The Voice of Youth Exponential Advancement through Nurturing and Discipleship (VOY EXPAND) 2022 initiative in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) of the Adventist Church recently sent out 819 VOY teams involving 26,792 young people to bring the message of the gospel to their communities.
VOY EXPAND 2022 is an year-round evangelistic effort in the Philippines. It is local church based, coordinators of the initiative said.
As of May 3, 2022, 7,514 new disciples have accepted Jesus and been baptized through this initiative. There are still 2,819 VOY teams that are preparing to go to fulfill the gospel commission this year, leaders reported.
VOY EXPAND has made an impact in the lives of young people, local church leaders, pastors, and administrators. One of the VOY team members, Roldan Jay Bersonia, invited his friend Kenneth Dave Villahermosa to be part of his team, although Villahermosa was not yet a Seventh-day Adventist. The team was assigned in La Flora, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur, an area that experienced great flooding recently.
Bersonia and Villahermosa were so determined to share the gospel in that community that despite the flood, they decided to stay. “They visited people, going from door to door by boat,” VOY organizers reported. “Night after night, for two weeks, the team shared the truth of God’s Word and made appeals for the villagers to follow Christ.”
One day, Bersonia made a special appeal to his partner, Villahermosa, inviting him to be baptized along with other attendees. At the end of the series, Villahermosa and 42 other people from the village were baptized, despite the waters that flooded the town. In total, 7,444 people were baptized across the region at the end of three weeks of preaching.
Bersonia said he has dedicated his life to sharing Jesus. “I will go always until Jesus comes again,” he emphasized.
After a visit to some of the VOY teams in the communities in the South Philippines Union Conference (SPUC) under regional church director Jemsly Lantaya, youth directors made some important observations. “Eighty percent of those who were attending are young people,” Lantaya reported. Also, he added, “church elders, pastors, and parents supported the young people’s involvement,” and “young people were unstoppable to fulfill their duties despite flooding and electricity power interruptions.”
Local leaders highlighted the church region’s support of the initiative. They reported that “SSD administrators, together with union officers, showed their support to this initiative by praying fervently and providing more funds to assist the young people to proclaim the three angels’ messages.”
Disconnected is the word usually used to characterize the pandemic experience. It may indeed be the reality for most people.
The congregation of Golden Gate All Nations (GGAN) in Naples, Florida, United States, is a noteworthy exception. Their experience has been dramatically different, with “connected” being the overwhelming response. The theme United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship “came into action when the doors of the church were officially closed,” Dolphy Cross, the Golden Gate pastor whose leadership extends to three other churches, said.
God Had Other Plans
On that day in March 2020, when the confirmation of the strength of COVID-19 turned a planned post-worship fellowship luncheon into a “Grab ’n Go” boxed lunch, the path was set.
“The enemy planned to close this church, but God had other plans,” church clerk Catherine James-Bell said, as she marshaled forces. Virtual church on Zoom and YouTube became the standard for two years. She sourced support for the worship services from church elders and members for Sabbath School, worship music, and occasionally the spoken Word as Pastor Cross ministered to his other churches.
For additional interest, James-Bell reached out to friends and relatives in her native St. Lucia, in Trinidad and Tobago, and other countries in the Caribbean, exposing GGAN to a variety of worship experiences, while expanding the reach of the GGAN church through external bonding.
Church activities continued during the week as the conference phone line was employed for call-in Wednesday-night prayer meetings. On Friday evenings, with Hidy Matthew, Adventist Youth leader, as host, members gathered virtually for the evening service to welcome the Sabbath and to celebrate the survival of another week.
Important features of the Wednesday and Friday evening sessions were the testimonies that members shared to encourage each other through the manifestation of God in their lives. They were accompanied by requests for prayer that covered those members, relatives, and even neighbors afflicted with COVID-19 or other illnesses.
Another feature was the spoken Word delivered by a church member, transforming many into lay preachers, a clear example of the power of the priesthood of believers. When one of the GGAN stalwarts passed away in the pre-vaccine height of the pandemic, James-Bell organized a drive-by farewell. There were also drive-by birthday celebrations with drop-off gifts: two for treasured seniors, one for a five-year-old.
Support from Departments
The health ministry off GGCN, headed by emergency department physician Patricia Gardner and a team of committed nurses, became central in providing up-to-date information on the pandemic and its devastation throughout the country and the world. The church relied on this active department for reliable information with respect to vaccines, masking, self-protection, and home care of families. More importantly, they established strict protocols for safeguarding the health of members as the church reopened — first, cautiously, then with full reopening on March 5, 2022.
