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Southeastern California Conference Hosts FEJA Youth Congress at La Sierra University

Faith Hoyt, with Abigail Marenco

Approximately 1, 200 young people from across the Pacific Union Conference worshipped together and built community at the Federación de Jóvenes Adventistas (FEJA) Youth Congress held at La Sierra University in late June.

The event, hosted this year by the Southeastern California Conference, included a Bible Bowl focusing on Luke and Acts, several social events, and volleyball, basketball, and soccer games. Each aspect of a FEJA convention is designed to help young people grow spiritually, form Christian friendships, and enjoy physical exercise.

“We are grateful to God for the response we’ve seen from our youth,” said Alberto Ingleton, director of Hispanic and Portuguese Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference. “Our objective is to encourage young people to keep walking with Christ, but beyond that we want them to become active disciples who witness to others—young people who have a story, who found Christ, and enjoy sharing that story with others in their communities.”

Guest speaker at the convocation was Andres Peralta, associate youth director at the General Conference. Peralta spoke in both English and Spanish, sharing the Word of God, testimonies from young people, and illustrations of God’s unfailing love and calling to all youth.

Over the weekend, Ismael Cruz, FEJA president for San Bernardino County, led worship with a team of young people from churches across the Pacific Union. During their time together on Friday and Saturday, attendees watched videos summarizing FEJA activities from each respective conference and heard union and conference leaders share messages of encouragement and support.

On Sabbath morning, Manny Arteaga, pastor of the Kalēo church, encouraged young people to share their stories with others and step up as active disciples for the kingdom of God. At sundown, the gym was cleared to make way for a mini-Olympics event, and teams from all over the Pacific Union competed in soccer, basketball, and volleyball tournaments.

Many young people made new friends; others reunited with old friends that they had not seen for some time. According to many who attended, this congress was a spiritual blessing. One young person, when asked of his opinion of the event, simply responded: “When is the next one?”


The Pacific Union Conference FEJA Youth Congress was held at the La Sierra University gym in Riverside, Calif., on the weekend of June 28-30. On Sabbath, around 1,200 young people gathered to hear guest speaker Andres Peralta, associate youth director at the General Conference.

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Bible Bowl teams from each conference participate at the Pacific Union Youth Congress.

2019-07-29T10:34:26-07:00August 19th, 2019|News|

A New Creation

by Becky De Oliveira

My grandparents wanted everyone to be perfect, and they worried all the time about the obvious fact that we were not. You had to eat the right foods and think the right thoughts and prepare yourself always—never knowing when Christ might appear—lest you be caught on a bad day and be forever lost. The chances of being caught on a bad day, I intuited, were pretty great. My grandparents held out little hope for themselves and far less for us. My mother wore jeans! I listened to rock music! Neither of my parents chewed their food enough times before swallowing! My brother ate too much pizza!

Because I was a kid and the idea never occurred to me, I didn’t interrogate them about what they really thought or what the implications of their beliefs really were. Did they believe each person had to be literally perfect? And what would that even look like? If a person—say me, for instance—were to become perfect, would that fact be obvious to anyone else? Would it even be evident to me? Would I be perfect if I managed to achieve some level of existence in which no other human being could find fault with me? That seems like quite a trick. I’ve even heard people say rubbish about Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

If you, the individual, get to determine what perfection is, well, it seems like a cop out. It’s almost too easy, but it doesn’t seem like there would be any other way to approach the concept since it seems unlikely that humanity as a whole could develop any definitive set of criteria. A single family probably couldn’t agree on what perfection really is. I doubt two like-minded people could agree completely. Religious people would argue that you can know what God thinks perfection is—what He requires of us—since it is laid out in the Bible, but this doesn’t really appear to be true. For starters, figuring this out would involve going through the entire Bible and making a list of all the things that God commands and then deciding whether they are specific to a certain time and culture or whether they apply to everyone always and then implementing these rules in your life. Just observe the average church community and it will become obvious that people cannot reach consensus regarding what God wants them to do. One journalist, A. J. Jacobs, engaged in a pretty entertaining experiment and wrote about it in a book called The Year of Living Biblically. He describes the project as being “about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible.” I remember thinking, when I saw this book in a Barnes and Noble display case, that I was pretty sure I’d met a few people who’d done exactly the same thing—they just didn’t write about it.

