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Two Roads: The Quest Toward Healing and Transformation

Two Roads: The Quest Toward Healing and Transformation
Two diverging paths in a forest.

Two diverging paths in a forest. Photo: iStockPhoto

Editor's Note: The following is a testimony written by Gabriella Phillips, director Adventist-Muslim Relations for the North American Division. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Suhad* called one morning in a state of disarray. She was crying because her ex-husband’s family failed to bring her special-needs daughter and 12-year-old son for a court-appointed visitation.

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked again and again.

Suhad came to the U.S. three years ago. She was accustomed to a certain lifestyle because she nannied the grandchildren of Saddam Hussein. But within days of her arrival, her husband began beating her. Fearful for her safety, she left her husband and children and fled to a women’s shelter, even though she was unable to speak English. My prayer-partner met with her regularly at the shelter. Suhad fought for two years to get visitation rights for her children. During that time, her kids were told that she had abandoned them, and were fed lies that created what seemed like an insurmountable barrier.

Finally, the day arrived for a court-hearing regarding visitation. My prayer-partner could not accompany Suhad and asked if I would go instead. At the court, the judge wanted to give Suhad shared custody, but she had no home to take her kids. Right there the Lord gave me a nudge to open my home. I sent a quick text to Marty, my husband, telling him of the prompting from the Holy Spirit. His answer was a reassuring “Yes.”

A Reintroduction

The air surrounding the reunion of Suhad and her children was tense and aggressive. The kids came loaded with bags of junk food since they had been instructed not to touch Suhad’s food, leaving a feast she had taken three days to prepare untouched. In addition, her mother-in-law aided in delivering extremely negative messages from Suhad’s husband to their children in an attempt to keep the kids emotionally distant from their mom.

Emotionally burdened, a cycle of self-destructive thoughts started to eat her from the inside. We prayed together, but Suhad saw my prayers as enlisting God to punish her ex-husband and his family, not as an invitation to surrender the situation to God and let Him guide its course.

Last month, Suhad was unfairly framed and falsely accused of abusing her kids. As a result, she lost the few gains she’d made for her case — her custody rights were reduced to weekend visits until November. She is also required to attend parenting classes.

Sensing that my prayers were not “working” since her husband has seemingly gone unpunished, she sought the counsel of another friend who told her to try a different legal approach, which required hiring an expensive lawyer. This plan gave her hope again. She started to work frantically to make money to save at least $3,000 to afford the attorney — a tall order considering she only makes $9.25 an hour.

Diverging Roads

After praying one morning, the image of two roads came to my mind. One road represented a “relational” solution to Suhad’s problem, and the other was a “legal” solution. I am not pitting the two in an abstract way. There is a time and place for matters to be resolved in court. I am strictly speaking of this case.

On the legal road, there’s the courts, expensive lawyers, and countless hours invested in filling binders upon binders of evidence against Suhad’s husband with a mindset focused primarily on revenge. Best case scenario, the court would give her full custody and she would bring her kids home, but would they come with open hearts?

The relational road meant seeking some form of restoration. On this road I saw praying people, Suhad’s heart being changed, and her kids’ hearts receiving her love. With this approach, all the money saved from legal fees could be used to build memories not binders.

Seeking Salam

Marty and I recently visited Suhad. We noticed her eyes were puffy from many shed tears. In front of her was another binder with the hundreds of documents to present in court. Marty opened the conversation with a well-known hadith — a collection of words or sayings from the Islamic prophet Muhammad — within the Islamic faith. The hadith mentioned a man returning from a victorious war expedition. The man referred to the military battle as minor compared to the “great jihad,” which means the battle within oneself against sin.

“Suhad, you are standing between two roads. We are here to help you fight the great jihad,” said Marty. “The left road goes through the court where your trust is in the judge. However, what if you get custody just to find that two weeks later your family calls the police on you again and the battle for custody starts all over? What if the kids come to your house but their hearts are with their father and extended family? Can the court give you true salam (peace)?”

