"Coming back to Indiana Academy was one of the best decisions that God has ever helped me make. My perspective changed almost immediately. What really did it was sitting in on meetings. I saw how much the staff cared for the students, and it was incredible. They prayed with such great passion that God would guide the students. I thought back at how I imagined Ad. Comm. meetings going when I was a student. I never felt persecuted as a student, but I also didn’t realize how their position was so much more than just a job. The students are so loved."
"School was a really consistent, positive, and safe place for me. I was raised by a single mother. We moved around town a lot because of finances and there wasn't a whole lot of stability. Kids really need that. I learned to love Jesus at school. I love to show my kiddos the love of Jesus and offer them a safe, consistent and positive place to be every day.
I grew up in poverty, but thankfully- I think largely because of the Adventist school I went to and the Adventist community I was in- I felt no setbacks when I chose to go to college. I spent a year at an orphanage in Bolivia as a teacher. My biggest dream is for those kids to have big dreams. It's so easy to just accept the life you're born into, but with a strong support group, teachers who believe in you, and a good education, I believe that every kid has so much potential to reach.
A lot of schools give huge amounts of student aid, which I know is a huge debate. I am a living testimony to the power of Adventist education. I have dedicated my life to serving Jesus because of the experiences I've had because of it."
📸: Steven Foster
"My parents have been together for 27 years, and much of that time has been spent as being roommates. My mom was 18 years old when she married my dad. Looking at their marriage, I didn’t want that to be me- a miserable marriage.
The New International Version reads: 'Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.' I grapple with this verse a lot. I talk about loving God, and have that as an integral part of who I am- thankfulness for what He’s done, and how His love is overflowing, but even now with my Christian parents having their children as the only bond that holds them together, or in my incredibly frayed relationship with my father, I don’t know how I can make that claim without contradicting the Bible.
In December I will be married for two years, and I love my husband so much. He’s an incredible man who shows selfless love to me in so many ways. But it’s hard not to think of my parents’ marriage and how broken they’ve become over the years. I told my husband when we were doing premarital counseling that, although divorce was not looked upon gracefully by God, I would still do it. I wouldn’t want to go through what my mom does. I still haven’t made peace with that. My only hope is that we do better than my parents, and continue working toward better."
"The chief aim of the bible is to reveal God's words to humanity, about God's longing for humanity. The bible is a narrative that unfolds the good news of God's saving work in history, current work in the present, and future hope for a world in constant disarray.
Unfortunately the bible is sometimes instrumentalized as a tool for unfaithful readings of the gospel. Some force the bible to be prescriptive when it is descriptive. Some baptize the bible into Western cultural structures, and others into the values of the majority world. This means that the bible becomes neutered. Rather than speaking as a prophet against injustice, it becomes a chaplain for empire.
The biggest issue I often see is reading the bible through a non-Christocentric lens. The bible is about God, and Jesus is what God says; every genealogy, history, song, poem, parable, epistle has to be rooted in Christ. When any portion of the bible is not rooted in the gospel of Christ it may be right, but it isn't righteous."
"Your brain is wired for story, and every time you tell it one it rewards you to help create and strengthen neural pathways. The scary part is that it doesn't distinguish between rewarding lies or irrational or unfounded beliefs and the truth. So tell yourself good stories before your brain settles for any garbage story it can make up in a given situation.
God speaks to us in stories. There is a creation story, and a crucifixion story, and a consummation story. In short, Jesus has a story and we're in it. The enemy's job is to distort that story and our role- and God's. Each time we hear a story our brain rewards us for it, whether it's God's truth or the enemy's lies.
When Spurgeon said, 'discernment is not the difference between right and wrong, but between right, and almost right,' it aligned with the Word telling us our enemy disguises himself as an angel of light. This means Satan will come to us deceptively to make us believe his story is the truth. The reality is that all he has to do is present his lie, and if we're not vigilant, if we're not actively telling ourselves the truth of God's Word and the truth of His story, our brains will reward us for the lies the enemy presents. Eventually we won't know the difference between true light and its deceptive counterfeit."
"Being on the team, or being dedicated to any sport really, there are just certain things you can't do or have to do health wise, so I live a pretty healthy lifestyle. You have to learn how to listen to your coach so whenever someone is talking I stop talking and listen. I would say I've learned to play my part and help other people and never give up, because if I give up then someone else might give up, too."
"What would the ideal Adventism look like to you?"
"Maybe a little more liberal and less sheltered. I know too many young Adventist people who are ignorant and know nothing about what is going on in the world. People aren't practicing what they preach. How can you talk about loving people who are not like you but you don't even know someone who is atheist or has purple hair?"
