I want to be a perfect mother, but I see myself failing daily. I am impatient and sometimes I even yell at them. I pray for help because I already know that I can’t do it on my own. I pray, ‘Jesus, show Yourself to my kids through me. Let them see You and feel Your love for them through my actions.’ Then I fail again! Like Paul says, I do the things I don’t want to do.
Which brings me to this story: several weeks ago my four-year-old son woke up talking excitedly about Jesus. I asked him if he had dreamed about Jesus or if he was just thinking about Him. He said that he had dreamed about Jesus. A long conversation followed where he told me all about his dream. My son told me that Jesus was very strong and was building us a new house in heaven. He said that Jesus was so strong He could carry all the bricks and wood that He needed. He could carry the bed and the couch at the same time!
I asked my son what Jesus looked like. For some reason this is important to adults and I wanted to know. He said Jesus wears ‘floppy clothes’ like my dresses. Then he said that Jesus was very bright and shiny. I was still questioning in my mind if my young son had actually seen these things, so I asked if Jesus had a beard like Daddy or no beard. He said that he didn’t know, because Jesus’ face was so bright that he couldn’t see it. But he said Jesus did have short hair on his head. I was floored! My husband and I have never talked about Jesus looking like this description, and all the Bible story books show a bearded white guy as Jesus. He couldn’t have been making it up. Plus, he was so excited.
Then he blew me away again. He said that Jesus’ light bounced off of Him in ‘sparkles’ like embers. These sparkles fell on my son and made him feel warm. Jesus’ light was so bright that my son could see red light coming from inside Jesus’ chest and skin ‘like when you shine a flashlight on your hand.’ He said that Jesus is hotter than a normal person and made him feel very warm when He hugged him. My son asked me, ‘Where does all of Jesus’ light come from?’ I told him that Jesus is made of light because He is good and powerful. Then my son told me that in the beginning of his dream, Jesus died. A few weeks before this dream he learned that Jesus died, and he cried and cried about it. I didn’t tell him about Jesus’ death until recently because he’s so sensitive to these things. One of his grandmas died of cancer about a year and half ago and he remembers her and her death well. He said he watched Jesus die and Jesus’ light rolled into a ball and fell on the floor. Then, later, Jesus woke up, picked up the ball of light, and pushed it into His chest and was shiny again!
I had been crushed when I watched my little boy cry and cry about Jesus’ death. He had screamed at me, ‘Death is forever!’ and I couldn’t find the words to explain to his young brain that Jesus came back to life. But Jesus saw my inadequacies and He not only showed my young son that He was alive, but He showed Him in a way that let him know Jesus is the same person that He was before His death. Then came the part of his dream where he said that Jesus went to heaven to build us a house. He said when Jesus was far away He made a hugging motion and rolled it up and tossed it at my son, because that’s how He hugs people who are far away. My son said he also made a hug and a kiss and threw them back to Jesus because ‘I love Him! I love Him so much!’ He said that he woke up very warm and happy because of all the ‘Jesus warm.’
It blows my mind how much Jesus loves my four-year-old son—that He would show Himself to my son in a dream or a vision- I don’t know which! I believe this was Jesus Himself. It brings me to tears to think that Jesus personally came to my son to hug him and love him. My son did not understand that Jesus could die and live again. But Jesus found a way to help him understand that He is alive! What an incredible reminder that my son has his own purpose in his life. And no matter how much I struggle and fail as a parent, Jesus can fill in where I lack. I asked Jesus to show His love to my sons through me, but He answered my prayer in an even better way. Even weeks later my son talks about this dream and how much he loves Jesus and Jesus loves him!”
Humans of Adventism
“One positive thing I have learned from the Adventist Church is the importance of critical thinking. Sometimes I have learned it by seeing the lack of critical thinking, and how it has led to subtle errors or the tendency to fall into liberalism or legalism. The true follower of Christ I see, presented in the Bible and Jesus example while on this earth, portrays a much different tendency in balance between law and love. These things are not mutually exclusive, no matter what someone may tell you.
A temptation I have often seen in Adventism and in myself is the temptation to follow what we believe because it is how we have always believed. If we do that, we are simply repeating what the Pharisees did. We are called to act on principle! I have seen, while at Adventist schools or summer camps, good, sound guidelines based on principle. I have also seen leadership trying to coerce students to do something because that is how the church has always done things or it’s how the leadership feels, even if it’s not in the handbook, but it is not based on biblical or sound principles, and young people are quick to notice when they see an injustice. Are we following the Bible and inspiration because it is how we were raised, or are we taking what we learned growing up and making it a practical, experimental faith- searching out, to understand for our selves why we believe it?
I’m not saying to throw out parts of the Bible or Adventism because we don’t have a personal connection with them, but that we should search out to know and understand why we were taught them. Perhaps there are things you learned growing up that are legalistic but aren’t based on sound principle. But know this- there are also many sound principles that are thrown out every day by our young people because they see them as legalistic. How do we differentiate? Well, the reason they are so often thrown out as legalistic is because we can’t discern truth from error when we are blinded by Satan. We must be surrendered to God and abiding every day in His Word, His Will, and His Way. Reading to learn and understand, being careful to take the Bible as it reads, not discounting or twisting things to fit our view of it, but asking for the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom to see it as it is.”
“As my mother lay passed out on the sofa in our apartment, I was led by a new friend, sometime beyond the midnight hour, to a park. He told me there were some cool people waiting for us there. I found myself standing before a figure sitting on a bench. He motioned for me to come closer as my friend departed back into the darkness. As I stepped forward, I could make out the features of the man—he could not have been more than 20—who was to become my leader. ‘Do you want in?,’ he asked in matter-of-fact tone, as if I knew what ‘in’ meant. I did not. But the absence of being ‘in’ anywhere else, and a sense that this could be fun, or at least sufficiently dangerous to make me feel something, compelled me to say ‘yes.’ He then clapped his hands, prompting a bunch of boys, including my friend, to emerge from the shadows and line up in front of me. ‘If you can remain standing, you're in,’ he explained. ‘If not, you better run and hope we never see you again.’ With that, the first boy in line drove his fist into my stomach without warning. As the next boy approached, now I knew to tighten my abs, receiving his blow. Each boy in line punched me in the gut until my whole body was trembling with nausea. But I remained standing. ‘You’re in,’ the guy on the bench announced, as he stood to his feet and walked away. ‘That’s Sly,’ my friend said. The unspoken truth was that I had just been initiated into a gang and Sly was my leader. I was given a name that was both funny and appropriate. Someone in the group called me ‘Casper’ and it stuck. At Sly's bidding, night after night we roamed the streets of LA, marking off territory with graffiti, breaking into cars and stealing whatever valuable content we might find, bringing the loot to Sly, getting high to celebrate, and being sent out to buy and sell drugs.
One night, losing the will to live, I half-on-purpose overdosed on a mix of narcotics and alcohol. My friends carried me up three flights of stairs in my apartment building, lay me in front of my door, knocked and ran. My mom pulled me in, stuck her finger down my throat forcing me to vomit, put me in bed and nursed me back to life. Shortly thereafter, she decided to get clean and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous. She insisted that I begin attending a teen addiction program run by the same organization. It had no effect on me, but she was now sober and would never look back, making a series of decisions that saved my life and my soul. In desperation to extract me and my siblings from hell that was our life in LA, she moved us to Sacramento. That’s where I met the girl that would become my wife, but not before she became my mom’s partner in rescuing me. I got in more trouble in Sacramento. I was expelled from two schools, involved in violent episodes of street warfare until two of my friends were stabbed and the knife was put to my chest, only to watch the badly beaten-up kid pull the knife away from me, jump in his car and speed off. That event, combined with a few other insane situations, led my mom to move us to Washington state. There, she and my girlfriend began studying the Bible and underwent a radical conversion to Christ. They then proceeded to apply all their motherly and girlfriendly powers to chase down my soul for Jesus, leading to my radical conversion. Sue and I were married and have been following Christ ever since.”
“Who knew that a lost soul and a wayward soul would find real love on the dance floor of Club Velvet in downtown Atlanta to the house version of ‘Copa Cabana?’ It is rare, but it happened to us. God used our circumstances to get us out and get us to know Him. It was an extraordinary moment, but God used that moment to save us.
I was involved in drugs and criminal activity at the time. She fell for the bad boy, as many women do. But God took us from there and brought us to where He needed us to be. Growing up in a dysfunctional, divided home, I didn’t know what love was. How could I love this woman the right way? I longed to know God, but I had never read Scripture. So I just started in Genesis and devoted time to read. With that time, God changed my heart, my thoughts, and showed me what love really looked like. Now I completely understand the phrase, ‘For we are His workmanship’ from Ephesians 2:10. I love helping young people now. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I made. I hope I can shed some light to the God of Love that I know so they can also find out what true love really looks like.”
Kevin Watson is the director for Alive Youth Rally. You can read more from Kevin on his blog at www.itskev.com .
“I think there's a funny thing about college students today. They have specific needs, as mentioned in the book ‘Growing Young,’ but I believe so deeply that their needs aren't any different from humanity in general. They need warm community and authentic, meaningful, mentoring relationships. They need the gospel of Jesus Christ- straight up and not watered down, and they need to be empowered as leaders and disciples. It's not a magic formula or complicated web like we often make it. As I look at that list I think ‘everyone needs those things.’ This generation is just very honest about it and likes to hold people accountable to filling those needs.
I'm convicted on this one thing that was deeply implanted in me since being mentored by Rich Carlson at Union College as I worked with Campus Ministries throughout my college years: people over programs. I believe we need to prioritize programs less and focus on building relevant, meaningful relationships with people that draw them into deeper intimacy with Jesus. I think we need to take a look at our vision and mission statements as churches, universities, academies, and hospitals within the Adventist church and cut the programs that aren't working, reshape and redefine other programs that can be more of a launching platform to these intentional relationships, and prioritize more of our budget and our people for building relationships.”
"'Musicians barely make money. You'll be broke with no job.' I fear those very words might be true. As I pursue a degree in music, I hear those statements all the time, especially from fellow church members. People treat music like an accessory. Just something there to decorate a worship service or to dazzle someone's heart a few times. As far as I know, the conferences of the Adventist church do not really hold a substantial musician position. Therefore, musicians like me look for work outside the church. Sadly, that's where we make a living. But I know for sure that I love God and I love music.
I have been playing the violin since I was 8 years old. My siblings and I complete a piano trio- my sister on the cello and my brother on the piano. My parents always pushed excellence and reminded us that we give God the praise for what we do. I do not think I would be who I am today without music. The study of this art teaches discipline and gives me a way to express myself beyond words.
I see the arts in general as tools for keeping young people engaged in the church and off the streets. Artists do not just get up and perform. We take the time to learn, practice numerous hours a day, and create. Every detail considered contributes to quality content. Musicians, painters, filmmakers, etc.- we are the voices of this age and the church truly hinders its ministry by not adequately supporting these talents. Every day, I simply hold to the fact that God continues to open doors and will lead me to be where I need to be."
Danya Wilson is a student at Andrews University. Her story was shared in collaboration with the Andrews University Department of Visual Art, Communication & Design. Danya operates Danya's Jukebox, a page aimed at raising awareness and support for musicians.
📸: IG: @ruth_photografire
“The academy I was attending had these football tournaments with other academies. I was a rusher going in to grab the quarterback's flag. She had handed off the football to another player going the opposite direction. I dove for the quarterback's flag during that exact same time. As I was falling to the ground, I collided with the girl’s knee and cleat. I blacked out and woke up in the hospital with a concussion, orbital fraction, and 9 stitches. After going into surgery for double vision, I came back out with no vision in my eye. I couldn’t open it. Eventually, my nerves healed and I was able to open my eye again but I never gained sight. I had missed my college applications deadlines. I went from honor roll to barely passing my classes.
I don't think I knew things were getting worse probably until near graduation. That’s when I started to realize the prayer of a miracle wasn't going to happen. All the jokes of being blind were actually my reality. I had just laughed and smiled for so long, not knowing that I wasn't actually living my new reality. When It finally hit me that I didn't have the grades to go to the colleges I wanted, and my friends were actually laughing at me and not with me, and my teachers were bullying me- I think that's when it was the worst.
I think all of those events coming together made me realize the life I grew up with wasn't for me. And from that, I just grew mad and hurt at the same time, all fingers pointing to God. So I did what I thought was best for myself- I stepped away from the church and God.
Eventually I just got tired of everything and felt that I needed to do more with my life. I started attending church again and signed up for a mission trip. But it wasn't an easy transition. People kinda judged me and talked bad about me. I felt like I had something to prove. The less partying I was doing, though, the less time my friends wanted to be around me. Eventually they stopped being my friends. I was in a weird place. I didn't fit in the world, but also not in church. Then I went on the mission trip, and I remember just hearing them tell us to just be willing. So I did. I agreed to help out with VBS, and it was there I really had my first real experience with God. It was from there I knew what my purpose was, and I wanted to continue into the youth ministry.
After a few more mission trips and even living in Central America for a little bit, I decided to move into ministry full-time. This is my 5th year now in education. I've enjoyed every moment. Being in the mission field, I see how important it is to spread the message. Being in our schools, I see how important it is to cultivate our youth to keep them in the church. When you work with kids, it's just not about caring about them as a person, but also their salvation. It was from my first mission trip that I finally realized that, and it gave me a reason to live again.”
“I've had cyclical clinical depression for fourteen years. I'm twenty-three. When I was a teenager I didn't think I could be a real Christian and be depressed. Isn't depression a form of hopelessness? How can I have the best news about Jesus and still be hopeless? Time went by and I started to understand that depression hits people who don't belong. I had every reason to be depressed. Beyond the abuse and rejection I experienced as a child and young adult, I was different! I stood out like a sore thumb that just kept getting bruised. It was okay for me to be depressed. David was depressed. So were Elijah, Paul, John. Even Jesus. But I also had the tools to get better. I saw a counselor who listened to my whole story, acknowledged it, empathized, and then started to share with me how I could start to put my life back together. I also started medication that made a world of difference, just getting me to the point where I could function enough to make the changes I needed. I found a community of sorts, people here and there who helped me see truth and joy. We know the end of the story. We know it gets better. I hope whoever is reading this will hang on with me until we get to the end. Joel 2:25 and 26 says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts... Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God.’
