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Two Hours. 4,302 People.

Two Hours. 4,302 People.
At the food giveaway at the Fresno Adventist Academy in California, a banner with signatures from volunteers greets those receiving food and literature.

At the food giveaway at the Fresno Adventist Academy in California, a banner with signatures from volunteers greets those receiving food and literature.

This was not part of anyone’s 2020 vision. The line of cars snaking through the academy’s parking lot backed up almost a mile down the street. More than 100 volunteers from eight local churches working together for the sake of one goal: to serve our community.

“I loved seeing the unity of our churches coming together for the common good of the community. I wish it could be this way in all things,”-shared volunteer Jerma Palafox.

On this particular day in May, we loaded more than 1,000 cars, or 4,302 people, with more than 30,000 pounds of groceries and 2,000 GLOW tracts and prayer cards, all in an effort to minister to our community and try to make a difference during this time where unemployment and despair is skyrocketing.

A church member helps direct traffic at the

A church member helps direct traffic at the "U Matter to God" event, where volunteers from eight Adventist churches got together to serve more than 1,000 cars (4,302 people).

“U Matter to God” was the name of the event, and judging from the tears and comments from our guests, they really felt that they mattered to Someone today.

“I have been watching you guys since I pulled up and you all are truly amazing. God is so still good through all of this craziness,” one woman said after waiting in line two hours before we opened.

Our guests showed up after seeing the event advertised in the newspaper and a few local news stations, and the majority had never been to Fresno Adventist Academy, or had much of an interaction with any Adventists.

“It feels great to be able to help those in need, especially through this pandemic,” volunteer Manuel Arriola said. “It was great to see everyone staying safe while helping as well. [Everyone did] a great job . . . God bless you all.”

Fresno Adventist Academy was the hub for food collection and distribution during the

Fresno Adventist Academy is the hub for food collection and distribution during the "U Matter to God" event.

Some of the people in our communities may never hear a sermon or receive a Bible study, but they can meet us. How can we love our neighbors during these times where we aren’t even able to shake their hand? Jesus told us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).

There is not a ground-breaking approach to soul winning that needs to be applied during this pandemic; it has always been the same. Christ’s love for others displayed itself in so many ways, but it was always directed at a need that the individual(s) had, whether they knew it.

This year wasn’t what anyone expected. And while COVID-19 upends the economy and many lives along with it, our goal is to love people as Christ does and to serve their needs. Through this, we can cast not our own vision, but God’s vision.

— Nicholas Lozito is youth pastor of the Fresno Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church.

kmaran Wed, 08/05/2020 - 18:31

Faithful Givers

Faithful Givers AdventistGiving tithe stories stock photo

God Is Faithful

I would always get excited to help my mom to count the money from the sales of the day from her little business. I was about 7 years old and the first thing my mom taught me when counting the money was to make a list of the monetary values of all the items invested on that day, then the remaining funds were the earnings.

The first thing to separate from the earnings was a 20 percent portion (10 percent tithe, and 10 percent local offerings). That was our daily routine. Now my mom is 74 and I am 47 we both still try to follow the same principal. Ten percent of my earnings is my tithe that I give back to the Lord and the 10 percent to my local church offerings.

My husband works as a physical therapist with patients that have cerebral palsy. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the company that he works for told him that he would need to use his sick leave, extended sick leave, and vacations hours to get paid, as they couldn’t continue visiting the patients due to the shelter in place order. We reviewed his hours and he had enough hours to get paid through April 15.

I was tempted to keep the 10 percent from our local church offerings; however, after praying, I decided to continue returning God’s tithe and giving back to my local church. That same week of this decision, my husband received a call from his workplace that the company was going to pay them through April 30 without using their sick leave, extended sick leave, or vacation hours.

A week later, my husband received an email that he could start working remotely so the patients can at least exercise with the help of a family member.

