My friend Carrie called me today to tell me about a health expo she attended, put on by Adventists in her hometown. I should have been overjoyed to hear that my friend, not a member of the Adventist faith, had attended and even helped at this event. And believe me, I was happy she had gone, and that my fellow Adventists had found this way of reaching their community. But I was also concerned. What had her experience been like? Had it been a faith-building, encouraging time for her? Or had it been like too many other times?
You see, I feel a little protective of Carrie. I first met her several years ago in a small town in another country. She was a homesick Canadian and I was a homesick American, both struggling with the day-to-day challenges of raising toddlers. We met through a mutual friend who assumed that since we both spoke English with similar accents and seemed to be religious types, we must be basically the same. Carrie was a devout member of her religious group. I was a lifelong Adventist.
During the next several months and years we, along with our husbands, began a long journey of deep discussions and study. As a result of our shared journey, Carrie and her husband both came to the conclusion that the religious group they had previously identified with was promoting some serious errors. They made the agonizing decision to leave, knowing it would be very hard for their family to accept. They left the supportive and dignified religious community they had loved for many years, exchanging it for our very small, rural Adventist church.
Things started out well enough there. The Adventist members welcomed them with open arms. And even though the singing might not have been exactly on key and the discussions might have at times been lacking in theological brilliance, Carrie and her husband appreciated the obvious sincerity of the people.
Carrie and I continued to study together, and a whole new world opened before her eyes. She began to fall in love with Jesus and with the beautiful picture of God’s character that she found in the teachings of Adventism: a God who loves us unconditionally, despite what we do or don’t do; a God who knows our need for rest and offers us a “sanctuary in time” every seven days; a God who longs to restore the intimacy of Eden, and who will come to take us home to live with Him forever; a God who is both mighty and transcendent, yet intimate and personal at the same time.
Carrie began to consider joining the Adventist Church, but because of her past religious experience, she shied away from making a formal commitment to a human organization. She continued to attend church, study her Bible, and ask questions.
Then, suddenly, life took some unexpected turns. In the space of a few months my family moved across the country, and Carrie’s moved back to Canada. As she visited a variety of Adventist churches looking for a church that felt like “home,” here are some things Carrie experienced that left her bewildered and me with a growing concern.
Given this background, you can imagine why I was a little apprehensive when Carrie called to tell me about the health expo. How had it gone for her? What had her interactions with Adventists been like? Surely this outreach must have been a positive experience.
As it turned out, there were some positive elements. She thought the idea was wonderful, and she was glad she could volunteer at an event that would help the community. But three things stood out that left her scratching her head:
During setup everyone was scrambling, and things seemed disorganized. Carrie suggested to the leader that they pray and ask for God’s presence— but was told hurriedly that they didn’t have time to stop and do that. They needed to keep working.
During the event an Adventist woman sought her out and insisted that she and her family needed to move to the country immediately to avoid the “time of trouble.” The woman was very insistent and kept coming back even though Carrie politely declined to continue the conversation.
Another Adventist told her that Ellen White had predicted September 11 and insisted that this was vital information she needed to be aware of right now.
She then told me, with sadness in her voice, that she and her husband are planning to join a Bible study with a group of Christian professionals that meets each Sunday. She is convicted about the Sabbath and will continue keeping it at home. She also admires the Adventist understanding of Scripture, but her family won’t be attending an Adventist church anymore. It’s just too confusing and painful, and they need some support from Christians whose main focus is Jesus.
I wanted to weep. Not because I think Carrie is lost, but because, in a sense, I fear that we are. How have we lost our focus on the essentials?
My fellow Adventists—members of the church I love—we can do better. We must do better. There is a Carrie in your church right now—and also in mine. Someone who is seeking to understand the teachings of the Bible, who wants to know what it looks like and feels like to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus, who needs to hear the good news that Jesus is coming back to restore all that has been lost through sin. This is the message the world needs to hear, and it’s also the message we have been entrusted with as Adventists. Anything else is a distraction from what we have been called to share.
I implore you—point Carrie to Jesus. Show her what it looks like to live a life of faith: to trust Jesus with our time, our finances, our relationships, all that we have and are—now, in the end times, and throughout eternity.