By Deloris Trujillo
Paul urged Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12, KJV). He understood what it took to keep getting up, even when knocked down again and again. Paul would likely urge us to do the same today, in spite of the challenges coronavirus has created over the last several months.
Getting knocked down is not easy, and sometimes it can be very sad, particularly during this pandemic. Cancellations of family/friends/vacation events are disappointing. In addition, there are new ways of attending church and delivering education. But there is more to the story in the Central California Conference (CCC).
Good fight of faith
Anticipating trying times ahead that would call for a “good fight of faith,” Ramiro Cano, CCC president, sent out a letter of encouragement. He wanted CCC members to know they were being prayed for constantly. “Therefore,” Cano reassured, “take courage! Now, more than ever, we need to cling to our Lord. Be courageous, be joyful, and be confident that He will see us through this precarious time of the coronavirus pandemic.” He also let members know that the conference administration and local leadership will continue to monitor, learn, and apply appropriate adjustments during a continually fluctuating situation.
Giving this year to God
Knowing that challenging days were ahead, the CCC leadership had to make some difficult decisions. Because plans and contracts had to be confirmed months before the summer events, the difficult decision to cancel Soquel Camp Meeting was made in early March. Many other conference events, such as Life Hope Centers’ clinics, summer camp at Camp Wawona, and Teen Bible Academy, were also canceled or postponed. It also became necessary to close the office building.
Every conference-wide evangelistic project had to be put on hold. Yet nothing will stop the sharing of the good news of God’s love. Constituents can check the conference website, its Facebook page, and other social media outlets for resources and news.
Knowing that information is important during a time of frequent changes, Cano and the CCC staff meet weekly with pastors in a Zoom conference. Filling six computer screens with an average of 120 attendees, department directors provide updates and pastors share and ask questions on a wide range of topics. “I am so encouraged to hear every week that our pastors continue to show their strong faith and are constantly seeking creative ways to serve their congregations,” Cano said.
Other department directors also meet with their ministry groups through distance communication platforms. For example, Treasurer Mayra Thompson and her team are working with pastors and church treasurers to provide training on a variety of giving avenues that can be done easily and securely. Cano expressed thankfulness that God’s people have remained faithful to the promise that God would “pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10, NIV).
Churches and members
All CCC churches closed when California government officials made the stay-at-home announcements. Both pastors and church members are experiencing what could be called the “special endurance on the part of God’s people” (Revelation 14:12, Clear Word). Pastors had to think of ways to connect with church members and conduct meetings.
Although it was discouraging, many local churches canceled or postponed planned events, including special Easter presentations. And yet, it seems that God opened the floodgates of creativity. Some are even saying that when this crisis is over, they will continue to use these newly acquired, resourceful ideas. As we are finding out, our churches must not only be worship-centered, but also socially-centered. It is hoped that these ideas will be collected and shared with each other in the future.
Changes include live-streamed church services and members being faithful with tithes and offerings through online giving or by mail. Some churches are conducting both children’s and adult Sabbath School through Zoom or other media platforms. Pastor Daniel Gouveia in Fresno decided to do a weekly video of encouragement on his YouTube channel, “crucified4me.” As the sixth-grade class chaplain, he also has a weekly devotional via Zoom with those students at Fresno Adventist Academy.
Many churches divided up their list of members with their elders. Every elder is encouraged to do wellness checks at least once a week with their assigned members and also with each other. The Discover Life church in Sonora prepared a detailed response description to the crisis for its church leaders that has proven useful.
Pastor Stephen Constantine of Palo Alto found that attendance at Wednesday night prayer meeting had more than doubled using a conference call-in line. Something very interesting happened when emails were sent to members about how to access the online church services. “It was an exhilarating experience to reconnect with members who had moved away from the area and who now lived in places like Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Virginia, and even London,” noted Constantine.
Of utmost concern is how all of this will impact the children and youth. Danita Rasmussen, ministry pastor in San Luis Obispo, started a special project for children. She came up with “Sabbath Bags” for families with small children. She wanted to make sure each child in the congregation would know that Sabbath was special, while not presenting too much of a burden on parents.
Each child received a pack with a bag for each Sabbath of a four-week period. Each Sabbath bag has a variety of interesting items and suggestions for parents. Examples include having a scavenger hunt to find objects starting with the letters in their name. To encourage social contact, parents can post a picture of an activity on the church’s Facebook page. Some members are helping with family worship by reading a continued story. Additional ideas and resources for children’s ministry can be found at www.childminchat.com.
