October 24, 2012

Diversity in Five-Part Harmony

The North American Division is hosting a diversity celebration summit October 31 through November 2, 2012, at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. With the theme “Crossing Divides: Transcending Our Differences Through Jesus,” the three-day summit will focus on potential barriers to unity represented by differences in age, race, gender, disability, or culture. For more information, visit www.nadsecretariat.org/article/8/blank. In anticipation of this event the Adventist Review asked five authors to write about aspects of this topic they hope to see addressed in this year’s event. We welcome your feedback concerning these and other issues reflecting the diversity of the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.—Editors.

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Dreams and Signs

Ihad a strange dream last night,” my coworker said to me. “In that dream your God gave me a message to give to you.” I froze in disbelief. She was agnostic and thought Christianity was a ridiculous religion. But God has spoken in dramatically “divers manners” before (Heb. 1:1, KJV)!

“Tell me more about your dream,” I said. 

She continued, “Your God instructed me to tell you that you are to go prepare yourself to be a pastor.” She then proceeded to describe, in precise detail, the campus of Andrews University, where the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary is located. She had never heard of Andrews University. She concluded by saying, “That is where you are to go. I’ve done what I was told. Now it’s your turn to do what you’ve been told.” 

For many years I had stubbornly avoided God’s call to pastoral ministry. So, perhaps in a bit of divine exasperation, God chose a most unlikely person to get my attention and to convict me to obey. In some strange way I also felt that God used her to convey the affirmation of His call for me. That was 10 years ago. Every day since, God has affirmed that call in unlikely ways. 

God’s call is affirmed through Paul, whom I baptized, with some hesitation, when he was 7. Paul, in turn, gathered eight of his friends and gave them Bible studies. Two years later I baptized four of them, with Paul standing in the baptismal tank with me.
God’s call is affirmed through Carolyn, who after hearing me preach about courage informed her family that she was going to be a pastor. Her tenacious conviction to follow God’s will, against her family’s wishes, inspired her brother to give up drugs and turn his life around. They are now both studying to be pastors.

God’s call is affirmed as I answer a midnight phone call from a teenage girl, feeling uncomfortable that her boyfriend was pressuring her into an intimate encounter. She resisted his advances and broke off the relationship. She is now a young adult speaking to teenage girls about God’s plans for their lives.

God’s call is affirmed through Kent and Marissa, who have grown to understand that their priority is to teach their children to love God and follow Jesus. They make choices that are often ridiculed to be spiritual mentors for their children. 

God has done some amazing things through my ministry. He has given me strength, courage, and wisdom to overcome many of the challenges I face as a woman in pastoral ministry. Every day I see signs of His affirmation. Ultimately, though, God’s affirmation is measured not in what I do, but rather in what He does in the lives of the people I minister to. I continue watching and listening as God acts in ways I never would have dreamed. 

Ann Roda is an associate pastor of the New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fulton, Maryland.

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Reaching the Invisible Nation

In 1966 I fell asleep while driving from Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts to Durham, North Carolina. I was thrown from the car and suffered a catastrophic injury, resulting in the paralysis of all four limbs. Through the blessings of God I was able to graduate in 1986 with a Ph.D. in psychology. I immediately began seeing patients in private practice. That same year, I received a call from Warren Banfield, one of the first African-Americans to work at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We talked about God and His blessings and congratulated each other on our accomplishments. He reported that the Adventist Church was serious about the inclusion of persons with disabilities. He asked for my insights about what could be done to make our churches more welcoming, accessible, and sensitive.   

2012 1530 page18Through his efforts and those of his successor, Rosa T. Banks, the world church voted (at the 1995 General Conference session in the Netherlands) to establish programs to support and witness to people with disabilities through all levels of the organization. In addition, an administrator or coordinator was selected to provide leadership at the union, local conference, and local church levels. According to Rosemary Graham, the disability coordinator for the Southern Union Conference, significant improvements have been made in the disability ministry since that time.

A little more than a quarter century has passed since that conversation with Banfield, and again, I am pleased to be asked what I would want the outcome of the upcoming summit on diversity to be as it relates to the area of disability. I can best respond to this question by relaying what I learned during a disability consulting experience in South Africa. 

In 1997 I traveled to South Africa with a group from the Georgia State University School of Public Policy to consult with officials from the South African government on disability issues. We were introduced to Shuaib Chalklen, the director of the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons (OSDP). This office works with many disability groups and nongovernment organizations to ensure the rights of individuals with disabilities in South Africa. After apartheid a consortium of these disability groups worked on provisions and policies that became part of the constitution of South Africa. The OSDP is fully funded by the South African government.

Although laws are in place that address and protect the rights of persons with disabilities within our churches, many individuals and families with children with disabilities are missing from our churches because of architectural, communication, and attitudinal barriers. Statistics report that 1 billion men, women, and children in the world live with a disability. Of these individuals, 57 million are Americans. As that number increases, it is crucial that we reach this “invisible nation” and that our church leaders address more effectively how people with disabilities can be included in all church life with full access to worship, study, and service.     

