My husband and I have difficulty managing our conflicts. We knew marriage would be difficult. Ours, however, has turned out to be much more difficult than either of us anticipated. Sometimes our anger spills out in front of the children. Can you share something to help us do a better job of dealing with our differences? —Diane, Honolulu, Hawaii
Real Family Talk
Who Am I?
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
My dad and mom met at college when my mom was an exchange student from another country. Twenty-five years later, as a 21-year-old college student myself, I often feel as if I don’t fit anywhere. I tend to identify with people of my dad’s ethnicity, because I am closer to my paternal cousins I grew up with. I love my mom and feel close to her, but I don’t really identify with her ethnic group, nor do I have an affinity to that side of my family. What should I do?
Identity has become increasingly complex during the last couple decades of the twentieth century, and even more so in the twenty-first century. With heightened international travel, the movements of large people groups from war-torn areas, the reality of globalization, and higher rates of inter-racial and inter-cultural marriages, your dilemma is one with which scores of people can relate.
The truth is, similar to other concerns you will face in life, your racial/cultural reality is one you have to come to grips with in order to enjoy a peaceful and honest life. Your situation would be easier to handle if racial and cultural differences were not such a big deal in the world. However, racism, xenophobia, tribalism, and cultural marginalization of certain people will probably be part of the human experience until Jesus returns.
Being more comfortable with one side of your heritage than the other is pretty common among bi-racial/bi-cultural people. This is not unlike anyone else who may have a preference for individuals with certain temperaments or personality types. Even people with two parents of the same racial/ethnic group tend to prefer certain family members. The important thing is to be comfortable in your skin, regardless of how others view you.
The apostle Paul declared: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26). Despite racial/ethnic differences, cultural distinctions, and social stratification humans fuss about, God made all of us from the same blood. This means that more important than being of a particular race—your father’s or mother’s—you, along with all other human beings, are part of the same race, the human race.
If you are interested in the social scientific research on this topic, much literature is beginning to be published in the United States and other countries about this phenomena. One such reference is by prominent American sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva on his piece From Bi-racial to Tri-racial: Toward a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA (Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 27, Issue 6, 2004; published online Aug. 20, 2006).
These days—at least in the United States—you get to choose your racial/ethnic identity, regardless of what others think or say about you. After all, every social scientific study on race or racial identity is based on how research participants self identify.
Having said that, we encourage you to celebrate the gifts of your heritage from both sides of your family tree, and take advantage of every opportunity to get to know members from your dad’s and mom’s families. As long as you acknowledge your connection to both sides of your family, and feel comfortable with the diverse racial/cultural legacy you have received, your racial identity is really up to you. More importantly though, recognize that all human beings are brothers and sisters made in the image of God, and love everyone as God continues to love you.
Should you feel the need to further explore your feelings in a therapeutic setting, we encourage you to find a highly recommended Christian counselor to help you process your concerns on this matter. We will keep you in our prayers.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
All Bible references are from the English Standard Version.
Our story always begins with Jesus. Before our first word, He is the Word: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Only in discovering Jesus do we truly discover the rest of the story, or the rest of our faith.
Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart puts it like this: “That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a truth demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from His saving action in history upon the whole of time.”
That God would intervene so dramatically and enter so fully into the suffering and injustice of human history raises profound questions. These include why this was necessary? What were human beings saved from and for? How does this intervention and sacrifice “work”? And what is the larger narrative into which God’s acts in Jesus might fit, including questions of the origin of evil and its eventual end or resolution?
Our salvation story—or any other evangelistic endeavor—rings painfully hollow if it does not begin, end, and find its center in Jesus. Too often, we seem to have the idea that we must preach bad news before we share good news. We begin with fallenness—“You are a sinner . . . Repent!”—which either further condemns those who already feel their brokenness or does not engage with those who see themselves as “doing OK.” Neither category benefits from our first-up attempts to illicit an acknowledgment of an individual guilt somehow inherited from something that happened a long time ago. Rather, both need to see Jesus, whose gracious and abounding mercy simultaneously lifts up the broken and breaks down the self-sufficient.