I was different as a pastors kid, as an Adventist, and because of my personality. I very much had a perceived audience as a child and teen because of the rejection I had experienced. I also had gender dysmorphia until I was 20, which made me incredibly self conscious. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was insufficient the way I was. I thought I would be better, be natural and comfortable if I was a girl. According to people in my life, I was supposed to be anyway. Maybe if I was I’d be accepted. The aspects of my personality which were ridiculed would be normal. I could be the gentle and sweet person I wanted to be, and no one would see me as weak.
The people who made a difference in my life were the ones who acted like nothing was different about me. They sought me out, inviting me to do things, bridging the conversation gap, telling me their own struggles. When I felt I could trust them, sharing with them was the easiest thing. They encouraged me by being available all the time.”
“What gives me hope? The cliche - though authentic - answer from me is that the gospel gives me hope. I believe in the power of God's love and His ability to persuade hearts to reconcile with Him and reconcile with others. Another thing is that there seems to be a growing movement of people - both within and without Adventism - who are hungry for authentic faith and community. There are lots of people who are tired of what we might call ‘religion,’ but who are looking for a genuine experience with Christ and with others who are on the journey in their full brokenness and frailty. So I'm really hopeful that God is lighting a fire in a growing number of people who are looking to get back to true, biblical faith.”
“I think the most impactful day on my journey as an Adventist was during my junior year of high school. We had chapel every day, and on the last chapel of the year, the chaplain, who was also our Bible teacher, decided to talk about homosexuality. He compared it to a mental illness and essentially equated being in a same-sex relationship to committing murder or rape. I remember breaking down in the principal's office that day and going home early. The next day, the chaplain wanted to talk to me- to apologize- and essentially talked at me and reiterated what he had said before for about 50 minutes. He referred to me being an ally, he didn't even know that I was bi at this point, as a ‘slippery slope.’
Since it was an Adventist school, the environment was never very LGBTQ+ friendly. I remember arranging Day of Silence there and the school board agreed only if we didn't make it publicly centered around homophobic bullying. But that day, I remember there being genuine discomfort in the room when he was talking. Despite not having the most welcoming attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, students had a general understanding that comparing it to rape or murder or a mental illness was harmful. He had apparently publicly apologized to the school in an assembly later that day, but I had left after chapel since I’d essentially had an anxiety attack because of what was said.
Even though I self-identify as an Adventist, my views on the Adventist church aren't great. I've spent a large part of my life feeling like I needed to either hide my identity as a bi individual or spend a whole lot of time defending my humanity and right to exist against my brothers and sisters in Christ. I see improvement, though. I know the NAD recently published a book on families and the LGBTQ+ community. Seeing such a large part of the Adventist church begin a healthy dialogue on this was really encouraging and restored a lot of my faith in the Adventist church as an institution. I have hope for a brighter and more accepting future for Adventism.”
📸: IG: @jsrc_photos
"During the summer of my junior year in high school, a friend of mine and her parents asked me if I could house-sit, which basically included just stopping by once a day, feeding and cleaning up after their cats and dogs during their two week vacation out of the country. They left a key with me, and for the first couple of days I was able to do this without consequence. The house was in a nice neighborhood. And for context, the family is hispanic and most of the neighbors were Caucasian.
My routine was to stop by the house at night on my way home from work or a friends house after hanging out and make sure everything was squared away with the house and the pets. About the fifth night of doing this, I noticed a neighbor at a house across the street. They were staring pretty hard, but I was there to do what I had done the previous four nights, so I didn't think much of it.
I was giving a friend of mine a ride home, so he waited for me in the car- this is a key detail, stay tuned. About five minutes into being in the house- the cat had pooped, so I was changing the litter- I felt my phone buzz, but I didn't pick up because... I was changing litter. About a minute later, I'm standing in the living room by the litter and all of a sudden, the brightest flashlight I have ever looked at is in my face through the patio door. It's the cops.
I checked my phone and realized it was my friend calling and texting me to let me know that. At that point I was instantly scared. I called my friend back and he picked up while he was in the middle of trying to explain what we were both doing there. I instantly realized that it looked and sounded sketchy. I told him to let them know I was coming outside. This was before ‘#HandsUpDontShoot,’ but your boy definitely walked outside with his hands visible.
I walked outside and there were three police cars in the driveway, with every conceivable light on. Five officers in total. My friend, also black, was trying to explain the situation to them. Five out of five of them were not buying his story. So I tried to give them my version. I said 'I am a family friend. I'm housesitting. I stopped by on my way home...' blah blah blah. I should note that it was decently late, around 10pm, but definitely not the witching hour. They started to quiz me on why I would be there so late, that kind of thing.
I showed them my copy of the house key. One of them checked the perimeter and went inside the house to see if there was anyone else in there. While they did that the others were peppering me with questions. They really weren't impressed with my answers. I was 17 at the time. During this whole ordeal, pretty much everyone on the block had one or more people on the front porch just watching, likely waiting for us to get arrested. Longest of stories short, my friend and I didn't get arrested for three reasons. First, my friend was waiting outside for me in the passenger seat of my car. If we were there to do a house robbery why wouldn't he either be inside with me helping or in the driver's seat to drive away fast? Second, I had a keychain to their house which had other keys on it, including one for a car that wasn't there which I was able to identify, the one they drove to the airport to park. Finally, my friend's aunt also happened to be one of my high school teachers. She lived in the same neighborhood. Although she was also on the trip, I had her house number in my phone. They had me call it. One of them stood by the house to make sure it rang. It did.
I also had my school ID on me and they confirmed that the information of her working there and me attending there were true. They figured I was either the first 17-year-old to have successfully cased an entire family, or I was telling the truth. They advised that I not go back over there at night again. I didn't understand the full connotations of that until much later. During the rest of their trip, I stopped by in the morning before work. I never have and never will house sit again."
"I believe that we as a society are in an awkward transitional phase. We don't necessarily process our emotions in a healthy way and we don't know how to properly and genuinely communicate with each other. Our youth are the most socially anxious we've ever been. Mature and open discourse feels unwelcome or discouraged. For many of us, our beliefs stem off what we feel instead off any foundational and concrete information. We're trapped between our respect for the traditional and our wanting to challenge and free ourselves from any and all traditional boundaries. We tend to lack understanding, self-awareness, and genuine empathy.
I want to encourage the people around me to intentionally step outside of themselves. That could mean different things to everyone. It could be disconnecting completely from social media and the anxieties that come with it. It could be intentionally interacting and building relationships with others who don't necessarily agree with their perspectives and opinions and listening to them with empathy, listening to understand. It could be parting with relationships or situations that are toxic to them and pouring into constructive ones. It's character building, eye-opening and healing to step outside ourselves often."
"The unique challenges that young leaders face today are heavily due to the digital age era. As problems arise in our day-to-day lives, for the first time we can connect with people all over our world through social media. Whether those issues are institutional racism and bigotry, discrimination on the basis of sexuality, understanding how to balance traditionalism and progressivism, or even women in leadership, all of us deal with these issues head-on, arguably more than the adult leaders of our establishments, because we are more active on social media. By the time our adult leaders have heard about something that’s happened, it’s old to us. In a way, this positions student and young adult leaders at the front lines of all that goes on in our world. How we respond not only impacts those around us and our institutions, but all of our connections on social media. Our problems are viral, more so than ever before.
