As we enter November and draw close to Thanksgiving, we feel nudged to count our blessings, to ponder the things we’re thankful for, and to praise God for His goodness and care.
This year, however, life seems different. We’re inundated with images of war, poverty, natural calamities—and very angry people. None of this is new, but somehow we seem to be experiencing a greater intensity of events, more fear for the future, and increased concern regarding rapid change.
According to the USDA, more than 34 million people in the United States, including some 9 million children, are food insecure. The Feeding America website states that “every community in the country is home to families who face hunger,” and in 2021 alone, about 53 million people sought help from community food programs.1
The growing number of displaced people is also overwhelming to consider. As of May 2022, 100 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide largely because of conflicts and human rights violations.
Natural disasters are regular occurrences, and in the first half of 2022 have mostly been weather-related. “Tornadoes in the U.S. caused billions in damage, parts of eastern coastal Australia were submerged by floods, and southern Europe struggled with extreme heat, wildfires and drought.”2
Also disturbing is rising anger and hate, attributed by some to racism, coronavirus response, and “American politicians [stoking] voter anger for their own electoral advantage.”3
Considering all this, can we still find blessings to be thankful for? Absolutely we can! One thing that rises to the top is caring people. Those who set aside personal convenience and prioritize helping others. Countless large organizations worldwide are daily fighting food insecurity and aiding individuals affected by natural and other disasters, including ADRA and Adventist Community Services. Local church programs are also involved.
In my own small local church in Meridian, Idaho, members Diana and Gary Wyland head an active community service ministry. Together with numerous church volunteers and food donations from the local food bank and restaurants, the Wylands—who both hold full-time jobs—feed about 130 homeless people every month. They and their team also provide food staples through the church’s food pantry to some 70 community families, or 250 individuals. And they don’t stop there. The group provides adult and children’s clothing to those in need, rides to the hospital, the painting and cleaning of homes, and other assistance.
“We’re seeing the needs increase,” says Diana, who joined the Adventist Church only four years ago. “Inflation is driving more people to seek various types of assistance to fight off expenses or endure stretches of joblessness.”
As we enjoy the Thanksgiving season with family and friends, eating pumpkin pie and tofu turkey, let’s remember those on the front lines of the war on poverty and destruction and despair and be thankful for the help and hope they provide. What would the world be like without them?
1 https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/ food-insecurity
As far as size goes, an average weekly church attendance of 57 wouldn’t place the Meridian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Idaho in the top tier. This, however, doesn’t stop them from thinking big when it comes to community outreach.
Meridian members are actively involved in various outreach activities, such as organizing God’s Closets, in which they supply children’s clothing to low-income families; running depression-recovery and Diabetes Undone clinics; organizing prison ministries and out-of-country mission trips; and repairing used appliances and cars and donating them to people in need. A herculean task that they’ve tackled each December for 10 years, though, is their living Nativity event called Journey to Bethlehem (J2B).
Churches hosting live Nativity programs at Christmastime is nothing new. Countless churches do it. But what sets J2B apart from the crowd is the extensive preparation, the elaborate costumes church members designed, attention to detail, and the large and lavish production they pull together annually. This past December J2B drew record crowds that totaled slightly fewer than 2,000 visitors in three nights, many of them repeats from previous years. Even though many people from neighboring Adventist churches as well as from other denominations (including Baptist and Latter-day Saints) take on several of the character roles and help with the live music and logistics such as parking, this still seems quite a feat for a small church in a city of 107,000 residents.
Visitors experience J2B in groups led by a “guide” during the three hours that J2B is open each evening, leaving little time for volunteers to catch their breath. Organizers, however, say it’s worth it.
“As you see the people coming through the doors each night and listen to the comments, it’s such a blessing,” says Beverly Logan, who has served as J2B director for three years. “I’m always amazed at the comments about the overall spirit of the event. That’s our goal—to share the love of Jesus with the community—and this is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit.”
An occasional groan echoes among Meridian church members when each October rolls around and it’s announced that it’s time to begin setting up for J2B—and with good reason. On the church’s five-acre lot more than 20 “booths” are assembled to hold biblical period shops, homes, a tax collector’s office, a temple room, and other small buildings that depict the city of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. Additional props include a gate to the city, areas for beggars and lepers, a raised structure from which an angel announces the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds, and the stable where Jesus was born, among others. Meridian members labor for weeks setting up for the production—often in inclement weather.