When we begin with the story of Jesus, we begin with something remarkable, historically, personally, and intrinsically. His is a story that is attractive and engaging in itself, even without explanation or embellishment. He is a Person who will draw all people in some way, if and when He is lifted up (see John 12:32). Then, from this incredible true story, questions inevitably arise as to why Jesus did what He did, and what it means for who we are and what we are “saved” from.
When we tell, share, and live the story in this way, these same questions come back to us as people who have known the story. We are reminded of our place in the story, the grace that has been offered to us, the big story of our world, and our call to worship Him who creates, loves, and redeems (see Rev. 14:6, 7).
This also has practical significance. In telling and living out the story in this way—always beginning with and centered in Jesus, always starting at the Cross—we never encounter sin, except that we have already encountered its forgiveness. We never address brokenness—which we must—except that we have already known its redemption. We never confront death, except that we have already seen resurrection. We never experience pain, except that we have been offered its healing. We never face darkness, except that we have recognized the Light. We never work against injustice, except that we have already seen its exposure and overthrow. We never endure oppression, except that we have already seen our liberation. We never talk about disappointment, sorrow, or tragedy, except that we have already been offered hope.
Our story always begins with Jesus. This does not mean that brokenness, fallenness, sin, and death are not real. In the experience of Jesus, we see and acknowledge how horrifically real they are. They are not yet diminished, but they are now defeated.
Which gets us back to Hart’s argument, that it is primarily the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice that illuminates our desperate fallenness, how Creation has gone wrong, and how God is working to redeem, restore, and re-create. As the “visible image of the invisible God,” it remains His creation and “He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15, 17). We are invited to be part of this story within this creation, so let’s ensure that our stories—those that we tell and those that we live—always begin with Him.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia, and a Manifest co-convenor.
As the book of Ruth portrays the account, Ruth’s life clearly captures the sorrows as well as the joys that one may encounter as a refugee. Starting life as a poor widow in a foreign land was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet, as the journey continued, the Lord “under whose wings” (Ruth 2:12) she had come to take refuge filled her empty basket through the generosity of Boaz. Indeed, Boaz was a tangible refuge for Ruth and epitomized the ultimate Refuge—the Lord Himself.
Interestingly, the image of God as a refuge is found in the book of Psalms nearly 50 times. In fact, as part of His covenant laws, God clearly revealed how His people should treat the refugee (or stranger) in their midst. One of these laws is the law about the firstfruits ceremony in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.
The principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Perhaps she had an empty basket in her hand and the following question on her mind. Will I, a foreigner, be able to find favor in someone’s sight and fill my basket today?
In it we find a basket; a basket filled with the firstfruits of the harvest; a basket brought to be presented before the Lord first, and later to be eaten together with the priests and strangers. Certainly the principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Commenting on this law, Ellen White writes, “These directions, which the Lord gave to His people, express the principles of the law of the kingdom of God, and they are made specific, so that the minds of the people may not be left in ignorance and uncertainty. These scriptures present the never-ceasing obligation of all whom God has blessed with life and health and advantages in temporal and spiritual things.”*
The following paragraphs point out some of these principles:
RECOGNIZE. The law about the offering of the first fruits begins by indicating when it should be done, i.e., “when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it” (Deut. 26:1). This was the time sojourners finally reached the Promised Land. All their hopes and dreams and wishes were about to become a reality in their own land.
Unfortunately, in moments like these many of us tend to forget the journey we took to reach the pinnacle of our success. But the opportunity this ceremony offers to reflect on our life’s journey helps us to remember two important things: (1) who we were; and (2) how we reached the place we find ourselves. This will ultimately lead us to recognize that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
EXPRESS. This ceremony highlights the important concept that recognition must be more than mere mental assent. The recognition was expressed by offering a basket full of the firstfruits. Apart from being the first chronologically, firstfruits symbolize a desirable product quality. Hence, no matter how eager a farmer is to test the fruits of his labor, yielding the first of his harvest is a fitting expression of putting first things first. Just as the Lord abhors a heartless offering, He appreciates a sacrifice that overflows from a grateful heart (see Luke 7:36-50).
FOCUS. The focus of this ceremony should be on God. The name Yahweh (or “Lord”) appears 14 times in this section, depicting Him as the focal point of all the details of the ceremony. It should be noted that the basket was first placed in front of “the altar of the Lord your God” (Deut. 26:4). Here is a crucial lesson: any religious practice should be focused on God if we hope for a lasting impact.
UTTER. With the presentation of the basket before the Lord the participant had to utter what is known as the “firstfruits recitation” (verses 3, 5-10). These utterances that God prescribed are loaded with important messages. Worshippers recall publicly the dismal state wherein their ancestors found themselves as foreigners. This is an experience with which all humanity under the bondage of sin can identify. In addition, the utterance mentions how the oppressed cried to the Lord and how the Lord heard their voices and looked on their affliction. This divine intervention put a ray of hope on the horizon. As the redeemed continue to utter the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, they become reflectors and allow the same light to shine into the darkness that many others around them experience (1 Peter 2:9).
GLORIFY. After presenting the basket of the firstfruits and uttering the testimonies, the participant would worship (literally, “prostrate”) before the Lord (Deut. 26:10). This worship gesture demonstrates the attitude of humility and self-denial that we have to experience when we truly want to glorify God. As we worship in humility we are reminded that we were created from the ground; nothing in us warrants pride. In reality, only a life lived for the glory of God by sharing His blessings with others has lasting worth.
EMBRACE. Celebration marks the end of this ceremony. Participants rejoice by sharing their blessings with family and two specifically mentioned groups of people—Levites and strangers. It is important to note how strangers are embraced in this celebration. They are what the host of the feast used to be. During the presentation of the basket before the Lord, the stranger’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs are addressed. They too now have the opportunity to experience the blessing of Yahweh as their refuge.
Where Is Our Basket?
There are many baskets out there. Some are full of the “firstfruits” of fortunes, while others are empty in the hands of the unfortunate. Recognizing the true source of our blessing and expressing our gratitude by focusing on the Lord, uttering His testimony, glorifying His name, and embracing the unfortunate will place the overflowing basket and the empty one on the same table.
Remember, we are called to be a refuge for refugees.
* Ellen G. White, “ ‘How Much Owest Thou?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 25, 1900.
Swedish Adventists welcome 100 refugees with open arms.
By Göran Hansen
When members of the small Seventh-day Adventist church in Nyhyttan, Sweden, learned that a group of refugees would arrive in their town, they decided to welcome them with open arms—and free ski lessons.
Refugees learning to ski in Sweden.
Church members teamed up with other organizations in Nyhyttan, an isolated community located a three-hour drive west of Stockholm, to find ways to help their new neighbors adjust to life in Sweden.
They decided to offer Swedish-language lessons, classes in Swedish culture, walks in the forest, and free clothing from a shop that collected donations from the community. Their plans went into action this past September when about 100 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea moved into a government-operated refugee center, a former health center once owned by the Adventist Church.
But life in Sweden proved very different from the refugees’ homelands, especially with the onset of winter. Many refugees saw snow for the first time. So the community collected skis, boots, skates, and winter clothing to lend to the refugees for free lessons.
“It was a little scary and cold for them, but a lot of fun with the skis and skates,” said Lars Gille, a retired Adventist pastor and a community coordinator with the refugees. “This has become a very popular activity, especially when the sun shines, because it can be so very beautiful.” After the snow melted, refugees swapped skis for bikes and soccer balls. Bicycles have been made available for free rental, and soccer has become a popular community sport. The Nyhyttan church’s Pathfinder Club, which offers crafts and honors, has swelled by 25 children, and the church has opened a preschool for younger children.