"Let me throw out an idea— what if the biggest thing that Adventists seem to overlook is simple and ordinary? We spend a lot of time and money in the big glamorous and divisive topics like the merits of public evangelism or issues of authority in the church. Don't get me wrong—those conversations are needed and crucial. But there are a whole lot of simple, everyday things that get lost. Like making friends with people who aren't Adventist. I'm amazed by the number of Adventists I meet who have no connections outside of the church. Or finding resolution with those who have hurt us in order to heal and reconcile like the gospel calls us to do.
I can only imagine what wonders our churches would experience if everyone regularly read the Scriptures and meditated on them. What if the biggest oversight is the one you and I make everyday because we postpone living our faith until tomorrow?"
📸: Marvin Campos
"Do the work you need to do before the marriage. Know who you are, what you need, and what you have to give to another person. In Jerry McGuire, Jerry, Tom Cruise, says to Dorothy, Renee Zellweger, 'you complete me,' and all across the country people said, 'that’s so romantic.' No. It’s not. It’s foolish. The only person who should 'complete you' is Jesus Christ.
So – rule number one: don’t look for another person to complete you. That’s a great way to be sure a marriage won’t last. Once you get married, remind each other of what drew you together and don’t take that for granted. Even when kids come, don’t forget to put each other first. The best gift you can give your children is parents who love and are committed to each other. Remember that what truly makes a marriage is commitment. Decide that you will do all you can to stay committed to one another- assuming, of course, no abuse. Talk. A lot. Even when you don’t want to. Fight fair. No name calling. No calling up of ancient history. Laugh often and loudly. Tell yourself and others every day that you’re the lucky one who somehow, out of all the people in the world, ended up with the right one. If you do that, your one will be the right one – eventually."
"There are three specific moments in my day-to-day life where I feel the closest to God. The euphoria catalyzed by the adrenaline pumping in my body when I run puts me in a space where barriers are broken and I'm able to safely enjoy the presence of God. The other moment where I feel God's presence the most is when I go through my daily morning ritual of brewing a cup of pure grade black Ceylon tea and enjoying it with my Bible and pen. The warm elixir, the salt-infused morning sea breeze, and the smell of pen on paper does something to bring me closer to Him.
But perhaps the closest moment when I feel God's presence around me is through the channel of pain. I've come to understand that tears can, concurrently, be a whelming torrent of emotions and a gentle stream ushering in God's refreshing mercies. In these moments, praise has been a boat in my ocean of pain, carrying Him who's able to dock in my soul's harbor to minister to me."
"I think Adventism has become so impersonal. We've grown up in the day and age where all we want to do is be connected--but we can't be ourselves if we want to be connected to the church and unless we follow a bunch of rules--game over. I think Adventism has lost some of its realness and relevancy. I have so many friends and even family members that don't consider themselves Adventist because they perceive the belief system, the twenty-eight fundamental beliefs and upholding them, seem more important than our relationship with Christ. Whether that's the truth or not is up for interpretation. I don't have all the answers and I will never pretend to. I struggle a lot with living a life Jesus-modeled when that means choosing to live life a certain type of way."
"When you grow up in the church, the culture and calling of it is ubiquitous. It is simply the context, worldview, and language that you speak. You don’t learn it, you catch it. It is the air you breathe, the dirt on which you walk, and inhabits the dreams that you dream. As you grow, you begin to understand that we don’t live on a level playing field when it comes to this context. Some things are more important than others. Jesus, for example. He’s not another link in the chain, He is the chain. And that begins to give a different view of this thing we call Adventism. It changes the context of this whole endeavor. For me, understanding Jesus has not taken me away from Adventism. Rather, it has settled me into this denomination.
Adventism has given me so much. My education, my wife, my friends, my career, my family, and Jesus. In that respect, I find my experience with Adventism to be positive- a blessing, and a launching pad for spiritual health, maturity, and growth. Adventism, at its very best, is a powerful and meaningful expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its totality, its wholeness, and it’s depth. And Adventism, at it’s worst, has an exclusiveness that undermines its gospel claims. But herein lies the beauty; no one can define Adventism other than each of us. If we are walking, talking, thinking, praying and playing people who define ourselves as Adventists, then that is exactly what it becomes. Adventism is us. The beautiful, the ugly, the broken and breaking, the holy and profane, the sacred and the sinners; we make up Adventism. So my experience with Adventism is my experience with you—sometimes great, sometimes frustrating. But this is where I found Jesus, and for that I will be forever grateful."
"I'm currently attending Andrews University. Neither my parents or myself ever dreamed of stepping foot on, or much less attending a university like this. It never even crossed our minds. But God? He's proven over and over again in our lives that He's faithful to supply all our needs, and to do so even more abundantly than we could ever hope for.
It's a miracle that I'm here, but it's also a crazy sacrifice.