Suhad was not expecting that. She then realized the futility of pursuing the legal path as her primary method dawned on her. Marty also told her about someone we know who went through a similar situation and spent seven years in a never-ending cycle of revenge that severely deteriorated her health.

Suhad said through tears, “I want to take the right road.”

My husband and I have committed to walk this path with her step-by-step. The journey is far from over, but at least we have a new direction. We are relying on God as the new judge of this case who is able to help create a new path toward healing and transformation.


*Not her real name.

mylonmedley Wed, 09/16/2020 - 11:13

Times of the Sign

Times of the Sign
Stephen hall and church elder at Reedsburg church sign

Reedsburg Seventh-day Adventist Church Pastor Stephen Hall (right) with church elder Rodney Hahn. Photo by Juanita Edge

What can we do? That thought occupied my mind as I watched the nation again turn its attention to another senseless killing of a Black individual in America at the hands of the police. What could our churches do, in this moment, to address the continued injustice and oppression faced by the Black community?

I knew that some might try to make the case that addressing these issues might seem political, but it was clear that this wasn’t a right or left issue; this was a right and wrong issue. This wasn’t about politics; this was about the Gospel. Remaining silent wasn’t an option in my mind, but what should we do to address these issues in a sincere and relevant way? How do we start having that conversation? Again and again these questions reverberated through my mind as I drove to one of my churches for a mid-week Bible study.

As I arrived at church, my attention was drawn to the sign that sits beside the road running past the church. This sign is usually adorned with short, often humorous, messages that hopefully will make you think as you pass by our church. Pulling into the parking lot, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit gently respond with the answer to my question: “Start with the sign.”

After the Bible study, I reached out to the head elder of the church to ask if we could talk. I went over to his house and expressed my conviction and asked if our church would consider changing the message on the sign to simply read, “Black Lives Matter.” After a thoughtful moment, he asked, “But don’t all lives matter?” and asked why we should single out any one specific group. We had an earnest and genuine discussion on his front porch, lasting from 8 p.m. until midnight that night as we explored Christ’s example of intentionally acknowledging His children in their moments of need.

Discussion on the Front Porch

The elder and I discussed that, in this present moment, intentionally acknowledging that Black lives matter would be following Jesus’ example, and to respond otherwise would be to disregard everything our Black brothers and sisters are telling us about their experience. We then talked about how intentionally responding “all lives matter” in this situation comes across as dismissive to the Black community and ignores and minimizes what they have gone through and are going through in this struggle. We then discussed how we, as a church, should acknowledge that the experiences of those in the Black community are valid, and we should want to intentionally affirm that their lives matter. We agreed that, as a church, we have no desire to undermine their message, and that our desire is to stand with them in that fight and amplify that message.

As we explored biblical examples that show why saying “Black lives matter” is Christlike, I shared with my elder what I would be preaching on for the coming few Sabbaths across the district: the story found in Luke 8 of the woman healed when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment. When she reached out to Him and all eyes were on her as she was in her moment of need, Jesus stopped and intentionally acknowledged her, showing her and the crowd gathered that she mattered. He noticed her in the crowd before anyone else and stopped everything for her, to the point of even being late for a different miracle He was headed to perform. 

We discussed how the Gospel reveals the truth, upon every examination, that all lives matter to Jesus. All the lives in that crowd pressing around Him when that woman touched Him didn’t matter less than her life to the Savior. The daughter of the official that lay dying and would pass away as the Master stopped to address this woman: her life didn’t matter less to Jesus. All lives do indeed matter to the Creator. It’s why He came and lived a life of love and died an undeserved death so that we wouldn’t have to die a deserved one. It's why Jesus rose again and, in so doing, it is why He is able to offer every life the hope that we have of forgiveness and salvation because He paid the price of sin in our place. We went over how all of that is true and still Jesus chose in this moment to intentionally acknowledge this woman in her greatest moment of need. We talked about how, if we as a church are to follow Jesus’ example, we are compelled to do as He did for that woman.