Refugee children baking bread over a campfire at an Adventist event in Sweden.
The church faced initial suspicion from refugees when it began hosting events on its premises. Some refugees refused to set foot in the building, but this has changed over time. About 40 refugees attended a Christmas concert in the church, and others visit a church-run café that provides a place to talk and mingle. Church members regularly invite refugees to their homes to experience Swedish life firsthand.
Some refugees have asked Gille what he does for a living. They express surprise when he replies that he is a pastor. But their surprise has also turned to respect.
Saw Samuel with his wife, Orathai Chureson, and their children, Amanda, 12, and Sorawin, 10.
Saw Samuel, who was elected president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) on March 22, 2016, said he would seek new ways to reach the many Buddhists and Muslims in his region, even as he seeks wisdom from God to value each day as a precious gift to be used wisely.
The General Conference’s Executive Committee, the top governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, unanimously elected Samuel to replace Leonardo R. Asoy, who succumbed to a rare bone marrow disease in January.
Samuel, who previously served as executive secretary of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, said he had a particular burden to share the gospel with unreached people in his division, which encompasses 14 countries with a population of 1 billion but only 1.3 million church members.
“My main burden is to engage and involve our young people and professional and nonprofessional lay members in reaching out to the unreached Chinese, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and secular urban people,” Samuel said. “I also have a great concern for dropped, missing, and backsliding members.”
Samuel’s remarks indicate that he intends to pursue the course of Asoy, who was elected president at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, last July. Asoy said at the time that he was especially eager to find ways to reach Buddhists and Muslims.
Asoy passed away on January 12, 2016, of complications from myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare disease in which the bone marrow is unable to produce adequate healthy blood cells. Asoy, 56, had been elected to replace the ailing Alberto C. Gulfan, Jr., who served as president for 12 years and died of cancer on September 26, 2015, at the age of 64.
Samuel, the first Burmese to serve as an Adventist division president, said his vision for the Southern Asia-Pacific Division was to mobilize, unite, and use its God-given resources of young people, professionals, regular church members, and media and technology to spread the gospel. His favorite Bible passage is the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90, particularly verse 12, which reads, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (NKJV)*.”
“Life is short and precious,” he said. “We need wisdom from God [to know] how to use our time, health, and strength, and our God-given resources.”
Samuel, who had served as acting division president since January, was first elected executive secretary of the division in 2010. Before that, he worked for two years as ministerial secretary of the Southeast Asia Union Mission in Singapore. The rest of his career as pastor and administrator was spent in Thailand. Samuel graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines in March. Samuel is married to Orathai Chureson, the Southern Asia-Pacific Division’s children’s and family ministries director. They have two children, Amanda, 12, and Sorawin, 10.
“He is a very spiritual, respectful, humble, and mission-minded servant leader whom God will use mightily as the Southern Asia-Pacific Division team and all members in that great division keep their eyes upon Christ as the leader of the church,” Adventist Church president Ted N. C. Wilson said.
He encouraged Samuel “to be strong in the Lord as he humbly moves forward with the work assigned to him.”
“He will need to lean on Christ daily and claim the promise of James 1:5 every day, just as I try to do,” Wilson said. “It is only through God’s wisdom that we can humbly and effectively work.”
Faultfinding and discouragement are not spiritual gifts. The mind should be elevated to dwell upon eternal scenes
Faultfinding and discouragement are not spiritual gifts.
By Ellen G. White
The mind should be elevated to dwell upon eternal scenes, heaven, its treasures, its glories, and should take sweet and holy satisfaction in the truths of the Bible. It should love to feed upon the precious promises that God’s Word affords, draw comfort from them. . . .
But, oh, how differently has the mind been employed! Picking at straws! Church meetings, as they have been held, have been a living curse to many. . . . These manufactured trials have given full liberty to evil surmising. Jealousy has been fed. Hatred has existed, but they knew it not. A wrong idea has been in the minds of some, to reprove without love, hold others to their idea of what is right, and spare not, but bear down with crushing weight. . . .