More than a month later, and we both have been blessed. We have a roof, water, food, and the best of all, I feel that my church also will be able to pay the utilities to be ready to open whenever the shelter in place is lifted.

“Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV). God is faithful and always will be. Why should I not be faithful to Him?

— "America,” member, Fresno Remnant Seventh-day Adventist Church, California

More Than Convenience

I have used the AdventistGiving [online service] for more than a year, not giving it much thought. It was “just another convenience” that I took for granted. However, since the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the “shelter-in-place” executive order made by the mayor of Atlanta, the AdventistGiving platform has been a true blessing—even one that my 90-year-old mother is reluctantly giving a chance!

 It’s a user-friendly process with built-in security. It captures all the areas for giving and also lists other areas not (typically) known by most, which can encourage additional options for giving. It automatically computes and tallies the total amount being donated. Last, but not least, it provides an immediate receipt, with the funds being correctly linked to the designated church or location. Not just a convenience, but a real answer that provides for safe, consistent giving.

— Currine Harris, member, Atlanta-Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church, Atlanta, Georgia

Connected to Giving

The AdventistGiving platform has been helpful to members, local treasurers, and conferences administrators. The main advantages are convenience, accuracy, and time.

Members can choose when, where, amount, and place to make contributions.

Those contributing go on their church’s website, click on AdventistGiving and make contribution preferences. This direct interaction with no “middleman” reduces error.

The operation usually takes a few seconds — literally. And time is also saved because local treasurers do not need to key data again.

With the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing, the AdventistGiving mechanism has increased in usage. Members are connected to giving locally and globally. Our members remain faithful to the cause of God.

— Melvin Constant, member, New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellenwood, Georgia

He Will Provide

As soon as any funds are placed in my account and I review my check stub, I return to God a tithe, and I give an offering and to building project funds. Unlike some, I am not disciplined enough to leave funds in my account until the church doors open again so I give online.

I depend on God's promises. By returning tithe as soon as the money reaches my account I have to depend on Him to take care of whatever else might be missing. I always expect God to answer my prayers; and He expects me to give freely as He gives to me.

One night recently, our hot water heater stopped working. We didn't know what was wrong. The pilot was still on. A repair person’s visit would cost $100. We didn't have any money to spare. I prayed. My husband remembered that he had a plumber friend and the next morning he came over. He pressed a button and the hot water resumed. Although we may have to get a hot water heater later, God spared us the expense at the moment. I am sure that when the time comes, He will provide.

Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful,” (1 Cor. 4:2, NKJV). Online giving is helping me to keep my desire to be faith to God in all circumstances.

— Ortrene Gordon, South Atlantic Conference

Old School

I am “old school.” I like to write a check and put it in the offering plate. But with our churches shut down, it’s a little harder to do that!

With my wife’s encouragement, I have moved into the twenty-first century. I am returning tithe and offerings to my church through AdventistGiving and will continue to do so when our churches reopen. It is so easy! It makes my local treasurer’s job easier as well.

I will continue to put offerings in the offering plate when our churches are allowed to reopen, but it will be for the offering of the day. I believe as a pastor—for almost 43 years—and as local conference stewardship director, example leadership is important.

— Vialo Weis, Jr., Indiana Conference

Drive-by Greetings and Online Giving

For pastors Phil and Jan White of the Simi Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern California, the transition from normal church services to live-streaming and online giving was seamless. [Click here to read the full story.] The church was live-streaming services pre-pandemic and for the past eight years have been using Adventist Giving online. “A small percentage of the membership used adventistgiving.org before for convenience,” said Pastor Phil White. “And now about 50 percent of our church family is using the service.”

The church had never before had more money in their “Love Fund.” “Members want to help their brothers and sisters in the church who are hurting and financially challenged,” Pastor Phil said.

The Whites offered to pick up groceries and attend to the needs of not only their elderly, most vulnerable members, but every single church member. While online giving was encouraged, the pastors offered front porch pick up of tithes and offerings. They delivered groceries, picked up medication, and dropped off gift cards for those who lost their jobs.