We talked about how, in this moment, as the world's eyes are focused specifically on the systemic racism and abuse that Black people have suffered at the hands of police, the government — even sometimes the church — we want them to know what Jesus knew as He knit them together in their mother's womb; we want them to hear from the church what they hear as Christ calls their name; and we want to say what we, as a church and people, should have been saying this whole time, but we never consistently did: Black lives matter. 

I left that night with no answer to my request, and I returned home wondering if our little church would be willing to share with our community, in even such a simple action as changing a sign, the truth we professed to believe with our words.

A Loving Confirmation

I woke up the next morning to a text from that elder that read, "This morning I was thinking about our conversation last night on the porch. I appreciate the new perspective on the ‘Black lives matter’ message for our church sign. I think it would be very appropriate for us to put it up. Because it may have some perceived political connections, I will talk to the other elders and let them know what we will be doing with the sign.”

I immediately lifted a prayer of praise to God! Everything that the churches in my district had shown me in my time here, that the love of Jesus was the foundation for all that they did, was evidenced in that one text message. 

Later that afternoon, my elder sent me a picture of the sign. It had been changed to read “Black Lives Matter” with Jeremiah 22:3 underneath, which was the perfect expression of God’s love confirming that statement. I was so excited; I quickly posted a picture of the sign’s updated message online.

During the next several hours and days, we received quite a lot of feedback and I have had several people contact me online and via phone expressing concern or disagreement with our decision to acknowledge this simple biblical truth. Thankfully, God has given me the chance to open a dialogue and pray with those folks, using each interaction to glorify His Holy name.

Our church also has had almost 900 people respond to us. We have been contacted by people from all around the U.S., Canada, the U.K., South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and many more locations, expressing joy and love. So many people responded with messages that they finally felt acknowledged and seen by the Church, many for the first time. We have had people express how our little church’s willingness to speak in this moment is an encouragement to them in the midst of challenging times. Some have even written to let our congregation know that if they ever visit the U.S., or pass through from other states, they would like to come worship together with us. 

It’s the Gospel

I don’t share all of this with you to put a spotlight on our church. Make no mistake, I am thankful that the congregations here and, at each church in my district, are willing to do everything they can to show others the love of Jesus. I am thankful for the willingness they have shown to be genuine and authentic and real in addressing the pain and suffering that sin has unleashed in our communities.

But I want to be clear: this isn’t a church getting political or taking a side with one group or another. Instead, this is about right and wrong. It’s not politics, it’s the Gospel. We are not speaking up because we want people to focus on us; we are lifting our voices because we have a responsibility to speak out about the issues affecting our community and live the example of what it means to love your neighbor.

Just as Jesus did, we as Christians must condemn the hypocrisy and cruelty of anyone who attempts to misrepresent the character of God. We need to lift up the name of Jesus in authentic worship, as described in Isaiah 1:16‒17. We need to use the voices of all of our churches and all of our people to speak out in boldness against sin, especially the sin of racism and prejudice against our Black brothers and sisters. This is a sin that many have experienced, not only in this country, but in the Seventh-day Adventist Church as well. Unfortunately, this is a sin that many in our church families face every single day. 

You may be asking yourself, “What can I do? Where do I start?”

To that I would say: “What better place than here and what better time than now?” We can start by listening. Listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek God’s wisdom and mercy in prayer. Listen to the Black community, and what they are telling us about their experiences. Listen to each other as we come together in meaningful dialogue and action that gives evidence for the love of God lives in our hearts. As we listen, there will come moments when it will be appropriate to share what we have heard. When those moments come, we must be willing to have the hard, but vital conversations to address racism and prejudice in our hearts. We have to confess our sin and ask for a forgiveness and a healing only possible through the blood of Christ Jesus. Only with confession will we have forgiveness. Only through repentance and reconciliation will we find healing. To do anything less is selfish, sinful, and not of the Spirit of God.

We have a holy responsibility as a church to lift up our voices and speak this truth: we are the handiwork of the Creator God, made in His image, and we are loved by Him beyond our wildest imagination, no matter who we are.