My experience leading at Southern over the past year has been an incredible journey. Deciding to tackle issues head-on has been a patient process and a growing endeavor. Too often, people who get into these positions can easily become complacent, but I decided to challenge myself, my institutions, and my constituents to learn how to tangibly foster unification on my campus. It wasn’t easy and it’s still a growing movement, but I know that this year we have been able to lay a foundation and inspire others to continue to have such conversations. That’s what leadership and mentorship is about."
“I was given the great blessing of being part of a church who loved The Lord, and was willing to do whatever it took to serve him. We took a long hard look in the mirror and understood that in order for our church to not only to survive, but to thrive and grow, we had to change. We had to change our way of looking at the world around us. We endeavored to better understand the different generations, cultures, races, nationalities and lifestyles of the world around us. We began to embrace our community. We began an intentional, deliberate journey to become more like Jesus. To love without hesitation or condition, regardless of who you are. We challenged our own ways of thinking, and encouraged our young people to challenge us as well. It was hard sometimes. I came to realize that sometimes, things I had believed all of my life were not what I thought they were. It really challenged me to truly understand what it means to be like Jesus, and not just following our customs and traditions.
Our church, like many rural churches throughout the country, needs families. We need mission-minded families to move into our area, and help spread the gospel. Our county is among the highest impoverished areas in the nation, and yet we are surrounded by beautiful countryside and an abundance of land and homes available at minimal cost. We literally have hundreds of empty homes and businesses that people could help make into thriving communities. If only we could apply our overseas mission mindset to mission work right here in America, too, our communities could become thriving examples of Christ’s work here on earth. My personal daydream is for our small city to become a place where the light of Jesus truly shines.”
"I think it’s funny people are surprised when I tell them that I am an undocumented immigrant. Because that’s literally the point. They would have never known if I hadn’t told them. I always thought I had to prove my existence. I tried so hard to be excellent in high school, and now in college. I joined every extracurricular and leadership role possible. I wanted to make my parents' sacrifice feel like it was worth it. This took a toll on my mental health.
When I received DACA, I finally felt like I could be normal. I grew up American, but did not have all the rights. So when this was put into place I was able to get a job, go to college, get a driver's license, get an ID, travel domestically within the US, get a social security number and even go abroad for a little bit, I felt like I could finally breathe. I remember the day I found out that DACA had been taken away from me. It was a Sunday morning and I checked the news as soon as I woke up. I read it and immediately started sobbing, but my roommate was sleeping so I got ready for the day and did all of my homework for that week. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt so alone.
The only thing that gave me comfort was knowing that Jesus understood my situation. As a baby, his family had to flee in the middle of the night to another country to save his life. I know what it’s like to feel marginalized. It’s become so important for me to speak out against injustice when I see it because it hits so close to home. I'm getting better. I tried to keep this secret for so long. I often tell people that they may not know who DACA students are, but if they need a visual representation, to just take a look in the mirror. We are all just like you."
"I worked for the church for three years. The last year there, I developed severe depression that was the product of my work environment. When I submitted my resignation letter, I informed my boss that I was in a dark place, and was suicidal as a result. He called me, telling me to meet and discuss the situation. During the meeting, he asked how I was doing, then proceeded to discuss how they needed me- I was up for a promotion that year.
Fast forward to a year later. I haven’t heard from him. I haven’t heard from my co-workers or the church I was 'assigned' to attend as part of my contract. I’ve talked to so many other professionals in the church and I hear the same story- they’re burned out. They’re under-appreciated, overworked, and when they can’t handle the situation anymore, they’re replaced. To add insult to injury they’re told their reward is in heaven. It’s not easy to talk about injustice in the church organization because it means that you’re burning a bridge forever, but something has to be done. Our church needs to take care of those in service because they do so much and are given so little to work with."
"I was 34 when I found out I had cancer. Exactly double the age I was when God gave me the idea to create an Adventist magazine for younger people. I don’t believe that God makes bad things happen to you, but I do believe He sometimes allows them to happen to push you in a certain direction or pull you closer to Him. I had been sitting on this idea for half my life and hadn’t made any moves toward it. I was scared. The scope of creating an entire magazine by myself was so huge to me, I was terrified to act. I thought, 'Surely God doesn’t want a regular schmo like me to be in charge of such a big project.' After I got sick, however, I started delving deeply into the Old Testament and, for the first time in my life, I could directly identify with Moses.
Prior to this, he seemed too inaccessible to me. Like he had more courage and more faith than any ‘regular’ person. What he had to do was so huge and I had never felt that kind of burden. I couldn’t relate. But as I re-read this story – maybe for the 50th time in my life – I suddenly noticed his humanity. God ordered him to free the Israelites and he said, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' That’s exactly how I felt.
God had put me in the right place to learn the right things to be able to manage this project but I was still so incredulous. So I decided to take action and one small step led to huge blessings. I ended up having the Georgia-Cumberland Conference take interest in the project and help me produce the vision God had given me when I was 17 years old. And God cured me of my cancer. My advice to anyone who has an idea for ministry that seems impossible is this: Break your larger goal down into smaller, less overwhelming ones and go. God will thoroughly bless you if you allow it, but He doesn’t bless lazy. You need to take the first step."
Emily DelMarie Long is the Editorial & Creative Director of 71.5 Magazine, a youth culture publication for Seventh-day Adventists. For further information or to subscribe, visit their website at 715youthmag.com, or one of their social media pages.
FB: 71.5 Magazine
"We had far more trust than wisdom back then, and were certainly too trusting when it came to dealing with 'the brethren.' We were too quick to put people on a pedestal. We’d been renounced by our blood family when we became Adventist at age 30. Church became our family. It meant everything to us. But, oh, the lessons we were going to learn.
Mission work was our dream, so when we were recruited we eagerly abandoned everything we knew. Life, belongings, career—sold, quit, packed in boxes. We boarded a plane to a new country, new language, new culture. But we were baffled at the behavior of our fellow missionary 'mentor.' We’d never met anyone so subtle, crafty, manipulative, and power-hungry. Could such evil and cruelty really exist inside our own church family?
How do you love someone who twists every word? How do you forgive your enemy—the one sitting beside you in church? How do you work every day with someone determined to destroy you when you’re half way around the world and have no support system? How do you pick up the pieces and start over when everything inside of you feels stabbed? When all your dreams for serving God are ripped out from under you? Loving your enemies—loving them well—requires a power outside yourself, a godly power we don’t possess.
It was meant to be a five year post. In just five short months we were back, broken and bleeding to the point of classic breakdown. It took us two years to recover, while our daughters watched, confused and perplexed. We had no way of knowing how profoundly they’d be affected for life.
Back home, we were told to love and forgive, to shut up and move on. 'The devil is in the details and I don’t want to hear the details,' the mission recruiter told us while handing us a few hundred repatriation dollars with a slap on the back. Nobody seemed to care that we were numb and broken from the abuse. Bitterness reigned for a while, then pity, then time faded the pain. We’d experienced a version of the war between good and evil with someone who claimed to be a fellow believer. It was a dream-shattering lesson in how to balance wisdom against trust.
Deeply pondering the story of Christ and Satan helped us rise up from ashes. When we immersed ourselves in it, we learned to hold on to each other and cling to truth that plays out in Agape Love. As we kept looking at Jesus, we began to understand that high and holy things were expected from us, an other-worldly love. Slowly, one painful day at a time, God healed us. And along the way we realized—it’s not the devil in the details after all, it’s God. God is in the details."
