Stories & Commentaries

Strangers at a Funeral

Strangers at a Funeral
Cristina Norcross and friends in Peru

​​​​Left to right: Joffre, Lauren, Cristina Norcross, and Laurita; photo provided by Cristina Norcross

Editor's Note: Cristina Norcross is from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, working on her bachelor’s degree in biology, with plans to attend medical school at Loma Linda University and become a pediatric oncologist. Her volunteer work at Amor Projects in Pucallpa, Peru, was a perfect fit. Her role for 10 months included serving as a nurse at the clinic, setting up mobile clinics, and promoting health awareness. She was also involved in other ministry projects, as told in the story below.

After only three weeks in Peru, Cristina and some of the other volunteers attended the funeral of a local church member. She wasn’t sure how her presence could be much of a support for a family she didn’t know, but God used her willingness in a surprising way. While at the funeral, the volunteers discovered that some of the locals were looking for a place to attend church and have Bible studies.

Jennifer and her family, owners of the house where the funeral had been held, offered to host Bible studies and English classes. It became a house church. Cristina joined this new church family and excitedly watched it grow from four to 10 members.

As they worked together, Cristina and the other volunteers became close to Jennifer, her husband, and her three daughters. When they discovered that her oldest daughter, Laurita, was suffering from tuberculosis, they brought medicine, but realized that she needed more help than they could give.

One night the volunteers received a phone call. Laurita was not well and needed urgent medical attention. Cristina and Joffre, another volunteer missionary, drove immediately to Jennifer’s house, where a crowd of family members stood outside. Laurita’s fiancé rushed her out to the car, and several family members jumped in before they rushed to the medical clinic. Laurita struggled to breathe. After running tests, the doctor informed them that Laurita was septic.

When Cristina and Joffre arrived back at their home at Amor Projects they received another phone call. Laurita
needed to go to the hospital by ambulance, but the clinic would not release her without payment. Laurita’s family was poor; so Cristina quickly ran door to door and collected enough money from the missionaries to cover the medical expenses. Then she rushed with Joffre to the clinic to pay so that Laurita could be released and taken to the hospital. They stayed with the family until things were more stable, and returned to Amor late that night.

On Sabbath the missionaries returned to the hospital to visit, and although they could not enter the room, they received permission to sing to Laurita outside her room. Her expression let them know that God had lifted her spirits through the music. However, on October 18, 2017, Laurita passed away in the hospital, surrounded by loved ones.

The Sabbath after the funeral, Jennifer told Cristina that she was pregnant—she had confirmed it the same day Laurita died. She asked Cristina and Joffre to be the padrinos (godparents), which they happily accepted. Cristina marvels at how God worked through a stranger’s funeral to lead them to this family just in time to help them through their crisis, and to look forward with them to the new life of baby Dulce Laurita, born in March 2018, as well as to eternal life and a heavenly family reunion someday.

— Written by Andrea Keele, as shared by Cristina Norcross

kmaran Wed, 09/19/2018 - 11:00

When Calls Become Baptisms

When Calls Become Baptisms
Adventist Information Ministry prays with caller

An Adventist Information Ministry customer service representative prays with a caller. Photo provided by Adventist Information Ministry

The role of media ministries in the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to create a flood of interest through their programming, station placement, and their weekly offers. The main role of Adventist Information Ministry (AIM), headquartered on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is to collect those interests and “upgrade” as many as they can to pass on to the local church, often for personal connection and Bible study. As a 24/7 ministry, AIM assists the church’s evangelistic outreach by taking orders, processing requests for literature, upgrading interested persons for further studies and by referring these interests to local churches.

AIM sometimes learns what happens with those it connects to local churches. Here are a few of those stories, shared during ministry meetings in August.

