The children’s smiles were dazzling—and contagious—as they playfully teased one another and greeted their teacher, “Good morning.” After initial instructions, the young students started pulling books off shelves, then sat at desks, brows furrowed, deep in concentration, as they began studying their lessons for the day.
Although an ordinary scene in classrooms in most countries throughout the world, in many ways this one was distinctive: very few books lined the walls, pages missing from and covers barely clinging to those that were there. Nine students with little “elbow room” squeezed into the 8-by-15-foot metal shipping container that instead of holding cargo served as a classroom. Oblivious to the atypical surroundings, the Lesotho youth began another school day just grateful for the opportunity to obtain an education.
Also situated on the Maluti Adventist Hospital campus was a more conventional building that comprised two additional classrooms. Another steel shipping container served as the school library. Kindergarten students met in an abandoned warehouse on the other side of the campus.
“The needs are so great there that when the NAD [North American Division] union education directors and I visited the hospital and school campus in Lesotho, we knew we had to do something to help,” says Larry Blackmer, NAD’s vice president for education. “We couldn’t just walk away and say, ‘How sad! We must pray for them.’ We believed God wanted us to combine action with prayer.”
What to Do?
TEAM WORK: Local workers were hired to help construct the school.Some 6,000 Adventists worship in 31 churches in the small African country of Lesotho. A region in southern Africa that never surrendered to the British, Lesotho became an independent country in 1966 and is surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. The 2.1 million residents of this mountainous and landlocked territory earn their living through agriculture, livestock, and manufacturing commodities such as electric power and apparel. Poverty is rampant—as is HIV/AIDS. Estimates indicate that in 2007 18,000 people died there as a result of AIDS.*
NAD educators visited the region on a Hope for Humanity mission trip in September 2007. They were to observe firsthand the HFH feeding program for orphans whose parents had died as a result of AIDS in Nhlengelo, South Africa, as well as the Adventist hospital and school in Mapoteng, Lesotho. They left determined to raise awareness of the children’s plight and to solicit funds not only to help feed the orphans but also to build a new school building on the hospital campus.
During the 2007-2008 school year, NAD educators and students throughout the division’s kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K-12) system raised more than $120,000 for Hope for Humanity’s feeding program for the orphans. Then they turned their attention to the needs of Maluti.
Blackmer concedes that building a new school is “a very ambitious undertaking that involves the costs of not only the building materials but also of the construction itself.” He and other educators determined, however, that if they could recruit volunteer labor—academy students as well as adults—to help augment wages that would be paid to locally hired workers, “with the Lord’s blessing, we believed the project was doable.”
“We just resolved to step out in faith,” Blackmer says.
Hope for Humanity (HFH) is the force behind millions of dollars collected annually by church members in North America to support humanitarian work in local communities and abroad. Headquartered at the North American Division (NAD) office in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and run by department director Maitland DiPinto, HFH has been actively involved with meeting needs at Maluti Hospital.
“Maluti hospital serves a very underprivileged area with a high HIV/AIDS rate. They are doing a tremendous job there under very difficult circumstances,” DiPinto says.
THE NEW SCHOOL: Construction of the school on the Maluti Hospital is almost completed.One of the difficulties faced by the hospital staff, according to DiPinto, was being able to provide a quality education for their children.
“We felt that in order to give the kids a good education they needed a better school—better facilities,” he says. “So [the new school] was to give the kids a better education, but also a way to greatly enhance the ability of the hospital to carry out its mission by retaining well-qualified staff.”
NAD educators voted in December 2007 to attempt to raise enough money through Adventist K-12 schools division-wide to build a six-classroom building on the hospital campus. The incorporation of volunteer student and adult labor to help construct the facility greatly lowered the projected cost of the project, but the estimated total still came in at a staggering $250,000. This would cover not only the cost of the construction materials and local laborers’ wages but also would provide desks, books, computers, and playground equipment. The division education leaders pressed ahead by sending information and a DVD about the project to every NAD school and asking each of them to set a fund-raising goal of $5.00 per student—and although there are still more funds to be raised, the teachers and students responded.
In September 2009—in partnership with HFH and Maranatha International, and coordinated by Pacific Union education director Kelly Bock and contractor Robert Jackson from Washington State—40 students, sponsors, and other adult volunteers, the first of three groups scheduled consecutively to make the arduous journey by air to Lesotho, began work on the school.
“The interactions we enjoyed with the local workers and the spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm made it clear that God was our leader throughout the project,” Bock says. This school will enable the administration and staff to recruit more students from the surrounding area and to share the love of Jesus in a wonderful new facility.”
Maranatha International storyteller Richard Duerksen sees the organizational partnership as an asset to the project. Describing the cooperative endeavor among Maranatha team members, NAD educators, and HFH leaders as “a real pleasure,” Duerksen notes, “Our team included the Ecuador steel crew who fabricated the school’s steel structure as well as cement and steel workers from Mexico and Mozambique. This project truly represents the miracles that can be accomplished when international groups work together to accomplish the impossible.”
River Plate Adventist University sophomore and Spanish major Melissa Breetzke served as translator between Maranatha-sponsored construction engineers from South America and project organizers throughout much of the venture. Describing Lesotho as “a land of big mountains, noisy farm animals, and enchanting souls,” Breetzke says she had a “phenomenal time” there.
“It seemed like this trip was custom-designed for me,” Breetzke says. “Even though it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I was happier than ever.”
The people, she says, impressed her the most.
STUDENT VOLUNTEERS: Students from Adventist schools throughout the NAD traveled to Lesotho to help construct the new school.“They taught me Lesotho words and called me their sister and daughter,” Breetzke notes. “They laughed merrily at my attempts to make the clicking noises they use in their language, and they cheered when I remembered the phrases they taught me.”
She concedes, though, that the work turned out to be more strenuous than she anticipated. Because the heater in the room she was staying in didn’t always work, the nights, she says, “were freezing cold, and we woke up early some mornings to work for 10 hours hauling some of the heaviest pieces of metal I’ve ever encountered.”
Breetzke is convinced that the Maluti school project was “all God’s doing.” She says in Africa she found “the real stuff—the pure, concentrated bliss of a life well lived. This, to me, is a nearer taste of heaven than anything you find in books…. It was one of the best times of my life.”
The Role of Adventist Education
Blackmer notes, “One of the roles of Adventist education is to help students understand that they are part of a global community and that they have a responsibility to that community. The Maluti Mission project and the hundreds of other local community and international mission projects conducted by Adventist education every year allow our youth to share their time, talents, and resources with those in need.”
He adds, “I believe that children and youth from places such as Lesotho have lessons to teach our students. Many of these young people live with disease, hunger, and violence as part of their daily lives, yet they eagerly share what they have, and their smiles come from the heart. There is much that we can learn from them.
“The NAD is committed to finding ways for every student, every year—if they so desire—to become involved with a mission project.”
All Alaska is a mission field; conditions on St. Lawrence Island present their own set of challenges.
By Judy Thomsen
Alaska is rich with unmistakable beauty. Majestic Mount McKinley; the dynamic, glaciated landscape and diverse wildlife of Denali National Park; miles of dense, lush forests and mountain ranges; hundreds of clear blue lakes and rivers; rich stores of natural resources; desolate tundra and windswept coastlines—it’s all there, and given intriguing names such as Yakutat, Knik, Skwentna, North Pole (a town), and 197½ Mile Creek.
LOST TOO SOON: Whalebones mark the cemetery located outside Savoonga. Many crosses bear names of teenagers and young adults.And there’s more: winter with its icy temperatures, dog mushing, and the Iditarod (a 1,150-mile sled-dog race through Alaska’s wilderness). Days when the sun barely rises; and days when the sun never sets. Wildlife abounds: whales, walrus, formidable grizzlies, and also moose—a possible 1,300-pound deterrent to leaving for work because one stands between your front door and your car.
My husband, Halvard, and I were thrilled when Ken Crawford, president of the Alaska Conference, invited us to visit this U.S. state.
“Alaska is a frontline mission field within the Adventist Church’s North American Division,” Ken said. “Come and visit some people and places.”
So we went—and had a taste of many of Alaska’s unique features.
Ken accompanied us on our flights to Kotzebue, Nome, and finally St. Lawrence Island. In Nome, a town that looks surprisingly like the “old wild west” in nineteenth-century America, we shopped for groceries and found food prices to be extremely high. Currently, a gallon of milk costs nearly $10, and a 19-inch pizza goes for $34.
Ken, a pilot himself, explained that small-plane travel is essential in this region, because many villages have no other access to outside communities. One room at the Nome airport houses ticketing, a waiting area, security, and baggage claim. Our pilot loaded luggage into Bering Air’s 12-seat Beech 1900, then climbed into the cockpit for the flight across the Bering Sea to Gambell. The island is actually closer to Russia than to the mainland, and the outline of the coast is clearly visible some 40 miles distant.
A small settlement of wooden houses came into view as we approached the airstrip. Wispy fog hovered on the outskirts of the village. The ever-present ATVs brought a convergence of people, who met friends and family or picked up mail and a pizza.
In a way, life on St. Lawrence Island is simple—no freeways, cars, shopping malls, crowds, or demanding jobs. Streets have no names. In the summer no darkness comes to alert you that nighttime is approaching; and if the temperature should rise to 60 degrees, the native Yup’iks likely would call it a heat wave.
ADVENTIST CHURCH MEMBERS:Clement and Irma Ungott.Life here, however, is also harsh. Frigid, below-zero temperatures and snow inundate the towns in winter, when snow machines are the common mode of travel. A polar bear skin thrown across a porch railing is evidence of danger in the outdoors. The isolation makes it difficult to get supplies to the island, resulting in a high cost of living. For dental or medical appointments or even the delivery of a baby, resi- dents must schedule a flight to Nome or Anchorage.
Both Gambell and Savoonga are small villages with populations between 650 and 700. Everyone knows their neighbors—in fact, each person most likely knows everyone else in town.
