This time three years ago, my husband and I had just returned from taking our firstborn west, to college. The whole experience of looking at colleges, essay writing, and applications, selecting a school, and finally dropping our daughter off at her choice, was brand-new. We had fun going on college tours, getting excited about the possibilities, and wondering which campus would be the place God wanted her to be. When we got our answer and prepared for her life far away from us, it was a bittersweet time.

When we finally left her on the evening of move-in day, watching her walk up to her dorm in a strange city thousands of miles from home, it was awful. Parents who know will know. It was divine strength alone that got us on the plane eastbound the next morning, knowing we were leaving a piece of our family behind. But we had one consolation: we had three years with our son before he too would take a similar journey. It all seemed so far away—three whole years. But time is a thief.

The pandemic changed everything for students around the world, from doctoral candidates down to pre-k babies. Instead of completing his junior year of high school as he thought he would, and rolling into a senior year with all the perks of being at the top of the heap on campus, our son was prevented from attaining those accomplishments.In the springtime of his junior year, when we had thought we’d be touring campuses as we had with his sister, there was none of that. Virtual tours were not the same. We had to fly somewhat blind in pursuing schools, hoping the campuses would match the hype. So when applications were due, they were submitted in the hope, but not certainty, that he’d be able to start college on campus as normal.

Clearly, I can’t answer these questions on my own. Thankfully, I don’t need to.

But the day has come, and he’s off on his own—like his sister, thousands of miles from home (did we do something, maybe?). Will he like his college? Will he have a great roommate or a nightmare one? How will classes go? Will he adjust to the college academics and do well? Will he find someone special one day? Will he learn to lean on his Savior for all his needs?

Clearly, I can’t answer these questions on my own. Thankfully, I don’t need to.

While talking with a fellow mother of college-age kids before lockdowns isolated us, I mentioned that it was an adjustment to go from caring for the everyday needs of a child, being there for all the moments when they talk to you or tell you they don’t want to talk; to rest in the knowledge that the only One to care for their every need now is the Lord. She then said something wise: in parenting young adults away from home, we lose a lot of the face-to-face time exchanging it for more on-our-knees time.

How true and how comforting is that knowledge. Our efforts aren’t what keep our kids safe, give them academic and career success and the blessing of love and commitment to another person. It is in the hands of the God who made the universe, whose creations continue to fill us with awe and wonder. There are no safer hands in which to place our children (at any age), but especially when they are out of ours.

This school year will bring much change for our family, but we won’t worry about our tomorrows—for ourselves, for our new college kids, for anyone. Total surrender to the Lord is where our reassurance and comfort lie. We, and all whom we love, will always be well cared for with Him.

And there is no better place to be.

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor for Adventist Review Ministries.

For more than four decades now, the month of May has featured celebrations of the culture and contributions that Asian and Pacific islanders have made to North America. This issue of Adventist Review recognizes the contributions of Adventists of Asian and Pacific Island heritage to the development and success of Adventism in the United States.—Editors

Meshach Soli, a young Samoan-American pastor from southern California, was invited to give a presentation at the North American Division’s 2017 eHuddle meetings in Florida. As a Pacific Islander pastor, he was asked to share insights about why young people, especially of his ethnic background, are leaving the church.

“So I’m over there getting ready, feeling like ‘What am I doing here? How am I supposed to present this to all these important people?’” he remembers. As intimidation grew, he prayed, “Lord, just help me get through this.”

A presenter before him touched on the cultural demographics of the church in North America. Then he got to the part where Pacific Islanders weren’t even labeled. Instead, they fell under a nameless group representing just 2 percent of North American Seventh-day Adventists. “At that point the Lord spoke to my heart and said, ‘This is why you are here,’” says Soli.


Seventh-day Adventists arrived in Samoa, October 22, 1895. Dr. and Mrs. F. E. Braucht settled in Apia, Western Samoa, and began medical missionary work. Progress was slow. By 1904, there were only eight members of the church in the country—Europeans and American missionaries. It wasn’t until 1915 that the first Samoan converts were baptized. But the church pressed on, slowly gaining members as recognition for its medical and educational institutions grew.

Pacific Islander immigration to the United States swelled in the 1960s and 1970s. Outside of Hawaii, southern California became a popular destination. “The church that I pastor [Compton Samoan, near Los Angeles] became the first organized [Pacific Islander church] in 1973,” says lead pastor Eliu Lafo. “Basically, Samoa was evangelized by missionaries coming from the United States. But United States [Samoans] were evangelized by Samoans who came from Samoa, which is interesting,” he adds. “The work here, particularly in southern California, became the birthplace of Samoan Adventism in the United States, stateside. Particularly the Compton Samoan church—this is the church that actually gave birth to many of the [Samoan] churches in the Southeastern California Conference.”