The first Sabbath in May, pastors Phil and Jan started a “drive-by greeting” 30 minutes after the livestream worship. The first week 20 people showed up staying in their cars. The pastors greeted them, prayed with them, and handed out Sabbath School materials for adults and children.

This local church has learned how to thrive in a pandemic — with gratitude and humility.

—Connie Vandeman Jeffery, Pacific Union Conference

Share Your Story to Encourage Others!

We hope you have been blessed by the experiences these Adventists have shared. We are praying for you during this challenging times of loss, stress, and heartbreak — and unexpected blessings and joy. Want to share your own story? Click here.

Learn More About AdventistGiving

Watch these videos about AdventistGiving to learn more about the church’s online giving platform. Links below:

https://vimeo.com/415338055

https://vimeo.com/415340673

kmaran Tue, 07/21/2020 - 15:42

Safe at Church?

Safe at Church?
#Churchtoo praying hands

Photos from iStock

Liliana* is a Generation X Seventh-day Adventist who attends church with her three daughters. The way she worships today has been shaped by a series of violations during her tween years. 

"I was molested by an elder at the church," she told the Visitor staff. "My mother trusted [that] when I was in church, I was fine, and I was safe. And that absolutely was not the case."

Praying and Preying

That sense of trust church members tend to place in others can be attractive for good reasons and nefarious ones.

“Predators love church because there’s an automatic feeling of trust,” says Erica Jones, Women’s Ministries assistant director for the North American Division (NAD).

“You want to volunteer to be a Sabbath School teacher? You want to be an elder or a deacon? There’s this automatic feeling [that] they’re good. ... They’re doing the right thing,” Jones adds. But that’s not where things should end. “It’s not trust or verify; it’s trust and verify,” so that those with access to young folks will be safe.

“Our background screening, ... called Adventist Screening Verification (ASV), is for anyone working with children/youth. It’s for employees, staff and anyone over 18, [even volunteers],” she says.

Upon inquiry, the Visitor magazine learned that all Columbia Union Conference churches participate in ASV, or a similar program, and most churches also require office holders to undergo background checks.

“We take seriously our duty to protect our members as they worship. Screening programs help us to reduce risk and are a first line of defense in the prevention of potential issues,” says Fred Warfield, Human Resources director for the Potomac Conference.

Josue Feliciano, youth pastor at Chesapeake Conference’s West Wilmington (Del.) church, says, “It is important to make the church body aware of our position and [that] they should also be on the lookout. A healthy church is a church that looks for any suspicious behavior.”

He adds, “Having a safe program ensures that children have a safe place to grow and learn about Jesus. Children are the church’s biggest asset, and we need to protect them.”

Church leaders around the world are paying attention too. During the Annual Council 2020 Spring Meeting, General Conference Executive Committee leaders stated they are working on this issue and rolling out measures to implement voted principles, with division leaders pledging to continue working on “detailed protocols to prevent or respond to any complaint of sexual abuse in the church,” reported the Adventist Review in a May 8, 2020, online article.

#ChurchToo

Nurturing a Culture of Boundaries

E-87, a section of the NAD Working Policy that discusses Sexual Ethics and Misconduct, has guidelines to follow if a sexual abuse instance takes place. Local church leaders and members can also work to promote a culture that respects boundaries and places safety as a top priority in the following ways:

1. Ask a Child’s Permission to Touch Them—For Any Reason 

Adventist Risk Management’s Child Protection resources on appropriate touch state that after permission is granted, only touch a child at the shoulder level or above, except when necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of a child. Only give children side hugs, and refrain from inappropriate physical contact such as rough physical play, horseplay or physical reprimans.

2. Use the Two-Adult Rule

“Where there is a child, there should always be two adults,” Jones says, meaning non-familial adults. “I’m talking about leaders in the church—Pathfinder leaders, AY leaders ... your child should never [be] alone with anyone.”