The Seventh-day Adventist churches in Gambell and Savoonga— one in each town—are well-used on Sabbath, but the parsonages have been empty for quite some time.
Clement Ungott, an Adventist since 1971, is the head elder of the Gambell church. He was born in Gambell—it’s his forever home, he says. The parents of his wife, Irma, were Adventists, and it was Irma who initiated his interest in the church.
“I decided of my own free will when I accepted the truth,” Clement said. “My mother was disappointed [at first], but before she died she accepted the Sabbath too.”
When Clement was young he was friends with Irma’s brother, but Clement had a special interest in Irma, as well. As was the custom, he lived with her family for a year. He was given a lot of tasks to do—often not the most desirable—to “prove himself.” With eyes twinkling and a little lift of her eyebrows Irma said, “They have to buy us.” Clement and Irma have been married for 47 years.
Witnessing opportunities, keeping the Sabbath during times of the year when the sun never rises or sets, staying in touch with church leaders in the Alaska Conference or others in the world church—these could be challenges in Gambell and Savoonga. But when asked about it Clement expressed only one need—a full-time pastor. “Pastors are always welcome,” he said. “I call it back-up.”
LIFE IN ALASKA: A polar bear skin and bleached whale bones are interesting contrasts to life in the lower United States.For Irma there is no place like St. Lawrence Island. “I love my home,” she said. “I never want to go away, even to Nome.”
The Village Store and More
Gambell resident and Adventist church member Gerard Koonooka welcomed us to his home about 11:30 at night—it was as light as day. As a young girl, his wife, Esther, attended the Bristol Bay Adventist Mission School near Aleknagik and was baptized. When Gerard was baptized it was indoors in a makeshift baptismal tank, because the lake was covered with four feet of ice. As he stepped out of the tank, the water dripping from his robe froze on the floor.1
Gerard owns a business in Gambell. Years ago he wanted to open a general store, but the policy of the wholesale company from which he would purchase supplies was to extend no credit to Alaskan natives. But with financial help from then Alaska Conference president Joseph Hansen, Gerard got a start. His few shelves quickly grew to a full-fledged business, which has expanded to include hardware and many other items. He now also serves as the island’s Internet provider.
Chester Noongwook, a church member who was baptized last summer, was sitting at his kitchen table when he welcomed us. With his retirement in 1963, regular sled-dog mail delivery ended in Alaska. A plaque from the United States Postal Service hanging in a prominent place is a reminder of his dedication to a job that could not have been easy—“Neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would surely have been realities for Chester.
Between There and Here
Television and the Internet have brought in the outside world. Whale and walrus meat drying on wooden racks and aging whale bones near the shore contrast sharply with what is seen on the television screen. The youth are caught between two worlds—the island could never provide a life like that shown on television. Many of the youth and young adults feel trapped by tradition, lack of means, and inactivity. Yet of those who leave, few stay away. The culture shock is simply too great.
The writing on the outside of town building walls declares: “Boring Boring Big Time,” “I Wish I Die Now,” “I Can’t Wait Till It’s My Turn.”2 Depression is common, and many feel that alcohol provides them with an emotional way out. Tragically, suicide does, too. Many teens attempt to end their own lives. Wooden caskets buried only partially in the ground because of permafrost attest to the successful ones; crosses reveal that too many teens, too many young adults, have died.
Carol Seppilu is 22 years old. At the age of 16 she attempted suicide, waking in the hospital to learn that she had shot off the lower right side of her face. A mask covers her disfiguration, and she breathes through a tube in her throat.
“Alcohol is very dangerous,” she said, struggling to talk. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. It takes over and destroys you.”
Nine of Carol’s friends have been lost to suicide in the last six years.
Tears trickled down Carol’s cheeks. “We need faith-based help, someone to talk to about faith to keep strong,” she said. “I’m glad to be alive. I want to help my people.”
Other tragedies also touch the church. With tears in her eyes, Irma Ungott told of the heartbreak in her family. More than a year ago one of Irma and Clement’s four sons simply disappeared.
Who Is My Neighbor?
St. Lawrence Island is just one example of why Ken Crawford calls Alaska a mission. Though organized in 1929, the sheer size of the territory has deterred the progress of the church, and could discourage a less optimistic leadership. Financial constraints are a big factor—there simply aren’t enough workers. A church membership of 3,731 is divided among 38 churches and 15 pastors, meant to cover Alaska’s 586,400 square miles.
Southern U.S. residents Bill and Elouise Hawkes heard an appeal by Ken Crawford at the Carolina, United States, camp meeting in 2008 and responded. They volunteered to move to Savoonga and are developing a suicide prevention program. Both are nurses with many years of experience. They began their life in Savoonga in February 2009. They’re finding that there’s just no place quite like the Arctic.
Retired couples, taskforce workers, student missionaries, volunteers—dedicated people can make a difference for the many who need the Lord and His healing touch. The latest word from Ken indicates that the majority of the conference’s mission slots for one- and two-year periods have been filled, and he says he’s thrilled. Many villages that had an Adventist presence at one time will now have it again.
As former Gambell and Savoonga pastor Rick Binford says, “God can use whoever is willing to be used.”
To view an online DVD about the challenges in Alaska as well as a list of volunteer opportunities, go to www.alaskaconference.org.
1Nadine Toler Hansen, Alaska Mission History. The Beginnings of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Alaska, 1896-1983, p. 433. Alaska Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Printed in China.
2Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post, May 1, 2005, p. W.22.
Judy Thomsen is correspondence editor for Adventist World. Her husband, Halvard, is assistant to the president of the North American Division for Administration.
“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand…. In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” (Rev. 5:11, 12, NIV).
I’ve divided the article into three parts: First, What we’ve got; second, How to decipher it; and third, The point at the heart of it.
First: What we’ve got
I begin with a strange personal story out of my boyhood—those teenage years when girls feature uppermost in the heads of young boys. In my case, those were also the days when we young men had something bordering on dread for those mysterious creatures we called the opposite sex.
And so, with a dance party coming up, some of us, boys, wanted to know ahead of time whether that certain young woman we’d been drooling over would accept our offer for a dance, after we’d crossed the entire hall to ask her hand. We knew it would be most embarrassing to go back empty-handed, all eyes on us. So we wanted to know the outcome in advance.
To find out, we’d take the main house key—one of those long, large-headed keys of yesteryear. We’d place it in a Bible at a particular chapter (that I will not identify); strap the Bible tight around it; then two of us, the tips of our fingers at the neck of the key-head, would hold the suspended Bible in the middle. The contraption in place, we’d repeat together a certain formula (that I will not mention); then, in turn, we’d each put our question: “Will Diana [or Jane, or whoever] dance with me this Friday night, if I should ask her?”
If the answer was no, the Bible remained stationary between our fingers; but if the answer was yes, the Bible would turn of its own accord and drop to the floor, unless we grabbed it first.
I tell this quaint story not to suggest that this phenomenon could not perhaps be replicated using other books and other formulas, but only to show how, as a non-Adventist young teenager, I became impressed, for the first time, that the Bible is not an ordinary document. It was a lesson exclusively for me.
But leaving aside the prankishness of this boyhood experience, a fundamental question still remains: Was my conclusion, nevertheless, correct? What have we got here? What is this document we call the Bible? In a world literally choking with books and publications of every species and variety, what makes this one special—different?
As I reflected on these questions, my mind wandered back some 2,600 years across the centuries. With hostile foreign forces lurking on the outskirts of Jerusalem, waiting for an opportune moment to strike, a certain young man comes forward claiming to have special supernatural intelligence as to how the nation should respond to the crisis: Surrender to the Babylonians, he says. Give yourselves up. It’s your only viable option (see Jer. 27:6-17). For the powers in Jerusalem, that was treason. And Jeremiah was thrown “into a vaulted cell in a dungeon” (Jer. 37:16, NIV).
But one day a royal messenger appeared with a summons from the king. Entering the royal palace, Jeremiah faced a trembling monarch with a bad case of siege fatigue. Dropping his voice and bending forward, a frightened Zedekiah whispered the critical question we find in Jeremiah 37:17: “Is there a word from the Lord?” (NASB).*
It’s an extraordinary question! And the utterly outrageous claim of the Christian church is that this document called the Bible is, indeed, a word from the Lord. At the beginning of Romans 3, Paul raised the question as to whether Jews had any advantage in the world, then went on to give the (shocking) answer: “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Rom. 3:2, NIV).
As Christians, we believe we have what they had plus the New Testament, in a complete Bible. And what we discover—not unlike my boyhood experience—is that this book is not an ordinary document, but is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12, NIV), probing the deep, secret recesses of our souls. There is something uncanny about the way it tears us asunder…, then, thank God, puts us back together again!
That’s what we’ve got here: the Word of the living God!
Second: How to decipher it
The Scriptures are not like the Delphic Oracles of ancient Greece, whose forked-tongue messages could always be twisted to mean whatever suited the interpreter’s fancy. On the contrary, we need to approach the Bible with a “scientific” mind-set, if you please.
This means, among other things, having a feel for its original languages. And as we approach the text, we need to keep inquiring: (a) What did this particular scripture mean for those who first received it? (b) How have believers across the centuries understood it? And (c) What does it mean for us today?
There’s a high risk of seriously misunderstanding Scripture when we read it as though it were written directly to us in the twenty-first century. This calls for historical perspective, remembering that the Bible was written over the course of some 1,600 years; and under a wide variety of political, social, and cultural circumstances.
Furthermore, given the complexity of the subject, a multitude of disciplines must be brought to bear on the text. We need the linguist; the historian; the archaeologist; the biblical theologian; the systematic theologian; etc. Then we need to consider the different genres of writing in the one document we call the Bible: poetry, history, prophecy, apocalyptic, story, parable, etc. Each of these forms requires a different orientation, a different approach, a different set of tools.