Today, there are 13 Samoan churches and one group in the North American Division, most of them clustered in the western United States.

The Samoan Adventist Experience

Similar to other ethnicities, family and community are the backbone of Samoan culture. But for second-generation Samoan Adventists, there comes the extra challenge of living in a dual-cultured world. Are they American? Samoan? Samoan-American? Should worship be in Samoan or English? “Honestly, even if I wasn’t connected to the language, I liked the style of fellowship in the Samoan church,” says Soli. “The family and community aspect of the Samoan church was one of the things that really kept us together—this second generation. We were there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, then maybe Monday for choir practice, Wednesday for prayer meeting, then you’re back again on Friday.”

One of Christianity’s greatest creeds—loving one’s
neighbor—has always resonated well with Samoan converts.

One of Christianity’s greatest virtues—loving one’s neighbor—has always resonated well with Samoan converts. “How can you not help your neighbor out?” asks Soli. “The essence of community is embedded in our culture. When the Christian faith came over to the islands, there were a lot of similarities within the faith that were already there in the culture. It was easy for that transition to take place.”

Faith and family are closely linked within Samoan culture, and when Samoan Adventists make a stand for Christ, it’s rarely with a solitary mentality. “You know the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? We literally believe that. It’s just part of the DNA of who we are. Even as Adventists, embracing the Sabbath comes naturally, because part of observing the Sabbath is focused on family. It’s about community. It’s about God. It’s very hard to find a Samoan atheist,” Soli laughs.

In Samoa now, the church is also integral to the village. Soli, who last visited in 2018, remembers the local church being the most beautiful structure in the entire neighborhood, even if the homes were much simpler. The idea is that the church is God’s house, and thus God’s house should be the best house on the block. In the United States, that notion is not reflected by the church building being posh, but by the sacred place it holds for each family.

The Challenges That Come

One of the biggest challenges for Samoan Adventists has to do with a cultural worldview that competes with the worldview of the church and American culture. “Ministry stateside is what you call need-based,” says Pastor Lafo. “We see a need in the community, and we perhaps tailor our ministries to meet the needs of that community. One of the challenges with Samoans is that those needs don’t really exist on the island. I’m talking about homelessness, drugs, and crime. In terms of ministry, homelessness doesn’t really exist in Samoa. So when we come to the urban context, there’s no experience with it. Also, a lot of times Samoans self-govern. If there is a problem in the village, the village chief and the village leaders and families get together to figure it out.”

In the church/culture context, the pastor can be regarded as the village leader. There’s less emphasis placed on individual Bible study and Adventism as a worldwide movement, and more weight placed on what the local pastor says. “Samoans can be very dependent on the pastor. They almost depend on the pastor to feed them spiritually,” says Soli. “I’m not going to say all of them, but a good amount of our seasoned members are dependent on the pastor to teach them the Word. Instead of this being a supplement to a personal study of the Word and devotional life, it can become a substitute, and the by-product for the next generation is that your kids aren’t going to be interested in a lot of those things to their full effect.” This, of course, can contribute to why the culture’s young people eventually walk out of church altogether.

An interesting phenomenon involves families and church ownership. Because the family bond is so strong, church attendance is affected, and Samoan churches can begin to blend into “family churches.”

“In most Samoan churches,” says Lafo, “you’ll see several families being part of a church. When you have a certain number of families, there can develop a sense of the church belonging to a family, rather than a church that belongs to God.” What can happen next, especially among second-generation Samoan Adventists, is sort of a challenging of loyalties. “I’ve heard young people who no longer go to church say they don’t because they are so rooted in the Samoan church, and so loyal to their parents and to the elders who established it, that they would rather not go to church at all than go to another church,” adds Soli.

Culture can also compete with the gospel. “A lot of times pastors and chiefs and elders start trying to interpret culture from the perspective of the gospel,” says Lafo. “Over the years it’s been the other way around. Culture seems to take precedence over the gospel. So a lot of times you get an indigenized gospel that fits the culture of a church. That can present some challenges, because, ultimately, there’s a point in which your [cultural] . . . position on a doctrine [ought to] become secondary to what God desires.”

Multiplying the 2 Percent

While the Samoan work shares a common mission with other North American churches to grow its membership and keep its young people, unique challenges require out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to adapt to shifting times. But it’s encouraging to note that there’s a growing hunger for young Samoan Adventists to connect with each other through their Adventist faith.