Other ministries used the Zoom platform and teleconferencing facilities to present programs. Through Wednesday evening telephone meetings, the education ministry kept a supportive rein on the activities of the youth, especially those who were away at university. Women’s ministries conducted a “Tell the Truth” series on Zoom, inviting nationally acclaimed speakers to provide critical information on issues of particular relevance in this dangerous post-truth era.
Furthering the agenda of keeping connected, men’s ministries continued its “Know Your Neighbor” series of interviews designed to help members get to know more about each other. Men also got together on a 5:30 a.m. phone call to stay connected and support and pray for each other and for the entire church, which had by then become a close-knit family. During November, the Community Services department collected turkeys to continue its annual turkey distribution at Thanksgiving time.
Even as the sting of COVID-19 appears to wane, God has continued to pour out His blessings. Members unable to navigate online giving have been helped by a personalized pick-up service from John Bell, head deacon. The church has experienced a steady increase in membership, along with tithes and offerings.
In celebration of the opportunity to stay in touch visually and audibly, Cross said he praises God “for the faithfulness of the members who remained undaunted, steadfast, and true to God. We all fully embrace the unwritten motto that has now become the written motto: ‘United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship.’ To God be the glory!”
There is something poignant about a person’s last words. The phrases uttered with one’s last breaths create meaning that outlives the person who speaks them.
Many don’t consider their final moments until they look death in the face. Others think about the legacy they hope to leave — even in the last few minutes that they have left to do so.
Michael McKay had given a lot of thought to his last words.
“Looking back on it, I don’t know why I’ve done this over the years,” Michael said. “I think maybe I’ve watched a lot of movies where the main character has a final opportunity to say something important.”
Anyone who meets Michael, though, sees that his intentionality comes from more than movies, but from a deep faith. An assistant professor of theology at Cedarville University, he holds his faith as close as his family. And his beliefs have led him to have answers for the big questions: Why am I here? Where do I go when I die?
Michael has devoted his life to sharing God’s love to his students and family — a vocation evident even in his final words.
Michael and his wife, Lee-Ann, awoke to an unremarkable Saturday. With little on their to-do lists, they looked forward to a lazy day around the house. But then Michael felt a sharp pain in his neck.
“The pain almost felt like it was a sound,” McKay said. “I don’t want to say I heard it, but I wondered if I had maybe tweaked a muscle in my back.”
He tried to walk it off. But a potentially tweaked back soon gave way to a completely numb left leg. And Lee-Ann found Michael scooting down the stairs, unable to trust his body to walk him down safely.
“We drove to the emergency room at Greene Memorial just down the road,” McKay said. “So thankfully we were only a short distance from that hospital.”
Two CT scans revealed a dissected aorta in McKay’s heart. He would need emergency open-heart surgery.
“How Did We Get Here?”
A sobering quiet blanketed Michael’s room as he and Lee-Ann waited for his life-saving procedure.
Michael’s head spun with the words he’d rehearsed in his head for so long — words he couldn’t believe he was about to share.
“One of the first things that I told her was, ‘I don’t want you to be angry at the Lord for what’s going on here. I don’t want you to be bitter.’ I know a lot of people blame God or the things that happen in their life that they might consider evil or bad. But I didn’t want my wife and kids to wrestle with that,” Michael said. “I wanted them to know their dad and their husband was dying very grateful for the life that he had been given.”
With tear-stained cheeks, Lee-Ann took what Michael said to heart.
“I remember thinking, ‘How am I here at this point right now with my husband sharing these last words with me?’ ” Lee-Ann said. “And my heart just felt like it was breaking at one minute, but the next minute I just felt this overwhelming sense of love and thankfulness to the Lord, because I left that conversation knowing that first and foremost, my husband loved the Lord. And second, that he loved the kids and me.”
Lee-Ann needed every ounce of that gratitude to endure. She settled into the waiting room at Kettering Health Main Campus in Kettering, Ohio, having no idea she’d wait for news about Michael for almost 11 hours.
Still, she found pockets of solace in friendly faces along the way.
“One of the guys in the ambulance found me and said, ‘Your husband wanted me to tell you that he loves you very much,’” Lee-Ann recalled. “It was so sweet. I thought, ‘Lord, what a sweet blessing to have.’ ”
A Moment with God
Michael McKay gave his family the words he needed them to hear. But as he was taken back for surgery, he needed to have one last conversation: this time, with God.
“My last thing I really consciously remember doing is praying,” Michael said, “and asking the Lord if he would spare my life.”
He didn’t want to leave his wife and kids behind. He knew he had plenty of memories yet to make with his children, and he didn’t want Lee-Ann to be alone. But when it came to accepting his death, he felt ready.
His faith tells him when he dies, he’ll be resurrected as Jesus was.