Perfection—if you define it as following rules—is a bit of a cop out because following rules isn’t that hard. For one thing, as Jacobs points out, “fundamentalists may claim to take the Bible literally, but they actually just pick and choose certain rules to follow.” Because everyone does ultimately decide what constitutes a “perfectly” lived life, all you would have to do is create for yourself a list of rules. Lines you will not cross. And then follow the rules and stay inside the lines. Or redefine what they really mean when and if you fall short.

I would imagine that many people really are perfect in this sense. It’s not hard to stick to a vegan diet, to exercise a certain number of minutes per day, to devote a certain amount of time to prayer and Bible study, to be ready for Sabbath right as the sun dips behind the hills. I mean it’s hard, but it’s possible. It can be done. I myself have followed rather elaborate sets of rules—that admittedly changed from time to time, becoming either more or less restrictive depending on how I chose to rationalize them—for long periods of time. What I understand about religious fundamentalists is that there is great safety in ticking off day after day of “perfection.” I’ve often mused to myself that life isn’t really that hard—all you have to do is get through one day without doing anything massively stupid. One day at a time, just like the Alcoholics Anonymous creed emphasizes. But, unfortunately, it is entirely possible to do everything right on a micro level and still end up in a very wrong place in more wholistic terms. You can be so right that you’re wrong.

It’s surprising in many ways that perfectionism remains such a problem for Adventists. With our emphasis on healthcare, one would think we’d have highlighted the link between perfectionism and mental health—particularly depression, anxiety, and suicide—not to mention other health problems such as cardiovascular disease.

There are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest we must be perfect, although the word can be interpreted as meaning “complete” or “mature” rather than “flawless.” Even so, there are far more verses that speak of God’s love, mercy, willingness to accept us, and ability to transform our lives. For instance, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). This is a statement of fact, not a cautionary prediction based on whether or not we happen to achieve certain goals or exhibit certain behaviors. We are new creations. That is even better than perfect.


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

2019-08-13T16:13:04-07:00August 13th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Linda Vista Robotics Team Wins Top Awards at National Robotics Competition

Faith Hoyt

A team of six students from Linda Vista Adventist Elementary School in Oxnard, Calif., won a series of top awards on May 5 at the National Robotics Competition.

The Astro Falcons, a team of students ranging from grades five to eight, travelled to the Adventist Robotics League (ARL) National Championship at Forest Lake Academy in Orlando, Florida, where they tested their skills alongside 29 other teams.

The Linda Vista Astro Falcons won first in robot performance, first place in robot design, first place in project, and second place in core values. The team was then awarded the National Champions Award and received the ARL nomination for the Global Innovation Award—an award given based on a team’s project comprising six documents and a video, which, for this team, focused on ways to protect astronauts from radiation in outer space. “The Astro Falcons chose to address the issue of radiation exposure in long-term space travel,” said Heidi Pennock, a robotics coach at Linda Vista. “They came up with a new type of tile that covers a space craft with boron nitrate nanotubes to deflect 90% of solar radiation.”

Team captain for the Astro Falcons was Joseph Pennock, who graduated this June from Linda Vista Elementary. This was Joseph’s third year as team captain and his fourth year in robotics.

“Being in robotics was fun! My co-captain and I were able to keep everyone focused on the main goal,” said Pennock. “I’ve learned about computer design, project management, keeping things organized, leading people, and public speaking.”

Linda Vista started their robotics program in 2015. According to Anne Blech, co-coach and faculty sponsor for the school’s robotics teams, the program impacts students in significant ways.

“The students learn how to work together and listen to each other’s opinions,” she said. “They learn how to solve problems, and they create attachments and plan displays for the judges, such as core values, project, and robotic design.”

Heidi Pennock added, “All of these students have learned how to present an idea and speak to a panel of judges. It takes a lot of guts to present a project your very first time. They did it, and they did so well.”

Blech and Heidi Pennock watched the Astro Falcons team put in extra time each week into preparing for the competition. Though teams are only required to meet once a week, the Astro Falcons regularly chose to use free time and Sundays to practice and work on their project.