Last summer more than 900 people attended the 2019 North American Division Samoan camp meeting in Washington State. The six-day event melded culture and faith, with more young people attending than older, causing event planners to rearrange meeting space accordingly. Pastor Soli has seen a fire for the Word of God slowly burning stronger among that group as well. “Our youth and young adults want something more. A deeper understanding of the Word,” he says. “So we try to deliver that, and we are starting to see this group of young people wanting to get into ministry. For two generations nobody answered the call. Now we’re seeing a greater number of young Polynesians, maybe in junior high or high school, saying ‘I feel called to ministry.’”

Pastor Lafo echoes this: “I see more and more young people, some with so much natural talent that it’s clear that God [alone] gifted them. These young people always have their ear to the ground about what’s going on among their people. And when you call them, they make themselves available. It leads me to believe the Samoan work is in very capable hands, as long as these young leaders and professionals continue to develop as their society changes.”

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.

It’s been a long day. Meetings, phone calls, unrelenting deadlines, then a commute in which it seems as if everyone on the road has forgotten how to drive.

At home, mail from days ago sits on the kitchen island next to a half-eaten cake. Son’s 50-pound backpack is parked on the family room couch with his dirty Air Jordans chucked on the carpet, decidedly in the “no-shoes” zone. Upstairs the storage closet is bulging with suitcases from last month’s trip. In the bedroom—that refuge from the world—hubby’s Sabbath suit is strewn across the bed, and it’s Wednesday. Stacks of dusty magazines sit piled against the wall, the nightstands laden with books, bills, mail, pens, earbuds, etc. And the treadmill, a constant reminder of fitness goals yet to be achieved, doubles as a clothes rack. The sweaters in the closet are tumbling out—new ones stuffed over those that haven’t seen daylight since the new century dawned. The drawers can’t close with ease for their abundance of complimentary charity 5K T-shirts. In the master bathroom the vanity cupboards host products well past their prime and likely hazardous to human skin now. Those colognes gifted every Christmas and birthday? They sit gathering dust and threatening to tumble out in a mass of shattered glass on the tile floor.

Have I stressed you out yet?

The Beauty of Less Stuff

How do you feel when you check into a nice hotel room for the first time? Ignoring any annoyances of the journey to get there, you hopefully notice how clean and ordered the room is. There’s usually a comfortable chair and table, a working desk with a notepad and pen neatly arranged, and a flat-screen TV angled just so. The bathroom is dry and clean with the countertop free of anything but a couple of clean glasses and complimentary toiletries. And the bed—simple and crisp with white sheets, a comfortable duvet, and a few pillows—beckons you to take a rest. That’s it. If you feel good from that imagery, it’s because the room has instantly relaxed you just for its minimalism.

If an overabundance of “stuff” has overtaken your home and you feel frazzled just looking at it, there’s good news. It’s time to declutter, and doing so is going to make you feel a lot better.

So here’s how to attack those beasts of messes.

Map Out a Plan

Divide your home into sections that will each receive individual and focused attention. While the task ahead may seem daunting, know that you can approach it in realistic blocks of time. It doesn’t all need to be accomplished in one day, though if you can devote that to it, you’ll feel amazing once you are all done.

Areas that deserve attention: all rooms including communal living spaces and the kitchen. Within them, drawers, closets, desk, and tabletops, and in your home office—you’ll go after whatever’s on your computer as well.

How do you feel when you check into a nice hotel room for the first time?

Armed with trash bags and a shredder (for paper items such as old bills and other sensitive documents), create three piles: keep, toss, and donate. Go through each drawer, closet shelf, shoe rack, and be brutally honest. A rule I’ve found helpful when going through items is to ask myself if I’ve worn or needed it in the past year to two years. If the answer is no and the piece is in good condition, it goes in the donate pile. If you have items that are damaged and cannot donate them, find an ethical way of disposing of them. To borrow from Marie Kondo, the current queen of decluttering: if an item doesn’t “spark joy,” get rid of it.

It’s a good idea to do a little research beforehand for donation possibilities. Some organizations will pick up your items from your home free of charge—and that can even include furniture you may wish to part with. Other outlets such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army can easily be found in nearly every city or town. Plan to take your bags of donations to these places that very day, if possible. Doing so will alleviate any temptation to second-guess and hold on to items deemed ready to go and will help you see a visible difference.

Apply these same rules to every area of your home. Those piles of magazines? Recycle them. Medicine cabinets? Throw out every old prescription bottle, or over-the-counter product past its prime. Overstuffed drawers? Throw, recycle, or shred (papers). Diligently go section by section through your home and eye everything critically. If you have a problem doing that, recruit the assistance of a discerning and firm friend or relative to help you stick to the decluttering mission at hand.

Once you have discarded items that no longer have a place in your space, neatly fold and reorganize what remains, give surfaces a good dusting, and breathe a sigh of relief. Trust me, you will.