I would like to see us: 

advocate for hiring people with disabilities to lead the world church in consistent, coordinated services, training, and support that address the needs of individuals and families of children with disabilities.
ensure that directors are hired and paid in each union to help address the needs of people with disabilities.
provide appropriate yearly budgets in the same manner as other departments are budgeted.
collaborate with other departments for including persons with disabilities at all division-, union-, and conference-sponsored events.
promote the annual Disability Awareness Offering Sabbath (third Sabbath in March) for all divisions and all churches.
develop training and support materials that will assist churches in outreach to persons with disabilities.

It is critical to create, in our administrative offices and churches, an atmosphere of openness and acceptance of persons with disabilities in order to foster their ability to work, serve, and represent the Adventist Church in all aspects of bringing souls to Christ.

The highest priority should be given to the issue of the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of the church. The true measure of the success of this endeavor will be realized when people with disabilities have full access to worship, study, and employment, and can fully participate in service and leadership in all aspects of Adventist Church life. 

Richard Mouzon, Ph.D., who writes from Atlanta, Georgia, is the founder and CEO of Upreach International, a ministry committed to the empowerment of those with disabilities.

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The Pursuit of Relevance

Generational gaps in Adventism are nothing new. How to address them, of course, is a different issue—an issue that the North American Division is currently discussing.

I am 24 and a representative of the younger generation of Adventism, the twentysomethings and younger. So how do we bridge the gap between the younger generation and the rest of the church?

2012 1530 page18I’ll begin by pointing out a problem I’ve seen. There is a “we and them” mentality between generations in the Adventist Church today. The reason for this, I believe, is simply the difference in culture between generations. And there is surely nothing wrong with that. However, the issue arises when we see this same cultural divide within the church.

A primary factor that may have hindered the younger generation from staying in church is the pursuit of relevance. Relevance seems to be the word of the day now, with churches everywhere addressing how to be relevant to the youth. This approach has aimed to keep the youth in the church by appealing to their culture, but its long-term effects, paradoxically, may have contributed to the opposite. Why?

The question is Why go to an Adventist church to get what you can find anywhere else?

We’ve sometimes allowed our focus to shift from unity in an end-time message to cultural catering. And since the older and younger generations truly do have different cultures, there is inevitably a disconnect between them. To be solidly united as a church, both young and old, we have to be ever united upon the purpose and identity that made Adventism flourish in the first place.

In a world in which individuals are striving for identity and purpose, downplaying what makes Adventism unique and counterculturally relevant seems a sure way to commit denominational suicide.

I had a friend from high school who was a drifter. That is, he attended the Adventist church in addition to a couple other youth groups on Sundays. I asked him once why he jumped back and forth between churches that, from my perspective, were quite different.

“Church is church,” he quipped. “Adventist, nondenominational, whichever. Once you’re there, they all sound the same anyway.”
When Christ walked the streets and hillsides of Judea, He had a relevant message. He shared it with the utmost love and tenderness, but He did not water down a single truth for the sake of appeal. His “relevance” came in the form of showing people their true condition and their subsequent need of Him, their Savior.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was built on a powerful and highly relevant message. And what do you know? Some of its greatest champions were youth. This message struck a chord with the younger generation in the 1840s not because it was like the world around it—rather because it was not.

At times we’ve made the mistake of appealing to youth by equating relevance with being like the world when true biblical relevance is countercultural—it is showing people their need in a loving, Christlike manner. What makes the Advent message stand out is its peculiarity, not how well it blends with everything else around it.

In summary, yes, there’s a disconnect between generations. There is a generational gap in Adventism that is troubling if it persists. Common ground must be sought. This generational gap will not go away if we keep marketing to generational cultures—it will only widen. Again, this isn’t about worship styles; it’s much bigger than that. This is about being united in Jesus Christ to carry out an end-time message no matter how politically incorrect, narrow-minded, or bigoted the world may perceive it. 

True, this is a message that the world will not find to its taste, but it’s a message it desperately needs to hear. In the pursuit of relevance, we ought to remember how Christ showed us what relevance truly is and stand firm in boldness and love.

After all, a world is at stake. 

Andrew W. Kerbs is a college student from Hendersonville, North Carolina. 

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The Social Realities of Racial Diversity

The upcoming discussion about racial diversity in the church presents a welcome opportunity to clarify several concepts critical to the social and spiritual conduct of God’s people.

The first has to do with the role of culture in cross- or “inter” racial fellowship. Intervening centuries since Bible times have done little to contradict Aristotle’s observation that “birds of a feather flock together.” Further, as demonstrated by Peter’s Acts 10 experience, it is clear that while conversion conditions the heart to accept those identified as “other,” social enlightenment is often required to make it so.

