Stories & Commentaries

The COVID-19 Setback Catapults a Refugee/Immigrant Church’s Reach Forward

The COVID-19 Setback Catapults a Refugee/Immigrant Church’s Reach Forward
Pastor Desta Gelgelu preaching and live streaming from the church.

Pastor Desta Gelgelu preaches at a live-streamed worship service for the Oromo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Minnesota. 

Even before his state issued a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19, Desta Gelgelu, an economics professor, church planter, and pastor of the Oromo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, called his conference executive secretary for advice. This conversation strengthened Gelgelu’s conviction that something had to be done to protect the Oromo-speaking church members from the potential spread of the virus.

It was March 13, a Friday afternoon. Gelgelu, or Pastor Desta, as he is known by his congregation, quickly called his core elders together on a teleconference. They decided not worship in the church for the March 14 Sabbath services.

For a congregation that loves to spend all day every Sabbath fellowshipping together at the church, this would leave a huge void! The leaders scrambled to put together an alternate plan. They turned to teleconference and livestreaming on Facebook. 

"Now we are reaching out to five times the number we were reaching before!" Pastor Desta explains. He shares that their church building only accommodates around 250 people, but on that first Sabbath of livestreaming, the reach grew to more than a thousand viewers from around the world. Viewers watched from Australia, Africa, Canada, and states across the U.S., chiming in with spontaneous, affirming comments. When the service finished, people from around the world joined with a hearty, "Amen!"

"The current situation is a blessing in disguise," Pastor Desta says. "It forced us to go out of the box.As it is written in Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’”

“And even this [pandemic], which is a crisis, in one way is working for good,” he adds. “The church is forced to learn something new. Financially, we will be hurt. Spiritually, we pray that we will come out richer than we were before.”

Describing the needs during this time, Pastor Desta says, “People are talking about hand sanitizer. Much more than that, it is time for us to talk about Jesus Christ, who sanitizes us from all our sins.People are rushing to buy bread, but now it is time for us to rush to get the bread of life, the Word of God.

Pastor Desta, who also serves as the North American Division’s church planting consultant for the Oromo language group, and his team are initiating prayer chains, children’s ministry trainings, and Bible studies throughout the week during this time.

“That sense of attachment and community, we don’t want it to decrease,” he says. “Human instruments are fragile and fail, but God is omnipotent. When they tell us to be far away from each other, no one can tell us to be far away from our God.”

— Terri Saelee is coordinator of Adventist Refugee & Immigrant Ministries for the North American Division.

kmaran Wed, 04/01/2020 - 17:55

Watch What God Does

Watch What God Does
African American woman reading magazine

iStock photo

When Stephanie Seay and “Christine” met more than 20 years ago on the job at an Atlanta nursing home, they were young, single, and relatively carefree. They became fast friends. Seay, the facility’s bookkeeper, was a practicing Christian, and Christine, the social activities assistant, was not.

Marriage, children, and age rolled in and Christine began wondering about Christ, shared Seay. That’s when Seay sent her Message magazine, and though she has maintained the subscription for her dear friend all these years, she never heard another word about it, not until a couple of months ago, that is.

Witnessing Opportunity

As a witnessing opportunity Message is built for the current crisis. As the coronavirus disease shuts our systems down, our friends, family, and neighbors have questions. We all have time to think about eternity now, and now is the time to ensure we provide Christ and His teachings, applied in the context of these troublesome headlines.

Known for being the oldest, continuously published black Christian magazine in North America, Message injects hope and wholeness in Jesus Christ for the community. The legacy publication, initiated by James Edson White in 1898, was elevated by an impactful lineage of editors who always balanced biblical presentation and everyday application. Now a niche multi-media platform, with online and social media presence, Bible studies and tracts, Message acts as a tool in the personal outreach portfolio of those who wish to reach souls for Christ. As a key missionary journal published by the North American Division (NAD), your financial support and specially-designated offering will bolster the ministry of Message.

Message magazine cover second quarter 2020

The Message Difference

Fortunately, before this crisis hit, Seay was already on the job, sending Message to Christine, and her friends and family. The friends connected a couple of months ago, just to catch up. Christine, now a “very devout Christian” who attends a Baptist church, mentioned that she was headed out to teach the Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible class at her church. She said she used Message to teach the class, and that occasionally her brother takes the magazine to use to teach the class at his church.