Be Vigilant

To keep your newly decluttered spaces soothing to your soul, you need to establish an attitude of vigilance and commitment (yes, it’s that deep). This means you don’t let things get out of control again.

For example, if you buy new articles of clothing or footwear, consider pieces in your closet that might be ideal for donation. Again, if you aren’t wearing it or you look at it and say “Meh,” it’s time to let it go. Perhaps designate a monthly day to shred old bills or documents you no longer need before they pile up. Organize a monthly fridge/freezer cleanout date the whole family can participate in (because all those stockpiled ketchups or dressing packets have served everyone).

These same ideas can also be applied to your life commitments. If you are overloaded with too many school, church, or social obligations, it might be time to take stock of what’s really important. Pray for wisdom in this and learn how to politely bow out where you should.

While decluttering doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend a day, it represents a much more important exercise in being a good steward of the material blessings God has given you. After all, if you didn’t have so much, you wouldn’t need to downsize. That says a lot about the importance of taking stock of our lives and paring things down to what really matters—in our closets and in our hearts.

Happy decluttering!

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.

Besides its crucial role in some of their potluck delicacies, breakfast cereals enjoy a special connection to Adventists.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, John Harvey Kellogg, a contemporary of early Adventist pioneers James and Ellen White, was an advocate for clean living—fresh air, exercise, hydrotherapy, and a vegetarian diet comprising plain, simple foods that wouldn’t “excite” the senses. This way of living brought better health and solutions for indigestion by improving the diet of the average American, who might have previously consumed a lot of animal protein.

After Sylvester Graham invented the product that now bears his name, graham crackers,  James Caleb Jackson, in 1863, created a cereal from mixing graham flour with water and baking it. This concoction proved inedible unless first soaked overnight in milk. Jackson called this breakfast food “Granula.” It would not be the only new breakfast food of America’s nineteenth century. In the 1890s, John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will went commercial with their creation called Granose Flakes. The Seventh-day Adventist Church eventually cut ties with John Harvey Kellogg over theological issues, but not before brother Will cut ties with him and started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which by 1925 became the Kellogg Company you are probably familiar with today.

Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, and yes, that beloved Special K cereal of potluck casserole legend are among many products the company offers, though it now has no affiliation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

So the next time you see a commrcial for Kellogg’s cereal, sit back and ponder what might have been. Once you’re done musing, why not try one of these recipes made with (you guessed it) breakfast cereal!

Cheerios Applesauce Muffins1


2 cups Cheerios cereal

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

3 pouches (3.2 ounces each) GoGo Squeeze

Applesauceon the Go.

Optional: raisins


Heat oven to 400F. Spray bottom only of 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray.

Crush cereal. In large bowl, stir together cereal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir in remaining ingredients until moistened. Stir in raisins, if desired. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown.


Oatmeal Patties2

Patty Ingredients

¼ cup vegetable oil

3 cups rolled oats, instant or old-fashioned

1 can cream of mushroom soup

¼ large onion, chopped

½ cup pecan meal or slivered almonds (optional)

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 package Lipton Onion Soup mix

2 eggs

Gravy Ingredients

Leftover oil from the fried patties

¼ chopped onion

Handful of sliced mushrooms

4 tbsp. flour

½ package Lipton Onion Soup mix

1 cup water


Preheat oven to 350F.

Pour the oil into a skillet and preheat it while you make the patty mix.

Mix all the patty ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Once the patty mix is prepared, form the mixture into balls, place in the skillet, and flatten with a spatula. Allow them to cook until brown, then flip over to brown the other side.

Set the patties aside. At this stage, they make pretty good vegeburgers, and you can complete them with buns and fixings. To make this a casserole, add the gravy.

Turn down the heat on the oil. Toss in onions and caramelize them slowly over low heat. This takes about 15 minutes. When the onions are about halfway done, add mushrooms.

Sprinkle flour over the mixture.

Gently turn up the heat and blend the flour into the oil until it starts to brown. Add the onion soup mix and water and stir consistently until a gravy forms. Continue stirring until all flour lumps are gone.

Place patties and gravy in a casserole dish and bake until the gravy bubbles (you’ll have to eyeball this to know for sure).


Strawberry Coconut Pie3


1 cup cereal flakes with strawberries (such as Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries)

1 cup quick oats

⅓ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

¾ cup honey (you can also use maple syrup)

¼ cup water

1 tbsp. corn starch

½ cup strawberries, mashed or pureed

3 cups sliced strawberries, divided


Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease a 9-inch pie plate with baking spray and set aside.

Place cereal in a Ziploc bag, close the bag, and crush it with a rolling pin.

In a mixing bowl combine crushed cereal, oats, flour, coconut, and honey; stir until completely blended.