That’s what I mean by a “scientific” approach to Scripture.
But here’s an extremely important caveat: Notwithstanding all of the above, we impugn the character of God if we leave the impression that everyone needs to spend years, if not decades, in college and university before they can understand the gist of the biblical message. That would be like saying that a newborn infant needs to be taught how to breathe and suck. No, breathing and sucking are too critical to have them depend on formal training.
So however risky it might be to say it, we have to affirm that this mysterious book is designed in such a way that we can spend several lifetimes probing its enormous depth and still not reach bottom; yet ordinary, uneducated people can have direct access to its most vital message—the essential message they need for eternal life.
This is part of what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 11:25 that God had hidden certain things “from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (NIV).
Moreover, in our cynical, postmodern times, the message of the Bible becomes credible not when we’re able to articulate and expound it with flawless accuracy, but when it becomes incarnate in our souls; when our lives reflect the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:1, 14).
Third: The point at the heart of it
Vanderbilt University student Katherine Precht, responding to skeptical scholars who describe the Bible as “full of errors, contradictions and a murky historical record,” says none of that shakes her faith. “That’s because Precht embraces a big-picture view of biblical truth,” said a recent Washington Post article. For Precht, “it means the Bible speaks truth on ultimate things, such as Creation and salvation.”†
Properly understanding the Bible means seeing the big picture. The Creation story is what it is—a factual, historical account of the origin of the human family, an indispensible plank in what biblical theologians call Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”); but in the wake of the Fall, Creation also points us to God’s re-creation in Jesus Christ. The Exodus is what it is—a factual account of the rescue of Israel from Egyptian slavery; but understanding the bigger picture means looking beyond the multitude of details in the story, and seeing the event as a depiction of the release of the entire human race from spiritual bondage through our Cosmic Liberator, Jesus Christ.
As we explain the Word, we should keep imagining millions of people wondering as they listen to us: What’s the point? And we should keep making the case that the point at the heart of it all is Jesus. He is the point!
As Revelation 5, the passage at the beginning of this article, opens, John sees a scroll in the hand of God, and weeps bitterly to discover that no one in the universe is worthy “to break the seals and open” it (NIV) — until Jesus steps forward, appearing as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” and depicted as “standing in the center of the throne …” (verse 6, NIV).
A difficult scene to picture; but I think it means to portray Jesus at the heart and center of universal power, with everything revolving around Him. As He opens the awful document in the hand of God, the entire universe—more than 100 million angels, joined by “every creature … on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them”—breaks loose in worship: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13, NIV).
Understanding the Word means knowing that the ghastly, age-old drama of this planet ends in a triumph of grace, with all creation singing around the throne of God, Jesus Christ at the shining center.
If I write about the creation, I come under attack from some quarters. If I talk about the sacredness of marriage and family in the context of today’s confusing societal signals, I get some flack. If the subject is the Sabbath, someone is sure to take offense. And the list goes on.
I knew all that. Yet I had the temerity to write about The Shack,* of all things; and a small tempest descended on my head.
Well, no, it was not all negative; and I probably should begin with that. When I went to church the week after the article came out, Ministry magazine editor Nik Satelmajer pulled me aside. “That was a classic!” he said. One of the sharp-eared pastors, overhearing his remarks from inside the vestry, emerged to add her plaudits. She’d recently been picking up some buzz about the book from a nearby Adventist educational institution, and was glad to see someone take on the subject.
Others wrote in their support—among them, Edwin Reynolds of Ooltewah, Tennessee, who expressed his amazement at “the number of Adventists who acclaim The Shack and see nothing wrong with it.” Carla Baker of Laurel, Maryland, wrote in to thank me “for having the courage to speak out against practices in some of our churches that strike at the very core of Adventist beliefs.” And Karri Walde from Walla Walla, Washington, offered me her compliments for taking a “stand against the current evil of compromise that is creeping … into our churches.” Yet she found it “absolutely appalling!!!” (sic) that I could turn around and suggest that teachers might assign the book for outside reading in their classes. “When instructors and those in positions of authority assign something, the assumption is ‘they must think it is OK,’” she said. (Actually, there is, ipso facto, no such assumption. What’s critical here is the supervision provided. We build strong students, not by sheltering them from every unorthodox exposure, but by providing informed, spiritual guidance as they encounter contrarian ideas and influences.)
Nevertheless, Walde’s concern was by way of wishing I’d have been stronger in my position, a far cry from other letters I received. Three samples:
1. Reader A: “As an SDA hospice chaplain sensitive to issues around death, I have a few serious concerns regarding Roy Adams article…. I feel that sometimes my fellow SDA brothers and sisters have no idea [of] the great spiritual pain, and the possible feelings of repulsion, that can take place from an indiscriminate defense of our state of the dead doctrine. I am surprise[d] that Adams and Cullmann don’t appreciate people’s deep-seated emotional antipathy to the implications of this doctrine…. To a person who has lost … a beloved child, spouse, or family member, the truth of what we are saying is that their loved one no longer exists! What a hopeless thought…. When you love someone, you desire only their good, and to hear that your friend the SDA believes that there is no soul that God cares for, no place of happiness that they can envision their loved one in can be hurtful and offensive.”
2. Reader B: “Mr. Adams begins his article by criticizing the beautiful music of Ave Maria…. [I did no such thing!] I am a “fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist—and a descendent of a union conference president. It troubles me to see the narrow-mindedness displayed in Roy Adams’ article…. I believe the Bible teaches that the soul is immortal” [italics supplied]. (I couldn’t believe what I was reading here about the soul, coming from a self-described “fourth generation Adventist”! No wonder I come across as narrow-minded!)
3. Reader C: “I find it highly disappointing that Mr. Adams was not able to see past a relatively minor theological difference in order to see the beautiful message in the book…. Having read it, I completely agree with Eugene Patterson’s [sic] thoughts that ‘this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.’ And contrary to Roy’s impression, there is no theological agenda other than painting a picture of God that is more approachable and relatable than the typical dry religions tend to make Him out to be….
“Roy gets the entire basis of his argument regarding what The Shack is about in a very short scene in which Mack, the main character, sees and holds his dead daughter in a scenario orchestrated by God…. According to the Bible, Moses died and was buried, yet he appeared at the Transfiguration, did he not? According to the Adventist ideology about the state of the dead, how is that explained? …
“[Roy’s] comment about God being about ‘relationships,’ and then comparing the God of The Shack to the God of Jeremiah … heck, compare the God of the Old Testament to the God of the New Testament (discounting Revelation) and you have a stark contrast in the very Word of God, so that argument is null and void…. I’m very disappointed, discouraged, and downright angry that this article was printed, as it really does more damage to the Adventist “brand,” to borrow Roy’s word.”
(Incidentally, one wonders: Does this reader really not know why Adventists have no trouble with Moses appearing at the Transfiguration? Strange! And he suggests a contrast between “the God of the Old Testament” and “the God of the New Testament (discounting Revelation).” Well, leave out the book of Revelation, if you wish; but then, how about Matthew 7:21-23; 18:5, 6; 23:13-36? 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10? Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:18-29? 2 Peter 3:3-13? Jude 3-32? The New Testament is full of these “inconvenient” passages. It’s what Billy Graham once perceptively called “the bad news of the gospel.”)
Three Things I Found in the Letters
1. Anger. It was as if I’d violated something utterly sacred to these writers. My article left Reader C “disappointed, discouraged, and downright angry.” And in that knee-jerk mood, these respondents never noticed that the purpose of my article was not, as such, to condemn The Shack, but to question its endorsement in front of our students and youth.
2. Something bordering on embarrassment vis-à-vis our belief about the state of the dead. Just look at Reader A’s letter again. As early as college, theology students are taught not to foist our belief about the state of the dead upon a grieving non-Adventist family or congregation. It’s so elementary that I shook my head to hear the lecture about it. That aside, I was surprised by the extreme reticence being recommended here—because the biblical teaching on the subject could be “hurtful and offensive.” Wow! The last funeral service I did, my text was John 10:27-30. Read it and tell me where you can find a more hope-filled message. The preaching of the resurrection should leave mourners yearning for a better world.
3. A simplistic naïveté. Perhaps Eugene Peterson would himself chuckle to hear his words—promotional hyperbole on a book jacket—swallowed so enthusiastically by Reader C. Can any literary critic or theologian make a credible case that The Shack comes anywhere cloes to the theological and philosophical depth of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? In the article I described The Shack as “a dream wrapped up in a coma inside a work of fiction,” with everything “fluid, esoteric, misty.” Yet these respondents see the work as a superb source from which postmodern skeptics can receive clarity about what kind of God we have—the Bible perhaps being too dull? But after we’ve led postmoderns to the amiable God of The Shack, then what? Are we then ready to have them meet the God of the whole Bible?
Scripture reveals a God infinitely more merciful and gracious than The Shack could ever portray; but also a God who is exceedingly more complex; a God who cannot be reduced to one simple attribute or characteristic. If we’re after making solid Christians, we’d better be completely honest with our audience and not sugarcoat the evidence. To raise The Shack, de facto, to the level of sacred text is silly and naive. Imaginative fiction, however well-meaning, can never trump the Word of God.
*William Paul Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, Calif.: Windblown Media, 2007). See Adventist World, May 2010, pp. 30, 31, NAD edition.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of Adventist World.
The Lord Is Wonderful Looking around the corner for Adventist theology
Adventist World associate editor Gerald Klingbeil sat down with Angel Manuel Rodríguez, recently retired director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) of the General Conference and well known to readers of Adventist World as the author of the Bible Questions column, and spoke about Scripture and the role of theology in the life of the church.
Angel, after nearly 20 years of service at the BRI of the General Conference, 10 years as its director, you have recently retired. I know that you worked as a pastor, a university professor, and administrator. As you look back over your ministry, what comes to mind? You know—the Lord is wonderful! He knows where He wants us, and He little by little shapes us. This is something that also impresses me with my colleagues [in BRI]. I look at them and I listen to their stories, their pilgrimage with the Lord. And I can see how the Lord was shaping them, preparing them, for what they are doing now. And I look back and I say to myself, really, the Lord was guiding me and preparing me for what He intended me to do.