“You do?” Seay was incredulous, and overcome with joy to hear that.

Seay later shared, “You never really hear back if it’s making a difference.”

“Mrs. Seay demonstrates, beyond imagination, the possibilities I've shared with church members for years,” said Carl McRoy, the NAD’s director for Literature Ministries. “Message is indeed a full-message magazine, brimming over with hope and ministering to the whole person. How can one magazine be more relevant when it provides professional relationship counsel, proven health tips and healthy recipes that actually taste good, Bible studies, prophetic insights, socioeconomic commentary from a Christian perspective?”

McRoy said that this experience does not have to be unique. “Mrs. Seay has shown us a simple formula: 1) Subscribe to Message for yourself and a friend; 2) Read and apply its principles; and 3) Pray and watch what God does.”

Go to messagemagazine.com to subscribe, donate to this ministry, and shop for valuable resources for your community. Follow Message on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — Messagemagazine, @Message1898.

— Carmela Monk Crawford is the editor of Message magazine.

kmaran Wed, 04/01/2020 - 08:38

Is Quarantining Really Necessary?

Is Quarantining Really Necessary?
coronavirus and nurse

iStock

According to the World Health Organization, the United States has 63,570 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease as of March 26, 2020. Canada has 3,409, Bermuda has seven, and Guam has 37.* I can only imagine the turmoil in the lives of those who have been affected directly because they or a family member are or have been sick. And it is concerning to know that all of us are at risk.

This hit home when I was under voluntary quarantine after returning from a conference (prior to the current travel restrictions). My self-imposed restrictions came after learning that another attendee of the same event was being tested for the novel coronavirus disease, now called SARS-CoV-2. I did not have symptoms of COVID-19, and praise God the test result was negative, but it was a trying time for many.

What was it like being under quarantine? And looking back, can I say it was necessary? What about social distancing? What’s so important about it?

These are important questions to ask, especially since fewer adults living in the United States are concerned about the COVID-19 disease compared to a few weeks ago. And even in the midst of strong government-mandated closings and restrictions, large crowds continue to gather.

The Novel Coronavirus

Let’s look at what we currently know about the novel coronavirus so we can understand why it is of such great concern. First of all, it is termed “novel” because it was only recently discovered. Prior to December 2019, we did not know this virus existed.

But we have had some experience with some of its relatives. The SARS-CoV virus, which caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003, comes from the same family of viruses. This family also includes MERS-CoV, which lead to an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. Both of these viruses led to many deaths, but not to the same worldwide extent as the current SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus that has the ability to replicate, or multiply, inside the human body. The virus will actually hijack the activity that happens within the cells of our bodies so that more viruses are made by those cells. We can then become a carrier of the virus with the potential of infecting other people.

When Sharing Is Not Caring

Experts believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spread from one person to another mainly through droplets from sneezing or coughing. It’s also possible to get it from contaminated surfaces and objects such as doorknobs, tabletops, etc. The virus is most often spread when the infected person is showing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), which is why people with even mild symptoms are asked to self-quarantine. The more severe the symptoms, the more likely you are to spread the virus.

This puts health workers at particular risk since they are physically in contact with the most serious and critically ill. Hospitals can become overwhelmed if a large number of individuals require critical care and also if they lose workers who contract the disease while caring for their patients.

We also know that some people are more likely to have severe COVID-19 disease requiring hospitalization and intensive care. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are most concerned about “older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.” These medical conditions include chronic lung disease such as asthma, serious heart conditions, cancer, severe obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease. Note that even younger adults can become seriously ill. In fact, 20 percent of patients who require hospitalization were aged 20-44 years.

With more than 20,000 deaths so far, it is not a disease to ignore or take lightly.

woman reading Bible with cup of tea

iStock

The Unknown

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was discovered just under three months ago yet it has spread like wildfire around the globe. Many are racing to develop medications to help the sick or vaccines to protect others from getting sick. Although some are possibly helpful, none have yet successfully passed the rigorous trials that precede approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In this current context, the only known ways to slow or prevent spread of the disease is by practicing good hygiene (regular hand washing with soap or using sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces), by avoiding close contact with those who are sick, and maintaining social distancing when the virus is present in your community. The last method seems to have been useful during the 1918 flu pandemic. Although there are claims that certain products boost the immune system and thereby prevent COVID-19, there is not enough scientific evidence to verify their use or safety. And quite frankly, there is still so much that we don’t understand about the virus itself.