In addition to working hard on projects and practice, the team also worked on fundraisers in order to pay the airfare to participate in the ARL competition. They met their $8, 500 fundraising goal thanks to support from local churches.


In early May, Linda Vista Adventist Elementary School’s Astro Falcons team travelled to the Adventist Robotics League (ARL) National Championship, where they tested their skills alongside 29 other teams.


The Astro Falcons team included Joseph, Gilart, Grace, Bryanna, Hudson, and Janae.

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Linda Vista’s Astro Falcons received first place in robot performance, first place in robot design, first place in their project, and second place in core values at the ARL National Championship. Additionally, the team won the National Champions Award and the ARL nomination for the Global Innovation Award.

2019-07-29T10:35:43-07:00August 12th, 2019|News|

Sisters Day

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

The first Sunday of August every year is National Sisters Day, which celebrates the unique bond between sisters. I had no clue the holiday even existed until I received a card from Pati last Friday. I worked with Pati and her sister Lorraine for many years in media ministry. Her card brought tears to my eyes and totally made my day!

I never had a biological sister. My three older brothers were great. They played with me, teased me, and taught me how to throw a football and ride a horse. But I didn’t have that “sister” bond that comes from having a female sibling. The bond between Pati and Lorraine was beyond special; I’ve never seen two women who were closer. And I was envious, but in a good way. I loved being around them. They had their own secret language it seemed, even though they were five years apart.

I love being around all women who have sisters—twin sisters, big families full of sisters, any sisters. They have something I don’t have. I have BFFs and amazing girlfriends. One friend gave me a pendant that reads, “Best Friends are the Sisters We Choose!” I love that. I have a group of “prayer sisters” and several girlfriends who are as close as sisters. But there’s no one quite like Pati.

When Pati retired and moved away, we kept in touch by email and text. We’d send birthday cards and Christmas cards. Sometimes, out of the blue, I’d get cards from her that would encourage me right when I needed the lift. When I was in the midst of depression, Pati sent me a card saying that I was on her GPL: her geographical prayer list. There were 97 people on her list for whom she prayed every day—by name! Oh, how I needed to hear that, right at that moment. She didn’t know my issue, but she had included me in her GPL. I assured her that I was praying for her as well.

In the spring of 2018, Pati sent news that Lorraine was sick. I began to pray in earnest. I took Lorraine’s name to every prayer group of which I was a part. I sent cards to Lorraine and texts and emails to Pati. We shared scripture and assurances with each other. We prayed for complete healing. I made audio recordings on my iPhone of favorite hymns and songs with my guitar and emailed them. Lorraine’s husband and Pati lovingly cared for Lorraine during her nine-month battle with cancer. There were new treatments and doctor’s visits. And then there was hospice and earthly goodbyes. Pati was heartbroken and grief stricken, as were Lorraine’s daughters and husband. For Pati, it was the hardest of good-byes. Heaven didn’t seem soon enough.

It’s been nearly nine months since Lorraine’s memorial service—excruciating months for Pati as she tries to adjust to the new normal of life without her sister. Her card arrived last Friday, again at the precise moment that I needed it. In it were six pictures of Pati and Lorraine—from toddlers to teenagers to adult women. And then one sheet of paper that said, in part: “August 4 is Sisters Day, so I thought I’d send you some sister pictures. Here is what a sister means to me when I think of Lorraine. These words come from my hurting heart.”

What followed was a beautiful acronym of the word SISTER with descriptive words like sympathetic, irreplaceable, sensitive, treasured, elegant, and radiant. Each word reminded me of the Lorraine I knew. She had left such a legacy of love for all of us.

Pati added a few words I will treasure forever. “Connie, since you don’t have a sister, let’s share Sisters Day together.”

Yes, let’s do that, I thought as I grabbed a tissue and my phone to text Pati. The generosity of that one sentence filled me with such gratitude. I may not have a biological sister, but I belong to a sisterhood of remarkable women who use their own brokenness to heal others. Sisters like Pati.


Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

2019-08-05T16:51:11-07:00August 5th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Pacific Union Education Department Presents Five Students with Scholarships—Future Teachers Committed to Living God’s Love

Faith Hoyt

Earlier this year, leadership from the Pacific Union Department of Education attended the graduation weekend ceremonies of five students in order to present them with scholarship awards.