“About a dozen or so people came out and helped with assembling the village this year—and I’m so grateful to each one of them,” says Jerry Rowan, who headed the J2B setup. “Many cold days are spent assembling and decorating. But the comments we receive as the groups come into the social hall at the end of the journey are heart touching and make us feel that the time was well spent.”
As guests and families turn up for J2B, they’re given a group number and listen to live Christmas music in the church sanctuary—performed by such musicians as the Gem State Adventist Academy Bell Ringers and Chorale, the Koinonia Children’s Choir, and a musical group comprising refugees from Rwanda and Uganda called the Oasis Victory Youth Choir—until their group number is called. About 25 visitors at a time are led to a Sabbath School room where introducers set the scene for their journey back in time to biblical Bethlehem, and present them with a few shekels (shiny pennies) to pay the tax collector in the city. A guide, introduced as their cousin Rebekah or Josiah from the family of David who will guide them along the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then takes over. After ensuring everyone has their tax money so no one gets thrown into “jail,” he or she leads the group outside—past beggars pleading for money and lepers crying “Unclean! Unclean!”—to the city gate, protected by Roman guards.
After bribing their way past the gate, the rest of the 30-minute journey takes them by shopkeepers enthusiastically selling their wares, rabbis reading from the Torah and playing a shofar, tax collectors greedily grasping for their money, a blacksmith, a carpenter, goats and their keepers, Clyde the camel, and Roman centurions wandering throughout the village. They then tarry in a “field” of shepherds, where a glowing angel unexpectantly appears and announces the Messiah’s birth. From there they follow a star to the innkeeper’s stable, where they find Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph. The volunteers who play each role stay in character throughout the journey.
“We’ve always received lots of positive comments about the acting of the guides and the guards, which is to be expected as they are the most involved with the family groups,” Logan says. “But this year we received really positive comments about every area of J2B. Even the 105 loaves of bread and the 100 gallons of hot chocolate we provided for the ‘travelers’ at the end of their journey got several thumbs up. People really did notice every detail.”
“About 200 people from all age groups—even the very young who played beggars and lepers and shepherds—worked together to make this happen,” Logan adds.
Several of the J2B guests described it as an annual family tradition.
“Our kids have to come every year or it’s not Christmas,” one person said.
The animated portrayal of the characters appears to be an especially appreciated aspect of the program, helping to create an atmosphere not only of fun but also of reverence.
“I loved the shepherds’ great excitement and joy as they ran to the stable!” a visitor said. “Also the angel’s worship and praise to God. It was all very moving.”
Others were grateful for the journey’s being based on the Bible, as well as for the “spirit” they “could feel during the tour.” One person conceded she cried when she saw Jesus.
“The goal of J2B is to help people focus on Jesus,” Logan says, “so when they said that what they loved most about the program was ‘just being able to stand at the stable and take in that Emmanuel, Jesus, has come’ and that ‘I come every year to see Jesus,’ I just thank the Lord.”
Logan describes partnering with the Lord as a humbling experience, because you witness the power of the Holy Spirit at work, even when the task seems daunting.
“Just when you’re ready to think there’s no way this is going to work, God comes through every time—even for a small church like ours.”
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.
Visitors often do a double take when they first enter the doors of the 30-member Wood River Valley Adventist Church in Hailey, Idaho. Being greeted by a four-legged creature in a fur coat and a welcoming “Woof!” before receiving a hearty handshake and a church bulletin may have some wondering whether they’ve come to the right place. But smiles soon replace looks of confusion as members explain that theirs is a dog-friendly church, and their nonhuman best friends attend worship services with them each Sabbath. Visitors’ dogs are enthusiastically welcomed to join in as well.
No one seems to recall exactly when and how dogs first crossed the church threshold. One person insisted it was about a decade ago when a former pastor started bringing his own dog to church. Another thought it was when a visitor was going to leave church early because he didn’t want his dog sitting in a hot car, so they invited him to bring his canine companion inside. Others don’t remember it being any other way.
“We’ve been bringing Puccini since we first joined the church about three years ago,” said Karen and Dennis Dunn. “People just seem to love bringing their dogs here. More dogs are coming all the time.”
Puccini, an 11-year-old bichon frise named after the couple’s favorite opera composer, has apparently adjusted well to worshipping in church each Sabbath.
“Occasionally a dog will bark and cause some distraction, but overall they’re quiet and behave,” Karen said. “We’re a small community, and bringing our dogs to church works well for us.”
“We have members and visitors who come here just because their dogs can tag along,” adds John Hall, head elder, whose 6-year-old Chihuahua, Stanley, is a regular attendee. “Just last Sabbath a young couple visited us and brought their dog. They said, ‘We looked online and saw this was a dog-friendly church.’ They were on vacation, and I don’t think they would have come if they hadn’t been able to bring their dog.”
