Home/2019/December

A Convocation

by Becky De Oliveira

August 2009. My husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now, this is the “best kind of cancer to have” as no fewer than a dozen people informed me at the time—and experience proved them more or less correct. Japhet recovered after only two surgeries and two rounds of radiation over a period of about 15 months. It only cost us about $11, 000 out of pocket, and I only had to talk to a representative from an insurance company questioning the “appropriateness of the treatment” at 7:30 in the morning on one occasion. While it was suggested, in the end we never did have to fly to Malaysia for cheaper treatment. He had both his surgeries in the great state of Michigan—in St. Joseph and Ann Arbor, respectively.

So in the grand scheme, no big deal. But at the time, I was freaking out. Our kids were small—just nine and five years old. You hear the word cancer and everything fades to black. I catastrophized a little. I’d be left alone to raise these kids. They would have no father. I would have no husband. We lived in Michigan, away from both our families, but at least I had a job there. Would I be able to keep it? What was I going to do?

The day of his first surgery, in St. Joseph, I hung out the whole day until the surgeon came to speak to me. “There was cancer everywhere,” he said, ominously. “I think I got it all.” (As it turns out, he hadn’t. Hence the second surgery 15 months later in Ann Arbor.) I unleashed a torrent of tears all the way home—relief? fear?—and then pulled myself together to put on a brave and happy face for the kids, who knew Dad was sick but weren’t especially worried out it. And that, of course, was by design.

He was awake the next morning, so I visited him before going to work. He was groggy and in pain. When I arrived on campus, emotionally frazzled and raw, I headed to Pioneer Memorial Church for convocation. I was unprepared to march as I usually would—I’d left my regalia at home—but I didn’t feel like going to my empty office alone. I wanted to be where people were, and convocation was where everyone was that morning. I found the rest of the members of my department. They were all lined up and ready to march into the church. They urged me to join them. “I’m not wearing my regalia,” I pointed out. “Who cares?” they said, waving their hands dismissively. They engulfed me into a great warm wave of robed and hooded bodies, and I was swept along, up the middle aisle of Pioneer Memorial Church, wearing jeans and, probably, a t-shirt. I saw some of my students in the audience. They smiled and waved. “Look how cool Becky is,” some of them later said they whispered to each other. “She doesn’t even have to wear the stupid gown!”

The fallout, of course, was swift. There was a lengthy email to the faculty the next day urging appropriate attire for convocation, but the person who wrote it had no idea of my personal circumstances. He didn’t understand how much that simple act of inclusion— “You will join us; you are one of us; we don’t care what you’re wearing” —had soothed my weary soul. It made me stronger and more able to face everything that came: the drive home from the hospital, the two weeks of post-radiation isolation, the weeks of recovery, the worry, the bills, the holding it all together so the kids would feel secure and no one would be too uncomfortable.

Turns out I did have family in Michigan.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-12-29T15:26:32-08:00December 30th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Suspending Skepticism

by J. Murdock

Whenever someone begins a statement with, “You’re not going to believe this, but…” I always wonder what led them to lead off with an expectation of disbelief. Of course, these days it seems like everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a world of false claims and a constant barrage of argumentation between what “he said” and “she said,” there is an unspoken skepticism about everything.

Skepticism is understood to be an attitude of doubt about the authenticity of things we see or hear. In many ways, skepticism can be a healthy approach to information when it is given without supporting facts that can be verified readily. Skepticism is what led me to keep my cool when I received a phone call from the Social Security Administration informing me that my Social Security number had been suspended because it had been involved in a crime, and I needed to confirm my SSN to reactivate it after paying a small fee of $100. Because of my skepticism, I was able to save myself $100 up front and a season of headaches trying to cancel credit cards that were opened in my name after the fact. But what happens when the same skepticism that aided me in protecting my assets grows to doubt more than just the suspect things in my life and begins to isolate me from anything other than my own opinion in the echo chamber to which I retreat to for safety and security?

Skepticism becomes cynicism quickly if we aren’t careful to create an internal system of checks and balances. Cynicism is the belief that all people are motivated by self-interest. Cynicism leads to tunnel vision that can barricade you from hearing opinions different from your own because they don’t match what you already believe to be true. It has the ability to place you in alliance with the news station you watch because the other news station is comprised of villains, liars, and cheats. Cynicism is no longer an attitude but a belief that breeds a lifestyle of doubt.

Imagine for a moment that you find yourself in the middle of a field and a voice speaks from the figure of an angel reflecting the Light of the Lord into the darkness. That angel says that a baby has been delivered to the world as the Savior of all humanity. The angel then tells you that God has selected you to visit the baby and his parents, in order to bear witness to the greatest miracle ever to happen on earth.