Debbie

On May 5, 2018, “Debbie” called to request the Amazing Facts offer Mark of the Beast. She called again June 24 and requested Did God Create the Devil?and the Bible Correspondence Course, an Amazing Facts Bible study course. Customer service representative (CSR) “Nichelle” recognized a deeper spiritual interest and asked if Debbie would like to speak with one of the AIM chaplains for spiritual encouragement. When Phillip, the referral chaplain, contacted Debbie, she requested studies with a local pastor. He got in touch with Desmond Haye, pastor at the Wakefield Seventh-day Adventist Church in New York City and a former chaplain at AIM (2007-2009), who, in turn, connected with Debbie. Hayes. After Bible studies, Debbie was baptized on July 28.

Eugene

On May 22, 2016, CSR “Mack” received a request from “Eugene” for personal Bible studies. The call was an upgrade that originated with a call from It Is Written. After confirming Eugene’s interest, Brian, an AIM chaplain, began looking for someone to study with Eugene. He reached Steve Hanson, a laypastor from the Cypress Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas, who connected with Eugene.

Eugene was amazed with what he was learning, and invited his sister to come and listen to what Hanson was saying. Both siblings were impressed how clearly the Bible spoke. Every time a Bible study guide was finished the two would send it to their older brother in California. He too was amazed and started reaching out to his local Adventist church. During this time “Ruby,” a friend of Eugene, came to Eugene’s study group.

Multiple church members would visit the gathering, which became much like a small support group. After faithfully studying the Bible and making relationships with church members, Eugene eventually decided on baptism.

On April 29, 2017, Eugene celebrated his new “birthday,” and his sister, older brother, and friend Ruby were also baptized around the same time.

Debra

On Dec. 17, 2016, “Debra” called Amazing Facts. The CSR noticed that Debra was seriously interested in Bible studies and renewing her faith. The CSR upgraded the call for visitation an on Jan. 22, 2017, “Joel,” an AIM chaplain, connected Debra with “Pastor Snyder.” After the pastor began meeting with Debra and her husband, the Bible studies started to occur on a regular basis.

While participating in Bible studies, Debra discovered that she had a lump in her breast. The stress of the situation caused Debra to pause in her diligent studies. But once the studies started up again, Pastor Snyder saw that Debra and her husband were ready for baptism.

About one year later, Debra and “Marvin” were baptized on June 2, 2018, at the Altoona Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pennsylvania. Through the power of the Word of God, the couple experienced transformation, renewal, and a fresh start in life.

Adventist Information Ministry (AIM) customer service representatives answer calls at the ministry's headquarters in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Adventist Information Ministry (AIM) customer service representatives answer calls at the ministry's headquarters in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

 

kmaran Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:58

Ending Domestic Violence — No Time to Waste

Ending Domestic Violence — No Time to Waste
young couple after argument

iStock

It’s the phone call we prayed would never happen. The family thought she had learned from her experience of domestic violence. She publicly declared that she was ready to start a new chapter without the abusive man in her life. She finally planned to leave. But her life tragically ended before she could do so.

Stories such as the one above are all too common. Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence (IPV), is a national public health crisis that must be addressed.

IPV occurs when one partner in an intimate relationship abuses the other. The abuse can be physical/sexual, emotional/financial, stalking, or a combination of all these. Physical abuse may vary from less-severe forms such as shoving, pushing, and throwing, to the more aggressive forms of slapping, punching, and forced sexual intercourse, even murder. Emotional abuse involves persistent humiliation, shaming, threats, control of physical activity, control of money, and social isolation. Stalking involves a pattern of unwanted harassment or threats used by perpetrators causing fear or safety concerns in victims.

National IPV statistics are startling, with an estimated one in three women (43.6 million), and one in 10 men (11.8 million) having reported contact sexual violence, physical assault, and/or stalking in their lifetime.[1] Unfortunately, statistics are similar within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.[2]

Before It Happens

Research data indicate that IPV begins in adolescence, and education about healthy relationships must take place during this critical time. The goal is to prevent IPV before it begins. School-based social/ emotional learning programs have demonstrated effectiveness in helping youth and young adults develop and practice the skills needed in healthy relationships.[3] These skills include conflict resolution, healthy communication, and anger management.