“I went into surgery with the hope that it was not the end,” Michael recalled. “That even if I left all of these things that I enjoy and love, this would not be the end of my life.”
What were hours of waiting for everyone else felt like minutes for Michael. The first words he remembers hearing when he woke shaped his story just as much as the ones he thought would be his last.
“The first thing the nurses and doctors told me was that it was a miracle,” he said.
And thus began the period Michael calls his “bonus round”: the extra time he never expected to have.
“It gives you a little bit of, OK, God’s given him longer with me, let’s make the most of this time,” Lee-Ann said. “We just never stop feeling such gratitude for the Lord and for the health professionals who brought Michael to this point.”
Physically, Michael is still not 100 percent back to where he was before surgery, but he’s closer than he’s ever been.
Spiritually, though, Michael’s perspective continues to grow.
“It has provided greater nuance and experience for me to be able to articulate my desire to be obedient to the Lord Jesus. To love my wife and children and those around me,” he said. “To be productive with the life that He has given me. And now, with that sense of gratitude and thankfulness, I really do feel and think that I’ve been given a bonus round.”
Michael is back in the classroom and doing what he loves most, but now with even greater insight. He sometimes ties his own story into the lessons he shares with his students, his testimony serving as his own reminder of how precious life is.
“When we think about our own mortality, we often like to push that off as much as possible. And yet we all know it’s going to happen,” Michael said. “I think it’s healthy for us to think about it before it happens, because it causes us to ask the big questions in life.”
Michael is still processing the perspective he now has on the brevity of life. And he’s taking advantage of every moment — rejoicing, weeping, and thanking God.
University students and other volunteers donated about 1,600 copies of Ellen G. White’s landmark book O Grande Conflito (Portuguese edition of The Great Controversy) to Juazeiro Prison in Bahia, Brazil on April 23, 2022. Copies were distributed among inmates, prison officers, and visitors.
Regional church leaders said initiatives like this one are an opportunity to highlight the importance of reading and the impact a book can make on a person’s life. The activity was part of the Libertos Project, an Adventist initiative that specifically targets prisons to support reading among inmates. It follows Brazil’s Law 7.210/84, which seeks to promote reading as a form of social reinstatement.
In some cases, getting involved in a reading initiative has even helped some inmates to get a sentence reduction, officers said. They explained that reading has been shown to promote the social integration of an inmate. It also has proved to reduce idleness and prevent recidivism. For every book read, the law allows a four-day reduction of the inmate’s penalty, up to a maximum of twelve books per year.
For Gleydson Silva, director of Publications Ministry at the Adventist Church's administrative headquarters for the northern region of Bahia, the initiative was a way to put compassion into practice and help others.
“Whenever I drove by the prison complex, I felt someone was telling me to do something to follow Jesus’ invitation to visit those who are prison,” Silva said. “It was the genesis of the Libertos Project, which seeks to free these people not only from physical but also from spiritual chains.”
Copies of The Great Controversy were purchased from literature evangelists, many of whom are students who work temporarily selling Adventist books to pay their tuition. For some of them, however, it is a full-time job. Pedro Luiz Oliveira is one who works full-time on book sales.
A literature evangelist for 22 years, Oliveira is part of a team in the region. He picked up more than 400 copies to distribute as part of the initiative. “I visited people to share about the project, asking for help to deliver the books to the prison,” Oliveira said. “I saw people shed tears, as they were thrilled to know that this project would free the oppressed.”
Oliveira added that such feelings were reinforced the day he and other volunteers visited the prison to distribute the books. “I felt the thrill of seeing hundreds of prisoners thirsting for hope. It was an opportunity to see lives saved and transformed,” he said.
Challenges and Outcome
The distribution of missionary books is a common activity in Adventist social and outreach initiatives. Free distribution projects, such as Impacto Esperança, have benefited many people for more than 15 years. But reaching out to those who can’t choose where to go is an even greater challenge, as Weber Thomas, Adventist Church president for northern Bahia, pointed out.
“Delivering a book to a neighbor, a friend, or an acquaintance is easy, but delivering a book to prison inmates is a challenge,” Thomas said. “There are rules to follow and other hurdles, but God opened the doors for us to visit several facilities. It was amazing to see the joy of volunteers and the emotion of inmates during the initiative.”
Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Pharmacy dean and faculty are recipients of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Immunization Champion Awards for their extraordinary contributions toward improved COVID-19 and other vaccination rates within the local community.
Michael Hogue, dean of the LLU School of Pharmacy, received APhA’s Immunization Champion — Lifetime Achievement Award. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, assistant professor in the LLU School of Pharmacy, received an Immunization Champion Individual Practitioner Award — Honorable Mention.