I can't thank my parents enough. Not only for committing to getting me through school, but for supporting me in my decision to dedicate everything God has given me to serving Him and becoming a pastor. We've never had much, and there definitely won't be earthly rewards like money or fame in the life I've chosen to compensate for their sacrifice, but my parents have taught me that if that's what God calls me to do it's worth everything we are and can be. Because the reward isn't here but in heaven, in being with Jesus."
"I remember sitting in chapels, vespers, church, or other worship settings while in high school and middle school, and hearing my friends call the people up front for being fake. 'That girl parties all summer long and cusses like a sailor and she's gonna get up front and pray like Ellen White?' 'I can't believe he's up there talking to us about how to be more like Jesus' or 'why does the way he talks change when he's talking to God? That's so fake.'
Growing up a pastor's kid I became hyper aware of how those who are up front, leaders in spiritual settings, are perceived both up front and in their daily interactions. As I found myself being more and more involved in worship and speaking up front, I found myself constantly checking to see if I was speaking differently up front than I would in private.
This has turned into one of my greatest fears as well as one of my greatest motivators for what I want to accomplish in life. I'm terrified that who I am when no one is around might be different than who I am when I'm up front while professing my love for Jesus. I'm even more terrified that those differences might be found out and highlighted, undermining my influence for God. That fear has made me so much more passionate about trying to influence the SDA church and make it authentic, real, relatable, transparent, and inviting through a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The word Christian is used so loosely when it is such a big claim. We Christians are claiming to be 'followers of Christ' and too often I've seen that play out as 'people who say the Bible and Jesus are real, but in every other way are no different from every good Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, or atheist in the world.' I'm on a mission to be a true follower of Christ, and if I am ever perceived to be faking it then everything I've done up to that point in representing Jesus' love to the world is moot.
That's what I'm terrified of as a Christian. I'm terrified that if I pretend to be something I'm not while representing Jesus, I'll be found out- undoing every single good thing Jesus has done through me.
Honestly though, as long as it doesn't hold me back I think it's a healthy fear. It keeps me aware of my imperfections while reliant on Jesus for transformation and salvation, which is exactly where I want to be."
"I guess if I was to look at the big picture, I really want to reach my full potential in everything. I want to 'shake hands with failure.'
To me 'shaking hands with failure' means I know I met my limit and there's almost nothing I could do to further myself in that area of my life. For example, I wanted to go to the US Air Force Academy. I applied twice, but it was clear I didn't have the connections- no military in my family, not many athletic letters from high school sports, and I wasn't very much into class leadership- a staple of an applicant. So I made peace with my denial of entry to the USAFA knowing I was never going to get in. I 'shook hands with failure.'
I think it's a gutsy mentality to have, to want to run yourself to your full capacity. But it's not a mentality that can ever be satisfied. It would be completely inappropriate to do that in a marriage, for example. Like, 'I've married this woman but I'm keeping my eyes open for something better just in case.' A stable relationship could never be built. I just want to live life ambitiously."
"There's this picture of me playing pretend doctor with my stuffed animals when I was three. I had an eye chart, a stethoscope, and all the other doctor fixings. I've grown up always having 'I want to be a doctor' in the back of my mind. However, I was always asking myself if this was something I really wanted for myself or just something I did because it's what Asians do. It wasn't until I started giving it serious thought near the end of high school that I found myself finding the most enjoyment in caring for people, in listening to people's stories and trying to help them if they needed it. I know there are many lines of work that care for people, but I think there's something unique and special about being a doctor and directly taking care of people's wellbeings.
There's always the concerns of not being able to make it through school. I've always had this fear of ending up in a line of work that I don't find fulfilling. As a self proclaimed workaholic, I'm also afraid of ending up in a line of work where I don't learn or grow."
"Wanting to be a film director is the first occupation I remember ever wanting to be as a child. I'm drawn specifically to films in the historical fiction, biographical, and drama genres. It's crazy how many stories in history are buried on dusty shelves in libraries. Some months ago, I came across a story that blew my mind and I was confused as to why I had never heard about it in school. As a filmmaker, I believe the content I must bring to life falls into these genre categories.
A buried story I've been obsessed with for a while has been the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, also known as the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. I was confused by the fact that I had not heard about this story in any of my history classes, and by asking around I realized quite a few of my peers had never even heard of the story from anywhere. The story is so wild, yet no one has ever developed it into a feature film. It was only just announced in May that a man by the name of Tim Story wants to pursue this story into a feature film. As much as this is a story I myself want to write and direct, I'm even more happy to know that someone with a large platform is making sure that this story is told."
"I guess the one thing I'm really trying to figure out is the role predestination and God's foreknowledge plays in my life and how that does not deprive me of the power of choice. I like to believe that I have complete control over my decisions and actions, however there is a side to me that questions the accuracy behind my beliefs. So the question should be 'does God’s foreknowledge prohibit my ability to choose freely?'