— Stephen Hall is a pastor in the Lake Union Conference; this article originally appeared on the Lake Union Herald website.

kmaran Wed, 09/09/2020 - 11:39

An Interrupted Gambler: From Poker Player to Pastor

An Interrupted Gambler: From Poker Player to Pastor
Joey Barajas

Former gambler Joel "Joey" Barajas is a 2018 graduate of Walla Walla University.

Every Monday during his senior year at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington, Joel “Joey” Barajas helped kick off the school week by leading Hispanic Ministries Night on campus. The services are in English, and hymns are sung in Spanish. Despite the name, students of various races and ethnicities attend the program.

“It puts in perspective what heaven is going to look like,” said Barajas, who finished his studies at Walla Walla as a theology major, which was not his intent when he transferred to the university.

“I came to Walla Walla as a business major, wanting to start my own business and all that stuff. But God had other plans,” said Barajas.

Prior to his enrollment at Walla Walla, Barajas attended a community college in Seattle to be near his older brother, who was studying at the University of Washington. Barajas and his family are from Mattawa, a town in the center of Washington with a population of approximately 4,600 people. When his brother went off to school, he invited Joey to visit.

“I loved the city. I loved the city life. Coming from a small town, it was different,” said Barajas.

Once there, instead of picking up books for studies, he picked up an addictive hobby.

“I got into that lifestyle of partying and all that. Gambling was a big part of my life as well. I would pass three casinos on my way to school on the bus,” said Barajas. “So it was easy for me to ditch school and go to the casinos and gamble all night and day.”

“I eventually flunked out of my first quarter while in Seattle. My parents didn’t find out until I shared my testimony three years after the fact. They kept asking when I was going to graduate,” said Barajas. “I kept saying, ‘One more year. I need to take a few more classes.’”

“They believed me. But it took a while for me to return to school.”

A Redirect

Barajas completed an associate degree in business when he was 21. Around that same time he decided to be more intentional about his relationship with God.

“My roommates had parties every other weekend. It was difficult to really have that connection with Christ when there was loud music and people everywhere,” said Barajas. “So I prayed, ‘God, I believe You don’t want me to be here anymore.’”

God’s response was sudden and direct.

“Out of nowhere Walla Walla University sent me an invitation to visit the school. I’d never even visited its website. I had attended camp meeting on its campus once or twice, but I’d never visited the school,” said Barajas.

Barajas visited Walla Walla University during a University Day, which is designed for prospective students to tour the school, attend classes, and meet other students.

“I fell in love with the campus. I didn’t grow up going to Adventist schools. I went to public school. Finding a community full of believers like me who were striving to have a relationship with God really impacted me, and showed me what I was missing my whole life.”

University Day also gave Barajas the opportunity to encounter the university’s spiritual life.

“I fell in love with the vespers service. I cried,” said Barajas. “I felt God telling me, ‘This is where I want you to be.’ As soon as I got back to Seattle, I filled out an application, and the rest is history.”

Once he officially transferred, he not only had to get oriented to the school, but also found himself needing an orientation to the Adventist culture.

“Coming to this school was an entirely different world for me, because everyone here is pretty much Adventist. They all had their lingo of haystacks. I didn’t call them haystacks, I called them nachos.”

Transformation Through Connection

Barajas did not have many friends at first. One person befriended him from their time working out and playing sports together. One day as he was running late for vespers, he saw this friend standing outside the facility where the program was held.

“His body language said a lot. Since I played poker, I knew how to read people’s body language and facial expressions. I knew something was up,” said Barajas. “I asked why he wasn’t going into vespers. He plainly said, ‘I’m having trouble believing in God right now.’ I had taken no theology classes, but for the next three hours we talked about his view of God.”

“At the end of that conversation he said, ‘You need to be a youth pastor.’ I was in a couple Bible classes at the time, and I was considering becoming a pastor. So that really impacted me,” said Barajas.

“I truly believe that God has gifted me in connecting with people and creating a space for them to put their guards down. It’s easy for me to open up to people, and that allows them to then open up,” said Barajas. “Just being able to share a word of happiness or wisdom creates an opportunity for the Word of God to bring transformation into someone’s life.”