"Being a parent in 2018 presents some challenges. The world is accelerating. We are gaining access to knowledge at an exponential rate, and increased knowledge without deep reflection is dangerous. It's dangerous because, in the age of Google, everybody considers themselves experts. Everyone has access to any question imaginable.
I am worried about my boy growing up in the age of Google, about him growing up with smart phones that seem to make people less smart. I know the traps that are there. I have fallen for some myself. My first exposure to pornography happened in the 5th grade. Some of my buddies found a ripped out page beside the dumpster. Now, in the age of the internet, opportunities for exposure are prolific. Some studies say the average age of a boy's first encounter with porn may be eight years old. I want my son's education about girls to come from my wife and me. We want to be the ones to teach him about respect and boundaries and the meaning of sex. I don’t want him to search for that answer by typing it into Google.
My four-year-old boy is a digital native. Already he knows how to send a voice text to grandma and grandpa. The problem is that Google Voice doesn’t always understand him. Last month he sent a voice text with a picture of himself playing with his cars. Completely innocent, right? Google misunderstood whatever it was he was trying to say. The text ended up being translated, 'This is Grady. Here is a picture of my penis.' As a pastor, I am glad that mistranslated text went to grandma and not one of my church members!
As parents we should set boundaries around technology, but we cannot isolate our kids from it. The world they now live in is technological. Our responsibility is to help them navigate this new frontier. We need to teach them in a proactive way, to engage in this frontier with them.
I am also worried about my little girl growing up in this age of objectification, an age where 'sexting' is a thing. It's an age where society judges a woman not by the content of her character, but by how 'pretty' she is. I want my girl to know that she is beautiful not because some guy tells her so or honks his horn at her as she walks down the street. I want her to know she is beautiful because God made her that way. He made her to reflect His image.
We named our son Grady Alexander because that name means 'noble protector of men.' We named our daughter Mira Grace because her name means 'wonderful grace.' As a parent in 2018 there are many things I could be worried about, but I am also hopeful. I am hopeful because we have dedicated both of our children to the God of hope."
"Growing up Adventist, I had always believed that divorce was wrong. One of the very first counselors we saw told me that my husband's problems were a private matter to remain between the two of us, and that it was my job to protect his reputation. I took that seriously and kept to it for over four years.
My husband and I were actively involved in all aspects of the church. He led out in Pathfinders for years and was an elder. I taught Cradle Roll and served as a deaconess among other positions. My church face was always smiling, but behind the scenes were disaster, exhaustion, and pain. I've lost count of the number of counselors we saw to get my husband help, and of the thousands of dollars and hours poured into trying everything possible that people suggested. Every new strategy or idea I learned of, I devoured with new hope.
Finally, many factors led two counselors to urge me to separate and prayerfully consider divorce. It took many long, tearful months for me to decide that divorce was the road I would take. I was terrified of what everyone at church would say. I saw this as the ultimate failure, and prepared myself to be treated accordingly.
Our church was shocked when they learned we had split. No one saw it coming. I chose not to divulge details of my husband's struggles with many individuals, but those who were aware of the situation were full of nothing but love and support. It was my turn to be shocked as I reached out to various people for advice on navigating this new chapter of my life and was greeted with open, loving arms!
To this day still there are not many who know the full depth of those awful years. Going through a divorce was both the most horrible time and the most wonderful time as I experienced so much growth, transformation, and relief at no longer having to play the happy wife. The pain was intense and felt unbearable. But my relationship and understanding of Jesus' love is so much stronger now today than it was before."
"I've spent the last seven years doing ministry full time. It was partly because I thought that was what God wanted me to do, but a big part of why I started out was because I went to school for evangelism and saw how people would leave the school and lose their faith. I thought full time ministry would be a good way to keep me in the faith.
Now I'm applying to jobs and it seems like the skills and stuff on my resume just don't translate. I'm married now and don't feel the call to become a pastor. I don't have a college education. It's a scary world in some respects, but God has led me this far and I'm going to trust He will continue to lead. Also, now I can finally show by example that you don't have to be a 'professional Christian' to make an impact for his kingdom."
📸: Aron Crews
"I think we can learn a lot from Spider-Man. 'With great power comes great responsibility.' This is the most famous of quotes, and I would be a terrible comic nerd if I didn't put it first and foremost. The truth is that this has a lot of relevance for us as Adventists. I mostly agree that we have been given special light that other denominations haven't- we don't have a monopoly on it like some people say- but are we doing everything in our power to spread that light? Are we the leaders when it comes to worship? Are we on the cutting edge of evangelism and discipleship? Are we fully engaging our members into a deeper relationship with Jesus? With great power comes great responsibility.
Ordinary people can be heroes. Peter Parker is just a normal high school student who is given the opportunity to be something more. It has nothing to do with his character. He isn't a billionaire, he doesn't have extraordinary skills already. But he adjusts to this new life by turning himself into the hero he can be. One of the core beliefs of our church is that anyone can read the Word of God and be called to spread his Word. Our heroes are often simple people who just packed up and gave everything to the cause: not great scholars, not elite preachers, just ordinary schmoes who answer the call to serve.
Doing the right thing is not always popular. Peter's boss, J. Jonah Jameson, is determined to turn the public against Spider-Man, and he often is successful. Despite all the good that Spider-Man does, he is rarely thanked and most often takes the brunt of the blame for bad situations. But that doesn't stop him from continuing to answer the call for help. Don't expect popularity just because you're doing the right thing. Integrity means that accolades and gratitude are just icing on the cake. The gospel is a message of hope, but it is one that should radically change up our lives. It wasn't popular when Jesus preached it, it shouldn't be popular when we share it. People love the status quo, and nothing shakes up your life more than Jesus does! Don't expect the message we share to be popular, but that shouldn't stop us from sharing it."
"Many students have concerns about choosing a major and career paths. They’re inundated with clichéd career advice that isn’t always useful – 'follow your passion' or 'listen to your parents' or 'be a doctor' or 'choose a career that has jobs.' Students experience societal pressure from friends and family to choose a major and not be 'undecided,' when in reality, a hasty, poorly-made decision will lead to further frustration.
Choosing a major is like going to the mall. Occasionally you go into one store, find the perfect shirt, shoes or gadget, and you go home. But I encourage students to visit the metaphorical mall and look around. Check out the social work store. Browse through the business boutique. Look at the biology booth. That means talking to students and professors in those departments. That means researching jobs and occupations available in those fields. Learn about different academic areas before choosing.
I also see a tendency by some students to hone in on a specific job or career field. And then they say to me, 'I just want to know this is the right choice.' But even with tools such as career assessments and occupational resources, there’s no guarantee. People change, and that includes what they value in work, what their abilities are and what fuels their interests.
I teach a one-hour class to undecided freshman and seek to dispel some myths by sharing the following realities: there is no perfect job. Your major might not lead to your career. You will likely have more than one job in your lifetime. So when providing career counseling to students, I encourage them to take the next best step. And sometimes that means going to the mall."
"There is a huge stigma around using drums or even rhymes in music as a tool to glorify God. A lot of it came from Ellen White, rightly so, describing how a church service should be set for worship and from an ex-rapper-turned-minister in our church. Those two forces make it very difficult for the message that I am bringing to thousands of people to resonate with Adventism.