Every year since 2015, the Pacific Union has awarded four-year scholarships to five high school seniors pursuing education degrees at an Adventist university. The winners for this year’s scholarships are Alivia Lespinasse, Dannica Roberts, Lauren Vandehoven, Molly Gram, and Se Bin Bong, five students who share common goals: living God’s love in their classrooms and helping their future students discover the joy of learning.

When Alivia Lespinasse graduated from Loma Linda Academy this June, she knew without a doubt that the career she wanted to pursue was elementary education. “My love for teaching and helping others is something I believe God gave me for a reason,” Lespinasse said. “Kids are the future of our church. I want to be able to teach them about the joy of Jesus so that they continue down the path of wanting to know more about Him.” Lespinasse plans to pursue a degree in elementary education from Andrews University.

Dannica Roberts, who graduated this year from Hawaiian Mission Academy, wants to use her future role as a teacher to inspire others to love, serve, and live the way Jesus did. “My school has encouraged me to help those around me by assisting with their needs and teaching them about God’s love,” she said. Roberts believes her participation in several activities at the Aiea church contributed greatly to her desire to become a teacher. From volunteering as a crew leader for Vacation Bible School to working with young people on a mission trip to Peru, she learned how to teach others about Jesus. Roberts looks forward to earning her education degree at Southern Adventist University.

On her first day of Kindergarten, Lauren Vandehoven fell in love with school and met the first of many teachers who would inspire her decision to pursue a degree in education. “I have had a teacher who helped me wrestle with questions on spirituality, two who helped me find my passion for art, another who taught me how to make a good presentation and reflect questions in my answers, one who explained long division to me six different ways until I got it, and one who encouraged me to pursue teaching and has guided me along the way,” Vandehoven shared. She believes that teaching is the path towards infinite learning. “There will always be something new to find out and another perspective to discover,” she added. Vandehoven is a graduate of PUC Preparatory School and plans to attend Pacific Union College this fall with the goal of someday teaching high school English.

Molly Gram, a graduate of Newbury Park Academy, discovered her love of teaching while leading gymnastics classes for children ranging in age from 1 to 14. Her hope is to not only inspire young people with the fun of learning, asking questions, and being curious but to also teach children about God’s love. “I want to be able to show up to work every day and teach children about the love God has for us,” she shared.

Se Bin Bong, a graduate of Redlands Adventist Academy, attributes her passion for teaching to the mentorship and help from teachers in her life, as well as her love of children. “My teachers molded me into the person I am today and never failed to love and support me,” she shared. “They taught me about God and showed me who He really was through their actions. I want to make a ripple effect of God’s love.” Bong believes in the importance of mentorship and showing God’s love through actions. She will use her Pacific Union Education scholarship to attend Andrews University this fall.

The scholarships provided to these five students are one of the ways that the Education Department of the Pacific Union Conference is planning for the continuation of a quality education system. “As we identify individuals with a passion for teaching, there is nothing more exciting than to be part of helping them reach their goal,” said Berit von Pohle, Director of Education for the Pacific Union Conference.

Alivia Lespinasse, a June graduate of Loma Linda Academy, plans to pursue a degree in elementary education from Andrews University. Her passion for teaching grew through her experiences leading children’s Sabbath School at the Kansas Avenue church and serving as a ministry director in high school—an opportunity that involved teaching elementary students about Christ. Lespinasse receives her scholarship from Martha Havens, Associate Director of Elementary Education for the Pacific Union Conference.

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Molly Gram, an incoming education major at Pacific Union College this fall, discovered her passion for education while teaching gymnastics classes. At her graduation from Newbury Park Academy this June, Gram is presented with a scholarship towards an education degree by Berit von Pohle, Director of Education for the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-07-29T10:27:08-07:00August 5th, 2019|News|

If Looks Could Heal

by Faith Hoyt

I feel fortunate to have traveled to several countries where I was immersed in different languages—and though some attempted conversations were a complete mystery, others needed no translation.

When I was 21 years old, I travelled to Taipei, Taiwan, with a group of eighth-grade students on a class trip. It was an incredible opportunity. Our trip took educational excursions and enjoyed some fun sightseeing (including visiting the Taipei Zoo, where a portion of the movie Life of Pi was filmed). The easiest way around the city was via the Metro station. Each day we made our way to the subway and navigated the maze of rails to destinations around the city.

