It’s a game I’m destined to lose, but one I continue to gamely play.
At camp meetings, pastors’ gatherings, and weekend retreats, coy souls who knew me in decades past test the paucity of my memory.
“Can you remember who we are?”
The knowing smiles crease faces no longer young, and the hair is often flecked with grey. The frames have shifted, usually downward and outward, making useless whatever matching software was once embedded in my brain.
Eleven congregations, 3000 members through 18 years, and thousands more greeted—oh, so briefly!—at church doors conspire to make this task impossible.
“Help me,” I say apologetically. “You look familiar.”
And then they laugh at my surrender, and radiantly announce the “reveal.”
“We’re Brad and Rachel,” they say with undisguised glee, for they have won this round. “You baptized us—and married us!—20 years ago.”
And with the mention of their names, a world comes washing back at me—a world filled with long conversations, premarital counseling sessions, more than few tears, and much laughter. They point to two well-favored teens who stand awkwardly beside them.
“These are our kids,” they say with obvious pride and satisfaction. “Look what you did!”
And while we laugh and chat about the highlights of two decades, a prayer of quiet gratitude rises from my heart: “They made it, Lord. They made it!”
If you had asked me on their wedding day to give the odds they would still be active members 20 years later, I would have mumbled something about not knowing how to read the future. For, truth be told, I had my doubts. Their histories never prophesied a story of stability and growth.
What made it work? What made them stay?
I thought about the congregation that they joined in “salad days,” when they were “green in judgment.” I remember the laughter and the hugs, the frequent social gatherings, the open arms and open hearts that made newcomers welcome, trusted, comfortable. Unlike a hundred stories I have heard, they found a spiritual family and a community of realists that loved them through their awkwardness.
“They made it, Lord. They made it!”
For every Brad and Rachel, though, another couple slips away before the church can celebrate Thanksgiving. In every year, fully 1 in 4 new believers won by prayer and sweat and sacrifice disappear into the category called “Missing,” silent witnesses to our lack of passion for keeping those God brings us.
How do we love and hold the newest of the new—the couples, young adults, the middle-aged—who realign their lives to walk with Jesus and His church?
There is no substitute for love and conversation, for Sabbaths spent in leafy parks, and Sundays at the ballgame.
But there is one thing you can add to all you do to keep the ones that God is bringing.
Give them what you’re holding in your hand. Give them this magazine of hope and honesty and heart. Put a copy of the magazine you love in the hands of those you are learning to love.
Each year, hundreds of our readers make generous gifts to help us put the Adventist Review in the homes of every newly baptized person across North America—for free. They give to new believers the same journal that builds faith, teaches truth, and nurtures hope in their own lives.
Your gift of $100 will bless ten couples like Brad and Rachel. Fifty new believers will grow up in Jesus for your gift of $500. A year of clear-eyed faith and warm-hearted caring—more than 750 pages—will minister where you can’t, and build the lives of those who most vulnerable to doubt.
Go to www.adventistreview.org today, and make a generous gift to the New Believers program, or send a check to Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904.
Keep faith with those the Lord is calling.