It has been made too light an affair to rein up a brother, to condemn him, and hold him under condemnation. There has been a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. If each would set his own heart in order, when the brethren meet together their testimony would be ready and come from a full soul, and the people around that believe not the truth would be moved. The manifestation of the Spirit of God would tell to their hearts that you are the children of God. Our love for one another should be visible to all. Then it will tell. It will have an influence. . . .
Love, Not Selfishness
Take hold of the work individually, be zealous and repent; and after all known wrongs are righted, then believe that God accepts you. Go not mourning, but take God at His word. Seek Him diligently, and believe that He receives you. A part of the work is to believe. He is faithful who has promised. Climb up by faith. The brethren . . . can drink of the salvation of God. They can move understandingly, and each have an experience for himself in this message of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. The church feel that they are down, but know not how to rise. The intentions of some may be very good; they may confess; yet I saw that they are watched with suspicion, and are made offenders for a word, until they have no liberty, no salvation. They dare not act out the simple feelings of the heart, because they are watched. It is God’s pleasure that His people should fear Him, and have confidence before one another.
With tender compassion should brother deal with brother. Delicately should he deal with feelings. It is the nicest and most important work that ever yet was done to touch the wrongs of another. With the deepest humility should a brother do this, considering his own weakness, lest he also should be tempted.
I have seen the great sacrifice which Jesus made to redeem man. He did not consider His own life too dear to sacrifice. Said Jesus: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Do you feel, when a brother errs, that you could give your life to save him? If you feel thus, you can approach him and affect his heart; you are just the one to visit that brother. But it is a lamentable fact that many who profess to be brethren, are not willing to sacrifice any of their opinions or their judgment to save a brother. There is but little love for one another. A selfish spirit is manifested.
Discouragement has come upon the church. They have been loving the world, loving their farms, their cattle, etc. Now Jesus calls them to cut loose, to lay up treasure in heaven, to buy gold, white raiment, and eyesalve. Precious treasures are these. They will obtain for the possessor an entrance into the kingdom of God.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White (1827-1915) exercised the biblical gift of prophecy during more than 70 years of public ministry. This counsel was given at Ulysses, Pennsylvania, on July 6, 1857, and is recorded in Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 1, pp. 164-166).
The compassionate Christ is more than an ideal. He’s s role model.
Being like Jesus
By Ted N. C. Wilson
One of the greatest themes in the Bible is that of compassion. We see it written on the pages of Scripture again and again, especially in describing the character of God. “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15).
“For the Lord will judge His people, and He will have compassion on His servants” (Ps. 135:14). “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy” (Ps. 145:8). Perhaps one of the most beautiful passages is found in Micah 7:18, 19: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
A Gift Given to All
Interestingly, of the 50 times the word “compassion” appears in the Bible (27 times in the Old Testament and 23 in the New),1 the first mention of the word involves a person considered a pagan and outsider, a Gentile woman. We are given a glimpse of the scene in Exodus 2:5, 6: “Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ ”
Compassion is not only part of the fabric of God’s character but also a gift He endows to every human being: the ability to have a sympathetic awareness of the distress of others, along with a desire to alleviate it.2
Because compassion is such an intricate part of who God is, throughout history Satan has sought to destroy and obliterate that characteristic in God’s children. Wars, famines, violence, and the desensitization of society through various media, power-grabbing, pride, self-centeredness, escapism, covetousness, nihilism, and more—all are calculated to turn our thoughts from the plight of others to ourselves and erase all compassion from our hearts.
Jesus provides the antidote for a world seriously lacking compassion. Through His life and teachings, Jesus taught what it means to be “moved with compassion.” In Mark’s Gospel we see a leper coming to Jesus, “imploring Him, kneeling down . . . and saying to Him, ‘If you are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’ ” (Mark 1:40, 41).