During your nearly 20 years of service at the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church you have seen many changes. Millions joined the church; the church has become more international. I think more members of our church are speaking Spanish or Portuguese nowadays than English or French or any other language. Does this mean anything for Adventist theology? Built on Amazing Grace Dixil Rodríguez, a columnist of theAdventist Review and daughter of Angel Rodríguez, shares a more personal facet of her father.
Our family tradition has never been lost: my family sings.
Childhood moments are vivid: daily worship and welcoming the Sabbath with song. It always started the same way. My father would say: Let’s sing a song. He led the way.
In every melody my father would incorporate a Bible story. With every musical harmony he taught us Bible verses that spoke of hope, the power of prayer, and trust in divine guidance. God was never far or absent from our song. We sang together.
The best advice my father gave me was: Put God first. Things may get difficult. Don’t forget to sing. He was right. Things get difficult. Yet my father would always remind me: He’s watching you. Leave your worries to Him. Then, as a final reminder of our journey together as a family, he would add: Soon we will sing again.
Every day my father reminds me how close our voices are to God’s ears. For him, God has been not only a Savior but also a compassionate, powerful friend. Now I watch him teach his granddaughters to sing. Our inheritance will always be a home built on “Amazing Grace.”Of course it does. Adventist theology has become more international. Before this growth explosion, Adventist theology was influenced mainly by Western theologians from North America, Europe, and Australia. But then there was this explosion of membership around the world, and all of a sudden you had most Adventist theologians living outside of the Western world. This was a new development, and it brought with it wonderful blessings, but at the same time we faced tremendous challenges. One of the things that we decided to do was to take measures, steps, that would avoid fragmentation among this large number of new theologians around the world.
Mention some of those steps. One of the first things that we thought of involved the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM). This committee meets twice a year. It plans projects dealing with theological and doctrinal issues that require further study and the production of material. BRICOM members were mainly from North America because that’s where we had most of our theologians. With this incredible growth, one of the first things we had to do was to open up BRICOM to other non-Western theologians. The church is a world church, and we cannot do theology in isolation from the world church. Many of these new theologians are relatively young fellows. That’s another great side benefit, because they will give many more years of service to the church. As they see how we work together in trying to research biblical, theological, and doctrinal issues affecting the unity of the church around the world, they become extensions, so to speak, in their own areas in trying to nurture that theological unity.
The second thing we decided to do was to empower them, to tell them, “We trust you. You can do theology for the church. We can work together with you and do great things for the church.” So we encouraged the divisions to establish Biblical Research Committees (BRCs), not institutes but committees, in their own territories to work with theological issues relevant to those divisions. Many divisions have done that, and those committees are already working. There is constant communication between the BRI and those committees. Whenever any of these committees meet, one of us is there with them.
When we face theological tension in our local churches or unions, I hear people say, “Why do we need so much theology? Why do we have to invest so much in bringing all these theologians together? Shouldn’t we just focus on mission and evangelism?” What would you say to them? We need to focus on evangelism and the mission of the church. This is nonnegotiable; this is the gospel commission. The question is What is the role of theological reflection in that mission? And we have to make it clear that theological reflection is part of the mission of the church. It is not an addendum. It’s not something that the church does if there is a problem and we have to react to it. No, doing biblical study, thinking theologically, is as important for the church as going out and doing evangelism.
Theology has the function of placing itself at the service of mission and evangelism, providing relevance and biblically grounded thinking that informs the evangelist. I have never separated theology from mission.
Most people reading this interview will not be theologians. How can we help our nontheologians think biblically or theologically? Is that important, or is it just the task of the pastor or professor at the university or college? Of course, the question is What do we mean by thinking theologically? It’s very simple. It’s being able to express your conviction biblically, in a rational way, in an appealing way, grounded in Scripture. That’s what is needed. And of course we do it, depending on the training, at different levels. The function of the trained theologian is to provide materials that pastors, Bible teachers, and laypersons can also use to enrich their understanding of any particular doctrine.
Stepping back after 40 years of ministry provides a great vantage point. Where do you see the issues of Adventist theology currently? Which questions do we need to address as a church? As I think about this it seems that the key theological topic is and will remain ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. It has always been an important topic in the church, but primarily because of the growth of the church, this topic has become extremely important. Like never before we have come into contact with world religions. It’s important for us to interact with them, and it’s important for them to know the Adventist Church, who are we, what are we doing here, what is our mission. The church has grown and is therefore no longer invisible. Other denominations cannot avoid seeing us, because we are everywhere. Our eschatology is becoming more relevant day after day. So because of that we need to have answers, biblical and theological answers, appealing answers. We need to reaffirm the commitment to our Savior, the commitment to the message and mission of the church among church members. They need this because most of our church members are new converts.
Are there theological issues arising out of the tremendous church growth we are seeing? What I think is probably one of the most important issues has to do with new converts. You see, the growth is so rapid that it’s very difficult even to keep up with it. Because of the speed, we need to really think for a moment about the dangers. And the danger I’m going to mention is a real one. It’s the danger of baptizing individuals coming from a different Christian tradition, or a non-Christian background, who are not well informed about the biblical message. They receive a brief introduction to the Adventist message and they’re baptized. There is little follow-up. These people are Adventists—based on the little they’ve come to understand. They retain some of the ideas they brought in with them. There is almost an element of syncretism, because they’ve never understood Adventism well. Doctrinal and theological diversity is finding a place within the local congregation.
Not long ago we blamed the theologians. They were the ones creating theological and doctrinal polarization. There is truth in that, I cannot deny that. But this is a new phenomenon because often the new converts do not really understand what Adventism is about.
Passionate for the World
Artur Stele, Ph.D., a general vice president of the General Conference and current director of the Biblical Research Institute, reminisces about Angel Manuel Rodríguez’ ministry and passion.
I have known Angel since the nineties, when I was appointed a BRICOM member from the Euro-Asia Division. It was rewarding to hear Angel present a paper, hold a seminar, teach a class, or speak to pastors, teachers, and church administrators. He was always kind, balanced, and committed that the church remains a “people of the Book!” The world church was blessed by his ministry, visits, and written work. The good news is that he is not leaving BRI completely. He will continue to be a vital and vibrant part of the institute! The BRI will continue its work based on the strong foundation that was left by Angel Rodríguez and his predecessors.
For a longer version of this interview,visit www.adventistworld.org.So, you are concerned about biblical discipleship? That’s correct. It’s not simply “Oh, yes, I’m emotional; I want to be baptized.” No, this is about that which is important, teaching the person to understand the message and to be able to go and share the message with others.
Angel, do you have a pearl of wisdom for our readers? Something that you’ve learned, something that has become important to you over the past decades of ministry? Well, perhaps two things. I have learned what we all know, that our safety in our pilgrimage is in Scripture. The moment we drift away from it, there’s danger. In my moments of difficulties, in my job, trying to find solutions, I do go to the Scriptures. And together with that I use Ellen White. I don’t apologize for this wonderful gift that the Lord has given to us.
The second one is how you deal with others. We need to learn how to treat each other. Learn from the Master, our Lord, and His kindness and His love, even to His enemies. And learn to write and speak in a way that provides the opportunity for reconciliation, for common understanding. Now, I know, of course, that when it comes to theological disagreements and radical ideas within the church, we have to take a position. And we should take a position. I’m not afraid of that. But I have always tried to do it in a kind way. There’s no need to get into personal debates and insult each other and be rude. It seems to me that the Spirit of Christ would move us to kindness.
God entrusts us with abundant gifts and blessings. When we return our time, talents, and treasures to God, it means we have understood that everything is His gift to us in the first place. As Stewardship Sabbath approaches on December 3, 2011, read two inspiring stories about stewards who understand this concept very well.
FAMILY VISIT: Sacrificing their “retirement years” to live and work in Vanuatu, Jill and Alastair Macgillivray enjoy a rare moment with their visiting grandchildren. Time in Vanuatu Jill and Alastair Macgillivray, longtime missionary volunteers, are good stewards of God’s gifts. On the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu they are giving back, by sharing the skills and talents that God has given them, in order to meet the basic needs of the Ni Vanuatu. They are committed to sharing God’s love with others.
Tourism drives the economy in Vanuatu, but little of that wealth filters through to the majority of the local population. Many social issues and religious practices on the islands today evidence a lack of Christian education. Physical hunger is rare because fruit is plentiful, but the Ni Vanuatu hunger for education in useful skills. At Listair Institute (www.listairinstitute.com), the Macgillivrays’ students graduate with better prospects for their lives and are better equipped to take good care of their families. Best of all, many have joined God’s family at Listair.
Alastair’s father brought the family from Scotland to Australia in the 1950s in an attempt to keep the Sabbath and stay employed. Alastair’s Scottish brogue and his compassionate smile are, however, not his only distinguishing characteristics. He is the definitive craftsman, with skill in almost any area of practical work—and a perfectionistic streak to boot.
Jill finds that she has lived out her childhood dreams inspired by the mission stories she heard as a little girl in Sabbath school and from books in the church library run by her mother.
ALMOST SEA-WORTHY: Students at the Listair Institute in Vanuatu repair a large boat, working underneath the massive hull.The faithfulness of generations past has played a part in their choices. Jill and Alastair both trained atAvondale College, but they first met while teaching at Carmel College in Western Australia. This couple could have chosen a different path, but they responded to a call to dedicate themselves to mission and volunteer work. They were married in May 1972, and by the next year they were in Western Samoa.
During their 11 years of teaching in Samoa and Tonga, Jill and Alastair brought four of their six children into the world. After some years back in Australia for medical needs in the family 12 years ago, they once again felt the tug of the mission field. This time the division invited them to Aore Academy in Vanuatu. When Alastair’s father passed away, he took his own inheritance money to buy the machines, and the training began.