One afternoon on our way back from the Taipei Zoo, our somewhat rowdy group (students, teachers, and volunteers) crowded ourselves into a corner of the train while sharing our delight at having managed to squeeze into the last available group for panda viewing. Soon we settled down, the motion of the train lulling us into sleepy trances.

In my sleepy state, I started paying casual attention to my immediate surroundings. I noted the contrast between my experience riding BART into San Francisco and the subways in Taipei. It felt a little like the difference between a concert and a library. On the Taipei subway, there was an unspoken code of conduct that everyone adhered to. Younger people were quick to give up their seat for older travelers. Young children rode the subways by themselves in safety. Everyone kept their noise and their persons to themselves.

While I was looking about, I noticed a cluster of three older women sitting across from us and to our left. I realized that they were observing my group with mild discomfort—though not the kind that makes a person feel unwelcome. Something was amiss. I sat and watched them for a full minute out of the corner of my eye as they continued leaning in, speaking softly in Mandarin or Taiwanese Hokkien, with slight nods of their heads indicating agreement. I looked around for a clue. Suddenly, it dawned me. Each side of the subway trains were lined with plastic benches with three dips in each bench. I looked to the cluster of three women, each sitting in their respective dip. Then I looked down at where I was perched on the edge of a bench. Aha!

I stood up and moved to the left where a row of benches sat empty. The second my backside sat squarely in the dip, each of the women now sitting directly across from me sat up straight and nodded their heads in approval. I received warm looks from each of them—big smiles which I returned. I laughed a little to myself. It felt oddly fun. What first seemed like gossipy attention was really concern for my safety and the general order of that subway ride. These women were the self-appointed safeguards of that Metro, and that community.

I wish all expressions of concern went as well as this interaction apparently did. I sometimes hear people share their frustration over chastisement from someone in their church. Someone who went out of their way to point out an error of some sort. Not subtle, gentle, and out of genuine concern like the women on that Taipei subway (though perhaps the language barrier saved me a little distress). When I hear stories of overt and hurtful “correcting” it makes me cringe. I know there are ways of expressing care and concern that result in understanding and inspire belonging rather than making one feel judged and ostracized.

Those three Taiwanese women managed to get me up and into the right seat without making me feeling accosted by judgment. The warmth on their faces once I was safely in my own seat revealed their relief. The point isn’t that I changed my seat, but rather that this subtle interaction helped me understand—and feel part of—a community, instead of feeling like a nuisance or a problem. You know what I think? Looks can heal, too.


Faith Hoyt is communication intern for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, and attends the Heavenly Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Lake Tahoe.

2019-07-28T13:04:06-07:00July 29th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Destructive Goal Pursuit

by Becky De Oliveira

D. Christopher Kayes, a specialist in organizational behavior, wrote a book called Destructive Goal Pursuit that focuses on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, finding there insights about the dysfunctions that are common in goal-setting. He identifies a problem he calls goalodicy—a combination of goal and theodicy—a philosophical term he coined to describe the actions of people who hold onto beliefs even when all evidence contradicts the validity of these beliefs.

Research has shown that gamblers and investors have a lot of trouble weaning themselves from putting money into losing prospects. Organizations with established goals tend to stick with them, going in the same direction regardless of consequences, rather than changing course. Kayes refers to this “escalation of commitment to a failing course of action.” He cites research indicating that the greater the insecurity a group feels about their chance of achieving the goal, the harder they’ll try. The more likely they consider failure to be, the more entrenched they become in their particular set of behaviors. As they observe their surroundings—say the weather—they will interpret conditions more negatively than they really are, almost searching for further evidence to suggest the likelihood of failure. Indicators of likely failure cause the group to put even more effort into achieving the goal.

I can see destructive goal pursuit so clearly in other (often well-intentioned) people. Maybe they are those seeking unity for the church—and seeming to push it ever closer to discord. Those who want to make America great—but whose rhetoric seems to weaken the very values of inclusion, acceptance, opportunity, and democracy that have made this country great.

Can I see it in myself?

One thing I really do believe—that might qualify me as a bona fide delusional—is that the majority of people are trying to do the right thing. They have different ideas about what the right thing is—and different driving forces. And they sometimes do destructive things—probably without flat-out intending to.

