In the neighborhood surrounding one church in northeast Michigan, United States, it wasn’t hard to find signs that things were heading in the wrong direction. An abandoned factory near the center of town had been converted into a marijuana commerce park — complete with outdoor shopping, café, private smoking rooms, and a cannabis beverage factory.
“The development of this large-scale marijuana manufacturing and grow site, in a rural town like Vassar, and right next to railway for quick movement of large quantities says a lot,” Vassar Seventh-day Adventist Church elder Raymond Waller said. Waller’s interest in this unwelcome facility was informed by his background as past CEO of an addiction hospital and as past chair of the American Hospital Association's Governing Council for Psych and Substance Abuse Hospitals.
In 2018, Michigan voters legalized recreational use of marijuana, which followed the legalized delivery of alcohol by mail, and since then sales of these products have skyrocketed.
To counteract aggressive measures from the alcohol and marijuana industries, and out of a recognition of God’s love for His children, the Vassar Seventh-day Adventist Church felt it had to respond.
“As Seventh-day Adventists, temperance should be in our DNA,” Waller said. “And knowing the downstream collateral damage that addictive substances inflict on communities and individual homes, the volume of our collective voice on this topic needs to increase in a marked way. Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White wrote, ‘Of all who claim to be numbered among the friends of temperance, Seventh-day Adventists should stand in the front ranks’” [Review and Herald, Oct. 15, 1914].
Starting with a small committee of five, organizers designed a simple poster for an essay and oratorical contest, targeting seventh through 12th graders across the region. Students would address the topic, “What negative health effects do marijuana and alcohol have on the brain and body?”
The idea developed quickly, gaining church support, and several volunteers at other Adventist churches in the region. Organizers concluded that reaching young people was key, because parents are also impacted through the youth. Thus, it made sense to allocate a portion of the church’s evangelism budget, US$10,000, for cash awards to the contest’s winners.
To promote the contest, a group of church volunteers emailed every sheriff, mayor, city manager, judge, school principal, art teacher, English teacher, and head librarian across three counties in the region. In addition to the favorable responses from these community leaders, the connections provided an opportunity for introductions between the Adventist churches and regional thought leaders.
At a ceremony held at the Ubly High School February 23, 2022, Andrew Park, Vassar church pastor, presented awards to two Ubly high school students.
Now that the contest has ended, organizers are asking, “Where will we go from here?” They’re considering holding the contest again next year. However, they’re not merely wanting to promote their stance on temperance, since the message of health is broad-based. To that end, they have partnered with an Adventist nonprofit called Lifestyle by Design Health to distribute immune care boxes.
“Our members are prayerfully giving boxes to neighbors, family, and friends, with the intent of promoting strong immune health and educating on right health principles,” Waller said. “They are also praying and fasting that the next time an announcement is made for an evangelistic harvesting series, the community will respond favorably.”