The school and its furniture industry made a good name for itself in the community, and students went on to get top jobs. Eventually the Macgillivrays felt that there were more skills that needed to be taught. This vision of a dedicated school with the infrastructure available on Santo Island, Vanuatu, was realized when Listair Institute opened its doors in 2002.
Today, Listair students take accredited courses in furniture making, building construction, and boat building. Future accreditation will include courses in mechanics, home electrical wiring, plumbing, and sewing. Students who excel at Listair are targeted to become the future instructors of their institute. Says Nelson, a student, “At home I was no good at anything useful—no employment [skills]. Now I want to finish the course and become a teacher and help other young people.”
CATTLE CALL: The Lord’s cattle are counted and branded as a form of tithe on Kegalale Gasennelwe’s farm in Botswana.Best of all, Jill and Alastair do this with “nothing”! “God knows what we need,” Jill says, “and He provides!” For example, the other day, when she needed cabbages for the evening meal, God provided! Listair’s only fund-raising strategy consists in its leaders’ relationship with their Provider.
How do people pay tithe when they don’t earn anything? “We pay on whatever comes in,” Jill says matter-of-factly, referring to furniture sales, and Alastair broadens this fundamental take on stewardship: “We belong to God, everything belongs to God—our time, our resources, our energy, our talents. Better give it all back to Him.”
The real payoff is evening time at Listair. Jill and Alastair catch up on administrative work while the students complete their homework in the same room. In this close atmosphere students feel free to ask the important questions about life, and eternal life. “They are our family!” says Jill. “We are missing out on our grandchildren who are growing up far away from us, but we’ll have eternity to make up for that,” she firmly believes.
Alastair confidently confirms that “we felt we’d better just get on with what the Lord has placed in front of us to do.”
ON THE FARM: Kegalale Gasennelwe, widely known in Botswana for her expertise and work for the government in education and health, is also “Mum” to many local young people. Here, Gasennelwe has a conversation with South Botswana Conference secretary Kago Rammidi.On Sabbaths they all sit side by side on makeshift benches while grateful hearts give God the glory. Moli, another student, says, “I have learned more than just a trade at Listair—I have learned about Jesus, my Redeemer.”
The Lord’s Farm Imagine an enclosure full of livestock. A high breed of shuffling cattle causes the dust to rise as they pass through a fenced channel. A man stands ready with an outstretched herders’ rod.
This is a farm in Botswana, where a group of men and one woman eagerly observe while the man counts: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.” The rod falls, symbolically marking that particular living, breathing animal as God’s tithe. It is branded and led into a separate enclosure. This continues rhythmically throughout the afternoon, because it is the season, and “Mum” Kegalale Gasennelwe, a medical doctor, is paying her tithe!
Live animals are a strikingly tangible sort of tithe—especially here in Africa, where cattle embody so much symbolism and usefulness in daily life. “We use cattle to pay ‘Lobola’ for marriage, plow the fields, pull carts, provide fuel for fire and material for building or decoration,” Gasennelwe explains. “They provide milk, food, clothing, and blankets. They are the substance of a family’s wealth and status.”
What Is Stewardship?
“Christian stewardship is the wonderful way in which God expands our faith in Him as we test His promises for daily living. The Holy Spirit helps us to more fully understand the complete use of our time, talents, and resources for the prophetic mission of the church. In so doing, we learn full dependence on the Lord and see His blessings expand before our eyes. What a privilege to trust implicitly in the promises of God and His power as we see our spiritual lives mature in anticipation of Christ’s soon coming, when the results of Christian stewardship will be fully realized.”—Ted N. C. Wilson, president, Seventh-day Adventist Church
“Stewardship is how we as both individuals and as a faith community manage all our God-given resources. From finances, to time, talents, our health, the environment, and our social responsibility—how we use our resources reflects our spiritual commitment and our responsibility to the church.”—Kirsten Oster-Lundqvist, pastor, Newbold Seventh-day Adventist Church, England
“Stewardship is a total surrender that comes from the recognition of God as the Creator and Sustainer. Being a steward is to dedicate all that is ours—time, talents, and resources—to accomplish God’s will.”—Kleber Faye, fourth-year theology student at Brazil Adventist University, from Recife-Pernambuco, Brazil
“Seeking the good of others is the way in which true happiness can be found. —Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 24, 25But tithing on her cattle farm in her retirement is not the only way in which Gasennelwe has given back to the Lord. She has led a life of giving. Indeed, since her nursing days and through to her positions of leadership in the nation, much of all she has achieved has been for the benefit of others.
This seems to be a pattern with those who give. Giving builds trust, trust builds generosity, and life through other-centeredness. Gasennelwe likes to involve her children and grandchildren in these seasons of tithing, hoping it will be continued as a family legacy in generations to come.
This legacy began with Gasennelwe’s father, who emphasized taking care of those less fortunate. He had never gone to school, but he read his Bible twice a day. His interpretation was that in its simplest form, Christ’s mission is for us to look after the widows and orphans. Gasennelwe remembers her mother cooking food for the children in the local community, setting a similar example. In fact, old tradition in Botswana holds that if your neighbor is struggling to take care of his family, you are obliged to help by loaning livestock to them. The chief may have even stepped in to make sure that you did your duty.
These childhood and cultural influences have kept Gasennelwe constantly aware of the needs of those around her. She is “Mum” to many local young people, and this gives her a feeling of great satisfaction. She goes regularly to the nearby villages with her local Adventist outreach ministries, helping where there is need. The highlight of every year is the party that she hosts for the community kids, with lots to eat—and they all love her for that!
Professionally, in the government ministries of education and health in Botswana, Gasennelwe has a reputation that she rather enjoys. She confides that “I like nothing better than to be in a position where I can make sure that the money gets directly to the people it is intended to help!”
Things have not always been easy. Gasennelwe experienced the untimely loss of her husband, and then her only son. “There must be a purpose,” she insists, “and rather than asking questions that we will never have answers for, I believe that God is in control.”
Gesennelwe believes the Lord keeps His promises (Mal. 3:10). “He does,” she is adamant, “He does. We did not always have these cows,” she explains. “We started off tithing with goats—from a government grant! My husband heard that the local pastors needed support, and he felt that giving tithe was important. Now everything on this farm belongs to God, not just the cows. Everything!”
“Tithing is linked to a concern for others,” Gesennelwe adds. “If you cannot give to God, you cannot give to others, and if you cannot give to others, you cannot give to God.”
That’s what generosity is all about, and that’s what keeps her smiling!
Penny Brink is assistant director of stewardship for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. (www.adventiststewardship.com)
In the course of my work-related travels, I have at times witnessed scenes of human desperation. Few plights have upset me more than the sight of human scavengers. When these scavengers are children, the scene is even more painful to view.
Just two weeks before I penned these words, I watched in anguish as youth foraged through the dirt and debris of a dumpster in Madagascar. Previously, during a different trip, I saw people combing a massive garbage dump in India. More horrifying was the information that these people live on the dump. They sleep there, raise babies there, and die there. Scrambling amid the refuse, their lives seem reduced to the mere imperative of existence. How does the gospel penetrate such dire need?
These thoughts were heightened recently when I read a book by Alan Weisman titled The World Without Us. The author is obviously an evolutionist, but he describes his vision of what would happen to the earth if humanity were to be mysteriously removed. His scientific background equips him well for his imaginary scenarios, but also permits him to paint a gruesome future should men and women not disappear from the earth.
A Giant Garbage Dump
It is the potential Weisman describes of the whole earth becoming a giant garbage dump that is compelling. It reinforces my belief that Jesus has to come soon, and convinces me that all humans are part of the pollution problem and therefore must also be part of any amelioration in the condition of the earth.
In the chapter titled “Polymers Are Forever,” Weisman describes the work of several marine biologists. One of them, Richard Thompson, while an undergraduate student, helped to clean up one of Britain’s shorelines. Removing some of the tons of garbage washed ashore each day, he noted that the larger floating pieces seemed to be directed by the wind. This meant he was cleaning up trash from Ireland, and England’s floating trash was befouling the shores of Scandinavia. Unlike the large floating materials, however, Thompson found a massive amount of small particulate trash, generally unnoticed among the bottles, plastic bags, automobile tires, pieces of rope, and plastic caps.
Now a professor at the University of Plymouth in England, Thompson points out a special subspecies of particle called “nurdles,” found in the waters around Plymouth. Shaped like little uniform rods some two millimeters in length, these nurdles are the raw materials used to create plastic products of any conceivable shape. Thompson says they must have been carried by currents for hundreds of miles, because no plastic factories exist near Plymouth.
Wave action pounds plastic particles smaller and smaller. When the particulate debris is analyzed in Thompson’s lab, he finds that one third is biologic debris, one third is clearly particulate plastic, and another third is composed of particles defying exact definition but are plastic polymers of some kind.
Early in the twentieth century, Alistair Hardy, another marine biologist, began the collection of samples of the sea by means of collecting krill in a special apparatus he designed to be dragged behind oceangoing vessels. The sampling program he started has continued, with stored specimens providing a chronological history of the oceans throughout the past century. The apparatus drags about 10 meters (some 33 feet) below the surface collecting krill, tiny shrimplike creatures. Krill are part of the bedrock layer of the earth’s food chain. These creatures ingest tiny particles and function like microsieves of the ocean.
Plastics have been around only about 70 years, and in the first half of the century plastic did not feature in the samples. By the 1960s, however, it was noted that the krill were ingesting plastic particles. By the 1990s the plastic content in the oceans had tripled.
Plastic does not degrade; it becomes only increasingly particulated—obviously small enough for tiny krill to eat. We are familiar with pictures of turtles eating plastic bags, of birds strangled in plastic or nylon fishing lines, but the tiniest of animals are eating microparticulate plastic, often with lethal consequences.