I use my grandma Elsie as an example. She’s been dead now for several years, and she was my grandfather’s second wife. They married before I was born, so I always knew her as my grandmother. And she was a rigid and hypercritical person. She worried about everything—whether my clothing indicated that I was a schizophrenic, whether it was a sin for my brother to eat pizza, whether naming my youngest son Jonah was theologically suspect since Jonah was not a wholly positive Biblical character, having elected to disobey God.

“Oh, I just love you so much, Becky,” she’d say from time to time, without warmth. She was hard to love until I became old enough to understand something important about her. Her only son, Bob, died in a motorcycle accident when he was only 16 years old. They found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. In my grandmother’s Adventist universe, smoking was a big sin—possibly a barrier to salvation. She was not at all sure Bob would be in heaven—but, but on the off chance that he made it, she wanted to be sure she was there as well. She could not afford to put a foot wrong. And I think she did love me—all of us—but her love for her son and her fear of losing him forever was so much stronger than any other emotion she was capable of feeling or expressing.

She probably told herself that she criticized us in order to help us, to make sure that we were in heaven. She probably figured we’d thank her. And to be honest with you, should I see her again, I will thank her. I think she did the best she could. Her capacity was limited—as is mine in other, different, ways. I understand her now. I sympathize. And I still think it’s the wrong way to live. But why? What’s wrong with having heaven as your goal? Well, nothing. Unless having heaven as your goal makes you so unpleasant and judgmental that you compromise the image of God you’re projecting to other people.

We have unbelievable challenges to face as the rhetoric in our country and our faith group seems to grow ever more bitter and divisive. What is the best way to live out our Christian faith?

I would not presume to tell you what your priorities should be—or which hill you should die on, if any. I would only suggest that you remember to check in with yourself about your goals and activities to make sure they really reflect the things that are most important to you as a disciple of Christ. I’m not suggesting you allow yourself to be driven by fear or that you become timid or cowardly. As people of faith, we have every reason to be bold. Live boldly in the knowledge that what you do can make a tremendous difference to other people. Isaiah 54:2 reads, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes” (ESV). This seems like a good place to start as we consider how to make a difference in a big, complex, beautiful, awful, wonderful, tragic, depressing, and exhilarating world. A big tent. Strong stakes. Lots of people inside. What can we do to bring meaning and joy and self-worth and courage to the people around us?

The three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks. The first rule of Christianity: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).

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


1 D. Christopher Kayes, Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mt. Everest Disaster (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 46.

2019-07-22T14:19:38-07:00July 22nd, 2019|Living God's Love|

My Little Starfish

by Ray Tetz

I have a starfish on my desk. It’s a delicate little starfish, about an inch across. Medium brown in color, with five spindly legs.

The starfish is encased in plastic—resin, actually—the physical result of a Pathfinder honor class in “Plastics and Resins” that I took back in the sixties. The class was offered by my church. My classmates were friends from church and school, and Pathfinders was just one of dozens of things that we all did together. It was one of my most important and earliest communities.

In the supervised mayhem that barely passed for an honor badge class of boisterous fifth and sixth graders, we made cool and useful little things. Like paperweights and bolo tie slides out of dried up natural stuff (shells being the favorite) and resin—now known as plastic. We got to mix up the resin, which was guaranteed to make a mess. There were colors—called pigments—we could add to the mix if so inclined. There were these little molds that we placed our natural objects into, and then we poured the resin in around them. Sometimes we had to create a layer of resin that the natural object would rest on before pouring in the rest. There were popsicle sticks for poking things around and getting them situated just perfectly in the resin. And then there was the strong stuff—the catalyst! It made the resin harden more quickly. Even with the catalyst, the trays of molds had to go into the dark cupboard for a full week of waiting before we could pop out our newly created treasures and slip them onto our ever-fashionable bolo ties!

I was quite proud of my little starfish, unique in all the world. Now I realize that the honor badge for this particular activity was itself an embroidered picture of a little starfish encased in plastic, just like mine. This is mildly disappointing, I admit. It is probably accurately described as the baby boomer’s dilemma: nothing you do is unique or different from what everybody else does. But I learned a lot of lessons in that class I haven’t forgotten.