Press mixture into previously prepared pie plate. You can use a buttered spatula to do this, or you can also spray cooking spray on your hands so the mixture doesn’t stick.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool completely.

Prepare the strawberry sauce by combining water and corn starch in a microwave-safe bowl.

Stir until well blended.

Mix in mashed strawberries and microwave for 30 to 40 seconds, or until sauce is thickened.

Spread sauce on top of cooled pie.

Arrange sliced strawberries and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes or until chilled.

Garnish with crushed strawberry cereal flakes and serve.


From the time that first tinge of orange creeps across a once green leaf, the “holidays” quickly descend upon us. I say “holidays” because that time of year rarely provides the rest and relaxation commonly associated with the word. From pumpkin-hued and flavored everything; to the frenzied preparation of a November feast best consumed in stretchy pants; to the business of gifts and giving; with concerts and travel thrown in, the Christmas season is a lot.

With a cheerful heart and a determination to stay calm, the holiday season can be enjoyable for all, albeit tiring. After all, coming at the tail end of another year filled with ups and downs for many, the smells of cinnamon and pine, bursts of red, green, and gold; carols reflecting on the babe sent to be the Saviour of the world, do represent a higher point in the year’s calendar.

But the season is only fleeting, and it begins winding down almost immediately on December 26. By January 2, most of us (kids included) may be back in work and school as if nothing happened the entire month before. It can be an anticlimactic end to an exciting period of time; and for some it brings a sense of let-down or even loss of purpose. If you really love Christmastime? Forget it. You might find yourself downright distraught that it’s over.

Happy New Year?

So what happens once you pack up the Christmas decorations, carefully wrapping heirlooms to be reopened in a year’s time? How do you “reenter” normal life in a meaningful way? With winter and its seasonal depression, increases in colds and flu, and cabin fever for those living in blizzard-prone places, it can seem there isn’t much to look forward to. But it doesn’t have to be that way, for now is a great time to set a few things in order.


Reflection is a powerful tool for helping us cultivate gratefulness. Start by making a running list on your phone or iPad of all the ways God has led you in the past year. The act of recalling blessings is often a pick-me-up. The purpose of keeping a running list is to get in the habit of adding to it. With a brand-new span of 12 months ahead of you, there will surely be more trials and deliverance ahead. So make sure to mark those moments and log the hand of God in all of them. Every time you feel down or anxious for what is to come, read the list and see the proof that God is faithful.

Spiritual Goal-setting

If the previous year and the holiday season were nothing but positive for you, that’s wonderful. But if the exact opposite was true, don’t despair. Because in both situations a strong connection to the Lord is important—faithfulness in good times and bad.

Are there areas in your local church that could use your help? What about your local community?

So what is it you want to accomplish in the coming year to make that possible? Do you want to read the Bible through, start a Bible study series, volunteer more in church, listen to more spiritually-themed podcasts, or have a more committed devotion time? There are many spiritual goals to choose from.

I advise starting small and choosing one or two goals that are doable. You can always reevaluate as the year goes on and add what you need. But focus on mastering the few that you do choose now. Really commit to making your spiritual goals happen.


It has been said that when a person is feeling down, there is no better healer than to do something good for someone else.

So how and where can you serve? Are there areas in your local church that could use your help? What about your local community? More Seventh-day Adventists need to be involved in the secular world of their local communities. Find out about volunteering opportunities that appeal to your interests and individual gifts and do something.

This is also an excellent way to let the world learn more about the One in whose name you serve.

Explore Creativity

Creativity can be a therapeutic balm for many emotional stressors. If you’ve ever entertained the idea of trying something new, such as a couple’s pottery class or an intimidating class at the gym or learning to play an instrument, why not go for it? Immerse that side of your brain in creative pursuits. I can tell you from personal experience, hand-knitting chunky yarn blankets is super-easy, calming, and a skill I picked up from YouTube. Now I have a new creative outlet and something special to share with someone else—once I get my blankets to look less like fishing nets, of course.


It’s so easy to take care of everyone else and forget yourself in the process. It may seem as though you’re being selfless, but in the long run you may be doing more damage than good.

If your health plan allows for reimbursement for massage therapy, try to take advantage of this benefit. If you don’t have something like that, look out for significantly discounted deals on sites like Groupon. A massage can make you feel better—mentally and physically.

You can also indulge in easy and inexpensive home “spalike” treatments. Fill your tub with hot water and add lavender-scented Epsom salts (very good for sore muscles and better sleep), light some candles, play some soothing music (Pandora actually has a spa music channel), and soak away the stresses of the day.

Drink lots of water and make an effort to eat foods that make you feel good—colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-filled whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Maybe invest in a new cookbook or visit a healthy eating website to try something new.