APhA presented twelve recipients, including individuals and organizations, with an Immunization Champion award, in a ceremony recently held at this year’s APhA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, United States.
“When we look back over our life’s work, we often don’t realize until significant time has passed the impact we’ve made,” Hogue said. “It’s a very humbling and tremendous honor to have been recognized for the area of practice that I’ve dedicated my career.”
Loma Linda University Health has led COVID-19 vaccine efforts in San Bernardino County, California. LLU School of Pharmacy faculty organized student-based mobile vaccine clinics in vulnerable communities throughout Southern California.
“The pandemic has illuminated that Loma Linda University is blessed with a dedicated team of pharmacists making a tremendous impact on community vaccination needs,” Hogue said.
Hogue played an integral role in establishing community clinics in line with CDC and California state guidelines. He was appointed to the COVID-19 vaccine workgroup that made recommendations to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) at the start of the pandemic. Hogue became APhA’s liaison to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in November 2021. The group is composed of medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on how to use vaccines to control diseases in the United States. Under Hogue’s leadership, Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy has been recognized twice nationally for the school’s community outreach during the pandemic in 2021.
Abdul-Mutakabbir has been at the forefront of vaccine research initiatives that ensure equitable distribution of vaccines among a diverse population. Under her leadership, and in collaboration with faith and community organizations, more than 1,500 vaccine doses have been distributed within the racial and ethnic minority communities of the area of Southern California known as the Inland Empire. She is the first author of the paper, “A three-tiered approach to address barriers to COVID-19 vaccine delivery in the Black community,” published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, and frequently speaks to minority communities to help dispel misinformation about vaccines.
“The APhA Immunization Champion Awards program helps us tell the story regarding pharmacists’ and the pharmacy teams’ contributions to, and impact on the health of, communities and as valued members of the immunization neighborhood,” Mitchel Rothholz, chief of governance and state affiliates and executive director of the APhA Foundation.
APhA established the awards in 2008 and made the first presentations in 2009 to recognize the value of pharmacists who improve the vaccination rates in their communities. Nominees were evaluated based on the areas of impact, collaboration, originality, and overcoming challenges and creating opportunities for pharmacists.
“We applaud the pharmacists, student pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians at Loma Linda University trained to administer vaccines and who are making a difference in their communities, especially during these challenging days of COVID-19,” Rothholz said.
You are utterly incapable of converting people. Three decades in public evangelism have taught me many important lessons, but this is by far the most important. When I first got started, I suspected that the best evangelists won the day with compelling arguments. Speak the right words from the front, many people believe, and the response to the appeal will be astonishing.
I knew that others believed this idea as well, because of the number of people who approached me, asking me to speak to their friends. “Pastor,” one woman implored breathlessly one Friday evening, “my friend is at the bar right now. Please go and talk to him!”
More painful yet: “My husband is an unbeliever. Maybe you could come over and talk to him this evening!” Truth be told, I’d probably be interested in befriending that husband over a longer term, because I’m a recovering heathen myself: this is the tribe from which I hail, and I still love them. But there is, short of divine intervention (it does happen), no argument I could make that will win him over 45 minutes after I meet him.
It doesn’t work that way. It never has. Siccing the pastor on your friends and family is far more likely to generate resentment than conviction, and wise pastors will typically refuse to do it. Your loved ones know exactly whosent the pastor and why, and it’s almost a guaranteed formula for elevating resistance. Think telemarketer—they often interrupt your day and attempt to use sophistry to make you interested in their product. How much do you love those calls? (I’ll be honest, I dokind of love those calls, because I’ve made a game out of keeping them on the line as long as possible.)
Pastors in training aren’t handed a cue card full of top-secret phrases that unfailingly generate conversions. It’strue that there are wise and unwise ways to state things when having conversations, and the language used when speaking with interested parties is important (even critical!)—but there’s no magic argument that suddenly makes people interested.
The history of Christian apologetics gives us much to think about. In the earliest years of the church there was considerable effort to convince the Romans that Christians weren’t a threat to the Roman Empire but were in fact valuable citizens. Justin Martyr, for example, wrote to the emperor to persuade him to ignore nasty rumors about believers and consider the evidence for himself: “For we have come . . . to beg that you pass judgment, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumors which have long been prevalent.”
Others focused on the burgeoning problem of pagan syncretism: the Gnostics were attempting to harmonize the teachings of pagan mystery schools with the teachings of the Bible. As we move past the earliest centuries, however, apologetics generally followed two schools of thought: empiricism and rationalism. The empiricists argued that God’s existence could be convincingly demonstrated from the evidence of your senses; assemble all available data, and you will find God. Perhaps the best-known proponent of this approach was Thomas Aquinas, who offered five proofs for God’s existence, four of which had been plagiarized from Aristotle. His key argument, known as the cosmological argument, hung on the idea of cause and effect; something must have originally set this universe in motion, he said, and that something was God.