Other ideas include community service projects and sending messages to members and friends by mail or social media. In order to encourage the local community, the San Luis Obispo church printed a large banner to hang in front of their church. Keep praying for our churches as they go forward in faith.
CCC young adults
Events planned for teens and young adults throughout the summer also had to be postponed. However, young adult leaders around the conference, under the direction of CCC Young Adult Director Anil Kanda, knew that God did not want them to stop doing ministry. And, indeed, they have not.
They started a weekly online young adult prayer meeting that included interactive prayer with each other. Kanda stated, “I have never seen so many young adults excited to pray!” That led to something called “Growth Lab,” where they learn new skills and expand talents. At their first Zoom meeting, they maxed out at 100 people with 83 in the waiting room. They have since learned how to include everyone.
They are also experiencing their Sabbath afternoon vespers at capacity. A recent vespers held a panel discussion with several pastors and counselors on the topic, “Pandemic and Prophecy.” Because this provides opportunity to invite non-Adventist friends, they are placing an emphasis on people connecting to their local churches for follow-up. “The results are incredible,” Kanda said. “It’s powerful to see what’s happening even during a time of crisis!”
The young adults definitely plan on keeping the “church” wide open. They feel it is a time for creative ministry, because young people are hungry for a spiritual community like never before. For them, this pandemic outbreak is an invitation for God’s people to shine and share. Keep praying that our young adults will have unyielding faith.
Impact on CCC schools
As school buildings closed, teachers and students began learning new ways to deliver and receive classroom instruction. Just how this will impact education in the future will be interesting.
Additionally, most schools had to make difficult decisions about canceling or postponing all sorts of trips that usually take place toward the end of the school year. These included class trips, music trips, mission trips, and educational field trips that the kids enjoy so much. They now wonder how graduation will be affected.
Principal Chandra Young of Fresno Adventist Academy shared that they were just about to perform The Sound of Music, a student-produced musical. All the sets were finished and costumes were made. Then, two days before opening night, they had to totally shut down. While understanding the reason, the disappointment was great.
Cancellation of events has caused frustration and discouragement, especially for students who had a mission trip planned to serve others by building churches or schools. Yet CCC’s schools showed that they had “special endurance,” and they maintained a solid faith in Jesus throughout a time of crisis.
Mountain View Academy
For 20 years, Mountain View Academy (MVA) has been going on mission trips all over the world. It started with only eight students and their sponsors, but it has expanded to include volunteer medical and dental professionals.
This year, 80 people, including 45 students, were to return to Africa to build a classroom and conduct medical outreach at their sister school, Emmanuel Adventist School in Chisambia, Zambia. Because of the Bay Area’s early stay-at-home regulations, the school made the heart-rending decision to cancel the trip early in February, providing enough time for an alternate plan. The coordinator, Pastor Moises Guerrero, flew to Zambia to deliver the collected donations.
As you can well imagine, tears of joy greeted Guerrero when the school administrators received the MVA gift. “Although we wanted to be there in person, this brought comfort to our hearts because we were still able to help,” he reflected.
MVA recognizes that mission trips are amazing spiritual, social, and cultural tools that can enhance the lives of their students. They are already planning for next year’s mission trip. Keep praying for MVA’s endurance of faith.
Mother Lode Adventist Junior Academy
At Mother Lode Adventist Junior Academy (MLAJA) in Sonora, plans began about a year ago to help build a church for the Asia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Peru. A total of 65 individuals, 38 of them students, also planned medical, dental, and physical therapy services and a children’s Bible program.
By the time they were ready to leave on March 19, church members in Peru had already demolished their old church building, and the foundation for the new one was in place. Preparations were complete when it became clear it would need to be canceled or postponed. On Saturday night, just four days before leaving, the difficult decision was finally made. “Tears flowed and hearts broke,” said Pastor Nathan Renner. “Nevertheless, it was the right decision because by the very next afternoon, Peru closed their borders.”
Norma Santos, one of the ninth graders, explained, “When I got the news that it was being postponed, I was disappointed. However, now I believe God has a reason for everything, and I trust in Him to make the right call for us to go.” Keep praying for MLAJA’s endurance of faith.
“Not closed but open”
“Our motto during this health emergency, ‘Church is Not Closed, Just the Buildings,’ certainly proved to be true in ways we never expected,” said Cano. The CCC team continues to make plans to help reach people during this difficult and unprecedented time. “Pray that our churches, schools, hospitals, and every member will share church with each other and their communities.”