It’s not news to plastic producers that their product is not biodegradable. Aware of the growing mountains of plastic trash, manufacturers came up with “biodegradable” plastic bags, which are made from a mixture of cellulose and plastic. The cellulose breaks down just fine, because it is basically a sugar, but the plastic parts remain—only now they are in micro-particulate form and more readily washed into the ocean.
Plastic is everywhere. I recently counted the plastic bottles in my own bathroom. Sitting around the perimeter of the tub were two bottles of shampoo, two bottles of conditioner, one of body wash, and one tube of facial cleanser. On the shelf across the room were plastic containers of moisturizer and bottles of prescription pills. The garbage container was lined with a plastic bag. I noted my plastic toothbrush and hairbrush, as well as the plastic bag my travel kit is contained in. And I could go on. Yet, if time were to last, 1,000 years from now these plastic “necessities” would persist as detritus on some sickly seashore.
Millions of plastic bottles are used every day by a countless number of people whose water supply is safe but who prefer the convenience of a disposable bottle of water, which they “drink and drop.” Instead, a simple filter can make any American city’s water taste as good as bottled water. Why not drink from a reusable metal flask refilled at home?
Plastic particles in the facial dermabrasive we use to beautify ourselves trickle down the drain into the sewers and eventually out to sea. Not large enough to be wind-driven, they will be carried into the ponderous currents of the deep. Weisman says they will be around “forever.”
Even when cleaning up after our pets, we encase their natural droppings in a time capsule of plastic. Our “throwaway,” “disposable” society is in such high gear that vast tracks of ocean have become slowly rotating cesspools.
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is a 10-million-square-mile ocean dump. This slowly gyrating siphon of the Pacific’s debris is one of six such systems in the world’s oceans. Samples of this floating quagmire show plastic particles outnumber plankton by a factor of more than six times.
Particulate marine plastic has the ability to act like a sponge for resilient poisons such as DDT and the toxic polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs). The latter formerly were used to make plastic more pliable, but because of their toxicity they were banned in 1970. Still, the pre-1970 flotsam will leak its PCBs for centuries, if given the chance.
Tony Andrady, a leading expert on plastic, says, “Every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last 50 years or so still remains.” That is more than 1 billion tons of the stuff!
It’s probable that we find it inconceivable to live without plastic, but we at least need to be involved in its recycling. Currently, it costs more to recycle than to make new, but that’s because we’re not counting the cost to the earth. Recycling needs to be made easier and more cost-effective, and taxes should favor recycled products.
Even small changes can make a big difference. “Will you take a paper or plastic bag?” the checkout clerk asks. “Oh, the plastic seems easier,” you say. “Let’s save the trees!” Wrong answer!Ask for a hemp, cloth, or paper bag.
When Will It End?
Is all this pollution going to end soon? Fortunately, as Adventists, we believe it has to. Meanwhile, however, while we are commissioned to be stewards of the earth and occupy it until Jesus comes, even countries considered small are producing thousands of tons of plastic bags every month. As for those “nurdles,” 250 billion pounds of them are produced each year. Quite a lot for an almost-indestructible product! Is this the way people fill their role as stewards of the earth? Is this how we care for God’s creation?
Plastic is only one among the myriads of waste products our consumer world is producing. With spreading industrialization worldwide, the amount of waste products is accelerating. Just the debris from our “obsolete” computers is massive. Carbon dioxide is warming the planet as it befouls the atmosphere. Radioactive waste that has a half-life of thousands of years is still being produced.
Isn’t it time to think seriously about the part each of us plays in the trashing of the earth? Surely, as custodians of the planet, we need to learn to consume less, conserve more, and care better for the handiwork of God.
In Revelation 11:18, the Bible speaks of Jesus coming to destroy those who destroy the earth. As a boy, the earth appeared to me so vast, so enormous, that for a puny race of men and women to destroy it seemed incomprehensible. Now, with an ever-burgeoning population and industrial proliferation, the destruction of the earth seems all too possible—even probable. It is recognizably growing old like a garment, and it is we who are wearing it out!
As the planet becomes “shrink-wrapped” in plastic, all life is squeezed and distorted. As the world becomes more and more like a trash heap of pollution, God must look with horror at our ways. Once more we are frantically engaged in “cure,” having disdained prevention.
It might be easy to say, “Oh, Jesus will someday make it all right,” but I don’t want to be among those who make it all so wrong! Surely, we respect God enough to honor His handiwork.
Amultiyear and multicity evangelism program in the Southern Africa- Indian Ocean Division (SID) presented “Johannesburg for Jesus” from August 29 to September 20, 2008, with evangelist and General Conference vice president Mark Finley as the primary speaker. Adventist World editor Bill Knott recently sat down with Finley and SID president Paul Ratsara to learn about this remarkable event.
KNOTT: Mark, you’ve been in many challenging places as an evangelist—Moscow, London, Manila, Los Angeles. What were the unique challenges you and your team encountered in Johannesburg?
FINLEY: Johannesburg is an amazing city, and it’s a complex city. It’s a city of the very rich and the very poor. It’s a city of the educated and the uneducated. It has multiple ethnic groups, and it has the historic challenge of a division between peoples. One immediate challenge in Johannesburg is the complexity of getting around. You have to plan differently when you look at the difficulty of moving people around. Second, there’s a big challenge with crime, particularly in the evenings, and it’s openly acknowledged in the society. Bringing people out in the evenings was a major challenge. Third, the world well knows the recent history of South Africa as it has worked to erase decades of segregation and apartheid. That historic division between people tends to separate persons and isolate them, rather than bring them together for a common purpose.
Paul, tell me about the process that led up to this. What happened in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division to prepare people for this event? Did people discover anything in working together to plan for this campaign?
RATSARA: An event like this is the time to apply what we believe. We believe that evangelism is not an event; it’s a process. So we took time to prepare for this big event in prayer. We put people to praying with each other. We befriended people, we met in small group trainings, and finally we involved them in bigger training events. Months before the event Mark came to meet with us, and we had a great gathering of workers and supporters who were looking forward to the campaign. This was groundbreaking for our region: it’s never happened quite that way before—prayer, small groups, training opportunities, and large-scale rallies to motivate Adventist members.
How many Adventists would you estimate were part of the wider team supporting Johannesburg for Jesus?
RATSARA: Hundreds, I’d say: maybe even more than a thousand. We had nearly 175 Adventist Mission pioneers, as well, who were very much involved in training and will now be heavily committed to follow-up.
FINLEY: I was excited to see the two primary conferences in the Johannesburg area, Transvaal and Trans-Orange, working together to support this campaign. Transvaal Conference opened the doors of its youth camp and invited all pastors to come to a major training event. We had 150-200 pastors, Bible workers, and others meet at the camp. We studied about the ministry of prayer and growth in the local congregation: how to organize small groups; how to do community outreach; how to reach people who might not be religiously inclined. We studied about the nature of public evangelism. Those meetings would be with pastors and workers during the week, and then we would climax with a large meeting on Sabbath. The first public rally for members brought out nearly 7,000 Adventists, the second somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000. We also laid the groundwork for downlinking the meetings via satellite to more than 200 cities in South Africa, and we made plans for a one-week delayed broadcast on Hope TV all across the country and the continent.
RATSARA: Adventists around the world have been used to hearing wonderful stories about evangelism on the continent of Africa during the last 10 years. But the challenge in an increasingly secular South Africa is very different, and we’ve learned to measure in different ways. Soweto and Johannesburg together have more than 8 million people in them, but there are only about 11,000 Adventists in the region. You could almost say that this is an unentered territory. The ratio of Adventists to the general population is very low.
I’ve heard that you planned several large-scale sites for evangelism. How did that work?
FINLEY: I actually preached in two sites each day. I preached at Soweto, which is the southwestern township area, an area traditionally for black South Africans, and I also preached at Wits [Witwatersrand] University, a very prestigious academic institution in the city. We specifically targeted that university to reach younger people and emerging thought leaders in South African society, as well. So there were two meetings five nights every week—one under a big, beautiful tent in Soweto, and the other in the university amphitheater.
What was it like moving between two very different audiences every night?
FINLEY: The audience at Soweto was lively, even exuberant. It was an absolutely marvelous experience going into that township every night and being so warmly welcomed. People came in off the streets. We had a feeding program before the meetings began every night so that children who had nothing to eat, so adults who were hungry, could come and be fed. Bible study lessons were being distributed every night, and many were coming to participate in that part of the program. Musical programs led off each night for at least 45 minutes before the program. We also pitched a second tent where we had a health/medical symposium every night. There was a lot taking place each night before I stood up to preach! We were geared up to meet Soweto’s needs. We asked ourselves: “How can we reach out and feed people? How can we help them to understand the Bible? How can we meet their medical needs, their family life needs, and, of course, their spiritual needs?” Hundreds came and found Christ at these meetings because they were being ministered to. The Spirit of God was touching their hearts, and it was a thrilling meeting.
I’m guessing that the meetings at the university were quite different.
FINLEY: When you come onto the grounds at Wits University, you meet security first: there are guards at electronic gates who let you in. So we bussed our support people in there. We had university students coming and some faculty attending, and it was a more subdued audience as I preached each night, to be sure. But they were thoughtful people, as well, and we watched as the Spirit of God touched their hearts and lives.
The platform chair of our Wits University meetings had special reasons for being delighted with the campus meetings. He and his wife years ago became Adventists out of a non-Christian background. His wife’s relatives were also members of his previous religion. He and his wife began to pray for her family members. Every night he’d leave the platform to sit with his wife and her sisters a few rows back. I would see these lovely non-Christians sitting there, and as I preached I noticed the tears in their eyes. I noticed the spirit of God touching their hearts. The night before our final baptism the elder came to me, beaming from ear to ear, and hugged me. “Mark,” he said, “my wife’s sisters called, and they have said they are going to be baptized.” And on Sabbath at the large baptism that family was united.