The skeptic, while skeptical, is also intrigued and may actually take the side quest to Bethlehem to see whether or not the story is true. The cynic likely wouldn’t move a muscle and would instead declare the story “fake news.”

The shepherds were neither skeptics nor cynics. According to Luke 2:15, they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (NIV).

We all have the opportunity to apply logic and reason to everything we hear in order to preserve our sanity in an otherwise confusing world. But before you make a final decision and act in line with how you have predetermined the order of the world to be, reserve judgment when something in your soul stirs. Your mind and heart may already be swayed by the positions you have taken up to this point, but your soul still belongs to the Lord. Keep it open to the will of the Spirit. For if you do, you will find yourself at the start of an unforgettable journey you can’t afford to miss out on. Merry Christmas!

 

J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado. This blog is adapted from a piece he wrote for Daily Walk, the Boulder church devotional and study guide.

2019-12-23T11:29:53-08:00December 23rd, 2019|Living God's Love|

Jewish Ministries: Helping to Build Understanding

by David Gardner

Ellen G. White wrote, “When this gospel shall be presented in its fullness to the Jews, many will accept Christ as the Messiah.… God expects His messengers to take particular interest in the Jewish people” (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 380-381).

David Gardner, director of Jewish Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference, has taken this “particular interest” very seriously. In September, he was appointed by the Union to serve in this position throughout its territory.

Currently there are 25 Jewish-Adventist congregations in North America and 56 worldwide. Gardner’s responsibilities include support of the two Jewish groups in our Union territory: a Russian-Jewish congregation in Glendale, California, and Beth B’nai Zion, a group of members of the Santa Barbara, California, church. He also offers the support of the Union in work with pastors and lay leaders to assess needs in major Jewish population centers and the feasibility of launching Jewish-Adventist groups through contextualized outreach, done in partnership with Adventist Global Mission.

In addition, Gardner assists in arranging special Jewish occasions at churches in the Union for educational purposes. Special guest speakers and programs are available through Shalom Adventure Magazine, Shalom Learning Center, and Christians Against Anti-Semitism—all Adventist organizations.

Gardner has worked for the church over 40 years and holds degrees in theology and education. He also holds a certificate in Jewish Ministries Leadership from Shalom Learning Center. This training equips him to appreciate Jewish history, culture, and religion to better work at building understanding and friendships that will lead to Jews accepting their Messiah.

Gardner also works to recruit students for Shalom Learning Center and a new masters’ degree program in Jewish studies at Andrews University. The vision for this degree arose as the Shalom Learning Center’s Alexander Bolotnikov saw an alarming increase in Adventists converting to Judaism in recent years.

“I decided I should learn what my heritage meant, because I was raised as a communist, not a Jew,” said Bolotnikov, a Jewish rabbi turned Adventist pastor with a doctorate in rabbinic literature. “So, I went to the yeshiva. When I became a believer in Jesus, the only Christian church I could join without compromising scripture was Seventh-day Adventism.”

“What I learned in the yeshiva has anchored me within Adventism,” he continued. “Thus, my dream developed of bringing together instructors and a curriculum that equips Adventists to interact effectively with both secular and religious Jews, while also addressing the attrition of our people to Messianic congregations and Jewish communities.”

The Jewish people are part of God’s family, waiting to be introduced to their Messiah. Jews and Adventists have many common beliefs, practices, and cultural traits that can open doors to friendships and acceptance of the gospel message.

Gardner described one such experience, a highlight of his years in ministry: “A Jewish physician requested Bible studies. When we came to the last study from the book of John, he asked, ‘I’ve accepted Jesus as my Messiah, but I’m a Jew. What am I?’ He beamed a smile of relief when told, ‘You ARE a Jew! A Jew who has found your Messiah.’”

Top of page: Dr. Alexander Bolotnikov, a Jewish rabbi turned Adventist pastor with a doctorate in rabbinic literature, reads from the Torah.

 

David Gardner, Director of Jewish Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference

2019-12-23T10:56:13-08:00December 23rd, 2019|News|

Fairness for All Introduced in Congress Press Conference held at Utah State Capitol

by Alan J. Reinach

Historic legislation protecting both religious freedom and LGBT rights was introduced in Congress in early December. Pacific Union Conference Director of Public Affairs & Religious Liberty Alan Reinach was on hand for a press conference announcing the bill in Salt Lake City, held there because the lead sponsor is Utah Congressman Chris Stewart. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is among the broad coalition of groups sponsoring the measure. Melissa Reid, from the North American Division PARL Department, represented the church at the press conference and delivered the remarks that follow:

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church applauds the Fairness for All Act’s balanced, principled approach for protecting both religious freedom and LGBT civil rights.