We won’t know the outcome anytime soon as COVID-19 numbers continue to multiply. Some are ill and struggling to recover from this disease. Some have lost family members. Many have lost jobs, or will soon. There is much uncertainly.

Sheltered in Place

I return now to my personal experience in being self-quarantined. Those days while we waited to learn if the other person was positive or negative were very trying. My mind jumped back and forth between concern for my own health and fear for those who I could put at risk if I ignored this precaution. And in reviewing all the data and experiences in other countries that did very little social distancing, or started it too late, I felt it was only right to do my part to protect my friends, neighbors, coworkers, church members, and family. Even though it was low risk that I had been infected, I stayed away from others.

My situation is admittedly better than what many others may have to face. I’ve had the opportunity to share a home-office space with my husband since both our employers instituted a temporary work-from-home policy. We’ve even been able to enjoy afternoon walks on sunny days. But some of my most meaningful experiences have been in gaining spiritual lessons from this situation.

In Acts 2:42-47 we are given a glimpse of a church that shared everything together — from food and resources to prayers and Bible study. And I’ve had to wonder, how can that be done in today’s context? They met daily for fellowship. No doubt social distancing was not part of the formula at that time. I then realized that this picture of peace and harmony came after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the young church. And that was preceded by days of earnest prayer and confession.

Although our current situation is different, and we are not able to meet in one physical location, we have technology that allows us to connect from around the world. Surely the Holy Spirit has the power to bring us together even in these times!

Ellen G. white writes that, “With the consecrated worker for God, in whatever place he may be, the Holy Spirit abides” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 51).

All of this makes me wonder, what does God want me to get out of this situation? For one, I have time to deepen my bond with my husband during our first year of marriage instead of spending much of it traveling. And perhaps now is my opportunity to pray more, study more, fellowship more (using technology), and prepare for new ways of ministry. Maybe this is the time to really invest in the 100 Days of Prayer starting on March 27.

Certainly, it can be easy is misunderstand spiritual things in times of a health crisis, and vice versa. But I’m even more certain is that God is working something good out of a horrible situation. Until He reveals the plan, I find comfort and purpose in the Psalmist’s words: “e merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by. … I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations” (Ps. 57:1, 9, NKJV).

* UPDATE: These numbers continue to change rapidly. As of March 31, 2020, the WHO is reporting 140,640 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease in the U.S. while Canada has 6,317, Bermuda has 22, and Guam has 58.

— Angeline D. Brauer, DrPH, MHS, RDN, is director of Health Ministries for the North American Division.

kmaran Thu, 03/26/2020 - 17:16

Breaking the Ice

Breaking the Ice
Mike and Roy

Faith for Today's Mike Tucker and Roy Ice; photo by Crystal Huber

Mike Tucker: Hello, Roy! First allow me to welcome you to the Faith for Today family! As you know, Faith for Today is the oldest religious television broadcast in the world. We will celebrate our seventieth birthday in May 2020. What are your emotions as you assume the leadership role for this historic ministry?

Roy Ice: I have quite the mix of emotions right now! The human part of me says, “How in the world did this just happen? There are so many more talented men and women here in our division that should be right here in my place.” And the spiritual side of me says, “Relax. You didn’t make this decision. You haven’t decided where you were going since 1993, when you started out in ministry.”

God opens and closes doors, and it’s not our job to second-guess what He wants us to do. It’s simply our role to follow where He leads and pour all our energy into the opportunities that He provides. I’m not confident in my own creativity or savvy, but I’m very confident that God has mapped out some revolutionary innovations that He wants to accomplish through Adventist media to touch hearts and minds, and connect them to eternal life.

We’d like to know about your family. I believe you are married and have two sons.

I am so blessed with a spiritually rich family. My wife, Dyna, and I have been married for more than 19 years, and in that time she has taught me so much about how to truly care for people in tangible and sacrificial ways. She has quite a reputation for being the consummate culinary artist, and most of our friends wonder how I keep in shape with all of her incredible cooking and baking.

Part of that answer is our two boys: Riley, age 13; and Kolton, age 10. They are wonderfully kind and witty sons who challenge me most nights to set up competitions, Nerf battles, and a bunch of other shenanigans. We are a family that loves our local church and believes that we are called to serve, not to be served. I can’t wait for my family to be able to meet so many across our division and to be able to serve as many communities as we can within the time God allows us to serve in this ministry.

