By Laurie Trujillo and Julie Lorenz
Amid a whirlwind of change this spring, people in the Northern California Conference were in uncharted waters. In February, remote work, distance learning, and virtual ministry would have seemed impossible, but God clearly was and still is in control. NCC ministries, churches, and schools have continued to flourish, despite closing their physical doors.
“I’m so grateful for the dedication of our ministry leaders, pastors, teachers, and members,” said NCC President Marc Woodson. “During this difficult time, I am constantly inspired by their creativity and resilience to continue our mission. They continue to live up to our conference motto: ‘Doing what matters for the Kingdom.’”
Conference ministries find new ways to serve
Online youth group organizes
The newly formed NCC Online Youth Group met for the first time on March 24, hosted by Youth Director Eddie Henrich, with about 75 conference teens and youth pastors in attendance. Since then, each Tuesday meeting includes a game, an icebreaker discussion, and a Bible study. “We want to provide a resource to support our youth during this difficult time,” said Heinrich. “It is also a fun way for them to interact and be social.”
Online Pathfinder club begins
Members of the newly formed online conference-wide Pathfinder club held their first meeting on April 2. Each Thursday, an average of 100 Pathfinders and leaders worship together, recite the pledge and law, and work on honors. Recently, the group worked on the cooking honor and the virus honor. Organized by Heinrich and the Pathfinder area coordinators, the club will continue to meet for months to come.
Leoni Meadows provides bread to the community
Each week Leoni Meadows assistant food service director Edwin Elsner bakes 50 loaves of bread for housebound people in nearby Grizzly Flats. The camp donates the bread to a local church for distribution throughout the area. “Several community families are asking for three or four loaves at a time as they are without much in their pantries,” said Craig Heinrich, executive director. “The Leoni staff realize, now more than ever, the importance of helping our community.”
Redwood Camp Meeting pauses
In April, the Redwood Camp Meeting Executive Board voted not to hold Redwood Camp Meeting this year, to close the campground until the end of 2020, and to revise the current budget to keep the camp operational until next year. Redwood leaders and NCC administrators consider this development a pause—not an ending—to the ongoing camp meeting tradition. “We know people are disappointed with this painful decision, and our leadership is very sad, too,” said Redwood Area Camp Director Harry Salvini.
Local churches care for their members and the community
Most NCC churches are livestreaming or prerecording their worship services and other meetings—including the Richmond Beacon Light church, the Hayward Spanish church, the Sacramento Samoan church, the Red Bluff church, and the Elmshaven church. Some congregations are serving their communities with food distribution, including Camino, Chico Spanish, Crescent City, Fairfield Community, Lockeford, Oakland Market Street, Palo Cedro, Pleasant Hill, Sacramento Fijian, and Valley Community.
Adapting to community need
The Carmichael church transformed their nine-year-old traditional food bank into a drive-through food pantry, now open twice a week. Video of volunteers loading food into people’s trunks appeared 14 times on a number of local news programs. Recently, the pantry received a $10,000 grant to help with the increased need for food in the local area. In early April, the pantry provided food for 940 people in one day.
Families and younger volunteers—elementary through college students—stepped in to fill the gap when the usual retiree volunteers could no longer help. “We have been running extremely smoothly,” said Senior Pastor Keith Jacobson. “It’s been a real joy to see so many people willing to serve.”
Ministering with daily contact
Lodi Fairmont church Senior Pastor Tracy Baerg uploads a daily devotional video titled “The Word: Embrace Grace” and texts a link to around 250 church members, colleagues, and others. “I felt God impressing me to reach out via text to share inspiring Bible promises,” said Baerg. Associate Pastor Jesse Malin shares, too.
Building relationships through community service
Each of Pastor Gresford Thomas’s congregations—Lincoln Amazing Grace, Penn Valley, and Olivehurst—hosts its own weekly drive-through food giveaway. The churches partner with nonprofit organizations to acquire the necessary resources. Thomas reports that community members are grateful for the opportunity to serve. During this difficult time, he is ministering to his volunteers as well as to people receiving food. “It’s almost like I have a fourth church of community people,” he said.
Collaborating to make a difference
The Napa Spanish church distributes food twice a month with the help of the National Guard, which has been deployed to support the work of food banks across the country. “We are blessed to have these young people serving our nation and helping us with the community,” said Pastor José Díaz. During the current crisis, the number of people coming to the church for food has tripled. Recently, volunteers served 536 families in two days.