I’ve come to believe that God is not bound by time and space and has the ability to look at our lives on a spectrum. My decisions and God knowing my decisions are not mutually exclusive. They can occur simultaneously. I’ve wrestled with the idea of certain individuals such as Judas and the Pharaoh whose heart was hardened. Were these individuals bound by their decision due to some form of preordained plan? If not, then what we see in the scriptures may not be the 'plan A' that God intended. Did God want Judas to betray Jesus? If the answer is no, did God need him to?
In a way I look at this situation as knowing that God does have plans for my life. He suggests them to me. However, I believe that I am not bound to that desired plan. At least I hope that I am not. I can look at my life and know that God called me to ministry a long time ago! It just took me too long to listen. I do believe that I made my journey longer than it needed to be, but God was still able to bless me in spite of it. I’ll admit, I am still learning what I believe. I enjoy the process. As of right now, I have found solace in the idea that my definition of 'preordained' may not be how God defines it. I believe that although He has plans for us, it is ultimately our decision if we want to follow His plans or not. If we choose to follow His plan is entirely up to us, and the way my life has turned out it has always been in my best interest to follow his plans, because that’s what’s been best for me."
"What makes intergenerational communication difficult?"
"It's not difficult if we are simply sharing stories, enjoying conversations person-to-person. Personalities and perspective are fascinating regardless of what era you call your own. However when we operate purely from perceptions, then intergenerational communication can seem complicated. Stereotypes and silos can keep us from experiencing the real human whether older or younger.
Another aspect that can make things difficult is the tendency to simply talk, thinking that is 'communication.' Listening is a skill embraced for generations upon generations."
"I don't think we have conversations as effectively as we could. Too often we see other perspectives on social and political matters as our enemies, forgetting that each person has a story and reasons for their stance. I've made it part of my ministry goals to re-frame and re-shape how we talk to one another, and more importantly, how we listen to one another. If we would just slow down a bit and treat our conversations less like a drive-thru and more like a three-course meal, I believe we could radically improve our lives and love one another better."
"I always fought for a better version of Adventism, for what I knew the church could be, and maybe what it was on its best days. Everything changed when I realized I was going to have to come out publicly as a bisexual woman, but also as someone who believes that the church has it totally wrong when it comes to LGBT people and the legitimacy of the way we experience love, family, and gender.
I used to believe I could change the church from the inside, but now I see that the problems of the church are so deep that only certain people even have the privilege of such an approach. Now it feels like the blinders are off when it comes to the church. I don't avoid the ugly parts and just choose to look at the good ones.
It's been hard for me to see the people who have refused to re-examine their scriptural interpretations. I've always been taught and believed that we were a church that was rooted in a willingness to be faithful to scripture. I do believe we started out that way. But seeing pastors and scholars who are unwilling to look at this issue with integrity and a willingness to follow wherever the scriptures may lead- that's been very discouraging to me. The more I see that, the less Adventist I even feel, because I begin to wonder if the Adventism I was raised with was really about scripture, or whether it was about maintaining the organization all along. I can't think of a single doctrine that the church holds which is threatening to the institution. Somehow on every single issue they land solidly on the side that keeps the older, traditional tithe-payers happy and avoids any type of existential conflict.
Facing the reality that that's what the Adventist church is has been hard for me, it's a continual process of disillusionment. But at the same time, it's opened me up to so many new and exciting experiences in life. I'm getting opportunities to speak at places I never expected, and I'm experiencing faith communities that are so different from the one I was raised in.
I still think the Adventist church could be the greatest force for good on this planet if it would stop worrying about it's own perpetuation and start worrying about faithfulness to God. I see so much good in local expressions of faith. There are many, many excellent local Adventist churches, but those churches have limitations placed on them by an organization that takes way too much money from the local church and instead of returning value, places limitations on how those churches function.
So what does it mean to be Adventist in the context of total disillusionment with the institution? I think a lot of us are asking that question. Even if I wanted to get away from my Adventism, I don't think I could. It's rooted so deeply in me. I read the scriptures like an Adventist, experience the Sabbath like an Adventist, and will probably always identify as Adventist. But because of the sins of the institution, I've lost legitimacy in the church I love, and that is true of most of the people in the LGBT community.
How can we maintain loyalty to an organization that does not maintain loyalty to the lives of its own members when our existence as sexual minorities is inconvenient to the institution? I can't. So I suppose I see myself as a disloyal Adventist, but still very Adventist. Sometimes the most important change comes from the outside."
📸: Stephen Eyer
"I always feel so sad for my generation. I feel like if everyone experienced Adventism and Christianity the way I did, they wouldn't have left the church as many of my close friends have. My parents just gave me such a rich spiritual heritage - they planted such a rich seed. Imagine having family worship every night with a father who is a systematic theologian. My dad literally has his PhD in how to logically and systematically explain the word of God. Plus, my parents actually love God and their neighbors and show it.