In Resins class I learned that a catalyst is an external agent that, when added to a substance, accelerates the rate of change. I’ve benefited from knowing this bit of wisdom for more than 50 years. And I learned it in Pathfinders.

I learned about processes and how you can’t speed them up. I learned that mistakes happen and will need to be cleaned up. I learned that not every idea works. I learned that there is always someone who can do things better than you can. I learned that you quickly develop a special affection for what you create yourself, regardless of how it turns out.

The starfish is unchanged after all these years, a product of another era. But I’ve changed.

I keep the little starfish on my desk as a reminder of all the things that childhood taught me, of friendships made long ago, of how small things can be important things, of how resin became plastic that became lightweight, bulletproof, polycarbonate that became cellphones and fenders and a menace to the environment.

I keep it around because it reminds me of who I was once, and of who I’ve become, and of the values I want to carry forward into my life.

I keep it around as an anchor with my traditions and as a reminder of what happens when a person doesn’t change. And because it’s portable enough to have successfully moved from one desktop to another—all the way from 6th grade until now.

It’s an artifact, a relic, a symbol, an icon, a remembrance, a pointer, a keepsake, a reminder, a beacon, a piece of history, a moment in time. Embedded with that little starfish in the resin you can probably still find my DNA. You can certainly find the roots of my future life.

I still have my starfish—it’s been on my desktop for as long as I’ve had one. Rubbing my finger across the resin, I’m still grateful for those patient Pathfinder leaders who helped me make it. And for everything else they did for me, too.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-07-15T17:30:24-07:00July 15th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Five Smooth Stones

by Ray Tetz

The confrontation between David and Goliath is so exciting that almost all of our attention is on the moment of conflict—when David brought the giant down with nothing more than a stone flung from his shepherd’s sling. But take a look at the verse that just precedes the showdown with Goliath; what did David do just before he took his place in front of the mighty giant? “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:40, NIV).

From the swiftly running water of the stream, David chose five smooth stones. Stones that had been shaped by the elements into effective little missiles that would fly straight and hard when launched from his sling. Stones that were not too big to carry and not too small to have the desired impact. Exactly five—three might be too few (the fight might not be over with just a shot or two) and eight too many (the weight of the load might limit his effectiveness). Perhaps he chose a stone for the giant and each of his four brothers (they ran off, apparently).

Regardless, when it came right down to the battle with his giant, David had to leave everything else behind, and he went equipped with just five smooth stones—and with just one he brought the giant down and won the battle.

Imagine that every morning as you begin your day, you pick up your metaphorical shepherd’s bag and stock it with an equally metaphorical “five smooth stones,” the just-the-right-size to carry with you daily missiles that will help you win the battles against any giants you might encounter. (Yes, metaphorical giants. Stay with me here.)

What are your five smooth stones? Of all your choices from that babbling brook of values and beliefs and experiences and expectations, which ones do you prioritize as most important? Here are five I would choose.

The first stone is confidence in the goodness and graciousness of God. We know that we are loved by God and that we have freedom to approach God with the details of our lives. That confidence gives us courage and clarity in how we live out our faith.

The second stone is the belief that God takes an interest in our lives, which are important to Him. The details of our lives matter. Nothing falls outside God’s attention and care for us; we pursue our calling and our mission, including the development of our talents and gifts, in the power that God provides.

The third stone is the community that we are a part of as believers. God has intentional plans for His grace to transform our personal lives, our families, our communities, and the organizations and institutions that we cherish. We are each part of a community that loves us and helps to care for our needs—and also requires our love and service for all those “within our gates.”

The fourth stone is returning service. This means to take seriously the presence of God in our world, and to protect and value the quality of our lives and the world around us as an expression of our faith, and an act of direct service to God.

And the fifth stone, of course, is the gospel—the story of Jesus. Each day provides us with an opportunity to bear witness to God’s power and to proclaim the gospel message of restoration and redemption. This is the primary motivation in the benevolence of our churches, hospitals, and institutions; it means to serve as Christ served, for His sake. It has given life to a consistent witness of faithful and sacrificial service that is found in Adventism, expressed across a wide array of ministries.