3. It Starts at Home 

The prevalence of sexual abuse and assault is all the more reason to have frank and open discussions with minors so they are aware that such predators exist and that men, women and even other children can be perpetrators.

Those discussions should start early by “having a relationship with your child that they can come and tell you anything. So that starts way before you hit the church door,” says Beverly Sedlacek, a licensed therapist and co-founder of Into His Rest Ministries.

That relationship includes creating a safe space where children can talk about what makes them uncomfortable—even comfort breaches that may not meet the threshold of criminal child sexual abuse. Churches can also create a safe space for adults to report their concerns if a leader—or anyone in the church—pressures them into uncomfortable situations.

4. Respect the Greeting Offered

Remember, no one is obligated to greet with hugs. Handshakes and bows are also signals of respect. “You can smile and say hello,” says Jones. That respect includes honoring a child’s desire not to speak to or hug an adult if they are uncomfortable doing so.

Additionally, cultural differences can create discomfort. “What for some may be just a simple behavior or comment, for others is offensive. [We] must make it a point to learn the cross-cultural behaviors of other members and the community,” says Sarah Frodelly, who works at the New Jersey Conference assisting the executive secretary and is also a certified human resources specialist.

Gaps in this knowledge could lead to miscommuni- cation “demonstrated with word, actions [or] behaviors,” Frodelly says, citing hugging at church as an example. “For many Hispanics and Caribbeans, hugging is a normal way of greeting someone. However, in some cultures, hugging can be undesirable."

Prevent Abuse at Your Church

“We are very loudly and clearly saying the Seventh-day Adventist Church stands against all forms of abuse and violence. We not only want to address it, we want to prevent it,” says Jones, who also directs the NAD’s enditnow campaign that seeks to raise awareness and advocate against violence.

Participate in the enditnow emphasis day, August 22. Download (or order) free resources, including a sermon packet in English or Spanish, at enditnownorthamerica.org/ein-emphasis-day. Also, plan to watch the Summit on Abuse, November 13–14. 

This article originally appeared on the Columbia Union Visitor website.

georgiadamsteegt Tue, 07/21/2020 - 07:47

In New York City, ACS Receives First Weekly Delivery of Pallets of Food from New Partner

In New York City, ACS Receives First Weekly Delivery of Pallets of Food from New Partner
City Harvest truck

On July 13, 2020, the City Harvest truck with 12 pallets of food delivers the goods to an Adventist Community Services warehouse in the Bronx, New York.

Early morning on Monday, July 13, 2020, I drove up to work with the Adventist Community Services (ACS) teams from Northeastern and Greater New York conferences. This day had been in the planning for about two months, when ACS (local, conference, union, and division leadership) began discussing our need for food with City Harvest, one of the region’s largest food banks.

ACS has approximately 100 pantries operating in New York’s five boroughs, and they currently distribute food two to three times each week. This work has led those suffering through COVID-19 to flock to the food pantries at a level we have never seen with thousands of people taking advantage of these services every day the ACS pantries are open. The use of these pantries had led to our ACS teams running out of food to give away, and some centers were not able to open because of a lack of food.

With this backdrop, we began speaking with City Harvest about working with us to meet the observed need. Initially, we’ hoped to get food for a couple of our most active food pantries, however, as we continued the discussion, it appeared there might be an opportunity for us to receive more. We shared the level of challenges we were facing and sent them a listing of all the pantries we had operating in New York City. When City Harvest saw the magnitude of our operation and the number of people we were assisting each week, the told us the topic would need to be presented to their board. This led to the current offer of 12 pallets of food delivered to one location each Monday between the hours of 9 a.m. 12 noon.

ACS city harvest truck unload

ACS workers unload produce from the City Harvest truck that delivered 12 pallets of food on July 13. 