“Fairness for All simultaneously affirms our right to hold and act upon our biblical view of sexual identity and marriage and our belief that everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect.

“It allows us the ability to honor Christ’s imperative to love both God and our neighbor.

“Religious liberty and the separation of church and state are longstanding principles of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Under these principles, we do not seek to impose our beliefs on others through the apparatus of the State or any other mechanism.

“At the same time, we assert unequivocally the right of the church and its members to express our faith and administer our institutions according to our biblical values and beliefs.

“The Fairness for All Act acknowledges and respects the historic and legally protected place religion occupies in society.

“It strengthens the protections for religious freedom in the workplace. And it shields LGBT individuals from discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, or public accommodations.

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church commends Congressman Stewart and the other bill sponsors for their commitment to freedom of conscience, and we look forward to the support of many additional members of Congress who value both religious freedom and LGBT civil rights.”

One of the truly remarkable back stories is that of Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, who had the herculean task of herding the diverse constituent member colleges and universities to support this measure. CCCU represents more than 180 institutions in the U. S. In her public remarks, Ms. Hoogstra said Fairness for All grew out of the question asked by leaders of the faith and LGBT communities of one another: “What do you need?” She contended that Fairness for All represents the best of how we do government in America.

Both Congressman Stewart and Governor Gary Herbert spoke, observing that Fairness for All grew out of a previous measure enacted in Utah in 2015 that has come to be known as the Utah Compromise.

Fairness for All is the latest in a long line of efforts to enact civil rights protections for LGBT rights. “Fairness for All provides the most comprehensive protections for both religious freedom and LGBT rights in the spirit of “live and let live,” Reinach said.

2019-12-20T11:10:45-08:00December 20th, 2019|News|

The Warmest Welcome

by Becky De Oliveira

I moved to Colorado with my family in 2014, and Boulder Adventist Church was only my children’s third church. As a pastoral family, we haven’t moved around as much as some do, and even when my husband has changed jobs (church to conference, for instance) we’ve been able to stay in our house and community.

I was nervous about moving to Colorado from Andrews University where my kids and I flew safely under the radar. Japhet wasn’t “the pastor;” he was the chaplain. There is a slight but significant distinction, and I knew I’d had it easy for a long time. At Boulder we would live in a fishbowl, under a microscope, the beneficiaries of continued scrutiny, so I was told. I remembered it from England—the way people would pay attention to my clothes, to the way I handled my children. The massive ace I carried in my pocket in the UK was my status as a foreigner; because I was American the judgment fell less harshly. People made allowances for whatever I did, kindly assuming cultural differences or pure ignorance. I knew I would receive no such free pass at Boulder. “Ugh,” I said to myself when I thought about it.

We arrived on a Wednesday, as did a pair of Australian houseguests who politely stepped over the clutter of unpacked or semi-unpacked boxes as they used our parsonage as a base for travel around greater Denver. Our oldest son started high school the very next day. There were flowers on the porch when we arrived, with a short note welcoming us. (Japhet had already been living in the area for more than eight months, staying with a generous couple who provided him a room and sense of family.) Maybe the flowers don’t sound like a huge deal; perhaps many churches extend gestures like this. But none we’d ever encountered. The flowers were only the beginning. In the five years Japhet served as Boulder church pastor, a role he only left this past summer, church members went far above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel loved and welcome. Birthday and Christmas gifts. Lunches and dinners out. Excursions across the state to experience more of our new home. An anonymous donor provided our youngest son with an intensive educational experience that made a huge difference to his learning and confidence. Two couples took our oldest son on a medical mission trip to Belize, an experience that he enjoyed and that proved important for his college applications later on. We often received random gift cards for Whole Foods or Flatirons Coffee. Our kids received bicycles. But best of all was the unconditional friendship offered by so many people in the church—whether or not my husband always did exactly as they wished. My children were not criticized or harassed. Having heard firsthand or read about nightmarish stories of pastoral family bullying, I cannot express how relieved I am to have raised my kids more or less to adulthood without any major church-induced trauma.

When Japhet took a job in California this summer and decided to commute for a couple of years while I finish my doctoral work and our youngest son completes high school, a few people encouraged us to find another church, to give the new pastor “space.” We’re absolutely giving Pastor Jenniffer Ogden (who is fabulous!) space, but we’re sticking with our people, with our community. “Where else could we possibly go?” I asked Japhet, rhetorically. “These are our people; we have no others in this place. We love these people.”