Hailey, with a population of about 8,000, is part of the Sun Valley mountain resort community of Idaho. Located near the base of Bald Mountain, one of the higher summits of the Smoky Mountains of Idaho in the Sawtooth National Forest, the region attracts more than 200,000 skiers, hikers, and other lovers of the outdoors each year. Its lakes, rivers, snowcapped mountains, and high-end shops—all made accessible not only by road but also Friedman Memorial Airport—draw in more than the usual visitors. Such celebrities as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore, Clint Eastwood, and Bill Gates have all owned property in the area.
1 Locals credit their most famous historical part-time resident, Ernest Hemingway—who, they say, spent many years in the Sun Valley area and completed For Whom the Bell Tolls during a stay there in 1939—for attracting the initial wave of Hollywood celebrities.2
For Adventist tourists who come to the district for a weekend with their dogs, the Wood River Valley church makes it possible for them to attend church services when Sabbath options for their dogs are limited. Even visitors who don’t own dogs are intrigued by the canine-friendly environment.
“I really enjoy seeing all the different dogs,” says Ellen Cole, a frequent visitor to the church. “I’m a cat owner; I don’t have a dog. But all the dogs make it really fun to be here.”
“Visitors who seem to love it the most are children,” says Juli Miller, who, along with her husband, Barry, has been attending the church in Hailey since 1990. “When children walk in and see the dogs, they get a huge smile on their faces, open their arms, and run up to hug the dogs. The wagging tails and furry faces make the children feel welcome.”
Juli understands the concerns some might have about maintaining a spirit of reverence in the worship service and not having the distractions that animals might bring. She suggested that setting guidelines for the management of the dogs in order to maintain a sense of sacred space and time for prayer and connection with God could resolve potential issues.
“Other churches could at least try it and see,” she said. “You could invite certain kids to bring their dog to church one Sabbath and share a story about their dog with the others.”
Juli and Barry own three cesky fouseks—Esta, Emma, and Eva—a wirehaired versatile breed from Czechoslovakia, and a Brittany spaniel named Absaroka. They say dogs “fit well” in their church. They are “weaved into the sermons” and “warm things up,” Barry says. He concedes, however, that allowing dogs in church might not be for everyone.
“It works here because we’re small,” he says. “It might not work in a large church in New York City, but it works here. If anyone has ever complained about the dogs, I haven’t heard about it.”
“The dogs are of all sizes, all breeds, all temperaments, but they seem to get along,” Juli adds. “More often than not, visitors are excited, relieved, and intrigued to be able to worship with animals here in the mountains. They seem to find it fitting that we can come here and worship with our best friends.”
The Wood River Valley church is not alone in the community in opening its arms and its doors to “man’s best friend.” Local restaurants and other businesses also welcome canine companions.
“Almost every restaurant allows dogs to eat with you on their outdoor patios and provides water and treats,” Karen says. “People bring pictures of their dogs and plaster them all over the restaurant bathroom walls. Banks welcome dogs and give them treats. When you go to the airport and you have your dog in the car, they are given a treat. And we have a huge animal center [Mountain Humane] that adopts out hundreds of dogs every year. It’s a very dog-friendly community.”
The nearby city of Ketchum also considered the needs of dogs about five years ago when it generously designated 80 acres of grass, trees, and trails as a local off-leash dog park.
“A high-end motel and golf course were slated to be built there,” a hotel worker explained. “But it fell through, so they made it a dog park.”
Members realize that allowing dogs to attend church services could cause challenges for some visitors. Not everyone likes dogs and might find them distracting, and allergies to dogs could result in a visitor walking back out the door. So far, however—as far as they recall—the dogs have posed a problem for only one visitor.
“One woman didn’t like it because she said, ‘I’m allergic, so please keep the dogs away from me,’” Karen explained. “So we just kept our dogs at a distance, and she was fine.”
Other members noted that not every dog’s personality matches well with church-going, such as Carrie Williams’ cesky fousek, Cheska.
“Cheska’s nervous around other dogs and doesn’t like to interact with them,” Carrie says.
With the overwhelmingly positive response to their canine-friendly environment, however, the dogs, they say, are here to stay.
“The dogs break the ice with visitors and help them feel more welcome,” Hall says. “We love having them here—and we believe visitors do too.”
To learn more about the Wood River Valley Adventist Church or to book a stay at one of the church’s guestrooms, go to woodrivervalleyid.adventistchurch.org.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.