Exercise shouldn’t be hard to remember since you’ll be bombarded with New Year’s resolution fitness ads pretty much everywhere. The trick to committing to an exercise routine is to find an activity you enjoy and be consistent. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Don’t neglect your annual physical, and be sure to stay on top of anything that bothers you by speaking to your doctor early on.

Last, if you feel down in a way that you can’t seem to shake, talk to a mental health professional as soon as you can. Take care of your mental and emotional health needs just as much as your physical ones.

A Winter Getaway

If the post-Christmas, winter-is-awful letdown is too distressing, plan activities that give you something to look forward to. It could be something as simple as game nights with friends, or day trips to nearby cities or quaint towns, to something a bit more exciting, such as a little winter vacation. Work within your individual budget and decide on something that makes sense for you and your family. The months between the new year and spring often spark a string of travel deals. Look into Airbnb, cheap plane tickets, road trips, or new attractions in your area to explore. Be proactive about planning something so you can look at your calendar with happy anticipation.

Accentuate the Positive

One of the best things we can do when in “recovery” from a jam-packed holiday season is to focus on all the good that came with it, while looking forward to the good that is to come.

I used to have a very hard time with Mondays and getting back to the grind. But I recently read a blog post written by someone who said that Monday was her favorite day of the week (what?), because she chose to look at it as a fresh start and a clean slate. Each new week ahead became one filled with new opportunities and blessings to enjoy.

I started to look at things that way, and my Monday blues aren’t so blue anymore. Perhaps we can take that approach to looking at a brand-new year.

The year 2019 has come and gone, and we’ve sent it out with aplomb through the festivities of the season. Now 2020 represents a fresh, new start brimming with new joys and opportunities to discover. As long as we start each new day with Jesus and walk with Him through
whatever is to come, we can be confident that as long as He is by our side, there will always be something to look forward to.

And just think: we’re that much closer to summer!

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor at Adventist Review.

Lawrence Galera, music teacher at Collegedale Academy in Tennessee, credits his grandmother with first instilling in him a passion for musical theater. She was the one to first expose him to different musical productions and he felt immediately drawn to the genre. “I was greatly impressed, and loved everything I’ve seen and was drawn emotionally to it. I just loved every minute of it and was very inspired,” he says. That started him on his own musical journey that took him into the world of composing original musical productions.

As the former music teacher at Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Academy, Galera found himself with access to a choir, a band, and an orchestra, and it wasn’t long before his first production—themed on the story of Noah and the great Flood—was born. “I decided to write something that would give my students a biblical perspective through music—theater music and the drama experience,” says Galera. Another production followed, this time on the Exodus story, following the life of Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Both works incorporated classical composer music as well.

“I had symphonies from Beethoven, from Schubert, and some opera choruses that infused the music,” Galera recalls. “I wrote my own lyrics, so both—music and lyrics—were infused into the overall production.” Galera next created a completely original production—holding all rights to the lyrics and music—based on the story of Esther. This work was specially commissioned for the music program at San Gabriel Academy in southern California.

Galera’s love of music is best expressed in musical theater. But the unique connection he makes to the Author of music is evident through the subject matter his productions are focused on. “Particularly with the biblical themes and the lessons we as Christians learn from them, students are able to play [the music] and see different roles,” says Galera. Yet while playing and studying the pieces, Galera’s students are actually gaining so much more. “They are internalizing the plot and characters and seeing different aspects of the story that we are always trying to learn from in order to make ourselves better.”

“The combination of biblical principles and Christian values that we learn about gives us a little more perspective,” he adds. “As the students develop themselves as musicians working with each other in the orchestra and through their instruments, or even as singers and soloists in the chorus, we have the experience of seeing this art form come alive as a ministry.”

The journey from an idea to an actual polished performance is never an easy one. But Galera has felt the hand of God guiding him in bringing biblical inspiration to musical fruition. “In every step of the way, every time I sit down and compose or write lyrics to orchestrate, there is a sense of prayer that I need to connect with,” Galera says. “And from the beginning of the first note written to the actual final performance and final bow, it’s such a fulfilling experience to know that I am supported by a higher divine power that helps me get through it.”

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.

Drawing was an escape and way of expression,” says Milton Coronado, street artist, pastor, and proud Chicagoan. Coronado’s talent, noticed and nurtured by teachers early on, led him to decide on a career in art in high school. Expressing himself through this form was also a balm for his troubled heart through a lifetime of hardship, which included the early deaths of his mother and father.

When he decided to pursue art as a high school junior, he was also drawn to graffiti and illegal street art. Only after his father passed away did he stop. Four years later, after dedicating his life to Christ, he picked up a spray can again. This time it was for ministry.