We've always had a very open line of communication. So we've argued about everything from dancing to vegetarianism to jewelry to salvation by faith. I don't always see eye-to-eye with my parents beliefs, but they gave me that space. I was allowed to question. And my questioning was done in a safe space- a home filled with love. And so it just makes me sad, because I just think Adventism is so misunderstood. We mix up Adventist culture with the real doctrine, and those are two different things. We mix up the word of God with the way our favorite YouTube preacher interprets it, and those are two different things.
But I don't blame millennials. I don't blame my peers. I know I've gotten to the daily walk I have with Christ because I've got some type of spiritual privilege that I know not everyone's been exposed to in such a genuine way. Still, it's sometimes hard to talk about God's love to my friends when they don't always feel it at their local church, you know?"
"I hope I'm remembered as someone who loved people, someone who made them feel worthwhile. If they remember me at all, I hope it's for that. I don't want anyone I come in contact with to feel like they didn't matter. I hope one day that when someone thinks of me, they'll think of how much I valued them, how I treasured their laughter and their joy, and hopefully how I helped shoulder their pain. I know I constantly fail at loving people the way they should be loved, but I'm taking it a day at a time."
"My parents migrated to the States because they wanted to feel safe as they raised their daughters as Adventists. Living in a predominantly Muslim country, it was a little difficult to do that freely without any judgment or hostility thrown our way. Family members would be discriminated against because their ID indicated that they were Christians. With the belief that America was the 'Home of the Free, Land of the Brave,' a place where I could just be me and not have any fear, I was excited. A place where giving money to an officer for his own pleasure would not take the place of a traffic violation. A place where greed for money was not what dictated a society.
Growing into the young woman that I am now, I see that it may not be my religion that I have to fight for but everything else. Money may not be what keeps my driving record clean, but it's what sways the polls for the next presidential candidate. Greed may not be what dictates the society, but it dictates the opportunity for a great education."
"When I was little my opinions and morals were spoon fed to me. I was told what I should believe about politics, church, and the world overall. I got to high school thinking I would be given my own say, but I wasn't. I was still being told how to dress, how I could wear my hair, what to believe, and what relationships were most appropriate to have. I was expected to blindly follow all the rules that had been created for me until I graduated.
As I concluded my high school experience, I was suddenly responsible for choosing my future career, deciding if I agree with the ideas of the Adventist church, and creating my own opinions on politics and world issues. Yet everyone is still chiming in. As a young adult, I am judged for everything I do. I am immediately labeled 'one of those stupid millennials,' which apparently makes my opinions and beliefs invalid. While it is a common trend throughout history that the middle-aged and older community think younger adults are irresponsible and hopeless, social media has made their disapproval more obvious than ever. Especially with the variety of controversial topics being discussed in the world, millennials are taking huge risks in society by supporting things like LGBTQ+ equality. While I am proud of who I am now, what I stand for, and what I believe in, the scariest part of growing up is not knowing if I will still be happy in the future with the choices I am making right now."
"I hope to see the day when the Adventist church is situated at the center of both the justice and reconciliation conversations. Our Sabbath theology positions us perfectly to lead these conversations from a biblical perspective. The term 'Christian' has seemingly lost every ounce of its Christ-centered and others-focused qualities. Christ came to give rest to the weary, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed — truly he came to give mankind 'Sabbath,' an everlasting rest from their toil, strife, and labor.
I pray to see the day when we reclaim our position as a prophetic voice in these end times, to not just be characterized as Sabbath-keepers, but as Sabbath-givers. To be known as those who extend a radical and comprehensive concept of rest to a world so desperately in need of it."
Vanessa: "I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I am in love with Jesus Christ. I am a pastor's kid, born and raised in the Adventist church. However, I was a generational Adventist for many years. I went with the motions- believing what I did because everyone around me did, but not seeing a need to discover it for myself. I did things for God but didn't know God. This changed after I had a lasting encounter with Jesus Christ.
After that encounter my Freshman year of college I was forever changed. I now had a sudden urge to claim my beliefs for myself. This was challenged further as God called me into ministry as a Bible worker in Tampa and Pensacola for two consecutive summers. I met people who were not believers, or were believers in a different religion. It was amazing to see God's truth in His word click in my mind. I approached the Bible with a blank slate, taking only the word of God as my direction. Along the way I was able to be mentored by those who had devoted hours of time to studying God's word, many of whom converted to Adventism because of the Holy Spirit's conviction of truth. This realization made me fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ, his intentionality and faithfulness.
The church isn't perfect. People aren't perfect. Many have priorities mixed up, or have not experienced complete heart transformation. But who Jesus is and what he has established as truth never changes. I am an Adventist because I love Jesus and Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. The only thing in life worth having, and living for."