What is your ministry background?

[Laughs.] It’s a bit diverse. Most recently I served as the pastor for resource development at the Loma Linda University church in Loma Linda, California, which included quite an abundance of creative and innovative projects in the areas of media, publishing, music, and even our church app.

For the past three years one of the things I’ve been blessed to see God do is to bring a very passionate group of people together to research and discuss the character of God. We call it The Bible Lab, and this intergenerational group of about 450 people meets every Sabbath at 10:30 a.m. in Loma Linda to consistently be blown away by God’s infinite love. We are currently exploring ways that Faith for Today and Loma Linda University church can continue partnering together in this exciting program. Our website, www.TheBibleLab.com, contains audio and video episodes and updated info about what The Bible Lab is up to.

I think that’s a wonderful program.

Thanks, Mike. Previous to working as a pastor at Loma Linda University church, I served as the executive pastor at the Napa Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, and as chaplain of Pacific Union College in Angwin for nearly six years. Before that I was a youth pastor at Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a Bible teacher at Sacramento Adventist Academy even before that. The only other job I had before all this, and just before going to Andrews University in Michigan for seminary, was working for two years in the Burleson Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas—the same church that you, Mike, had pastored just a few years before I graduated.

Mike Tucker and Roy Ice take some “down-time” to chat about leading the broadcast media ministry of Faith For Today.

The Burleson church was a good place to learn. I cut my teeth on pastoral ministry there after years of teaching. I made most of my mistakes there, but they were gracious enough to let me grow.

That’s one more similarity we have. I made mistakes there too. I was so green and wasn’t the best pastor.

Since we announced your new role with Faith for Today on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve seen people recounting how you were a pastor there, and the folk in Burleson are claiming you. You made more of an impact then you thought. Is this where your passion for ministry started?

I was halfway through my undergraduate work at Southwestern Adventist University, studying pre-med. I knew I was going to Loma Linda someday. I just didn’t think it was for anything other than medical school.

My biology professor taught me how to pray, and he challenged me to a 30-day prayer journey in which he asked me to pray twice a day, 15 minutes each time, to listen to the voice of God and speak only half the time, and actually let God give me His prayer request for the day. It was probably the most frustrating 30-day experience I’ve ever had.

I tried just about every configuration for how to talk half the time and be quiet half the time. I didn’t receive anything. Silence. I had no impressions. I had no visions. I heard no voices—until day 30. I was sitting in one of my elective classes, a business management class, when the voice of God spoke to me and said, What are you doing here? You belong in the Barron building. The Barron building is where they teach all the theology classes on campus.

As cryptic as that sounds, I knew exactly what it meant, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I had said all during high school and the first half of college that I’d never be a pastor. I just didn’t have a relationship with a pastor in my experience growing up. It was something quite foreign to me. God was calling me to something I had never envisioned myself doing.

I turned in the drop/add slip and the most amazing thing happened when the registrar stamped my slip and handed it back to me. I felt this overwhelming joy and peace from the Holy Spirit.

I felt like smiling and laughing at a time when I was absolutely petrified, scared to death, because I realized—more than anyone else—that I was unqualified for ministry. That moment, to be called by God and realize exactly how unworthy I was to represent God, it impacted my life in a huge way.

I’m passionate about helping individuals understand that regardless of how you feel, God is greater than your feelings. He needs to use us as we are—as individuals, and as very diverse personalities—to present His amazing character to people who have absolutely no idea that He loves them.

I also want to help people realize that if you give God a chance, He’ll take care of everything. He will make you in some way qualified and able to carry
out something you never imagined you’d have the ability to do.

Mike Tucker and Roy Ice

As they get to know each other, Mike Tucker and Roy Ice enjoy taking an ice cream break during a friendly bowling match.  Photo by Crystal Huber

We describe Faith for Today as a “first contact” ministry. In other words, it’s our job to create programming and materials that meet the needs of and build friendships with unchurched people. How do you plan to build on Faith’s ministry to secular people?

If you want to have influence, you must have a relationship. If you do not have a relationship, you will never have influence.