At the Warehouse

So I arose that Monday at 4 a.m. to ensure that I’d arrive before City Harvest did at our ACS warehouse in the Bronx. I drove past our center at 8 a.m. to see the large bay door completely open and Walter Harris, warehouse manager, already on site moving pallets around to ensure enough space for the delivery.

I parked and walked inside, noticing all the packages that surrounded the warehouse. Products from American Red Cross, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), etc., that had been donated during previous events and now sat prepositioned, awaiting the next disaster. Harris and I talked about how things were going in the city, and he spoke of the reception our ACS centers were getting from both the private and governmental sector. The New York VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) president had reached out to ACS asking if we would assist with receiving goods from FEMA —that is some of what’s temporarily housed in our warehouse. Space is a premium in the city, and the New York VOAD president knew ACS could be counted upon to help others who were also working to serve the community. Harris additionally shared that our local conference leadership was asked to serve on one of the New York City mayor’s special committees dealing with COVID 19, thanks to him hearing about the “tremendous work” of our centers in the community.

We finished the conversation as several other people showed up wearing masks and yellow ACS shirts, excited and ready to work. Jobs were given to the team members and both Luis Biazotto and Mario Augustave, our conference ACS leaders, arrived. We planned how the delivery would take place and how the product delivered would be split between both conferences. The camaraderie and general pleasant attitude of Biazotto and Augustave was good to see and I began to be even more proud of the work we were involved in.

“This delivery means a lot,” said Augustave, ACS director for Northeastern Conference. “Not only to our conference, but to the Greater New York Conference as well. Several of the food distribution agencies at the churches have had to recently buy their own food because they have not been granted approval to receive deliveries by various food banks such as United Way. Our current memorandum of understanding with City Harvest enables us to receive food every Monday until December 31.”

ACS city harvest truck unload 2

Greater New York Health and ACS director Luis Biazotto helps unpack canned goods delivered to an ACS warehouse in the Bronx, New York.

As 9 a.m. passed, the small crowd of about 12-15 people waited in tense anticipation. I began to get a little nervous, wondering if I could have missed anything in the contract or discussion that would prevent the trailer showing up. I called one of the individuals I had been working with at City Harvest to confirm that everything was set. I hoped to get a more definitive time for delivery, however, all she could share was that the delivery trucks took off on time and they would try their best to get to us as we’d planned.  

Still at the warehouse, a little past 11 a.m., as I met Adnan Ansari, a man who works with the community in New York identifying innovative ways to begin conversations amongst divergent groups, one of our ACS volunteers rushed into the office and declared, “The truck is here!” I briefly gave a silent prayer of thanks to God and proceeded to the warehouse front.

The 18-wheeler parked on Givan Avenue. The rear door of the trailer opened. For about 45 minutes pallets of food were wheeled off the back of the truck where a forklift was then used to move the pallets into the warehouse. By noon we had concluded the effort and brought everyone together to offer our thanks and gratitude to each of the people in attendance.

Community Help

Due to the situation that we are living in now, many people have lost their jobs and have no resources at all. When we do something like this, providing the resources like this, the food, which is a primary need, we are making the difference in their lives,” said Biazotto ACS director for Greater New York Conference. “We always need to consider if we’re making a difference. That is the aspect that we always have to pay attention to. I believe this is the kind of relief that is needed.”

Glad to combine efforts with Northeastern Conference, Biazotto continued, “Some of the churches have been really struggling and this is a good opportunity to help the community in a greater way. By receiving this donation, it will help us help others and that is what makes the difference in our lives — when we become instruments of God, relieving the suffering of people around us. It is a great blessing, honor, and opportunity for us.”

I concluded with a special prayer of thanks. ACS team members then began breaking down the pallets while trucks from various churches took goods for their food pantries back to individual centers around the city that would now be ready to start work Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Our hope is each Monday will run this smoothly as we continue the relationship between ACS and City Harvest. We hope all will function in a manner that benefits the affected public in and around New York City.

kmaran Wed, 07/15/2020 - 13:10