Jamil: "A little over a year ago I believed that gymnastics was my identity and that it was the only thing that gave me my worth and my value. I had done gymnastics for over six years and didn't plan on stopping anytime soon. Every time I looked at who I was without it I was left hopeless and dissatisfied. It was impossible for me to imagine a life without gymnastics because in my mind a life without it was a life without worth.
One day when I was in the middle of practice I had this feeling come over me that I'll never forget. While I was in the middle of a handstand I asked myself, 'Is this it? Is this all life has to offer?' That night I quit the team and took a leap of faith. God has been carrying me ever since. He's shown me that my value doesn't come from what I do well, but instead what He's already done for me on Calvary. I know now that my identity is found in Him alone and I want to love and serve Him to the best of my ability.
But why be an Adventist? I am an Adventist because it's rooted directly from the word of God. I believe that in order to serve the one who is the truth I first have to seek after the truth and I've found that in Adventism. I've met people in ministry whose actions speak louder than their words in regards to their devotion to the truth and the God behind the truth. I used to believe that God needed me to be ready before He could use me. But after being used in ministry to speak at different locations, lead out in small group ministries, and be an ambassador for Christ I've realized that God doesn't need me to be ready, He just needs me to be willing."
"I am from Loma Linda, California. I started at Southern Adventist University as a theology major. I grew up having female pastors, but suddenly when I came to Southern, there were professors coming up to me and telling me that they supported my position in ministry. I didn't really understand why. Growing up in such a progressive, nurturing environment I hadn't seen my ministry as something truly different or controversial.
Two years later I changed my major, but I still felt very strongly when the General Conference met and discussed women's ordination. While I had high hopes for the conference and was deeply disappointed, I didn't really feel like my faith was shaken. I believed that the best thing to do was to accept the decision gracefully and wait until the world church was ready. What's been more disturbing to me has been the General Conference's statements on unity and its authority since then.
Until that point, people were arguing about an issue on which there is not clear biblical support. However, now I feel the conversation has turned to the authority of the church and even the role of the Adventist church. While there is some support from Ellen White, I am very uncomfortable with saying that the GC is the highest authority on Earth because that seems to say that it is infallible."
"What's the hardest part about speaking to churches?"
"Well, it used to be vulnerability. I didn't and couldn't share the deepest part of me. I couldn't be honest with myself- much less a congregation. I yearned to ask people if they struggled like me. Now-a-days, though, I'm more than willing to share my shame and my mistakes. It's not easy, but I know that I'm not the only one out there struggling. And this kind of leads to what's hard for me.
With my sharing there is also judgment. I'm an imperfect Christian and I make mistakes, just like everyone. I know I'm not alone, yet when I share my story or my addictions and sins some will act like no one else struggles with the same thing or like they've never struggled with it. I've been told that my story is moving but 'maybe you should work on overcoming your sin before you preach on it and declare your addiction.'
Because of this there is still this deep-seated fear of judgment from the congregation. So I guess I always second guess myself. Like- should I share this? Will they think bad of me or judge me? I've learned to push past it but it's always in the back of my mind."
"The older I get the less I know 'for sure.' My theory is that I only know a couple things for sure. I know Jesus is my friend- in fact, my best friend. I believe He is coming back some day. No idea when, and I don't like it when people say 'soon.' My job as a believer is to share what he has done for me and offer people the keys for the peace I have found. The peace is not in any one church with 'the truth,' for there are many. I believe God made us relationship people and put a need in us for a relationship with Him and with those around us. The only way to have that peace in my opinions is to know Him!
I was raised SDA and educated from first grade through two years of college in SDA schools. I never left the church and never quit going, but I was as dead inside as those that did. I had what I call my conversion at about forty doing the three things Morris Vendon recommends after hearing Lee Vendon at camp meeting. It changed my life and how I felt about everything.
The three things are as follows: read New Testament with desire to know Him in an easy to read translation. NLT is my choice. Two, pray to know him and listen. Ask Him to come into your heart. And three, share what that does to you. It changes you in my experience and improves your relationships around you. It enables you to love those around you- which is my job. Easy to love those that treat me well. More difficult to love the SOB that stole my lemonade!
I used to think those that did not believe like me just had not studied enough. That's what I was raised believing, but once out in the world I found there where a lot of people that believed different who had studied way more. I used to hate witnessing because what I was really trying to do was convince and argue that SDA was 'the way.' I still go to an SDA church mostly, but I also enjoy a Christian church few miles away that has services Saturday evening. Now I love to witness. My job is to share Him and the peace that He gives me. The job of conviction is the Holy Spirit's, not mine. When you realize that and realize it really is all about Him, it changes everything."