We must continue Faith for Today’s unique ministry that so effectively initiates and develops relationships with people who are not only disconnected from our movement but are completely unaware of what our movement is all about. Here’s the good news: Now more than ever, media shapes the lives of nearly every man, woman, and child in our division. At no other time in earth’s history have people been so attached to media devices. When someone wants to research information on health, spirituality, relationships, or an endless list of how-to questions, they don’t even have to go to a library anymore. All that they want to know is already in their possession. In fact, it’s in either their pocket or purse—their mobile devices. And today, when someone wants to learn how to live better, or to discover how to connect with God, or what Christianity and Adventism is all about, all they have to do is pick up their phone or tablet and tell it what they’re looking for.

The vast majority of people prefer to watch a video rather than to read a large block of text on a website. So that makes video media resources so much more important than ever before. With God’s guidance we need to continue to acknowledge the changing ways that people are consuming broadcast media, and make sure that we position ourselves in those emerging markets so that God can connect us. We’ve created good content for years; now we are connecting with local congregations, and on personal mobile devices through streaming as well as television.

What would you like everyone who reads this to know about Faith for Today/Lifestyle Magazine?

I would like to help clear up a misconception that I had for years, and perhaps someone who is reading this article also shares. Faith for Today’s mandate is to create content that is not aimed at Seventh-day Adventists. What this means is that our methodologies will not always, unfortunately, be understood or appreciated by the more traditional or conservative members. I hope that the fruit of Faith for Today will be so evident that those who initially might question what we are doing will see clearly why we have to do ministry this way. This media ministry serves as an ambassador in a distant land. It’s my prayer that we will serve as such compelling ambassadors that multitudes will be irresistibly drawn to conclude that they absolutely must visit the kingdom that we represent.

I am looking forward to serving together with you.*

I’m ecstatic to be able to have you, Mike, stay on board full-time through the end of August to serve as my mentor, as my counselor, as my guide. These ministries are complex, and despite whatever experience I may have in some relevant areas, there are a lot of things that I don’t know. It’s a huge blessing to be able to work closely with you. I feel the Spirit of God working with us to have this relationship.

The ability to do ministry on this scale is the dream of many pastors who, like me, measure their effectiveness as a minister of the gospel with their quantifiable productivity—to be able to point at something in concrete terms and say, “I am being productive right now in reaching this many people with the gospel message and helping those who are disconnected have the chance to connect with God.”

* Visit www.faithfortoday.tv for more information; click here to watch a video of Mike Tucker and Roy Ice getting to know each other.

Inside Faith for Today

By Mike Tucker, speaker/director emeritus

I never dreamed that I would one day lead the ministry founded by television pioneers William and Virginia Fagal. When the invitation came to lead this ministry, I was overwhelmed and quite certain that it was a mistake. How could I follow the likes of William Fagal and Dan Matthews? But for the past 16 years it has been my privilege to guide the oldest non-news television broadcast in the world.

Faith for Today, a ministry that will be 70 years old in May 2020, has always been focused on connecting with unchurched people. By using drama, films, TV specials, and talk shows, We reach people who don’t watch “preaching shows.” Today Lifestyle Magazine, the award-winning television program, has a weekly viewing audience of more than 3 million people without having to pay for airtime. Religious and secular stations/networks donate airtime because of the quality of our programming. This has been the case for decades and God alone is to be praised!

Faith for Today has long made television shows of the highest quality as evidenced by the scores of awards won. But in more recent years we’ve found better ways to connect our secular viewers with local churches. Popular seminars such as Mad About Marriage and The Choice have drawn audiences across the globe. Small-group curricula such as Mad About Marriage: Flipping the Switch and The Grief Sessions allow local churches to build loving friendships with our guests.

Over the past 16 years God has given us the means to produce 150 Faith for Today preaching programs, nearly 250 episodes of Lifestyle Magazine, four televised evangelistic series; to write and publish 15 books, publish several small group curricula; to hold nearly 150 seminars; to speak for more than 80 camp meetings; travel to 18 countries to preach the gospel; and to play a role in bringing thousands to faith in Jesus.

One soul for the kingdom is priceless! I was recently recognized by a viewer at a convenience store in Dallas, Texas. This man told me he had discovered Jesus through our program. He thanked me for the program and then asked about my church. While I do not yet know where this new friendship will lead, it is an example of the sort of work we do. We build friendships with people who don’t know Jesus, and invite local churches to help with next steps.

As exciting as all this has been, I believe greater things yet await Faith for Today.

 

kmaran Wed, 03/18/2020 - 06:59

 

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