March 4, 2009

1507 Web Letters

A Life of Witness
I just read the article, “Charles D. Brooks: Gospel Herald (Feb. 26, 2009). Excellently written! What humility is in this man who has been used by God for more than five decades. What a ministry standard he has set. It isn’t about numbers, but about lives changed for the kingdom. May this attitude be our witness.

Beryl McWilliams
Silver Spring, Maryland

Sensitivity Needed
Thank you for the answer Drs. Handysides and Landless gave in “Stigmatized by Type 2 Diabetes” (Feb. 26, 2009). Many of our church family are misinformed; unfortunately, it can lead to a lot of those who have this illness to feel avoided.

My daughter has Type 1 Diabetes, having been diagnosed when she was 12 years old. She is now 21, and because she does such a good job of caring for herself, many find it hard to believe she has the illness. One Sabbath she was having a blood sugar low and went to get some juice from the church kitchen. A member who should have known better told her she needed to eat before she came to church. She then insensitively proceeded to inform my daughter that as a diabetic she needed to eat more starchy foods. A series of articles on both types of this illness may help inform those who are well-meaning among us.

I am still at a lost as to how my daughter ended up with Type 1 Diabetes; there is no history of this illness anywhere in either family tree. So we deal with it and live as healthfully as possible.

Thank you again for shedding light on this illness that causes so much pain for so many.

Name withheld by Request

Young Adults and the Church
Like Water Between Our Fingers” (Feb. 19, 2009) is a good article.

Young, non-Christian, non-Adventist people are looking for something real, something authentic. Adventist churches should be loving, Jesus-centered families ready to accept refugees from society’s popular culture. If our church was like this, varying opinions and worship styles would be more substantive and less dissonant. Things would get done and unity could begin, even on earth.

Whether in mission or worship, community is what we lack.

A. J. Church

The article, Like Water Between Our Fingers,” reminds me of a conversation Tom Evans, North American Division treasurer, and I had several years ago. We both grew up attending a small church in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a congregation composed largely of “older” members. As Tom and I reminisced, we got to thinking about the young people then in that church, and how many had stayed in the church.

That little church did a wonderful job (even though I doubt any there would have considered it a “job”) of making each young person feel he/she was a valued, contributing part of the church. The church made sure young people were regularly involved in the worship experience and in church planning. We were loved and valued, and members made sure we knew that. They told us many times how important we were to the church and to God, and that God had a special plan and special work for each of us.

When we came home from academy or college we would again be invited to share and participate in the worship experience. I clearly remember one elderly woman, Mrs. Burns, who as she aged couldn’t remember that we had aged too. To her, we were still, and always would be, academy students. She’d hug us, tell us how much she and the church missed us and loved us, then ask how we were doing in academy. She was confused, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was knowing how much we were loved and how that small church was counting on us to do something special for God.

Bruce McClay
Walla Walla University School of Nursing Library
Portland, Oregon

Thank you for printing Jimmy Phillips’ first-person perspective regarding young adults and the church. It served as an imperative reminder of our continuing responsibility to each other and the genuine need of this sector of the church family.

As the mother of four post-college children under the age of 30, Phillips’ questions and worries struck a personal chord in my own heart. Three of my four children live far enough away from home that if they go to church or find any sense of belonging and connection with the church, it is something completely removed from my input or influence. My last vestige of affect remains that which has always been the most promising and important--prayer.

But Phillips’ article made me think about other ways through which the church might embrace my children, keeping them in active fellowship, affirming their faith, and involving them in on-going discipleship.

One of the great challenges to Phillips and whatever church he visits is that he will likely be significantly outnumbered by an older generation of congregants. Simply put, the young adult population in our church is disappearing. This diminishing populace is a reality across North America, but the church is suffering under an even greater dichotomy than the general public.

Monte Sahlin has documented the problem clearly in the recently published study: Demographic Profile of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. Sahlin reports that “the new demographic study of the Adventist community in North America pegs the median age at 51 while the median age for the US is 36 and Canada’s median age is 35.”1

So, while we have heard the term the “graying of America” it would appear that our church has not only gone completely gray, our hair is thinning and our young adult population is, regrettably, doing likewise.

How then do we meet the needs of Phillips and other young adults still hanging on to their faith and seeking to embrace and be embraced by a community of like believers?

I suggest that we revisit small group ministries. But we have to do it with a new twist. Instead of forming groups based on commonalities, we should become more deliberate and inclusive of a broader spectrum of the church population. Too often there are not enough “Jimmys” to make a Young Adult group for themselves, and I question whether that is the right approach anyway. We need integration. The church needs to purposely design small groups that move beyond natural lines of demarcation if we want to include Phillips and others like him.

Creating a small group that can be genuinely meaningful to Phillips might include these considerations:

a) Do profiling. Identify people, not by age or even interests, but by a desire of those who want to meet those like Phillips where they are and become part of their world.

b) Education. The church, or at least a significant number of members, need to educate themselves to contemporary life and language. It’s different then it use to be; and further, contemporary life is evolving rapidly and is in a constant state of flux. Even among my children (all within two years of each other), there are certain generational gaps I observe when they are home together. They actually have to bring each other up to speed. We need someone willing to be educated technologically and philosophically; making iPhones and texting, online social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and Google something they not only understand but use. Not only that, it would be helpful if they searched YouTube once a week and listened to National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” and “All Things Considered.” They should go to bookstores and ask for good books on contemporary philosophy and read a major news magazine online. People think differently now; and the church has to learn the new language of contemporary life.

c) Identify common ground (be creative). If Phillips is going to church, there is likely some area of common ground somewhere. Find it.

d) Work together. Do something together that serves a common cause. This is an age-old method for bonding, and it still works.

e) Foster real, honest relationships. There will never be a substitute for genuine interest and care. This is demonstrated most profoundly in consistency; time spent together talking and listening. Never forget that a good plate of food almost always does wonders to nurture and nourish authentic friendships.

We need to rethink small group ministry so it is intentionally broad and inclusive of a cross-section of eager, willing members. This can be an effective way to safeguard a compelling place in our church for Phillips and all our precious sons and daughters.

Susan Zork
Eau Claire, Michigan

For Adventist Education
I was inspired and touched by the messages of two university presidents and their commitments to help young people achieve a Christian education and prepare them for terrestrial and eternal life.

The stamina and promotion of a healthy Christian lifestyle by running marathons to raise money for scholarships by Delbert Baker, president of Oakwood University, is commendable. Being an international student from Brazil, I remember the challenges my wife and I faced while raising a family and pursuing a degree to serve the Lord. Quite often we lacked food, which was miraculously supplied by faithful Christians who believed in helping us. We needed Baker’s running at that time.

In the February Southern Union Tidings, I read the editorial by Gordon Bietz, president Of Southern Adventist University and the experience of his grandparents who homesteaded in North Dakota and built a house at the beginning of the last century. Coming from Germany, they read the German translation of the book Counsel to Parents, Teachers, and Students by Ellen G. White and were so determined to follow the counsel of the Lord that they bought a piece of land near our school, obtained two large steam engines, “jacked up the house, put it on skids, and dragged it to new piece of property. There the nine Bietz children had access to a Christian education.”

That reflects the commitment of Germans in the southern part of Brazil, who sponsored and helped students go to our academy. As a result, Rio Grande do Sul, my home state, has provided more workers for the church in that nation! My sons and grandchildren are products of Christian education. My oldest teaches at Pacific Union College.

Delbert and Gordon, keep running and moving for Christian education!

Leo Ranzolin Sr.
Estero, Florida