Following the untimely death of John the Baptist, when Jesus and His disciples tried to go to “a deserted place in the boat by themselves,” thousands of people ran to the other side of the lake to meet them. When Jesus saw the “great multitude, [He] was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:32, 34). Later that day He fed the entire multitude from five loaves and two fish. “So they all ate and were filled” (verse 42).
Modeling True Compassion
While the ministry of Jesus certainly involved meeting the physical needs of people, He modeled true compassion by caring for their spiritual well-being and directing them to the only source of truth.
Stressing this point in His magnificent sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’. . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).
The compassion of Jesus is complete. While He doesn’t ignore the temporal needs of people, His ultimate concern is for their eternal spiritual welfare. This complete compassion is what He calls His followers to exhibit as they seek to minister for Him (see Matt. 9:35-38).
Desperate for Hope
Afari3 was from a Middle Eastern country whose dominant religion was hostile to Christianity. Her husband allowed her to work in a beauty salon where she would interact only with other women. Life at home was miserable. Afari’s husband frequently beat her and humiliated her.
Feeling hopeless, Afari seriously considered suicide. About this time one of her clients at the salon noticed Afari’s sadness. Having no one else in whom she could confide, Afari shared her troubles with this woman. The two became close friends, and eventually the woman invited Afari to a secret home group where she learned about Jesus. She was given a Bible and treasured it as her most precious possession.
Because compassion is such an intricate part of who God is, Satan has sought to destroy and obliterate that characteristic in God’s children.
Sadly, Afari’s husband found the Bible and beat her mercilessly, theatening to kill her. Miraculously she escaped and ran to her parents’ home. Afari was able to contact her Christian friend, who quickly helped her escape to a neighboring country. From there Afari entered Europe as a refugee.
Soon after arriving in Europe, Afari met up with two friends who had fled the same country because of religious persecution. These friends had come in contact with Seventh-day Adventists and told Afari, “This church is exactly what you are looking for.” They found that Adventists not only cared about their physical needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, but provided the spiritual nourishment they so desperately craved.
Afari says that she loves attending the Adventist church. It is where she has “found love, peace, hope, and kindness. They help me understand that I am not alone. I feel safe now,” she says. One of the Adventist leaders in this city explains their compassionate approach: “We know that providing only the humanistic elements doesn’t satisfy. If we focus only on physical and social needs, they don’t get what they truly need. Spiritual needs are a top priority.”
Godly Compassion Not Optional
For Christians, godly compassion is not optional. Since the beginning, God has called His followers to be like Him, to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
In reflecting on the compassionate work given to God’s people, Ellen White wrote: “The unselfish labor of Christians in the past should be to us an object lesson and an inspiration. The members of God’s church are to be zealous of good works, separating from worldly ambition and walking in the footsteps of Him who went about doing good.
“With hearts filled with sympathy and compassion, they are to minister to those in need of help, bringing to sinners a knowledge of the Savior’s love. Such work calls for laborious effort, but it brings a rich reward. Those who engage in it with sincerity of purpose will see souls won to the Savior, for the influence that attends the practical carrying out of the divine commission is irresistible.”4
God is calling each one of us, wherever we are, to participate in Total Member Involvement as we show His complete compassion to a world in need. Let’s ask Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit so that we can have the wisdom and compassion only He can give.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In the New King James Version.
Paraphrased from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion.
Not her real name.
Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 109, 110.
An Eritrean tells why he fled to Germany, and a German explains why she helps him.
A Refugee and His Adventist Friend
An Eritrean tells why he fled to Germany, and a German explains why she helps him.
By Ruben Grieco
Who are the refugees in Germany, and who are the Seventh-day Adventists who are assisting them?
I found answers to both questions during a conversation with Ermias, a 20-year-old refugee from the restive African country of Eritrea, and Sylvia Kontusc, an Adventist volunteer who coordinates the Adventist Church’s work with refugees in the South German Union.
We spoke at a weekly meeting where refugees gather at an Adventist church to practice their German-language skills.
Interview With Ermias
Ermias, how did it happen that you decided to leave everything behind and flee Eritrea?
I was a professional soldier in Eritrea. This was not a decision that you make by yourself. I would rather have worked as a mechanic, but I was forced to become a soldier. I had to care for the needs of my family as soon as my father died in 2000 because of the war. I was responsible for my mother and four sisters.
A single event changed my life completely. A truck carrying weapons exploded, killing four fellow soldiers immediately. Another lost his feet. I spent a year in the hospital with metal shrapnel in my head and leg. My one ear was nearly deaf.
I was freed from my service for a few days to attend my wedding. Then I extended my absence to five days to make some money to help my mother. I was put in jail for this. The prison consisted of five containers, each holding 38 people. No windows, no water, no toilets.
Soldiers put me in handcuffs for the first month. They dragged me outside three times, beat me to the ground, doused me with cold water, and put me back into the container, dripping wet.
During the eight months of my imprisonment, I received two slices of bread and a cup of tea every morning. In the evening I shared a simple dinner with nine other people. We were allowed outside to go to the toilet once a day at 6:30 a.m.
I realized that I would likely die either in prison or trying to escape. So I chose to escape, because I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to be able to come back to life again.
How did you escape?
Armed soldiers surrounded the container doors. A friend and I agreed to escape together one morning. We started running at the same time in different directions. I looked where the soldiers were located and ran in the direction of the soldier with the worst aim. Although the soldiers aimed at our legs, they missed. I reached friends who gave me a pair of pants, a jacket, and the fare for a bus ride to the border with Ethiopia. From there I walked three days toward the capital, Addis Ababa. That same night my mother was detained and held prisoner for two months.
In the Ethiopian capital the military took me to a refugee camp, where I spent six months. From the camp I went back to the capital and found a job that paid for me to go to Sudan.
How did you reach Germany?
In Sudan I heard from a friend who lived in Germany. He told me he was living in peace and security, and had good prospects. It became clear to me that my hope was in Germany.
I worked for seven months as a driver to save the money for the trip. I paid US$1,600 for a seven-day ride in a truck with 148 children, women, and men from Sudan through the Sahara. In Libya the truck was stopped by the military. They seized everything: our remaining money, mobile phones, and all our papers and identity cards. I spent five months in prison with 400 other Eritreans. Some were forced to load bombs and weapons into vehicles. A friend was carrying a bomb on his back when it exploded.
One night I was able to escape and walk to the coast to take a boat for Italy. For two days I sailed with 329 people on the small boat. The Italian navy picked us up and took us to Italy for processing. After three days I managed to take the train to Munich, Germany. From there, authorities sent me to Meßstetten, then to special housing, where I live now.
How did you start to attend the refugee meeting at church?
Friends told me that conversation classes were being held at the church. There I met Sylvia. Without Sylvia, I wouldn’t have succeeded with the German-language classes. Without her help, I would have been sent back to Italy, and I wouldn’t have survived that. Sylvia brought me to a doctor who was able to help. I now attend the church meetings every week. I am waiting to find out whether I can stay in Germany.
Sylvia Kontusc, a volunteer who coordinates Adventist work with refugees.
What do you wish for your future?
I am always afraid that I’ll be sent back and have to live all those bad experiences again. I hope to stay and find work soon. I wish that my wife could come here, and that I could get to know my 4-year-old daughter. I’ve never seen her. I was in prison when she was born.
For what are you grateful?
During my flight I always prayed at night to God. I thank God that He protected my odyssey to Germany, and that He has accompanied me so far.
Interview With Sylvia Kontusc
How did you get involved in this work?
I have always kept in mind the biblical call to “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” in Jeremiah 29:7. Then came the television reports about the refugees, which moved me deeply. So I approached city hall, where I spoke with the integration commissioner. This mission matched my faith. I can express myself. This is me.
What is your work with the refugees?