Education about the characteristics of healthy relationships designed to raise awareness of behaviors that raise red flags are also useful. These behaviors include controlling behavior, excessive texting, forced social isolation, and bullying. Strong family-based programs have been shown to be vital for teens and young adult couples to promote positive relationship expectations.

Several protective factors have been shown to lower the probability of perpetrating or experiencing IPV. These factors include good school relationships and grades, the ability to express feelings, and high levels of empathy. These factors are useful to emphasize in discussion with parents.

A Vital Role

The church plays an important role in creating a safe community and an environment in which IPV is addressed, not covered up. An appropriate understanding of Scripture is also protective. Local churches must become aware of resources in their communities designed to help both victims and perpetrators. The message that violence of any kind will not be tolerated must be clearly sent. Perpetrators must experience appropriate consequences along with the help they need. enditnow, the Adventist Church’s program to create awareness and help prevent IPV, must continue to be supported.

God models and is vitally interested in healthy relationships; and the church has an obligation to support and educate its members about the value He places upon them.

We must openly discuss what is happening within our church community and advocate for those who have experienced IPV. We also have the opportunity to develop programs that teach skills to develop healthy relationships to children, youth, young adults, and adults within families. We have no time to waste.

 

[1] S. G. Smith, X. Zhang, K. C. Basile, M. T. Merrick, J. Wang, M. Kresnow, J. Chen, “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief” (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control, 2015). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/2015NISVSdatabrief.html.

 

[2] R. D. Drumm, D. C. McBride, G. Hopkins, J. Thayer, M. Popescu, and J. Wrenn (2006). “Intimate Partner Violence in a Conservative Christian Denomination: Prevalence and Types.” Social Work and Christianity 33, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 233-251.

 

[3] P. H. Niolon, M. Kearns, J. Dills, K. Rambo, S. Irving, T. L. Armstead, L. Gilbert, “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices” (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control, 2017). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ ipv-technicalpackages.pdf.

— David Sedlacek is professor of family ministry and discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Beverly Sedlacek is an adjunct seminary professor and teaches pastoral counseling and coteaches marriage, family, and interpersonal relationships. CLICK HERE to learn how you can join the Sept. 24-25, 2018, NAD Summit on Abuse.

kmaran Wed, 08/29/2018 - 09:03

Exceptional Children with Special Needs: Knowing the Warning Signs

Exceptional Children with Special Needs: Knowing the Warning Signs
sad boy on chair

Photo from iStock

Charline Etienne’s daughter was a kindergartner at a Miami, Florida, learning center when she began having problems in school. She started by hitting other children and disrupting the classroom, prompting administrators to threaten expulsion.

Fearing her child would be marginalized, Etienne turned to a pediatrician who tested the girl and diagnosed her with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). From there, Etienne embarked on a long, tiresome journey to find the resources her daughter needed to thrive academically.

After several years in the public school system, Etienne finally enrolled her daughter at Miami Union Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist institution where the girl recently completed fifth grade as an Honor Roll student and a member of the National Honor Society.

“When she first started at Miami Union Academy, she was on the Individualized Education Program (IEP), which required special accommodations,” said Etienne, a non-Adventist parent. “The teacher had to put her in front of the class next to her so she could grasp the information. But starting with the second semester, she was on her own – being very independent, getting good grades, passing all her tests. It was just giving her the push that she needed that made her excel, even without medication.”

Student Needs

Barbara Davis is superintendent of education for the Southeastern Conference, which includes Miami Union Academy and 14 other schools. She said Adventist schools are seeing more and more children with special needs due to school choice programs in states such as Florida, which provide students with scholarships to attend private institutions in pursuit of a quality education.

“What’s happening is you’re getting children from all walks of life, all different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds,” Davis said. “A lot of parents are going away from public education and they want their children in a safe learning environment.”

In addition to serving children with various physical, mental, and learning disabilities, the trend also requires schools to accommodate gifted students on the other end of the academic spectrum, Davis said. All are considered “exceptional students” because of their differentiation from the norm.