2012 1530 page18Otherwise stated, what we modern-day proclaimers of a truth that makes disciples of “every nation, kindred, tribe, and people” have to know is how best to function given our differences of languages, looks, and leanings. 

The second need has to do with “intra” racial fellowship, or association “within” individual groupings. That is because there are major cultural entities among us to which multiple nations have contributed a wide variety of lifestyles and thinking. These differences within individual groups are often as productive of negative vibes as are those that exist between separate racial and language types. This challenging dynamic, seen in both larger entities (e. g., Black and Latino) and smaller ones (e.g., Southeast Asian, Korean, and Filipino), calls for solutions as urgently as do those required elsewhere.

The third need is that of which Ellen White wrote: “The relation of the two races [White and Black] has been hard to deal with, and I fear that it will remain a most perplexing problem.”*

This “most perplexing problem” requires informed prescriptions regarding: (a) the melting pot versus the salad bowl as an (ideal) societal construct; (b) the merits of integration versus desegregation as a means of attaining racial parity; (c) the role of primary versus secondary relationships in bridging social distance; (d) the status in society in general (and the church in particular) of integration de jure versus integration de facto; (e) addressing all such issues in the light of our social realities not our social wishes.

We seem quite comfortable with right-sounding notions such as “unity in diversity.” The question, however, is of what does unity consist? Are we clear as to the differences between unity and unison, harmony and homogeneity, and the very real tensions minorities often experience between church loyalty and racial identification?

Other questions the conference would do well to address are: (a) how best to attract and nurture the various elements of North America’s steadily increasing immigrant populations; (b) what can and should be done to foster optimism and continued sacrificial involvement by the once dominant but now declining White membership in North America; (c) as pertains to Ellen White’s statement (above), how to break through the social distance so common to majority White and majority Black congregations, while at the same time retaining appropriate focus in the neighborhoods where these churches are located.

We have to be given scripturally authenticated recommendations that apply to the broken society in which we live, not to the abandoned societal conditions of Bible times or the future conditions of post-sin eternity. If the conference contributes objectively in this regard, it will enhance both our associations here and advance our prospects for unfettered fellowship in the sinless society to come. 

* Ellen G. White, The Southern Work (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2004), p. 84.

Calvin Rock, a retired vice president of the General Conference, lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. he’s now serving as interim pastor of the Beacon Light Seventh-day Adventist Church in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Home Away From Home

Culture means different things to different people. For some it refers to an appreciation of literature, music, art, and food. For anthropologists and other behavioral scientists culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns. Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is fragile. It is constantly changing and can easily be lost, because it exists primarily in our minds.

People in Asian countries are interrelated culturally. There are some distinct differences, but also many similarities between various Asian cultures. Common core-value threads seem to run through most Asian cultures, though the expression of these values may vary from one Asian culture to another.

I was born in a Karen (pronounced Ka-ren´) village of about 3,000 people in eastern Myanmar (Burma). This experience of village life left indelible memories and deeply instilled in me key values that I keep with me.

2012 1530 page18Family Life
Father and mother are the most important members of the family, sharing full responsibility for their children. The father, as leader of the family, makes decisions for the family. Children stay with the parents until they marry. Even then, married daughters and their families stay with her parents. Only men, when they marry, leave their parents’ homes and live with the wife’s family.

Village Life
Children grow up together, sharing with their friends what they learn from their parents. They do not have school; they learn from life experiences.

People always help each other. They visit each other; they share experiences. My people always helped each other, from clearing the land, sowing, weeding, to harvesting and bringing produce home.

When I was 7 years old, I remember sitting at the edge of my village with my friends, just before sunset, watching the animals coming back from grazing, followed by the villagers returning from their day’s work on their fields. These fond memories remind me of my culture and the values it instilled in me.

Implications for Outreach
In doing ministry among Asian people, especially among the Karen, building relationships and being friends with them is the best way to reach them.

Karen Adventists, many of whom have recently arrived from refugee camps on the Thai/Burmese border, are eager to connect with their Adventist brothers and sisters in America. They often visit an Adventist church as soon as they can find one. However, they feel shy because they don’t know the culture and are not fluent in English. So they often sit in a corner and try not to be in the way.

Anything church leaders can do to help church members understand who the Karen people are, and why they are here, and help members reach out, connect, and build close relationships with these and other newcomers will be deeply appreciated.

Adventist education is an excellent way to reach and keep Karen families strong and connected with the church. Karen children are eager to attend Adventist schools, and Karen parents are eager to sacrifice for their children to attend our schools. But their financial situation as newly arrived refugees makes it extremely difficult and, in most cases, impossible for them to access Adventist education without assistance. Any help the church can provide in this area will inspire many prayers of gratitude. 

Jimmy Shwe is a church planting consultant for the Karen people in the United States. This article was published October 25, 2012.