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This piece appears in the Winter 2019 edition of Mountain Views.

2019-12-16T16:14:40-08:00December 16th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” December 13, 2019 Episode 350

Repicturing Christmas

In this last episode of the year, we’re journeying to Bethlehem and the scene of the nativity. Share this illustrated story with your friends and family!

Thank you for joining us for this last episode of the year. We’ll see you again on Jan. 10, 2020!

2019-12-13T00:21:14-08:00December 13th, 2019|All Gods People|

Quentina and A Christmas Carol

by Diana Fish

This time of year, when I’m with my students in the Junior Sabbath School class I teach at Holbrook Indian School (HIS), I like to ask the question, “What do you think of when you hear the name Ebenezer Scrooge?” If they know who he is, they often say, “Humbug!” “He hates Christmas.” “He is a stingy old miser!” They never seem to remember the end of the story when Scrooge is a changed man—born again, if you will.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” This is the conclusion that we all seem to forget. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol demonstrates how Ebenezer Scrooge responded to God’s love and mercy in giving him a second chance.

At HIS, we seek to help our students see themselves in the light of God’s love for them—a love that stays the same, regardless of the harmful choices they’ve made or the horrific things that have happened to them. Often, our students are weighed down with past regrets, wounds caused by people who were supposed to be looking out for their best interest, and broken hearts caused by abandonment whether by choice or because of an early death.

But there is hope! When our students open their hearts to the possibilities of a loving God who created them with a purpose, a change begins to happen. When they begin to see themselves through the eyes of our merciful Creator who truly wants what is best for them, they begin to come to life. It is a miraculous thing to witness.

No student has impacted me more than Quentina, who came to Holbrook as a fifth grader. She was a wild child—some might even say feral. Once I tried to take a group picture of the elementary class with our principal, Mr. Ojeda. She was everywhere: under the table, behind the students, jumping back and forth. I couldn’t get a good shot with her in it. Then in the last picture, there she was in all her glory: a big blur leaping right in front of Mr. Ojeda and all of the students.

She once yelled at the teacher who was trying to help her, “Just give me an F!” Trips to the principal’s office were a daily thing. However, over the four years she’s been at HIS, a transformation has taken place. She is now on the honor roll and cares very much about her grades. She loves to read. She dreams of going into law enforcement so she can help people. And recently, she was baptized. When asked why she made the decision to follow Jesus, she said it is because she wants to help her family.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Quentina experienced rebirth. She doesn’t fully understand what that means yet, but she is truly a new creation. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV). She has responded to our God of second chances.

Quentina is why we keep doing what we do at HIS. When we see her, we are filled with a renewed sense of purpose. Many of our students do not respond the way she has—it can be terribly discouraging when we see our students reject what God has to offer them. But then we remember the end of the story. In the famous last words of A Christmas Carol, “God bless Us, Every One!”

 

Diana Fish is the development director at Holbrook Indian School in Holbrook, Arizona.

2019-12-09T11:59:30-08:00December 9th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” December 6, 2019 Episode 349

Have you discovered Pacific Sunrise? This week, we’re sharing a few favorite stories from Pacific Sunrise about local churches and members making a difference in their communities.

1. Backpacks for Christ Ministry Meets Needs in Phoenix
Learn more about this ministry:

Watch a video produced by Church Support Services about this ministry:

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise:
https://adventistfaith.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=96da2f590cd7246bbde0051047b0d6f7.225&s=8d70b4b2985452d40506e32155e29723

2. Victorville Church Gives the Gift of Shoes
Read this story in Pacific Sunrise Here
https://www.vvdailypress.com/news/20190327/victorville-seventh-day-adventist-church-donates-429-pairs-of-shoes-to-lucerne-valley-elementary-school

3. Sparks Church Hosts Summer Campout

Check out the church Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SparksSDA/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1036108386593990&ref=page_internal

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise Here.

4. Kaneohe Church Member Dedicates Her Retirement to Service

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise:
https://adventistfaith.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=43ec517d68b6edd3015b3edc9a11367b.123&s=8d70b4b2985452d40506e32155e29723

5. Community Teams up to Feed Homeless in San Bernardino

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise:
https://adventistfaith.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=b3e3e393c77e35a4a3f3cbd1e429b5dc.199&s=8d70b4b2985452d40506e32155e29723

See photos from their outreach:

6. Young People Participate in Tongan Congregation Inauguration

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise:
https://adventistfaith.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=d2ddea18f00665ce8623e36bd4e3c7c5.115&s=8d70b4b2985452d40506e32155e29723

Check out the church group on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/199398556800473/videos/

7. Capitol City Church Partners with Community

Read this story in Pacific Sunrise:
https://adventistfaith.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=14bfa6bb14875e45bba028a21ed38046.111&s=8d70b4b2985452d40506e32155e29723

Check out the church Facebook page:

I expect!