The rationalists,on the other hand, believed that you could discover God through sheer reason. Anselm of Canterbury provides us with a great example of this approach, with his ontologicalargument. Imagine a being, he said, of which no greater being can be conceived. If that being exists only in your mind, then you could still think of something greater: a God who existed in reality. (This argument has been mercilessly picked apart over the past millennium.)
Almost the entire body of Christian apologetics falls into one (or both) of these camps, until you get to the Protestant Reformation, which saw a return to a scripturalapproach. “Therefore,” Luther taught, “we must needs turn to Scripture with the writings of all teachers and from that source get our judgment and verdict concerning them. For Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writing and teaching on earth.” Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was all the argument you needed.
I’m personally grateful for the works of the empiricists and rationalists because they have provided me with many opportunities to reflect deeply on my faith. But I’m already a believer who has been seized by conviction. These types of arguments have produced relatively few converts over the centuries when compared to the scriptural approach. Why? Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:13, 14, NKJV).
Paul understood something crucial: preachers don’t produce conversions. He points out that “man’s wisdom” will never do the trick; spiritual things require a spiritual understanding. The “natural man” can’t get to the finish line by using reason alone. Human reason has been warped by the Fall, and the unregenerate mind is at odds with God. Our very best arguments look foolish to people who aren’t under conviction.
Paul should know. When he was stopped on the road to Damascus, Christ’s primary appeal to him wasn’t based on his education (which was considerable) or on logic: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5, NKJV), Jesus said. Saul, in other words, was fighting conviction. The Spirit had been working on his heart long before his dramatic conversion.
Scriptural apologists depend on the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to make their case, because they understand that we cannot generate conviction. The Scriptures provide the most compelling argument to accept Christ, and for good reason: when you share Scripture with people—even people who have never been exposed to it, as is increasingly the case—if they have been hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, they suddenly recognize that Voice in the words of the Bible. The One who inspired Scripture is the One who has been whispering to their conscience. “The divine Spirit that had borne witness to Nathanael in his solitary prayer under the fig tree,” we are told, “now spoke to him in the words of Jesus.”
Faith, Ellen White wrote, “is an assent of the understanding to God’s words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, Who gave the understanding, Who moved on the heart, Who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary.”
If you go back and think about your own conversion, you’ll see it. Long before a Bible worker, an evangelist, or a pastor invited you to accept Christ, you were already hearing His voice. You had been bothered and wondering. You were interested before you were approached by a human being. God sends usto help people connect the dots and to invite them into the family.
That’s how it works in every single case. Read through the book of Acts and see if the notable conversion stories were cold interests. (Hint: they weren’t.) On the day of Pentecost, Peter’s audience is made up of “devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5, NKJV). Philip’s interest had been in studying Isaiah long before God sent him to make an invitation. Ananias was sent to Saul after His encounter with Christ. Cornelius, the first recorded Gentile convert, was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2, NKJV).
The disciples were working with people whose interest had already been piqued; these were spiritually inclined people. I’ve been working in the arena of public evangelism for three decades, and I can say that this has been true of everybody I’ve seen baptized—and my case study involves tens of thousands of people at this point. Invariably, I’m not the one who made them interested; the interest was already there. In fact, by the time Imeet many of these people, they’re halfway into the church.
What does this mean for outreach? It’s simple: we aren’t in the business of converting people; we are in the business of seeking out people that God is converting. Ellen White described it like this: “Do not feel that the responsibility rests upon you to convict and convert the hearers. The power of God alone can soften the hearts of the people. You are to hold forth the word of life, that all may have an opportunity of receiving the truth if they will.” And “arm yourselves with humility; pray that angels of God may come close to your side to impress the mind; for it is not you that work the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit must work you. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the truth impressive.”
Some might believe that this narrows the field considerably, because we’re suddenly not pursuing everybody. This approach would be a mistake; I still pursue everybody, but I prioritize those who are experiencing conviction. The rest? You keep them in your life so that you’re there when it happens. To use an illustration that Ellen White used, we don’t pick green berries; we pick those that are ripe. Later we go over the same bushes to see if there are more ripe berries.
This is why bait-and-switch methods of advertising evangelistic events don’t work. If you’re going to be preaching Bible prophecy, advertise prophecy. Why? Because you want the right audience for what you’re going to say. It is far better to have a small, interested audience than a massive audience that came out for all the wrong reasons.