So many stones in the brook! The way we live each day is ultimately the way we slay our own giants. The choices we make about what we will carry with us each day—the things that truly define our values, character, and behavior as we journey through the world—are no less important than the stones that David selected when called upon to face Goliath.


Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-07-08T10:46:56-07:00July 8th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Muzzling the Talking Heads

by Raymond Dabrowski

Visitors to my communication office in Silver Spring years ago often asked me about the meaning of a crafted ornament hanging above a doorframe. They understood that it represented something, but exactly what? At that time many of us were discussing the ministry of and for women in the church. What they saw was a woman’s head with a scarf covering her mouth. It gave her the appearance of being muzzled.

When visiting Krakow and its Wawel Kings Castle a few years ago, I did the tourist thing and went through the castle’s royal apartments, taking note of a ceiling ornamented with dozens of head sculptures by Sebastian Tauerbach and his partner craftsman, Hans Snycerz. They had created 194 masterfully crafted and realistic polychrome heads depicting people who lived in the early 16th century and were the subjects of King Sigismund I the Old. Immortalized in this creative manner, the faces offered expressions of a symbolic poignancy. For me, the head of the “silenced woman” suggested an intentionally stalled communication. When I purchased a replica at the Sukiennice Cloth Hall crafts stall, I asked for the story behind the ornament.

The shopkeeper said that among the many legends was a story that King Sigismund II August, upon hearing that a woman had been caught eavesdropping on a conversation between the monarch and his advisors, opted to put a gag on her. Rather than having her imprisoned, she was to bear testimony that not everything is for public consumption—and heaven forbid that it become fodder for gossip.

He was a crafty king, I concluded. The explanation was consistent with the king’s experimental policies in civil rights and freedoms, including religious tolerance.

There is another legend associated with the head of the “silenced” or “muzzled” woman who is a part of the decorated ceiling in the Envoy’s Hall of Wawel Castle, the very room where the king met with foreign diplomats, held audiences, and issued judgments. The king was known to be a procrastinator, often liking to leave decisions for the next day. However, one day, bored with executing judgments, he made a rash and unjust pronouncement. One of the carved ceiling heads spoke out in protest, saying, “Rex Auguste, iudica iuste” (“King August, judge with justice”). The king became angry and asked the court craftsman to add a gag to the talking head’s mouth.

The placement of the scarf could be interpreted in a symbolic way, we are told. The Jagiellonian dynasty is remembered for curbing political rights for the benefit of the ruling class—the nobility.

Might the talking head have been a precursor to the WikiLeaks syndrome of today? The 16th-century approach to justice and human rights is not the best example of how to silence our contemporary talking heads. Gagging can only serve the temporary needs of someone who has something to hide. In our internet world, where everyone can be a publisher, we serve our interests best when we are open, honest, and transparent.

Privacy requires guardianship. If you are sloppy in guarding your parlor, don’t be upset when we all become observers of your actions. This applies to both personal affairs and the way we run society, its organizations, and communities. The realm of religion is not excluded. The Bible is full of stories in which mixing God’s realm and personal affairs lead to a crooked result. Notwithstanding the proverbial washing of dirty linen in public and attempts to kill the messenger, the common good, whether we like it or not, requires public exposure and scrutiny of motives and actions. When secret deals are cut and laws are circumvented, and when our common benefits are tampered with, watch out. We will be found out. In a church setting, the consequences for gossiping and spreading rumors can be applied. Any one of us could be muzzled—and quite often, at that.

Consider this poetic query by Cyprian Kamil Norwid, an animator of the literary Age of Romanticism who wrote about freedom and responsibility: “Is this bird ill that fouls its own nest? Or is it that one who does not let anyone talk about that?”

As a photographer, I was intrigued by a muzzled head carved in a coffered ceiling of the Envoy’s Hall. What was behind this ornamental detail? In the same way, I wonder what stories and lessons might be found behind the graffiti on many a city wall. As I photograph the images of eyes and mouths, I wonder if perhaps they speak a message: it’s not only what you see that matters but also what others see. Consider that somebody may be watching you, too.

Rajmund Dabrowski is director of communication for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Denver, Colorado.

Photo caption: “Woman With a Scarf on Her Mouth.” Replica. Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland.

2019-07-01T10:52:42-07:00July 1st, 2019|Living God's Love|