Posted by Capitol City Seventh-day Adventist Church on Sunday, September 8, 2019

We hope you enjoyed these seven inspiring stories! If you’d like to receive Pacific Sunrise and read short stories like these each Tuesday and Thursday morning from our churches and schools, visit the link below:

~ ~ ~

Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:8-9, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” (NKJV)

2019-12-06T16:09:46-08:00December 4th, 2019|All Gods People|

For the Laughs

by Becky De Oliveira

I was baptized at the age of nine by a pastor named Ham, and people found this hilarious. “An Adventist pastor named Ham!” they’d cry, wiping the tears from their eyes. “Your baptism probably isn’t even legitimate!” “A better name would be Pastor Stripple!” Even now, in an age with a great many more sources of humor—thanks especially to the Internet—the name kills. Nowhere else in Christendom can you get quite as much mileage out of Levitical law or meat substitutes. Or, for that matter, persecution. Make a crack about the cave you will one day inhabit, or your eventual but certain death in the electric chair anywhere outside of Adventism, and you’ll get a nervous stare.

Our jokes never get threadbare either. When I lived in England and my children were small, our church offered a selection of hot drinks after the service and these included both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. Every single week offered a variation on the same riff:

“Coffee, please.”

“Righty-o. Decaf?”

“No, I need the stimulating effects of the caffeine, thanks. If you could throw in a pinch of black pepper, that would be awesome.”

Here the server would pull an exaggerated face, wag a finger, and say, “Ooo-ooh”—and

then go ahead and pour the coffee. No one actually stood in judgment—they were offering the coffee after all—but everyone felt compelled 1) to note that we were breaking ranks and 2) to make a joke of it. What does this say about Adventists? Perhaps merely that we’re the kind of people who care very much about doing the right things, that we realize we lack consensus in some cases as to what those things are and exactly how important to make them, and that in spite of our differences we do agree to coexist as a somewhat messy and often incoherent community of sorts. That in spite of our hardline rhetoric, we really do understand that people are where they are—and that some of them are young mothers who never get quite enough sleep. And I love that about being a Seventh-day Adventist.

In spite of a great mass of apparent evidence to the contrary—including the occasional church member who has gravely cautioned my husband against undue “levity” in his sermons and everyday conversation (and he’s British, so what do they expect?)—I find Adventists to be a largely humorous and self-deprecating lot. I love those t-shirts that show the classic sanctuary diagram with a caption reading “Any questions?” or the ones that say “I ❤ Haystacks.” How many jokes have I heard about bicycles or black pepper or watches or measuring the length of skirts? Our unique history and subculture are—let’s face it—pretty funny. Humor always contains an element of biting truth, and the biting truth behind our humor is the recognition that we are people earnestly trying to live a life of devotion in an imperfect and messed up world. Within the context of our deeply flawed and inconsistent selves. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry. And we’d be of no use to anyone. By joking, we bring ourselves down to earth.

Some people find making fun of faith to be sacrilegious and assume that those who engage in it are less than committed believers, but as a long-standing practitioner of levity often accused of cynicism, I can assure you that this is anything but the case. Humor demonstrates love and acceptance. You mock that which is important to you, that which you love enough and trust enough that you know your jabs can do it no lasting damage.

Among my fondest childhood memories is caroling during the Christmas season with a multigenerational group from church—spreading good cheer on porches all over the city and soliciting donations for our community services projects. What a goofy mess we were! Few of us could sing and, as my parents often noted, those who sang the worst also sang the loudest. But we all muddled through as best we could, sang our hearts out, giggled and tripped each other, leapt over fire hydrants, and snickered off the rude rebuffs of people who called us cult members. We had a clear view of the constellation Orion, all six stanzas of Silent Night committed to memory, a good and noble purpose, a collection tin heavy with quarters, a fistful of leaflets about the Sabbath, and each other. Back at the church community hall, we sipped steaming cups of full-strength Postum, and the laughter continued well into the night.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This piece was originally published in Compass Magazine in 2015.

2019-12-01T13:43:28-08:00December 2nd, 2019|Living God's Love|