Some years ago a church member excitedly told me about his plans to bring an audience to the church. “We’re going to hire a balloon artist and a Christian magician,” he said. “That’ll bring people out.” Yes, it might. But is it the right audience? People aren’t stupid; if you promise a show and switch to biblical themes, you might find a few interested people. I’ll grant that. But those people would have come for your biblical expositions if you’d advertised that . . . as well as others.
No one concept has brought me more relief in my witness. I used to think that if I was making an appeal to an audience and I wasn’t convincingenough, it would flop. I didn’t want to be that sad and lonely preacher who stands at the front, meekly pleading for 25 minutes, “Is there just one person here ready to take a stand?” I finally realized: I’m not convincingthe audience; I’m appealing to those whom the Holy Spirit is convincing. Once I grasped that concept, the response to appeals improved immediately.
It also becomes impossible to “burn territory.” I hear some church members complain that they’ve done too much outreach and the territory has become unresponsive as a result. That can happen particularly when we become obsessed with the number of decisions we submit to the conference; some evangelists, sensing performance pressure, begin to push uninterested people too hard. And of course, no argument will convince them . . . and so we lose them.
But if you’re focused on working with the interested—the ripe fruit—you can’tburn the territory. You can come back every few months and find more to harvest. In fact, you will never run out of interests. Look for where God is working, and join Him there —you can’t go wrong.
“Preach the word,” Paul told Timothy, “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2, NKJV). Even if the audience isn’t particularly receptive, switching material isn’t going to make them morereceptive. Arguing is God’s job, not ours, and not even the greatest of apologists ever bested God when it comes to the matter of conviction.
You will be delighted when you discover, particularly after two years of lockdowns, just how much interest the Spirit continues to generate. We need to pray for the eyes of heaven, so that we can see people the way that God sees them. “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields,” Jesus pleaded, “for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35, NKJV).
Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director of the Voice of Prophecy media ministry, based in Loveland, Colorado, United States.
I got my first taste of cancel culture as a kid when one of my brothers brought home a Black Sabbath album. My dad was unimpressed. I grew up in a home that, by the standards of missionary parents, was moderate on the canceling. But even in our home the rock band Black Sabbath was one step too far.
If you are quick to judge my parents as closed-minded censors, think of this: Geezer Butler, the primary lyricist of Black Sabbath, recently called out Cardi B lyrics as “disgusting.” It turns out everyone has their limits—for Geezer the limit is one step shy of Cardi. For my parents? It was two steps shy of Geezer.
Which isn’t a bad thing.
A society that has no standards of decency is an indecent society. The question is, Who gets to decide the standards?
For a long time we Adventists have had our own standards, and they were very distinct from general society. Today? Not so much. The irony is that when Adventists were avoiding movies and refusing TVs in their homes, the general standards of society were much higher than today. And today? Today, in the church, we’ve largely given up as anachronisms the old Adventist entertainment standards. We’ve got the same big-screen TVs and the same movie streaming services; we like the same shows and visit the same sites as everyone else.
But could that change?
The beauty of the recent spate of high-profile cancel-culture episodes is that the illusion of living in society with neutral media platforms has been shattered. There isn’t an even playing field where complex ideas are discussed or value-neutral media is created. If you’re pro-undocumented immigrants, don’t expect Fox News to go easy on you. If you’re pro-life, don’t expect CNN to provide you a fair hearing. If you want your entertainment to inspire and reinforce good values, don’t watch the vast bulk of movies and TV shows coming out of Hollywood. Good values aren’t its specialty—see Harvey Weinstein for details.
And if you’re a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, you shouldn’t have any illusions that anyone else is going to support your unique set of values. They aren’t. And many of the ideas you hold dear will get you canceled, at least if you are courageous enough to express them.
Recently there has been outrage about the banning of LGBTQIA books in American public elementary schools. Censorship and cancel culture, we’re told, have come to education—as if this is something new. It isn’t. If you have a public-school elementary teacher assign the book of John from the Bible for public-school kids to read, see how quickly the teacher is disciplined and the lawsuits start. It won’t take long. Every society has its standards; the question is, Who gets to decide those standards?
Large parts of society are canceling anyone who repeats what the Bible says, whether it’s about immigrants, sexual morality, the love of money, or the value of all human life. Why would we expect anything else? As James 4:4 makes clear, the world is at war with Christ.
So where does it lead us?
Geezer Butler has standards. I’m sure Cardi B does too. Disney has standards; Fox does too. But none of them, or thousands of others like them, are our standards based on the Bible. And it is our standards that should lead us to create boundaries. Call it cancel culture; call it censorship; call it guarding the avenues to our soul; call it what you will. It’s a good thing to let our values guide our media consumption, not the other way around. It’s good to be careful whom we give a platform to in our homes and in our hearts.
Everyone has standards. What are ours?