Seventh-day Adventist Brian Cladoosby is immediate past president of the National Congress of American Indians—the largest Native American representative body recognized by the U.S. government. Cladoosby has also served on the Swinomish Indian Senate, the governing body of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Washington State, for more than three decades, and as chair since 1997. Described by some as “tough but pragmatic” and “humble but ambitious,” Cladoosby apparently gets things done. But although awarded the American Indian Tribal Leader Award for his exceptional achievements by the Reservation Economic Summit and American Indian Business Trade Fair in 2011, Cladoosby consistently gives the credit for his accomplishments to God.
Adventist Review assistant editor Sandra Blackmer recently talked with Cladoosby about Native Americans’ challenging history, the role that the salmon industry plays in their tribal culture, and their continuing struggles today.—Editors
Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born and raised on the Swinomish Indian reservation about 60 miles north of Seattle. I had grandparents who prayed for us. My grandfather went to a Pentecostal church, and he introduced me to Jesus at a young age. I had a great-uncle and a great-aunt who prayed for us.
Was your grandmother also a Pentecostal?
My grandmother was murdered when I was 1 year old, so I never got a chance to know her.
How did your family become acquainted with Adventists?
About 35 years ago my wife, Nina, and I were into drugs and alcohol, which was straining our relationship. My wife said that we either needed to go to church or we’d end up in divorce.
As we were searching out churches, an Adventist church was built on the Lummi Indian reservation about one hour north of us. Nina’s grandmother was a strong Adventist, and when Nina was little, her grandmother would take her to church. So when the Adventist church in Lummi was built in 1983, Nina’s brother invited her to go there. Even though it’s a one-hour drive from our home, we’ve been attending ever since.
Do you have children?
Yes, we have two grown daughters, Lavonne and Mary, and two grandchildren, Isabella and Daniel. Having God in our family has made all the difference.
In what way?
In our community it’s what we call breaking the cycle. Native American communities have the highest drug and alcohol rates of any segment of society. So as a leader and a father, my goal is to try to break that cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. My father quit drinking in 1976; Nina and I quit drinking 30 years ago in 1989; and neither of our daughters do drugs or alcohol. Our two grandkids are the first in our family in 100 years to be raised in a home that’s 100-percent drug and alcohol free.
Since you served as the twenty-first president of the National Congress of American Indians from 2013 to 2017, explain the organization’s mission.
The National Congress was founded in 1944, so it’s the oldest and largest Indian organization in the United States. Our goal is to advocate in Washington, D.C., for all 573 tribal nations in the United States. Even though all the tribal nations are distinct sovereigns, the issues we deal with are the same when it comes to health, education, social services, economic development, and infrastructure.
What are your personal major accomplishments during your term of service?
Also some of what we accomplished was started before my presidency, so the baton was handed to me to finish the work. Accomplishments include such things as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act,1 the Tribal Law and Order Act,2 and the Cobell case, working toward ending violence against women.3 We have a long laundry list of accomplishments.
You’ve also served on the Swinomish Indian Senate, the governing body of your Indian tribal community.
I’ve served on the Senate since 1985. This is my thirty-fifth year on the council and my twenty-third year as chairman of the tribe.
What’s the Senate’s function?
We set policy and implement programs that will benefit our community members. The senate’s number-one job is to provide essential governmental services to our people. One of the biggest services we now provide is for those who graduate high school or get a GED; they can get a full-ride scholarship to the college of their choice. Right now we have 1,000 tribal members. Approximately 600 of them are adults, and about 80 are attending higher education on a full-ride scholarship from our people.
We’re trying to break the cycle of high dropout rates that we experience in Indian country. We’ve had to deal with high dropout rates for various reasons. One of those is historical trauma, a result of a federal government policy implemented in the 1870s that basically meant “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
Unpack that phrase.
Basically what they did was take 80 percent of the kids ages 6 to 18 away from their parents and transport them to boarding schools to be assimilated into the White man’s culture. They did not allow them to speak their language, associate with their parents or their elders, tell their stories, sing their songs, or anything related to their culture. All church denominations in the United States in the 1870s had a part in running these schools.
A couple generations of kids were basically stolen. They never saw their parents or families again for six to 12 years.
Many people today aren’t aware of that part of Native American history.
Unfortunately, that history is not taught in our schools. When our grandparents and great-grandparents went to these boarding schools, many experienced sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. The mental abuse was off the chart. It was historical trauma, PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] at unprecedented levels. When you suffer with PTSD, you need a mental health counselor or drugs to deal with it. Unfortunately, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents didn’t have counseling available to them, so the drug they turned to was alcohol.