Supporting law enforcement
The Placerville church women’s ministry (and friends) sewed 1,700 face masks and donated them to county agencies and community members. Recipients included the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, a newborn intensive care unit, several substance abuse recovery facilities, a maternity home, senior services, and more. “This simple project has turned into a very big opportunity to serve our community,” said Daisy Stephens, who leads the women’s ministry along with Edie Stewart.
The sheriff’s office posted a message on its Facebook page: “A very grateful and special thank you to the Placerville Seventh-day Adventist Church Women’s Ministry for their donation of masks.… [The masks are] headed to our jails, where our correctional staff is working diligently to keep themselves and those in their care safe from COVID-19.”
Adapting to new circumstances
When its county issued an early stay-at-home order, the Pleasant Hill church had already started a nine-day series, “All About Jesus,” presented by Lee Venden. He continued the series while church members—as well as people from other states and countries—watched at home. On the final Sabbath, people in 144 households viewed the worship service. “Our members told me they are grateful that—of all weeks—this week we would have a revival all about Jesus,” said Senior Pastor Mitch Williams.
Continuing ministry over breakfast
Tracy church Pastor Tyler Kraft and his wife, Crystal, teach Sabbath School from their living room. “The number of people attending Sabbath School has increased, and it has become a family setting where members join in, even while finishing breakfast,” he said.
Taking care of one another
The Woodland church has a creative way of encouraging its members to check in with each other. “We have created a circle that is made of the names of all of our members/attendees,” said Pastor Dan Garza. “Every person is to look after the person to the left and right of their name. It’s quite effective! People really feel cared for.”
Educators, parents, and students collaborate
NCC teachers, parents, and students navigate the distance learning experience together. Since personal connection is vital to success, the NCC education department and principals encourage teachers to make a daily connection with their students.
Educators ensure their virtual classrooms meet the North American Division standards for teaching, which exceed standards set by the state of California. “Teachers are jumping in to make education happen,” said Albert Miller, superintendent of schools. “I see innovation and collaboration between experienced teachers and those newer to the profession. It is very inspiring.”
Chico Oaks Adventist School
Every morning, kindergarten teacher JoAnn Moon posts a video explaining a topic, reads a book about it, and gives students an activity to do. One mother reported that her daughter gets up and watches Moon’s video several times every morning.
While students learn at home, Lodi Academy provides spiritual support and promotes school spirit. The school hosts livestream worships and posts prerecorded worship talks by staff and students. The student association plans games and activities, such as school spirit days. “We are trying to capture online what we would normally have in school,” said Principal John Winslow. “We want our whole Lodi Academy family to know they are still loved and cared for, and—most importantly—that Jesus loves them.”
Napa Christian Campus of Education
Each K-8 student received a box full of hands-on learning items delivered to their home. The boxes included the ingredients to make a volcano, materials to learn fingerprint science, items to construct the armor of God, and more. Middle school kids received kits to make their own computers. To go along with the materials, the school created a website where families can view a weekly schedule, watch worship programs, and get instructions to tailor projects for their children.
Principal Justine Leonie encourages the families to do the best that they can and not worry if they don’t get everything done. She tells parents: “Don’t create a stressful environment at home for you and your family. It’s all about balance.”
Sacramento Adventist Academy
Sacramento Adventist Academy’s third-grade teacher Janine Harrington created a virtual field trip to a stable and explained how to care for horses. She planned to build on the trip to teach vocabulary and other lessons. Harrington and other teachers value the opportunity to reach out to their students. “The most important thing is that we are still connected to each other,” said Principal Matt Jakobsons.
Orangevale SDA School
Ensuring that families stay connected is a priority for Principal Brad Davis and his teachers. They post a daily greeting for school families, including information on disinfecting classrooms, plans for distance learning, and topics vital to learning success.
Yreka Adventist Christian School
To engage her students in learning, Meriah Matthews, lower grades teacher, records Miss Meriah’s Adventures and posts episodes on YouTube. She takes suggestions from her students and demonstrates the activities they propose. So far, her adventures have included tips to stay healthy, snowshoeing, outdoor safety, and horseback riding.
Westlake SDA School
Teacher’s aide Angela Benson teaches students American Sign Language (ASL) as a standard part of this one-room school’s curriculum. She continues teaching ASL through a one-on-one FaceTime call with each student.