My volunteer activities have become like a part-time job. On Monday and Tuesday mornings I assist a social worker in a refugee home. On Wednesday afternoon I volunteer at a language class that meets in small groups to practice everyday conversations and translate letters. Sometimes we cook together and distribute clothes. I am also a member of a group that helps refugees find housing. I often accompany refugees on their visits to the doctor or to the authorities.
What do you think about your work?
It gives me great satisfaction to see the grateful, cheerful smile of a refugee. I also like successful moments such as a good conversation with a doctor, a court hearing that goes well, and a successful job search. I am so happy when I realize that I’ve made a difference for a refugee.
What particular challenges do you face?
I have to cope with my family and with my real job (laughs)!
What advice would you give someone who wants to answer a similar call to mission?
I am convinced that you will not succeed if you try to work on your own. It is important to identify the needs of the city and then join existing networks and structures. We Seventh-day Adventists have a huge advantage because of our church structure with its own premises and workers. We have the right social attitude for this job. This is quite valuable. The refugees who come to us are mostly young people. Invite them into your inner circle and allow them to share your social life.
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The Refugee Plight
What can the church do?
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
The ongoing saga of the refugees entering Europe has been so much in the news. What are the predominant health challenges they face? Are we as a church assisting with this crisis?
The plight of refugees has been described as a humanitarian crisis, which indeed it is. Desperation, fear, and hopelessness drive people to flee the countries of their birth and seek asylum and new beginnings elsewhere. One can hardly imagine the despair that motivates people to leave their loved ones, homes, and familiar surroundings and head for—well, they cannot be sure; wherever might accept them. Such pain and uncertainty are difficult to grasp. It has been heart-wrenching to witness the undiluted suffering, stress, fear, and uncertainty that characterize the news coverage of this human tragedy. The tragic death of a young child whose body was found on a Turkish beach has become an international symbol of the heartache.
Respiratory (lung) infections, including pneumonia, are the most common diseases seen in this special population. Additionally, accidental trauma is common and related to the cramped space in crowded, often unseaworthy vessels; rough seas; and uncharted or unavoidable rocks in the ocean and on the coasts. Dehydration and hunger are also significant issues that need to be addressed. ASI Europe has successfully operated mobile clinics on specially modified busses, which are equipped with emergency and operating facilities. What a blessing these services have proved to be! Mental and emotional well-being are always challenging under these circumstances, and often complicated by grief and anxiety. Unfortunately, because of sheer numbers and sparse resources, these needs are not adequately addressed.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been encouraged to embrace comprehensive health ministry. This modern-day term for medical missionary work may be described as meeting people’s needs in a practical way by demonstrating God’s love and compassion.
Not all can interface with the refugees, but we all can make a difference.
The church we love and serve is also active and engaged in meeting the needs of refugees. The needs are so great that sometimes even our best efforts may seem as proverbial drops in the bucket. But ADRA International (and its agencies serving the affected countries) and ASI Europe continue to touch the lives of refugees, one person at a time. Joining hands with these agencies are Seventh-day Adventist volunteer health-care professionals from around the world, donating their time and expertise, but more important, sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways by meeting the needs of people, fellow pilgrims on this broken planet.
Efforts of church-affiliated agencies to coordinate a health response have witnessed amazing scenes, including a female Jewish physician treating Syrian women refugees. A popular Christian periodical quoted a Muslim refugee as saying that prior to this current situation he had seen religious people who were not godly; but after being medically helped in Greece, he had now seen godly people in practice! What a testimony to being the hands of the Master Physician.
Can you and I make any difference in the lives of refugees? We can earnestly pray for them and plead that Jesus will soon return and end the suffering, sickness, heartache, displacement, and death. We can donate to ADRA and ASI Europe to assist the valiant and necessary initiatives in which they are engaged. Not all can go and interface with the refugees, but we all can make a difference by sharing our means and being a Matthew 25 church, described in the words of Jesus: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.