They could read the lyrics as poetry, but once the music comes in it's a completely different thing. It's tough, but some people see the vision and understand the end goal. We have been groomed into believing a certain way about how effective the gospel can be within certain guidelines. Introduce yourself as a 'rapper' and the stigma is immediate.
What's wild is that I actually try to conduct my life as a Christian within the guidelines of what scripture says is true and right. The 10 Commandments are advocated for in my music, biblical truth is prevalent. I don't backtrack on my beliefs in conversations with anyone, and people are having their thinking swayed in the process.
With the music that I'm creating, I can have an extremely powerful influence on people's lives. I take that very seriously. It goes hand-in-hand with presenting biblical truth to my listeners, who are almost completely non-Adventist."
Davis Absolute is a Christian rap artist based out of San Diego, CA
"I see so many dear friends or pastors’ kids who used to be Christian, or used to be Adventist or used to be whatever. The pain they express by dropping a spiritual walk is legitimate. But the reasons they have left a walk of faith are so often little more than an excuse. People representing the God of love in unloving ways, or the perceived hypocrisy in church leadership, gives my friends an excuse to be angry. It gives them an excuse to rationalize away those who could be our greatest supporters—the ones who we wish would cheer us on, pray with us, and love us.
I’ve gotten so angry at times because I wonder if leadership understands what their political tactics communicate. My heart has often cried in anguish for the losses I partly lay at their door. I then fight to balance my outsider’s perspective with the immense weight they are challenged to bear behind the grueling desks of their holy offices. Even so, for each follower of God, right choices are still wrong choices when they are not also loving choices.
Our world is hurting. Hurt people, hurt people. It seems we all have grasped at life’s straws, clinging to something to be passionate about. We want to feel like we have a say—to feel powerful. Most of my friends who have since left their spiritual walks—friends I love every bit as much as ever—probably would have still left. But what if it made a difference for 1 in 10? How about 1 in 30? What if we chose to check our words, inactions and biases at the door? What if we chose to be aware through the Spirit and attend church—praying to be less reactive through fear of what others think and instead, more responsive in love for your eggshell-heart’s needs? If it made a difference for 1 in 50 of my friends, would it still be well worth my heart’s effort?
Leaving is not the answer. Those of us who see it and are repulsed must stay and participate if we’re ever to dilute parts of a reactively-woven culture that so infuriates, insults, and saddens our hearts. Through it all, I have every reason in the world to be gone. But somehow, I remain."
Kortnye is a model, TV host and #LymeFIGHTER.
"Last night I received the most touching message from a girl from grade school, apologizing for being cruel to me back then. She told me that when we were little she didn’t have the home life that I was blessed to have. As a first grader she was so jealous of not having what her little heart needed that in a child’s pain she took it out on me over the next six years. It was such a healing exchange of messages for both of us.
I didn’t realize my heart still carried a load regarding her. But in reading her message I found such weightlessness—even more, in forgiving her. I’ve received two similar Facebook letters from girls in high school in the last few years.
Please understand, I was not 'the pretty girl'—ever. I was badly bullied for years. I wore purple glasses to school because I was dyslexic and got chronic migraines. I didn’t know the girls hated me because of my family structure, or because of the way I looked. I knew I looked different. I believed it was 'bad' different. It wasn’t until I graduated from university and began working with FORD Models that I realized looking different could actually be a very positive thing.
The grief cycles words make can take a lifetime to heal. I guess God knew enough time had passed and enough self-work on both sides had taken place so we could have a genuine reconciliation. I’m not saying that forgiveness means letting yourself be walked on. I’m also not saying that it means we should compromise our values or identity to neatly fit inside of a cookie-cutter Christian coffin as a sign that we’ve died to self. No. I'm saying that in the times your heart gets there, and you find another has as well, forgiveness is a two-way street that sets both people free."
"I feel like progress towards a goal energizes me the most, picking a tangible goal and just putting your heart into it. Too many people I know will say they want something and change nothing about themselves to achieve it. If you're not willing to give up something for it, you're never gonna do better than you're already doing.
I don't reach my own goals nearly as often as I like, but that constant criticism of myself always make me want to push further and harder. I always say I'm my toughest critic. But I feel like you should be. Being satisfied is where growth stops and life becomes stagnant. There should always be a 'and now what?'"
📸: D'arce Peter
"I had always been one of those skeptics who wondered why women don’t just leave abusive relationships, even though I was in one for more than a decade, until my life blew up and I found myself sifting through ashes of what had been. Quietly, almost tiptoeing, women from my church helped me pack my household into storage until all that remained was one suitcase apiece for my children and myself. It hit me that every woman who showed up had experienced something similar herself. Each one had suffered great loss, and together they rallied around me to simply do what needed to be done.
For the next four months my children and I were homeless as we floated from family to friend, waiting for a house to live in. The uncertainty was overwhelming. I lost twenty pounds. My hair started falling out in clumps. And yet, God held us together.
As excruciating as it was, I realized that other women had it harder. I had two degrees, a paid off vehicle in my own name, a professional work wardrobe, supportive family and friends, healthy children. And I realized why so many women don’t leave- because of fear. Because leaping out into the unknown — even to escape a toxic environment — means leaving the familiar. And it’s terrifying. Paralyzing, even.
I also realized just how much God was comforting me, providing for me, protecting me. That’s why I’ve dedicated my journey in the years since to coaching and mentoring abused Adventist women who have no voice. Because some things you simply can’t understand unless you’ve lived it — and found the grace and hope and healing that waits on the other side."
Sarah McDugal is a Christian author, brand strategist, speaker, and abuse recovery coach.
"I'm part of an 'industry' counseling that is very left-wing politically, so it's very committed to secular ideas of diversity. I'm committed to a biblical ethos which agrees with secular diversity to a point, but then parts ways when it comes to things like gay marriage. I live in fear of losing my license over it, but I'm not willing to pretend to be anything other than what I am--a person whose life has been profoundly changed by Jesus and who regards the Bible as His Word."
📸: Justin McLaughlin
"We hiked 100 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail together as a family last year. My youngest was 5 at the time. I will be honest, they didn’t love every minute of it, but they look back on it now as a good memory. They enjoyed the nights we camped out on the trail the most. They each packed in their own sleeping bag and water. We usually did 3-6 miles per day, mostly Sabbath afternoons.
My wife and I believe that physical health is directly related to spiritual and mental health, and want our kids to enjoy activity as they grow older. We are very active at our local YMCA. My wife coaches gymnastics, soccer, and swimming and all three of the kiddos take these classes. I am on the Advisory Board that exercises oversight over the Y operations. My wife and I also work out there, primarily swimming laps. So between all the activities and classes, our family is at the Y a lot, sometimes multiple times a day.
This time of year, the kids are enrolled in the youth cross-country ski program, which meets every Sunday. My wife also coaches that. On top of everything else, she homeschools the kids and makes most of our meals from scratch. You really should profile her. She's more interesting than me."
"The family that took me in didn't judge me. When I came to them, I cussed a lot. My clothes were very revealing, I was a smoker, and still abusing some drugs. They loved me just as I was. They never told me to do this or do that, they made me feel welcome. They were so patient with me as I would ask them a million questions about the bible. They saw that in my heart I desired a different life and they helped me for many years as I grew spiritually. They had just come into the church pretty recently, too, so some things we learned together.