Coronado had a chance meeting with Pastors Manny Cruz and José Murrillo at the 2005 General Conference session in St. Louis, and learned more about their own street art ministry. He was encouraged to pursue his talent for street art for the glory of God. “I started painting messages that just gave the hope of Jesus Christ and shared His love toward the community,” says Coronado. “I was really,, motivated by that, especially because of young people coming up to me and saying, ‘I paint as well. My parents don’t know, and my pastor doesn’t know.’”

Coronado now uses this unique talent in workshops for youth in both Adventist and non-Adventist churches. He teaches about the origins of this art form, technique, and how it can be used for good—and lets his students get to work on their own masterpieces for the Lord. “Churches all have young people who are impacted one way or the other by hip-hop culture,” he says. “I say hip-hop culture because graffiti is a part of that culture, especially in the inner cities.” Sharing his testimony and way of using graffiti art positively helps these kids find common ground with the message he tries to convey.

When Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, a young pregnant woman, was senselessly murdered, the crime deeply affected the city. Coronado felt compelled to do something. “She passed away on a Thursday. The next Sunday I left my house at 6:00 a.m. and began painting by 11:00 a.m.,” Coronado remembers. “I finished around 4:00 p.m. I did this because first, I could relate. Second, there was so much evil about this, and the entire city was affected by it. I just wanted to give back something positive, something that pointed toward hope, that pointed toward Jesus Christ in the midst of this evil. That’s why I added a Bible text to the mural.”

Coronado believes his gift for street art has a place in the ministry of the gospel. His focus now is on helping other young people pick up their spray cans for the cause. “I want to mentor young artists who have a passion for Christ and others, and have an interest in street art, so that they too can lead this ministry years down the line.”

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor at Adventist Review.

Early in the morning I like to take a quick glance through the daily news. I say quick because lingering too long is not good for anyone. I also get news alerts on my watch so I can decide if there is a story I should pay more attention to. Sometimes they are harmless—a headline about Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor charming Bishop Desmond Tutu with his 5-month-old antics, for example. But more often than not, the news is grim. Shootings, threats of war, world leaders behaving badly, wildfires, drought, the earth’s climate malfunctioning. I could fill this entire page with more examples.

It’s easy to become desensitized to news reports, and breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t affect you or yours. But more and more I’m convinced that we can’t call ourselves Christians and remain unaffected.

We do offer our thoughts and prayers. We think and we pray, and we pray and we think. Good enough, right? But for believers, there has to be more to it.

We do need to think. We need to think about the mother whose son’s biggest concern was taking the SAT next week. Instead, he was gunned down on his way to chemistry class. We need to imagine, with God, that it was our child and feel her anguish.

To be the hands and feet of Jesus means we actually have to do something besides putting our hands together.

We need to think about what it would feel like to wake up one morning to see smoke in the distance and by day’s end have no home anymore. How would we cope if we lost everything in the span of hours? For every difficult story we must step into the shoes of the ones affected and cultivate more empathy. Don’t just feel for someone in distress—feel with them.

We do need to pray. When we stop to remember that people going through horrific circumstances are no different from us; that they are someone’s brother or sister, child or friend, we need to lift them up in prayer as if we’d known them all our lives. We need to try to feel a minute of their pain and plead on their behalf for God to give them all they need to face their current agony. We need to take them on board in our prayers as if all our lives depended on it. Pray for them without ceasing, as if we were praying for ourselves.

But then we need to act.

To be the hands and feet of Jesus means we actually have to do something besides putting our hands together. If we can, we have to find ways to involve ourselves in the effort of changing bad to good. No contribution is too small, no effort is too meager. As Jesus took the small offering of a boy’s fish-and-bread lunch and caused it to feed 5,000 hungry souls until they were satisfied, so can He take our sacrifice of time, money, or gesture of activism to bless someone in need and lift them out of their struggles. When we unselfishly offer ourselves to ease someone else’s burdens, Jesus Christ is honored, glorified, and, most of all, glad.

When that happens, we are exactly where we should be.

Wilona Karimabdi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review. She also edits KidsView.

It was a weekend in early March 2012. March, when the weather can’t make up its mind between winter or spring. Caryn’s* birthday was coming up that week, and the family was in the middle of a downstairs remodeling project. Tom,* her husband, was away touring with his longtime gospel singing group.

Both husband and wife worked for the same company. So it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary for Caryn to receive a phone call from human resources asking for Tom. Besides, this call was urgent in nature. “I got a call from HR here. They asked to speak with him, and I told them he wouldn’t be back until Monday,” she remembers. They asked her to have him report to their office before he began his day.

By midmorning that Monday, Tom called Caryn and informed her he’d been fired. He told her it was because there was pornography on his work computer.