"Sometimes it's really hard to go to church. With my job on second shift it's hard to wake up early enough to go to the early service, and I can't go to the late service because of all the different perfumes and colognes. With my allergies and sensitivites as bad as they are I end up hacking and coughing through the service. I miss the entire message and bother the people around me. It's so hard- and that's just the physical aspect of going to church. Mentally I'd rather sleep in and read the Bible at home then face all the different people at church. People are scary.
When I was about ten or eleven I was made to touch a now-ex-family-member's private parts. I repressed the memory for years, but after that I instinctively became afraid of everyone. He was family. If I can't even trust family, how can I trust a stranger? Everyone looks like a wolf in sheep's clothing to me and it's scary. I've learned a lot about trusting others and trusting God, but it has been a long road. While my faith in God is stronger than ever, I still find it hard to go to church. My fear has been the hardest thing for me to overcome, but by reading the Bible and studying the story of Esther I have slowly begun to. Through God everything is possible."
"I work at a school that's primarily made up of immigrant families. I want them to see the daughter of an immigrant who was able to achieve the dream my father had in mind when he first set out for this country. I want them to see someone who uses education as a way to move forward in life, and someone who sees her own value even if nobody else does. They need to see that I am someone who truly believes in them. I also want them to see someone who puts Christ at the center of every decision I make, even if I struggle with this- which I do a lot of the time- and someone who tries her best to embody patience and genuine love.
Being a teacher is hard because you're almost acting, and some people might not like that response because they'll want you to be 'real' or 'authentic.' The truth is my 'real' self is a work in progress and a lot of the times it's ugly, but if I can show my students something beautiful then maybe it'll be okay."
"I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing and I was seeing the repercussions of my actions. It dwindled me. It made me feel really empty. I couldn’t make sense of much anymore and I felt as though I had a divine intercession or a spiritual awakening. I decided that what I had been ignoring all my life might actually be true because it would have prevented all these things that were happening to me. I don’t know. That’s weird phrasing. My family has been Adventist but I had to decide whether or not I believed the same. Something about the Sabbath spoke out to me, I think it seems kind of special. Honestly even today I’m praying that if I’m not where I need to be that God will lead me somewhere else, but He hasn’t done that. That’s enough for me. I trust and I love my family. I feel that they’re genuine Christians and that they aren’t cultists or anything of that nature. I think that they truly love and study the Bible, so if they tell me something that they genuinely believe to be the truth I’m going to be inclined to believe it as well. If I choose to, anyway."
"What's the best way to share your faith?"
"It's just in how you deal with other people and how you handle situations, especially when there are others around. When people see the way you act, especially when they notice you do it consistently, it tends to make an impact even if they don't notice at first."
"I want to see less preaching about little details of Adventism that are different for different people. For example, when I was growing up my parents and grandparents would always take me out to eat at buffets and restaurants on Sabbath afternoon for church. But I would hear sermons or lectures about how that wasn't something God wanted me to do. So I always felt guilty doing it. But as an adult, the South Bend church for the last few years has focused on one message: God is love. They talk only about that and about how it's the most important thing and I agree. I want more churches to focus on the aspect of love and acceptance and allow the Holy Spirit to guide as it does in our personal lives. I find it legalistic to talk about how getting tattoos is wrong, about how not to work on the Sabbath, etc. I want to see the church take a clear and focused stance on all the good God does for us- like how He loves and forgives us, and not scare us into loving Him by telling us about how He'll smite us if we have a tattoo."
"What do you want for the future of the Adventist church?"
"More compassion and less judgment. I grew up in a Hispanic church, and it had a way of putting people off of Adventism. Everyone there was judged or talked about at one point or another, it didn't really feel welcoming a lot of times. With compassion I talk more about treating minorities better. People of color, LGBT+, people of other religions. As a whole we are so quick to point out certain people's bad points, as if their 'sins' somehow outweigh ours. I put quotes on sins because not everyone has the same view of what sinning is, and that's also important to take into account. But overall, I'd like to see the Adventist church be more like Christ."
"I'm excited for sharing my life with Lester. We've made so many plans in all the years we've been together, and we finally get to realize all of them. Like traveling. I'm looking forward to a lot of board games being played, and getting to hear and talk about the different things we see or learn that day. We're both kind of on our own paths, so I guess that could be pretty scary. We're both really stubborn and very sure of what we believe in, so when we clash, we really clash. It can be a challenge sometimes but it can also be good. We both want to go to grad school for completely different things. We're thinking of maybe spending a year in Colombia. If that works out I'm really looking forward to it.
I guess one of my biggest fears is about kids, I don't particularly want to have my own. I'd like to adopt in the future, but for me kids aren't a must-have. I have other things that are more important, like getting a higher education, maybe helping animals in need if we could ever afford it, and I know for him kids are very important."