Initial reports tell us that more than 900 persons were baptized as a result of Johannesburg for Jesus, and the projections are that many more will follow. Paul, what do you think the impact of this campaign will be on the church in South Africa?
RATSARA: We won’t ever be the same again. This campaign has had a major impact on the community and on Adventist members, as well. Adventists felt the power of God in a mighty way and discovered the joy of reaching out. You can feel the excitement with pastors, with church elders, and with members. We built tremendous goodwill in several communities—something that’s not easy to get here. The image of the church, the way it’s perceived in the society, has changed.
FINLEY: The ripple effects of these efforts will keep going on for many months. Hundreds of Adventists invited people into their homes to watch the meetings on television in small groups. That impact is yet to be felt. We taped these meetings, and DVDs are being produced by the thousands and given out person-to-person. In a sense, the meetings haven’t ended yet, and won’t for many months as they continue to do their work in homes and small groups all around the country.
RATSARA: Mark is absolutely correct: the impact will only grow. The day after the meetings ended in Soweto and Wits University, we brought the newly baptized members together for training and support. This is a process, not just an event, and we know that as they learn how to share their faith hundreds—maybe even thousands—of others will decide to follow Jesus. What we’ve seen thus far is just the first fruit. Many, many more will follow.
What should the world church learn from what has happened in Johannesburg?
FINLEY: One of the keys to the success of Johannesburg for Jesus was the integrated unity of the division, the union, the conference, church members, and pastors. I think there’s a lesson for the world church. When we focus on mission together, the Holy Spirit does far more than if we work individually and alone.
RATSARA: I believe that thorough preparation yields results. If evangelism is a process, then we go on to work on retention, support, nurture, and training of new members. With this way of seeing evangelism, we shouldn’t be afraid that new members will disappear in a few months. In many ways, the activity level actually increases when the evangelistic campaign itself comes to an end.
I vividly remember how our local pastor told our congregation that the worldwide membership of the church had passed the 1-million-member mark! This was some 50 years ago. It had taken just over a century to reach that milestone. Today global membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church stands at roughly 16 million. If present trends continue, we are told by denominational statisticians, in another 15 years or so there may be as many as 50 million Adventists in the world.
Indeed, Adventism is a remarkable success story. Anyone who at one time doubted this but who has attended a General Conference session will forever be convinced of the vitality and vibrancy of the Adventist Church. And those who regularly read the denominational journals such as theAdventist Review and Adventist World, who make it a habit to visit the news Web site of the General Conference, or who tune in to the Hope Channel, cannot help being impressed by the unprecedented growth of the church in many areas of the world. The pictures of mass baptisms, the glowing statistics, and the exciting stories of continuous advance will remain etched in their minds!
But this is not the whole story. The coin of Adventist progress has another side. Let me explain.
Where We Are Few or Very Few
I grew up in a village in the northwestern part of the Netherlands. Our family were the only Adventists in our community of some 1,500 people. We attended a small Adventist church in a neighboring town where fewer than 20 members gathered for our simple weekly worship, and where the youth society consisted of my sister and me.
That’s how my life as an Adventist Church member started. The church in the entire country then had fewer than 3,000 members. During the last five years of my denominational career I served as a leader in the Netherlands Union. I was the president of a church with just under 5,000 people in a country with 16 million inhabitants.
Being an Adventist in isolation requires a constant, deliberate choice.
In my international contacts I was usually treated with great courtesy, but from time to time some fellow presidents tactfully informed me that in their union they had single churches with as many members as made up my entire union! To give the full perspective, I should add that the Dutch situation, with its limited growth, is quite positive when compared to some other places; for the sad reality is that some areas in the Western world experience zero growth or even negative growth.
Let me take you to a few places where the going is tough and the numbers aren’t so good. I will confine myself to three areas of the world I happen to be well acquainted with through my overseas assignments in the 1980s and 1990s.
Let’s look first at Egypt—with its 81 million inhabitants, one of the more populous countries on the African continent. Church membership in Egypt officially stands at a little more than 800, in 19 churches. This represents the result of more than a century of continuous missionary presence. Over time the church has developed a significant infrastructure. It is true some Egyptian members have migrated to places where they would find it easier to live as Adventists, so there are more Egyptian Adventists outside the country than those who reside in Egypt, but in terms of numbers on the ground, there is very little to brag about.
Let’s take another example, one in Asia. Colporteurs first visited the area that is now Pakistan in 1901, and an initial group of Adventist believers began meeting in Karachi about 1910. Today the country has among its 186.5 million or so inhabitants about 13,000 Seventh-day Adventists. Evangelistic work is restricted and is, for all practical purposes, limited to the 2-3 percent of non-Muslims, who often live in poor conditions in separate villages or ghettos on the outskirts of the cities, and many of whom are illiterate. Even though the church operates a highly respected medical facility in Karachi and a major educational institution near Lahore in the central part of the country, membership growth is slow, though not overwhelmingly so, when compared to other union conferences in the more developed parts of Europe.
My third example is Greece. Christianity in Greece has a long and colorful history but eventually has taken shape almost exclusively in the Orthodox tradition, which is not known for its flexibility and tolerance. Here also the origins of local Adventism date back to the early years of the last century. After more than a century of hard work the Greek Mission is as eager as ever (or perhaps more so) to reach the 11 million Greeks within its borders, but the numbers remain low. Statistics indicate that there were 260 members in 1975. According to the latest available figures, the membership now stands at 501. The increase is, however, to a large extent a result of migration from elsewhere, notably Romania, and not primarily from gains among the indigenous Greeks.
What Does It Mean to Be an Adventist When We Are Few?
By no means do I want to suggest that being an Adventist is always easy as long as you live where Adventists are relatively numerous. But surely it has great advantages to belong to a church that is known and respected, to enjoy the services of the church’s infrastructure, and to receive the blessings of all kinds of meetings, seminars, and other activities!
How is it being an Adventist when the numbers aren’t that great? How is it for the individual? What does it mean for the leaders of such a small and often struggling administrative church unit? I know how it is to live as an Adventist in an environment that is hostile, or at best indifferent, to my beliefs. I know also from experience how it is to be a leader of a small faith community, one that sees but little growth and hardly has a voice in the society in which it seeks to operate.
I have traveled rather widely and have been in close touch with believers in many countries, and I believe I can imagine (at least to some extent) how challenging it must be to live as an Adventist in Cairo, as part of a tiny brand of Christianity that is disliked by most Muslims and often hated by the clergy of the more established Christian Church. I think I can imagine somewhat how it must be to have become an Adventist somewhere on the outskirts of Karachi, struggling to feed my family because of Sabbath issues; and I can imagine to some extent what it must feel like to be a church member in Greece and to see that most mission efforts remain without visible results.
What Do We Do When the Numbers Aren’t Great?
Let me try to share some convictions that may provide some direction and food for further thought.
1. Being few is not always such a bad thing.The other day I met a prominent church member from one of the smaller Caribbean islands, where about 50 percent of the population is Adventist. The picture he painted was not one of a vibrant community that always leaves the kind of impact that makes one proud. For many, Adventism is a cultural thing; it is something “that runs in the family.” It reminded me of the fact that being an Adventist in isolation requires a constant, deliberate choice; it demands determination and dedication. And, those who are more isolated than they would wish should be comforted and strengthened by the thought that being part of a small remnant is a very biblical notion! Jesus Himself reminded us that numbers are not everything (Matt. 18:20)—that He is more concerned about spirituality and quality.
2. There is a tremendous blessing in knowing that one is part of something bigger. If there is anything church leaders, at any level, must foster, it is the realization that we belong to the family of God, which knows no geographic, national, cultural, or linguistic borders. More should be done to ensure that journals such as Adventist World get to their intended audience, linking this worldwide movement. The increasing number of inspiring and nurturing Adventist Internet offerings needs to be communicated to those living in isolation. Furthermore, regular visits of leaders and specialists, who can train and inspire, will further strengthen the mental and spiritual links to the larger Adventist world community. The blessings that result from knowing that one is part of something larger and successful provide an encouragement that is worth all the effort and expense the church puts into this.
3. One of the great things of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is its international solidarity.Even though this solidarity at times suffers tensions, Adventists care for one another. They give large amounts for missions; they support projects in all parts of the world, and they go on countless mission trips. The world church makes very substantial amounts of money available for work in places where results may be very slow in coming. Fortunately, Adventist mission is not just driven by cost-effectiveness and numbers. Some of the largest (per capita) financial support from the General Conference goes to the smallest divisions, where the numbers aren’t that great and immediate results will be modest.
4.In addition to continuing solidarity, there must also be a nonjudgmental attitude and real desire to understand.Few things irritated and frustrated me more during my years as the president of a small union than subtle or not-so-subtle suggestions that the mission in my country would succeed much better if we would simply copy the methods that have proven to be so successful in those parts of the world where phenomenal membership growth is experienced. Circumstances differ greatly from country to country, and from culture to culture. Challenging situations require creative thinking and careful, but daring, experimentation that is based on Scriptural values. Our believers and leaders who witness and work under challenging circumstances must feel that they are empowered to be creative and innovative.
5.When all is said and done: Let’s make sure that we are a world community of prayer.What more encouraging thought can there be for someone who lives in an isolated place than to know that today someone will pray for you. When we have prayed and worked, we leave the future and the rate of church growth in God’s capable hands. For it is not your church or my church—it isGod’s church. I appreciate Ellen White’s inspired reminder to look at the bigger picture: “While much of the fruit of their labor is not apparent in this life, God’s workers have His sure promise of ultimate success.”*
*Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1948), p. 514.
Reinder Bruinsma is a retired church administrator living in the Netherlands, where he enjoys writing and teaching assignments.