Normal Beginnings

Caryn was born and raised on the West Coast of the United States. Her father worked for the boarding academy she attended. When she was ready for college, her father got a new job at a campus on the East Coast, so the entire family moved.

“I met my husband through my sister, actually. She was friends with him, and he rented a room from my parents,” Caryn says. Caryn had graduated, and Tom, with a few more classes he needed to finish up, stayed at her parents’ house. They were just friends at first, but the friendship blossomed into something more. The two were married in 2000. Their son was born in 2002, and a daughter rounded out the little family in 2004.

In 2005 Tom was offered a job in a different state several hours from the campus where they had met and married. Once their daughter started school full-time, Caryn was able to find a job of her own at the same company.

Life seemed just fine for a long time. The two could commute to work together and see each other during the day—a luxury seldom afforded to most married couples. They were involved in their local church and the kids’ school, and they had a circle of close friends.

Caryn had no idea there was another side to Tom. A side he skillfully concealed from her, and one that changed their lives forever.

The Ball Drops

On Caryn’s birthday, just two days after Tom was dismissed from his job, she got a call from a county detective. “They asked me to come home and said they had a search warrant,” she says. “They were looking for specific things—cameras, flash drives, a computer. And there were some articles of clothing and a blanket.”

It took about a month after that for an arrest warrant to go out for Tom. And the story began to grow exponentially bigger than Caryn ever thought it could. Another county brought another search warrant, and the federal government became involved. “One day I got a call from the school saying that I needed to come. I was told my husband was not allowed to come and pick up the kids. When I got to school, social workers were there, and they had already talked to both my kids.” Child sexual abuse was the new addition.

“It wasn’t just pornography found on his computer,” Caryn recalls. There was child pornography involving him and three young children. Both counties involved built their cases. Tom didn’t have the money needed to get a lawyer, so he accepted the public defender provided to him. He was arrested, and no bail was put up.

Trying to Cope

In the aftermath of her husband’s arrest, Caryn tried to make sense of everything. There had been no clues about Tom’s secrets, and nothing had raised suspicion. As she tried to comprehend it all, county advocates assigned to her stressed the fact that none of this was her fault. To cope, she sought counseling for herself and her children and tried to keep some sense of normalcy as she continued working and helping the kids keep up with school and other activities. “The kids knew he went to jail, but they didn’t know why,” says Caryn.

Things continued to unravel. In counseling, Tom admitted that his first exposure to pornography had been at a very young age, and that he had struggled with it all his life. But aside from that, he didn’t provide more information that would have helped his wife to understand the horrific mess he’d plunged his family into.

When Caryn visited him in jail while he awaited trial, Tom asked her not to listen to what people said or believe everything she read. She spent many Sabbath afternoons with him in which he was very careful not to divulge anything about what he’d done, in case he was recorded. Instead, Tom talked about dreams or visions he believed God was giving him. He wrote letters—pages and pages of letters that to this day, Caryn can’t bring herself to read in totality.

When the trial finally came up, Caryn was first called to testify. But just before she was to take the stand, she was informed that Tom had pleaded guilty. It was a huge blow to her. “In my mind, after he pleaded guilty to all of it, it made me question everything that he said to me. Because all this time he was telling me not to believe everything I heard, read, or whatever. Then he goes to court and pleads guilty. To me, it didn’t make sense.” Tom was sentenced to 150 years in jail, and was eligible for parole only after 75 years.

That was when Caryn stopped visiting him or taking his calls. She had always believed marriage was forever. So she struggled with remaining in her marriage after Tom was sentenced. It took her years to adjust to the fuller implications of his actions. She finally opted to leave the marriage, and the divorce was finalized in 2016.

There have been many struggles for Caryn and her children since Tom’s sentencing and the dissolution of the marriage. But Caryn is a remarkably strong woman who is working through her pain with God beside her. “I know this made me realize how much my relationship with God was not where it should have been,” she says. “I feel like I have grown closer to Him because I’ve called out to and relied on Him.”

For many people, forgiveness can be complicated. In light of Caryn’s situation, it is, without doubt, very difficult. “I still struggle with the concept of forgiveness. I mean, as far as actually forgiving versus knowing exactly what forgiveness is. It’s supposed to be freeing for you, to let things go. But I still struggle with actually saying, ‘I forgive you.’ Because even though I know it’s not condoning what they did, those words make me feel like I am.”

There Is Still a Future

By court order, Tom’s children will decide for themselves, in adulthood, if he may be part of their future. His son is close to reaching that age now. While Caryn has tried to keep the lines of communication open for the children to talk to her about their father, they themselves haven’t asked or said much.

For now, Caryn is mothering them, working, being with friends, living her life; and looking toward the bright future she knows that her God has for her and her loved ones.

*Caryn and Tom are pseudonyms.

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.