James D. Standish, a Georgetown law graduate with an MBA from the University of Virginia, served at the General Conference and South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and as executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom before opening Standish Strategic Consulting in University Park, Maryland.
More than 65,000 copies of a new sharing book will be distributed to people in communities across Australia and New Zealand in May and June 2022.
Step Beyond is a paraphrase of the classic Steps to Christ by Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White. The new edition produced in Australia includes local contact details and special offers to connect with community members who are interested in growing their understanding and experience of faith.
“Steps to Christ is a book many of our church members have read at some point,” Australian Union Conference (AUC) president Terry Johnson said. Johnson is also chair of the Literature Ministry (LM) committee. “This new edition is something that we can be confident in sharing with friends, family, and people in our communities,” he said.
Johnson said many church members are keen to share their faith but often feel unsure about the best way to do it. “Many of us love and cherish this book, meaning that this is a simple way to respond to a question from a friend or neighbor, offering them something that helped us in our own experiences of faith.”
He explained that currently, there is one Adventist for every 406 people in Australia. “So, if we believe that God is calling all people, we need resources that we can use to share the gospel widely and effectively,” he said. “And I believe this particular book is easily shared and accepted, read, and digested.”
The first shipments of Step Beyond were sent out to conferences in the last week of April, with churches and church members encouraged to consider how they can best share copies of the book in their communities through the month of May and beyond.
“Sharing month is an intentional mission movement in the South Pacific Division with hundreds of churches reaching out to their community,” Brenton Lowe, Adventist Media Literature Ministries coordinator and LM committee secretary, said. “Step Beyond is a tangible gift to share Jesus. It serves as a reason to visit our neighbors or invite a friend over for dinner to make meaningful connections and give a hope-filled gift. It is sharing Jesus made simple. You can be a friend and let the message of the book transform their life.”
This new edition of Step Beyond is an initiative of the LM Committee and Signs Publishing and comes on the back of strong engagement with sharing books in the past year, including Hope for Troubled Times (almost 90,000 copies shared), A Taste of Food as Medicine (about 80,000 copies), and Advents for Kids (about 10,000 copies).
Leaders behind the initiative also posted 10 ways members can use to share Step Beyond in their communities, including preaching from the book, giving it to church guests as a gift, and posting one’s testimony in relation to the book online with selected quotes.
Additional copies of Step Beyond and other sharing books are available through LM coordinators in local conferences across Australia and New Zealand, or through local Adventist bookstores.
It is still dark outside when Elizabeth Ramirez gazes out the kitchen window, her morning cup of tea in hand. It is the dawn of a new day. As she steps outside and opens her car door, the action shifts into high gear, unfolding through the eyes of nurses, doctors, patients, transporters, teachers, and students — including glimpses of who they are beyond those roles.
Whether they are kissing a loved one goodbye before leaving for work or returning home at the end of the day to the welcoming hugs of their kids, team members — current and future — are the focus of AdventHealth’s brand-new pledge video. The Pledge is the company’s commitment to team members, assuring them that they are seen, heard, and valued.
That message is underscored in the narrator’s opening lines in the video, which began airing April 25 as a commercial on digital streaming platforms like Hulu: “This is a pledge to our AdventHealth team today and tomorrow. We are making a shift to a new standard of care for you.” With the exception of the narrator, all the “actors” are actual AdventHealth team members. And striking just the right chord is background music provided by team members in the AdventHealth Orchestra.
Team Members as Moms
“I am so thankful for my job,” Ramirez said. As the branch manager of retail services at AdventHealth East Orlando, Ramirez knows what it’s like to provide that extra measure of comfort to those who may visit the gift shop seeking some retail therapy. Four years ago, she was a frequent visitor to the shop in AdventHealth Orlando, where her daughter, who is now six years old, spent 56 days undergoing surgeries for a heart defect.
Recently, after hearing a mother’s story about her dying son, Ramirez held her hands and said a prayer for her. “She thanked me and gave me the biggest hug. My heart felt so full of love and happiness,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who also appears in the Pledge video as the mom preparing school lunches, said the filming experience was amazing. “It really makes it come to life — to be proud of who I work for.”
Kelly Bassett, senior nurse manager in AdventHealth East Orlando’s ICU, can be seen brushing her six-year-old daughter’s hair in the opening montage, and again when her daughter and eight-year-old son rush to greet her upon her return home. A viewer might wonder if it’s just good acting on her kids’ part or if she is always welcomed home in such a manner. “Shockingly, that’s exactly how it happens, and I treasure it every time,” she said.
Bassett, who has spent all 13 of her nursing years in the family environment of AdventHealth East Orlando, believes that The Pledge will help her, as a leader, not only to invite people to join the team but also retain current team members with “all of the benefits that make this a great place to work.”