“Exceptional children are those who have difficulties in learning, as well as those whose performance is so superior that the curriculum and instruction must be modified to help them in fulfilling their potential,” she said, paraphrasing a report. “The terminology ‘exceptional students’ refers to children with challenges ranging from very smart and overachieving to very low cognitive skills, which is sometimes detrimental to their learning.

“Their challenges are inclusive but not limited to learning and/or behavior problems, children with physical disabilities or sensory impairments, and children who are intellectually gifted or have a special talent,” Davis continued. “Some exceptional children share certain physical characteristics and/or patterns of learning and behavior.”

Characteristics of exceptionality fall into the following categories:

  • Mental retardation (developmental disabilities)
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Emotional and behavioral disorder
  • Autism
  • Communication (speech and language) disorders
  • Hearing impairments 
  • Visual impairments
  • Physical and health impairments 
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Multiple disabilities 
  • Giftedness and special talents

“Early detection and intervention is the key to success for exceptional children,” Davis explained. “Generally they are more like their peers; however, they share some unique qualities and must be serviced accordingly. Educators should endeavor to go above and beyond to facilitate learning for every student, regardless of their circumstance. When an exceptional student enters the classroom, he/she must be given an optimum learning experience in an environment that is safe, nurturing, and conducive to learning.”

To address those needs, Davis said she is intentional about requiring that principals and teachers in the Southeastern Conference receive the necessary training for exceptional student education (ESE) and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) instruction.

“Some children we can help, and some I caution our principals," she said. "If they can’t help them then don’t admit them, because it’s a disservice to the students. And so, in order to accommodate them and service them correctly, we have to be better trained.” 

So, what can parents do if they suspect their child is an exceptional student? 

First of all, the child should be tested to see if he or she has a special need, Davis said. Testing can be done within the public school system or by a private physician. Once the student’s needs are determined, parents should meet with the school principal, as well as the child’s teacher, to assess the learning environment. 

“A lot of times children have so much that they’re dealing with,” Davis said. “Sometimes they’re in a hostile environment where all their mommy and daddy do is fight. Sometimes they’re home by themselves, sometimes their only influence is television.”

For children with autism, their actions might be misunderstood.

“A child with their hands to their ears, when you’re talking to them, doesn’t necessarily mean, ‘I don’t want to hear you,’” Davis said. “It might mean, ‘Any sound that I’m hearing is bothering me so much.’"

“A bright light in a classroom could make or break a child with autism. So, we have to know the student. We have to know the warning signs,” she continued. “Some children, depending on what happens at home, sometimes they can’t sit still in their seats. Sometimes diet has something to do with it. Sometimes we make a lot of assumptions based on a child’s behavior, but we just need to find out what’s really going on with the child.”

Vigilance and Advocacy

Davis said she had one student who was very disruptive. When an optometrist visited the school, he discovered that the boy had a sight problem. The school sent a letter home, and the boy's mother had his eyes checked. He returned to school a different child. 

Etienne said it is important for parents to be vigilant and advocates for their children. When she saw her daughter struggling in school, she did everything in her power to help her excel. 

“She was on medication for about a year or two, and I didn’t really see an improvement in math and reading,” she said. “So, I decided to take her off the medication and really had them focus on the IEP, where they were giving her extra time to complete her tests and assignments in class, and not giving her so many problems at the same time, so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.”

When public school teachers stopped accommodating those needs, Etienne searched for a better environment. She also switched her daughter to a healthier diet and insisted on proper rest. She rewarded her when she reached a milestone and encouraged her love for volunteer work at local animal shelters. 

“A lot of times parents want to be in denial,” she said. “But, if you see signs of issues with your kids — not sitting still, or they're zoning out — you need to take initiative and begin to work on the issue.

“With my daughter, I did what was needed to ensure that she progressed academically,” she said. “The more I told her she could do it, the more she took it to the next level and challenged herself.”

— Alva James-Johnson is a former newspaper reporter, and is currently an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Southern Adventist University. This article originally appeared in the July 2018 Southern Union Tidings magazine.

 

kmaran Tue, 07/31/2018 - 12:34

 

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