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States all had the same policies implemented around the same time for the Native communities. The United Nations developed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.4 The four countries that did not sign UNDRIP were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. They all later reversed their position and endorsed the declaration. The United States under President Obama was the last country to sign in December 2010.5
In what other specific ways are you attempting to break the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and the high dropout rate in schools?
We’re emphasizing education. During the past 10 years in Swinomish we’ve increased our high school graduation rate to almost 100 percent. We’re also trying to break the cycle of poor dental care. We provide money to pay for children’s dental care because our people are still very poor, and having good teeth to help their self-esteem is especially important for our kids. We also provide funds for clothes and braces. In order for parents to get the certificate for the clothes, they have to show proof that their kids went to a dentist on our reservation. So it’s an incentive.
When we implement these programs it saves money at the tribal, local, county, state, and federal levels because these kids are now getting educated. They’re not on welfare. They’re not on food stamps. They’re not in prison. They’re not in the foster care program. When you add up the money that you could potentially spend on someone who is out there in the world dealing with drugs and alcohol, the costs are enormous. But when you have an educated tribal member who is a productive member of society, paying taxes, it’s just a night-and-day difference.
You’ve been described as being instrumental in the emergence of the Northwest Indian country salmon and seafood industry. What does that mean?
Our people have always been salmon people, have lived on salmon. Our goal is to do anything and everything to try to bring that natural resource back so it does not become extinct.
We live on the Skagit River, the only river in the lower 48 states that has every species of wild salmon still spawning in its tributaries. The actions we take today will impact the next generations. We want to make sure that in seven generations—if the Lord doesn’t come back by then—the person filling my shoes will still be able to share with a reporter that the Skagit River has every species of wild salmon spawning in its tributaries.
What other types of economic-development programs have been put in place for Native Americans in your region?
We have a state-of-the-art health clinic and dental clinic, a housing program, free hearing aids for our elders, and a senior stipend to help pay for their utilities. We serve about 40,000 meals a year to our elders age 55 and older. We also have a heroin treatment center, the first of its kind in the nation.
You’ve been described as “tough but pragmatic,” “religious,” and “humble but ambitious.” Would you say those descriptions are accurate?
My priorities are very simple: God, family, community. I take a lot of my leadership qualities from the Bible. As a leader in Indian country your mentality can never be “I climbed the ladder of success.” Instead, it has to be “I made it to the bottom.”
Yes. In our culture we have the totem pole, the story pole. We’re taught that the most important figure of the totem pole is the one on the bottom, the one who holds everybody up. As a young child I started at the top of the totem pole, and my elders, my grandparents, my parents, held me up. My elected leaders held me up. Slowly I started climbing down that totem pole to where I am today, a leader among my people. I give God the credit for allowing me to do that. The Swinomish Tribe is doing well, not because of me, but because God blesses us.
You have to be humble in leadership; you have to be able to protect what you think is most valuable to you. God gave us this creation to be stewards over it, and we are very, very strong on environmental issues. It’s part of the end-time prophecies that Satan is going to do everything he can not only to destroy God’s family but also His creation, and we’re witnessing that today. It’s our job to protect what we have today, to be that voice for the salmon, the water, the air, and the soil.
In what ways do the challenges that Native Americans face today differ from those of 30 or 40 years ago?
Thirty or 40 years ago the drug of choice was alcohol, but things have evolved to where we are breaking the cycle of alcoholism. But because of the introduction of Oxycontin into our community, we are now seeing the emergence of those who are addicted to heroin. One hundred percent of our tribal members who have become addicted to heroin started with Oxycontin prescriptions.
So we started a program called This Has to Stop, to combat the negative impact of the Oxycontin and the opiates that were being prescribed at unprecedented levels in our community and surrounding communities. This Has to Stop has become a model for heroin treatment and has received national awards.
Are there ways in which the Adventist Church in North America could better minister to or serve Native Americans?
Sadly, the Adventist Church ran one of the U.S. government boarding schools I described earlier to assimilate Native Americans into the White culture, so I would say making Adventists aware of this history and how it negatively impacted the tribes is vitally important.
Just as the field is ripe for missionary work outside the United States, we also have a field that is very ripe in the United States among Native American tribes.
What is the most important thing you would like our readers to take away from this article?
That God is a miracle worker. I am a reflection of that. Only by the grace of God am I here today. Also that historical trauma is still real, it’s still alive—and it’s up to us to break the cycle.