Some work in Muslim areas where their safety depends only on the Lord; many are in charge of 20 churches or more. The majority of the churches they serve are in the poorest of conditions. Yet the ministers who share their testimonies here are happy to be serving the Lord; and they are grateful for ministries such as Adopt a Minister International, which helps them survive and enables them to serve. Read their gripping accounts of working for God in challenging places.—Editors.
A Promise Made to Be Broken
By Christopher V. Luaya1
“Father, when I grow up I will kill all the people involved in your death.” I made this promise at my father’s grave in 1991.
I grew up in a non-Adventist family. For many years my father was known as “Kumander Ingo.” He was a rebel commander of the New People’s Army.2 From time to time Philippine military men came to our house looking for my father. We were told by the rebel leaders never to disclose his whereabouts.
After a long time my father decided to surrender to the government authorities and was put in prison. Sometime later he was pardoned. My father continued to get involved in killing people. He was hired and paid to kill others.
Our lives were troubled. My father had so much anger in his heart. He stayed drunk all the time; it was his way of coping with his lifestyle. Sometimes my family and I would run away in the night to escape my father’s cruelty.
Several years later, however, things changed and my father dedicated most of his time to farming our land.
PUBLIC EVANGELISM: As the result of public evangelism by South Philippine Adventist College theology students (some are sponsored by AMI), many are baptized in Maragusan, on December 29, 2007.But one day, while he and his friends attended a town fiesta, they were arrested and thrown into jail. A few days later, they were killed. We were told that the police shot them while they tried to escape, but we knew this was a lie.
I was devastated to see my father’s wounds. His elbows and knees were broken. Bullet wounds covered his entire body. I was enraged. As I looked at him, I promised to take revenge—I would kill those responsible when I got older.
But when I turned 15, I heard about a Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on Calvary for me. In 1992 I accepted Him into my life, and instantly my vengeful spirit was changed. The love of Jesus filled my heart. I no longer wanted to kill the people who killed my father. I went to Central Philippine Adventist College as a working student for eight years and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theology. I have already introduced many people to Jesus. Today, my way of thinking is to consider every soul precious to God.
For Christ’s sake a promise is sometimes made to be broken.
The Bomb and the All-Knowing Timer
By Jun Caber3
The sun had just set. It was a Monday evening, and I had just left the house of a paralyzed patient whom I had been looking after for several months. Hunger pains made me hurry back to the Adventist Center, a parsonage and mission station where I and many others were staying. The station is built on stilts on the water just like the other buildings on this small island in Tawi-Tawi, in the western part of Mindanao, Philippines..
I joined my group for supper, and after a hearty meal I rested my back on the wall by the front door.
Jerry, a student, stepped outside and onto the six-inch-wide wooden plank that served as our pathway to the mission station. The plank was nine feet above the water. While standing there, Jerry noticed a man down below in the water. The man wasn’t moving. Alarmed, Jerry quickly ran back inside.
“What’s the matter?” we all chorused.
“There’s a man in the water, and he looks dead!” Jerry whispered, pointing down to the floor.
While Jerry was still talking, I heard an object drop into the water followed by splashing sounds. Maybe it was just someone trying to steal our small boat. We didn’t get alarmed because the boat was securely tied by the door and within sight.
A few minutes later, three of my companions and Bert, our leader, went outside to call our neighbor, Abula. Armed with a bolo (a sharp, long knife) and a flashlight, Abula went around our parsonage in his boat. By this time it was already dark. By the light of a flashlight we saw a pair of flip flops floating, apparently left by the fleeing man. A piece of wood with red electrical tape was floating next to it. Bert used a stick to turn the wood over.
What we saw next made us shake with fear: a hand grenade taped onto the piece of wood and connected to a timer with red electrical tape that could explode once loosened.
My companions started to pack up while exclaiming, “We will die! We will die!” In all the chaos and panic, I managed to ask all of us to kneel down and pray with Bert’s leading. After the prayer we felt better.
Bert asked me to go inside the parsonage to get the long chain and padlock so we could secure the boat. With flashlight in my hand and numbed with fear, I walked the plank to the parsonage door. I stared at the bomb underneath for a few seconds, my heart pounding. I found the chain and padlock and headed back out. However, because of my fear, my mind went into “autopilot.” I noticed my unfinished laundry in the corner, and without conscious thought picked up the bucket of clothes and started hanging them on a clothesline inside the parsonage.
Bert wondered why I wasn’t coming out, so he walked part of the plank to see what was keeping me inside. He saw me wringing my clothes and putting them on the line to dry.
“Hey, get back out here! Forget about your laundry!” Bert angrily yelled at me.
Still in a daze, I emptied the water from the bucket outside where the bomb was floating. Immediately I realized the danger and I ran outside. I quickly tied the boat to a post, only six feet away from the bomb.
Once on the ground, Bert and I ran to the other side of the building. Just as we reached safety the bomb went off! We all were grateful that our heavenly Father didn’t allow the bomb to go off while we were inside the parsonage.
In the morning we saw the devastation. Our parsonage and boat were destroyed. But, remembering Psalm 91:14, I thanked God for keeping us alive!
The Two Alarm Clocks
By Arnie Roa4
I am assigned in mainland Bongao in Tawi-Tawi, Philippines, under Adopt a Minister. In this territory Muslim missionaries called tablegs dislike the presence of Christians on their island, especially educators such as me. La Island, another small island in Tawi-Tawi, is known to be a private sanctuary where Muslim bandits (and small rebel factions) take refuge. Here the islanders make sure that every man owns a gun to be able to fight their enemies.
With this kind of situation in La Island, even other Muslims are afraid to go there without escort. But several years ago, a group of Adventist teachers fromMountain View College came to live on La Island. This alarmed the tablegs and a group went to La Island to investigate.
A tableg approached me in the Bongao pier as I was boarding a boat for La Island. “Sir,” he calmly inquired, “are you one of the teachers of La Island?”
“No,” I said. “But the teachers there are my companions. Is there anything I can do for you, my brother?”
“Very well,” he said. “I am a tableg assigned to that island. I am just concerned about the lessons the Adventist teachers are teaching. All of your teachings are very good and my relatives on the island are very thankful and proud of your people. But one thing I am very concerned about is the ‘values’ subject. I saw in your notebooks that ‘God’ and ‘prayer’ and other things are taught the Christian way. I’m afraid your teachers are teaching my people to be Christians!”
The tableg got angry as he explained his view. He excused himself so I didn’t have the opportunity to clarify that the Adventist teachers were using English as their method of instruction so that God, prayer, and all the terms that pertain to worship were in English, not Arabic. If they used Arabic, what would appear in the students’ notebooks would be Allah for God, Sambayang for prayer, etc.
I quickly returned to La Island and told the teachers of the alarming comments of the tableg. That night we had a special prayer and slept soundly.
I didn’t know that the teachers had scheduled nightly prayers at midnight. Michard, one of the teachers, set their only alarm clock to wake them up. I did not hear the alarm, nor did they wake me when it sounded.
As they prayed, another alarm clock went off near my feet. This woke me up. When I opened my eyes, I saw through the moonlight the silhouettes of the four teachers on their knees. As I prepared to kneel, I touched another figure on his knees where the clock was buzzing. I prayed beside the one who was kneeling by me.
When I finished praying, the four had already finished and they were waiting for me. But who is this one praying beside me? I asked myself. I lit the gas lamp to see who it might be, but the light revealed no one. I told the teachers about the praying visitor beside me, and they couldn’t believe their ears. They said they heard two alarm clocks go off and couldn’t understand it because they have only one.
HOME SWEET HOME: Sonny Mercurio, currently employed by the Negros Occidental Conference, is an ordained minister and married with three children. This is a photo of Mercurio at the hut he lived in when he was sponsored by Adopt a Minister.We didn’t call it a mystery. We knew that God sent His angels to watch and preserve our lives (Ps. 34:7).
God Called Me Back
By Sonny Mercurio5
I worked my way through college, and when I finally graduated I was thrilled. But my joy instantly turned to despair. Negros Occidental Mission wasn’t hiring, and more than a dozen graduates had applied ahead of me. Employment through the mission comes only when someone retires or passes away. Like the others, I visited the mission office often looking for short-term work. But with so many other applicants, I was passed over many times. I worked for churches as a volunteer, receiving only food and lodging.
After months without funds, I abandoned the ministry to sell bottled water. With a heavy heart, I drove the water truck on my first day of work. I pleaded with God to send me financial help so I could go back to work for Him. It was at lunchtime when the mission president called to tell me of the good news. I was being sponsored by Adopt a Minister International.
A few days later, I found myself working for God in a mountainous place four hours from town. Romeo Castro, my sponsor in America, had asked that I be assigned in his hometown here in the Philippines. The church was old and located in the middle of a sugarcane field. The few members who attended every Sabbath walked through a muddy field during rainy season to get to it.
I made friends with the people of the community and I visited Castro’s relatives. I gave them Bible studies and invited them to church. In a year’s time the church’s membership grew to more than 100. Today, Castro is building a new church closer to the road.
On my list of converts are Castro’s relatives and three Baptist ministers. I thank God for Adopt a Minister. I don’t know where I would be today if this program were not in existence.
1Christopher V. Luaya was a ministerial applicant in the Negros Occidental Conference in the Philippines when he wrote this article.
2The military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA is a Maoist group formed in March 1969 with the aim of overthrowing the government through protracted guerrilla warfare.
3Jun Caber (not his real name) was a young volunteer missionary in the Philippine mountain tribes of Bukidnon. He also worked in the Muslim territory in Western Mindanao for two years. Five years ago, he was called to work in South Korea and is currently serving as a missionary in the northern part of Thailand under Adopt a Minister.
4Arnie Roa works as a layman with the Zamboanga Peninsula Mission. He and his wife, a teacher at the Bongao Adventist Elementary School, are the parents of a healthy 18-month-old, who was born weighing only 1.65 lbs.
5Sonny Mercurio is now an ordained minister of Negros Occidental Conference and married with three children.