I have hope in this church. In my short, almost 8 years of being in the SDA church I've seen many sides of it. At times I've wanted to walk away from it all, because I see a lot of hypocrisy and imperfections. But then I see how God has always faithfully loved His imperfect church throughout history, and I have hope. I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of traditional church where everything is very 'cookie-cutter' and organized in a way that doesn't embrace change or new ideas that cater to 'non-Adventists.' I do believe in our name, the message and truths that have been given to the Seventh-day Adventist church. I think if we shared all of the doctrines and knowledge that has been given to us, in the light of the cross, our church would be more effective. I have hope, though. Our church is beautifully diverse, and I love that. Even after going through so much, we all are united by the righteousness of Jesus. I believe in our Millennials and younger generations. I believe we can make vital changes as we are led by the Holy Spirit. I believe in this church because I see people using new technology, creativity, and fresh talents to share the gospel."
"I've had a lot of darkness in my life. As I grew up, in order to escape a lot of abuse that happened to me, I resorted to drugs. By the time I was in high school I was heavily using cocaine and began trying heroine. I was in abusive relationships, living in the streets because I could no longer live at home. My mother had kicked me out because I became physically abusive to her. My mom meant everything in the world to me, and seeing what I became was killing me inside. Drugs, sex, and other illegal things I was involved with finally caught up to me and I got arrested. My mother's grace towards me during my darkest years gave me hope. I didn't know it, but she was showing me a picture of God that was so attractive to me, even though she wasn't in the church either.
That transpired around 2010-2011. It was in jail that God put an old friend's name in my mind. When I got out, I went to that family, not knowing that they had become SDA three years prior. They began showing me what Christians looked like. They would always have me at their home, cook meals for me, and invite me to bible studies. I started going to church with them, but I was still struggling with putting away my old lifestyle. I was understanding a lot of scripture and prophecy but I still held on to a lot of guilt and shame. I learned years later after going to ARISE that Jesus could be my personal Savior. It was in 2014 where I first saw the gospel of Jesus- and it was life changing."
"Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is what working for the Adventist church will be like. I am taking Biology Secondary Education with a Physical Science minor, which allows me to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics at the high school level. Teaching at an Adventist academy has been what I’ve wanted to do since I was in academy myself. My teachers still inspire me endlessly. The love and care I received from them has never left me. I go back to visit and they are still my family, they are still great friends that I can trust. I want to be that for my students.
But I worry that my current disagreements with the Adventist church will get in the way of me teaching in an academy. In my education classes we are taught that as teachers we will have to adhere to the mission of the school- its values as well as what the school board says and what the administration wants. I am fine with that, I am easily a team player. But what will happen when I am told to present something I can’t support?
For example, women’s ordination. I think women pastors should be able to be recognized for the calling they feel. Will I have to tell my students that I agree with what the church says? Will I be allowed to disagree? Or will I have to say, 'I disagree, but whatever the church says goes.' I don’t want to have to always say that to my students, because they are the church. They should learn to think critically about what they believe and not accept just whatever administrations say.
Or will I be allowed to share my differing opinion on what a Bible verse means? Will I be able to ask questions that we don’t have set answers to? I don’t know. I hope so."
"We never called it abuse. To this day I still feel uncomfortable with that label because I'm still unsure whether my experience should be grouped with others who have suffered so much worse. But here's what I know: I was afraid to go home after school and I spent years of my life wanting to die.
As a kid I don't remember having time to myself, time to play or make my own choices. Work, even meaningless work, was the default. If I wasn't working it was because I had been granted a short period of time off for performing well. How do you explain that kind of childhood? How do you convey the endless sleep deprivation and threat of punishment? The most hopeless part of it all was that I was defending it. When people asked about us I told them things were just 'really strict.' For a good part of my life I even believed that.
There was this Bible verse that my pastor quoted often, 'rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.' He said it so strongly, so often, I didn't see a way to stand up for myself without sinning. So I waited. I waited for someone to notice what was happening to me. I was obedient. I would work until my body gave out if asked to. But no one looked close enough to see me."
“I was not raised thinking this way. In fact it has only been in the last five to seven years that I've really started thinking along these lines. Some of the foundation for that was laid while I was in school at Southern, but it wasn't until seminary that these ideas really took root.
I would say there have been three main influences in shaping my thinking. One was learning a less white-washed version of American history while I was at Southern. A second was making friends with people outside of my own race and ethnicity while I was at the seminary, and a third was reading the Bible for myself and discovering that justice is a central theme throughout the Bible. Somehow I had never been taught that as a kid, even though I grew up in the church.
For me it was more of a gradual awakening. I remember some specific instances where I learned something that changed my perspective. The Trayvon Martin shooting happened while I was at Andrews. I remember following that story and thinking that what had happened was such a terrible injustice.
I also remember a conversation I had with two coworkers. I was a grad assistant, and one day two of the office managers and I were talking about getting pulled over by the police. I don't remember how we got on that topic. One of them was African American; the other one was Hispanic. The Hispanic woman was talking about how her son often gets pulled over by the police. His hair and beard lead some people to think he looks Middle Eastern. He's had guns drawn on him, been forced out of the car, that sort of thing. Then the African American woman told how when her son was learning how to drive, her husband had to teach him exactly what to do when he's pulled over: where to put his hands, what to say and what not to say. It was eye-opening for me. I thought, ‘I never had to learn this stuff as a kid.’ I mean, some of it I had heard before, but I didn't worry about it like it was a life-or-death matter. But these people did.
That was one of the moments where I really had my eyes opened to my own privilege. I realized that some people have to always be alert and on guard about things I never worry about.”
"I think that politics get a bad reputation most of the time, especially in Christian circles and even more so in the Adventist Church. We like to talk about politics like some sort of evil, worldly waste of time. But the truth is that political dialogue and discourse are some of the most powerful mechanisms today to affect change. That’s because policies and current events effect people’s lives significantly, and as Christians we are called to care for others in a holistic way.
Staying in touch with what is going in the world, and here in my own country, keeps me aware of the struggles of others who aren’t like me, as well as those who are. By engaging in political dialogue with those around me and in my church, and community, I’m able to be a part of solutions to those problems and struggles. I will admit that as someone who cares deeply for human rights this can be an overwhelming time to try and stay educated about current events. But when I get overwhelmed by all the evil in the world, I am motivated that much more to further the work of the Gospel."
📸: Aron Crews
"I have a Baptist friend who comes to our outreaches and other stuff, she enjoys them. We have a lot of others who are not SDA that also come. They would definitely reach me if I wasn’t Adventist.
It works out really well. We have them come and they have a lot of questions about our religion. My friend respects a lot of our beliefs and such. We have one young adult who was also of another religion and she decided to become Adventist. She wasn’t with our young adult group, she was with our youth group, which I helped with before the young adult one. It’s always great to have non-Adventists come and worship with us."
"How do you start something like this?"
"First find someone in your church who has had experience in the young adult or youth ministry. That way they can be a guide for you. Next, start out small. Host fun events to get youth and young adults interested in coming. Have worship during these activities. One needs to be optimistic and to never give up. Keep trying new things to get people to be interested. Don’t get frustrated and never stop doing God’s work."