For Bassett, those benefits include education assistance. “I am AdventHealth through and through,” she said. Having received both an associate and bachelor’s degree from AdventHealth University, Bassett is now working on her master’s degree. “I have been blessed not to have any student loans,” she said, thanks to AdventHealth’s tuition assistance that has helped her get through college debt free.
Making It Feel Genuine
“Having team members featured makes for a much more genuine experience and really helps get across the idea that AdventHealth is a great place to work,” Bassett said.
Aside from the acting, team members were also involved in other facets of The Pledge, from concept to the final “noodling” that occurred right up to a few weeks before the video launched.
Work on The Pledge began in earnest last summer, when health-care workers nationwide, worn and weary from COVID-19’s unrelenting hold, were leaving their jobs in droves. The Pledge was based on the fact that AdventHealth, and the workplace in general, was shifting, and it was essential to understand what is most important for team members now.
“We decided to launch an Employer Brand campaign that would align with the overall brand promise of ‘feel whole,’ ” Stephanie Mellenberndt, senior manager of corporate marketing/brand operations for AdventHealth, said.
Team Members Are the Heart
“Our team members are the very heart of our organization, and we value their dedication to those we serve,” Olesea Azevedo, chief people officer for AdventHealth, said. “Based on what our team members have told us is most important to them, we have been making changes to our benefits and offerings over the past couple of years. In focus groups, on surveys and more, we have heard what they are looking for in the workplace, and we have pledged to care for them physically, mentally and spiritually.”
In 2021, AdventHealth invested more than US$571 million to enhance team members’ experience, including competitive pay, benefits from day one, and mental health and other well-being offerings. It also invested in student loan support and debt-free education options.
“It is easy for a company to make empty promises,” Bassett said. “But AdventHealth backs up those promises with action and truly makes this the best place to learn, work, and grow.”
AdventHealth’s Pledge to Team Members
You deserve a place that understands the depth of your service.
A place that knows you can’t care for someone else wholly unless you’re feeling whole yourself.
We see you. The whole you.
We see your life beyond these walls.
That’s why we promise to care for you physically, mentally, and spiritually. We promise competitive pay and paid time off from your very first day.
We promise to grow your skills with career development in some of the most advanced facilities in the country. We promise to nurture your growth with debt-free education.
And we promise to cultivate an inclusive environment and a network of opportunity.
Because when you feel whole, we build a stronger community together.
A two-day event in late April 2022 in Blancarena, Uruguay, offered training to more than 60 Seventh-day Adventist women who already have leadership roles in their local congregations.
South American Division (SAD) president Stanley Arco opened the event, held under the theme, “A Faithful Woman.” Its goal, he said, was to train and prepare women to support their congregations as active members and leaders by promoting women’s evangelism, training of other women, and visitation, among other activities.
The training would focus on four areas, Arco explained. “Our first emphasis area is Sabbath School and small groups; our second is Bible studies,” he said. “Third is new generations, and fourth is seniors.”
According to Arco, meetings like these that prepare women for leadership are extremely important. In Uruguay, 65 percent of church members are women, he reminded attendees. “Women’s leadership in the church is essential,” Arco said. “We appreciate this move and encourage Uruguay to keep supporting the formation of leaders in all areas.”
Focus on Mission
At the end of the event, Dagmar Wiebusch, women’s ministries director of the Adventist Church in Uruguay, commented that leaders feel they reached their stated goals. One of them was to offer the training and engage with women serving local congregations across the country. But the event is just the beginning, she emphasized. “Now our desire, our prayer, is that these women, in their communities and churches, may put what they learned into practice,” Wiebusch said. “The event does not end here, because leadership demands an ongoing learning process and, with the spirit of God, I believe that we will achieve what God wants.”
Jorge Wiebusch, president of the Adventist Church in Uruguay, said that regional leaders are convinced a solid church needs solid leadership. It is the reason training events such as the one for women leaders and other leadership initiatives across the country are important, he added. “These are empowering training moments, where our vows and our commitment to serve God are renewed,” he said. “We are happy to have a more prepared, more committed leadership, and we hope it will become a multiplier and a watershed in the history of the Adventist Church in Uruguay.”
Arco’s visit to the women’s training event was part of a multi-day tour of church entities in Uruguay. Together with SAD treasurer Marlon Lopes, he listened to briefings from local leaders on the progress of the Adventist Church in Uruguay. The two men also toured several church facilities and schools.
“I saw a church that is alive, with committed and engaged pastors,” Arco said at the end of his visit. “I am happy and grateful to God for the work being done. As leaders, we want to give our maximum support to the goal of the regional church, which is none other than preparing a people for the second coming of Jesus,” he said.