"It feels like 'come as you are' is only acceptable for those new to the church. There’s no room for those who have grown up Adventist to stretch out and figure out where they stand. I was raised Adventist. It’s pretty much all I’ve known. It would be really easy to continue this routine that was established for me by my parents through the rest of my life, but I want a faith of my own. I want to be able to truly believe for myself and not just because it’s what I know.
Figuring out who I am and what my faith is has been hard enough, and feeling judgment about my changes in appearance and choices I’ve made by those in the church has made it doubly hard. It feels like it’s easier to just go with the flow, attend church every week, look a certain way, do certain things- even if it’s not genuine. And of all the things that shouldn’t be, disingenuous faith is at the top of the list."
"My family has been my biggest obstacle. From things like self-image issues to graduating to abuse. I'm the only one out of my five siblings to complete high school, the youngest is thirteen, so he's not there yet, and the first in my immediate family to go to college. When I finally told someone about the abuse, I got messages from all around to 'be quiet' and 'not rock the boat.'
Those messages even came from inside my own head because of what had been said to me my whole life. I had to teach myself that my voice is important. I had to tell myself that my truth and what happened to me matters. That I matter."
"Questions are the first steps for faith development. Faith is not the absence of doubts but believing in the face of doubts. The inquisitive are generally the ones who experience incredible revelations from God. Jesus even said 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Then came the resurrection.
Churches can encourage dialogue by courageously dealing with the issues people have questions about. Dealing with doubts doesn't create doubters, it creates a hunger for truth. I trust that the Spirit will guide people into all truth.
We are threatened by thinkers. Somehow we think if you ask too many questions it will lead you away from Christ. My opinion is that if you ask questions it can lead you to Christ if the church community listens and searches together. The early Adventists were seekers, bro! We wouldn't have Adventism unless someone asked some tough questions."
"What divides us?"
"I think that it's fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of having to apologize. Fear of not having all the answers. Fear of being humbled. We see in the Bible how fear has motivated some of the biggest mistakes. Abraham was afraid to die, so he lied and pimped off his wife to two different kings on two different occasions. David was afraid of being humiliated by his mistake with Bathsheba, so he killed a man. Peter was afraid of being persecuted so he denied Jesus. Much of what we are dealing with today in our church is based off of fear of rethinking. Fear of change and fear of saying I'm sorry."
"I believe in God because I believe in the sun. Yes, it's this overplayed example, but it truly resonated with me and my journey. Aside from what we can see, most of us don't truly know all that the sun does, but we believe what we've heard or read about it from book based on data we really can't verify. But it's up there. We see it. And even in the seasons where the sun goes on ghost mode, we see its effects all around us: the life it nurtures, the health it brings. We also see we were built to live under the sun - from our melanin to our body's need for Vitamin D. On sunny days we produce more serotonin. It makes us happier, sleep better, you name it!
In the same way I feel like I was built to live with God, surrounded by all the life He brings. I may not know everything about Him or even know all He's done for me. But I believe in Him. Even when I feel like I don't see Him, I know He's still working and changing things around me - to make me joyful and help me find peace."
"I probably think about leaving every day. Some days I am sitting in a church listening to a sermon I feel like I have left. I can be in the sanctuary, but I still think I've left. I don't always agree with Adventists. I don't always agree with Adventism. Auntie Ellen and I even disagree on a couple things. But I know God is real. I know God is responsible for every good thing that has ever happened in my life, because all I do is produce trash. But He keeps on loving me, providing for me, holding onto me. And when I think about that... where would I go?"
"I want to see the Adventist church learn that even though everyone is different, we still can work together for the glory of God. You've got different flavors of Adventism depending on where you are: From New England to Southern California, from Jamaica to Thailand. But even if we've developed different tastes and traditions and opinions, we still have to work together with God and with each other.
I'm not saying we aren't doing that in many ways already, but I feel like there's a lot of unnecessary undercutting going on. Like how the Michigan Conference and Andrews University seem to be at war. No chill. And I understand that we have to stand up for what we believe, but we're all Adventists. So maybe being at war over the little stuff isn't as important as working together to lift up Jesus? I'm not talking about conservatives or liberals being at fault, but rather that we all share some blame and need to recognize our own contributions to the culture war, so we can bury the hatchet and move on."
Welcome to Humans of Adventism! Before we get rolling I'd just like to introduce myself as the person behind the posts. I'm Kaleb, nice to meet you!
Humans of Adventism was inspired by Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York, a photojournalism project aimed at exploring the various people in New York City. As a Seventh-day Adventist and (sometimes too) regular user of social media, I would like to do the same with members of my own faith. This page is independent and is not sponsored by a Seventh-Day Adventist conference or church. Photos provided by interviewees.
This will not just be a page of testimonies and cliche God-themed phrases. It will be the stories and struggles of complicated, diverse people united by a hope for something greater out there.