"I'm pastoring at a church plant in South Bend, IN with my wife under the senior pastoring of Dr. Hyveth Williams and doing our last year of school. It's a diverse church plant in the south part of the city. One of our main focuses there is children, so we run a monthly program for the children of the community. We don't have regular service because we involve the church in putting a Vacation Bible School-like program on for the kids every month. We prepare a play, give away birthday gifts and small gifts for everyone, and raffle a bicycle.
A lot of our investment goes toward that program. The rest of the Sabbaths we hold worship for the community. Breakfast and lunch. It's a blessing man, praise God. I feel like it definitely makes an impact, at least in the area where we are at. We are working to start at later times because we do breakfast too early for what the community is used to on a Saturday morning. That will mean pushing services to a later time. We pick up the kids and people and can tell that sometimes they're tired, but they do like to come to breakfast. We're just making it too early.
Ideally we want a diverse, united community that passionately worships God with all their heart, and that produces vulnerable, graceful servant leaders. Not trying to sound catchy or anything, it's really what we in our hearts strive for. Only the Spirit can lead to such a community, you know?"
"I am a Pastor from Adelaide in South Australia. Where I live it is a tough ground for the gospel. People here are as secular as they come. I grew up here and came back to share Jesus with my people. When I became a Christian and an Adventist at nineteen, I had visions of knocking on the doors of my neighbours and sharing the life changing impact Jesus had had on my life and seeing people stream to God. This has never eventuated in my life.
Still, my life remains just as radically altered by Jesus twenty years later as it did back then. Why did I become an Adventist? Why did I stay Adventist? Why have I dedicated my life to bringing other people to know Jesus in the context of Adventism? Because I found a beautiful simplicity in the principle that the Bible is the guide to determine how to live life with Jesus at its centre. I have not stayed because I found a church that is perfect with perfect theology. I found a church that strives to grow and learn and live the gospel as it relates to our world today right where I live.
To me Adventism is not a message, it is a movement. It's a commitment to follow Jesus wherever He leads us while not being shackled to the forms and functions of the past, looking ever forward to that day when the brightness of His coming will surpass all that came before it. Adventism is a determination to experience the reality of Jesus in my life now so that I can have that reality become my eternity."
"What qualities should a leader possess?"
"I think it's a matter of being aware of the differences that exist among the community you represent and lead. Then in line with that, listening to people that come from these various demographics. I can never speak on behalf of student athletes when I myself am not one of them, so I cannot assume their thoughts or opinions about any given topic.
One part is just my temperament as a person. I enjoy listening to conversations, whether I should be or not! Otherwise, I believe it is matter of wanting to put others’ needs before my own, which requires me to listen to what those needs are. I’m a musician. So listening to music and my own playing is the practical side of listening for me."
"How do you put others' needs before your own?"
"Practically, it is choosing to give my own meal to someone who may not have one. Being a student that lives on campus, I have a meal plan. Some students that may not have a meal plan can pay out-of-pocket for meals. It may just be giving up my meal plan for them to save a few bucks. But then on a larger scale it’s acting, speaking, representing majority voices over my own."
📸: Kaitlin Palma
"I am a young teacher at a boarding academy. It's my first teaching job and it has been the privilege of my life to work with young people day in and day out- to be there for them when it’s really hard: when their parents are dying of some disease, kids of divorce struggling to ‘choose’ between parents when all they want to do is love them both, divergent cultures coming together sometimes in beautiful synchronicity other times in a chaotic struggle to find what is the real meaning of their faith.
It has been a deep struggle to express the personal journey of faith to the school and community without push back that my faith is not the way it’s 'supposed to be.' Not out of some theological dissonance, but of an incompatibility of personal opinions. The kids are watching and they see these opinions as expressions of faith and righteousness, or that’s at least what we are telling them.
Sometimes I feel that instead of educating kids on their choices and the ways in which Paul talks about our faith being personal and rich, we fight over the tempo, hue, and texture of the tapestry of our faith. We are no longer able to be different parts of the body but rather 'reflectors of other men’s thoughts' instead of thinkers and doers. Throughout this journey it has become apparent to me that the school system as it is today cannot sustain itself without supremely dedicated conference officials, volunteers, parents willing to support Adventist education, and mission-minded people as full-time employees. Without these critical pieces it will all fall apart.
I sometimes truly wonder if I will be able to live through the dissonance and continue on this mission journey, or if my body and heart will collapse under the pressure of parents who blame and rage at teachers for their child’s struggles and character traits, multi-level education standard requirements which end up with duplicated effort and little more than frustration show for it, and personal opinions expressed and practiced as orthodoxy. I wonder if sometimes we miss the whole point and are to instead 'follow The Lamb wherever He goes' into a place of safe, deep, abiding love of Jesus and to share that love with the world."
"I am a dean at an Adventist high school. I want the students to see someone that is real. Someone they can learn from and not go through the same mistakes that I did. What I want to gain here is learning more about who I am and how I fit into the world. Kids in this age range do a good job of helping you see your flaws and helping you grow to become a better person.
I want them to remember that I was really with them, that I helped them to truly see. I try all the time to help them see the big picture, to think and see outside of themselves. Kids today think too much about themselves and not about how they fit into the world."
"I couldn't always claim the title Seventh-day Adventist throughout my entire young adult life, but after experiencing more life I believe the need for faith is real. The SDA church, while not perfect, follows the Bible the closest of all faiths I have seen.
A lot of our generation feels like they don't have a part to play, it's the Achilles' heel of this church. There has to be more structure to how we can be involved. Right now there is no clear path for young SDA adults. Other denominations have executed this really well. I think specifically of The Church of the Latter-day Saints- really high retention rate, very involved outreach programs, and it's coordinated with their educational system.
We need unity and purpose. We must put down identity and titles of what we think we are and be Christian brothers and sisters making this world a better place. This can be done, but we have to be Christians first and people second. I'm very encouraged by many things our generation is accomplishing and our more broad-minded views. We must use this positively for the end goal of unity. No liberals and conservatives, etc. Just Christians on a mission."
"My Nana had 10 children. She was a single mother, an African American, and was living in the inner city of Boston. She had one dream: get a college education. When you are a single mother raising 10 children in the inner city as a minority, you don’t get to chase dreams like that. She had reality to deal with. So she put her dreams into her children. She made sure every single one of them attended higher education.
When she was able to dream for herself again, her mind wandered back to her own aspirations. She had every reason in the book to settle. She had been a good mother, she had raised successful children, and she had stayed committed to her faith. She had done everything right, and no one would have thought she fell short if motherhood was her only accomplishment. And yet, at 70, my Nana attended Harvard University.
In many ways, she is the reason I started studying stories. That one story, of my 70-year-old Nana sitting in a Harvard classroom, made me believe that I, too, could dream crazy dreams, and that God would bring me to my purpose if I could be patient.
Sometimes the beauty of the story is in the time it took you to fulfill your promise. My Nana going to Harvard at 20, or 30, or 40 would be impressive, but it wouldn’t necessarily bring tears to my eyes. It is the thought of her 70-year-old body walking across a college campus that propels me. Nana decided that if she wasn’t dead, her dream wasn’t either.
I’ve studied stories for the past 5 years because I know what they can do. I know that when everything else seems gone, a story can keep you going. Your story matters. And if you aren’t dead, your dreams aren’t either."
Heather Thompson Day is a Christian author and professor of Communications for Andrews University.