All In for Christ

Barajas graduated on June 17, 2018, with a bachelor’s degree in theology and a minor in business administration. Upper Columbia Conference extended a pastoral call to him, and he was placed at the Pasco Riverview Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I started in August 2018,” said Barajas. “But before I began pastoring, God opened a door for mission work right after graduation with ADRA Connections to the Amazon in Brazil for two weeks. That had a huge impact on my life.”

Barajas has loved almost every minute of his two-year internship at the Pasco Riverview church as their associate pastor. “Pastoring is emotionally demanding, but seeing lives being transformed for Christ is definitely worth it!” he said.

Barajas has worked primarily with the church’s youth and at Tri-City Adventist School, leading Bible studies, chapels, and a week of worship. On Friday nights Barajas has coordinated a worship and Bible study “hangout.” Barajas also served as a camp pastor at Camp MiVoden.

“This has been a high point during my internship. I grew up going to Camp MiVoden, and to go back as a camp pastor was amazing! I felt like a camper, but with a beard,” he laughed. “Seeing God at work there is something I will never forget. I love all ‘my kids’ with all my heart, and throughout this internship they have been a reminder of my calling.”

This fall, he plans to attend Andrews University to pursue an MDiv.

Barajas admits that his relationship with Christ has been a roller coaster ride. But it’s a ride he never wants to get off.

He recalls his gambling days. “When you’re playing poker, there comes a point where you have to risk it all and go all in. You either win it all or lose it all. It’s a stressful moment because it’s all based on luck.

“I have won big, but I’ve also had devastating losses. Regret seeps in, and all decisions are questioned,” he added. “When I went all in for Christ, there has been no regret, no greater prize.”

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of communication for the North American Division and editor of Adventist Journey; Mylon Medley is an assistant director of communication for the NAD.

kmaran Tue, 09/08/2020 - 10:34

Personalizing God's Promises

Personalizing God's Promises
India Medley

India Medley

This is a brief profile of an Adventist who works in an essential role during this time of uncertainty and crisis — a glimpse into India Medley’s life and faith. We thank her and many others for their service, and encourage our readers to pray for them.—Editors.

Name: Dr. India Medley, Ph.D., MSN, RN, CPNP

Location: Bowie, Maryland

Profession: Vice President & Chief Nursing Officer, Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., managed by Adventist HealthCare

Are you considered an essential worker, or are you a volunteer, helping during this crisis?

I am considered an essential worker, however, I believe all people are essential — therefore their
work is also essential.

What has been the toughest part of the past few months?

Covid-19 is like a widespread thunderstorm taking with it far too many innocent and unsuspecting lives. The realization of patients' pain, suffering, and the severity of this disease along with its' invisible spread is frightening and absolutely devastating.

The pace and the intensity of the nursing care is exhausting and at times overwhelming. Additionally, caring for the health care providers as they find innovative ways to bridge the gap between the patients and their family members who cannot visit the hospital, and observing as these brave and compassionate professionals grieve the eventual loss of their patients, is more difficult than you can imagine.

Recently, it is frustrating and worrisome for me to see people out and about without wearing a mask and not socially distanced from one another. It seems people are in denial that this deadly virus is still amongst us. It will be a tragedy for us to experience another and possibly more potent surge of this virus, especially when we know we can prevent further spread if we would just comply with what health scientists recommend.

Where do you get your strength?

My strength comes from my time in reading and personalizing God's promises; prayer; and meaningful music. The support and care that I receive from my husband each and every day carries me through even the most difficult days. And I feel stronger every morning as I sense the prayers of my family and friends.

How does your faith play a part in helping you cope?

My faith is everything to me. My faith is embodied in each beautiful sunrise, a patient's smile when the fever breaks, a nurse's resilience in the face of uncertainty, a patient's discharge from the hospital, and especially when I observe the sea of healthcare providers and hospital staff arrive at work every day to give their best for our patients — one day at a time.

kmaran Wed, 09/02/2020 - 20:00