April 26, 2006

"Don't Ask Me for Money!"

1512 page28 capARTHA* SELDOM MINCED WORDS. She grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home and had not attended church for several months. When the church secretary called to set up an appointment for a pastoral visit, she retorted, “Don’t ask me for money. I have nothing to do with the church. Don’t call me when the church needs funds.”
The secretary politely explained that she wasn’t calling for money, but to express, on behalf of the pastoral staff, her concerns about Martha’s absence from church services. Nevertheless, the conversation ended abruptly without a commitment from Martha--no appointment was made for the pastor to visit her.
A month later Martha attended church. She wore a facade that seemed to say, “Don’t ask me to do anything,” and no one did. She attended church irregularly for a while. No one dared ask her to get involved in the church activities. She always came quietly and left abruptly. Susan, Martha’s daughter, resembled her in action and attitude. Both were cool toward the church.
Several months went by, then, on a Sabbath afternoon, the pastor asked Martha if he could study the Bible with Susan. Susan was already in college and had attended church all her life.
“Don’t you dare baptize my daughter!” Martha reacted. The pastor politely assured her that her daughter would have to make her own decision about her commitment to God; there would be no coercion. But the pastor encouraged Martha to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter.
“I’ll think about it,” Martha said hesitatingly.
The Beginning of Something Big
A few months later Martha approached the pastor in church on a Sabbath morning. Apparently, in a way impossible to describe or quantify, the Holy Spirit had begun working on Martha’s heart, opening her eyes to some of the needs of her local congregation. She announced she wanted to do something for the youth. She said, “Why don’t we ask the youth what they want us to do?” The pastor consented. Together, they decided to speak to the youth about their needs.

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you, or someone you know, experienced a dramatic change of course, attributed only to the moving of the Holy Spirit? What was the issue? What was the result?

2. How important is it to be passionate about one of the ministries of the church? Which of the church’s ministries do you feel strongest about supporting with your time, energy, and finances? Why those?

3. Which of the church’s ministries has been most helpful in your spiritual development over the years?

4. List at least five things the older members of your congregation can do to nurture the faith of its young people, either spiritually, emotionally, or materially.

To facilitate communication, Martha planned a potluck for them. Invitations to the young people were sent out by a few mothers in the church. The potluck was well organized, and a wonderful fellowship ensued. Several parents, who had contributed food to the meal, were also present to be with their children. When the meal was over, Martha asked the youth what they wanted from the church. The young people asked for a dedicated place where they could worship and fellowship. After a week of searching, no available space in the church was found. There was simply no room in the church for a room specifically dedicated to the youth.
Then a young man who was involved with Pathfinders suggested, “Why don’t we renovate the large attic where we keep our outdated Pathfinder equipment?” A chorus of “amens” resounded.
The youth did the initial cleaning and disposing of the unwanted items that had been stored since the church began, 40 years before. Martha and two other mothers of the youth put their ideas and wallets together. They planned to renovate the church attic within a week.
“Pastor, you’re invited to the opening ceremony of our youth center in the attic next Sabbath afternoon,” Martha stated confidently. “It would take the church board three months of meetings before anything begins. But we’ll do it in a week.” Martha spoke in her usual manner--straight to the point.
Sure enough, stepping into the attic on the following Sabbath afternoon, the pastor saw a remarkable transformation. An attic cluttered with junk became a “little heaven on earth,” the result of the efforts of three parents who wanted their children to appreciate their church. Martha gave the first $4,000; no one could stop her. With more than $10,000, donated from Martha and a few other parents, the attic was renovated. The church called it the “Upper Room,” a fitting name for a spiritual center.
The Ripple Effect
Youth participation in the church rose. Before the renovation, only about 10 young people came to Sabbath school. And, except for a faithful few who participated in the Adventist Youth Fellowship, hardly any youth attended Sabbath afternoon activities. When the Upper Room began operating, the youth attendance increased from 10 to 30, and then to 40. Young people from other area Adventist churches heard about the new creation. One of the neighboring churches even renovated its attic into another “Upper Room.”
This process didn’t happen overnight. In fact, after the initial flurry of activity, it took more than two years for the ministry to “hit its stride.” But the fruit of patient waiting for the Spirit to move was immeasurable. Three years after the founding of the Upper Room, Martha’s daughter, Susan, was baptized. Young people from the church rejoiced with Martha. The presence of the Holy Spirit was felt because Susan’s baptism was the fulfillment of Christ’s gospel commission (Matt. 28:19, 20).
When the Spirit of the Lord inspires human hearts, no one can stop the process of giving or baptizing.

*Names in this article have been changed. 

Chor-Kiat Sim is a chaplain and coordinator of Pastoral Care Services at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland.