Earlier this year, I attended a gathering in Atlanta that continues to have a profound impact in my life: the One project. The purpose was simple: spend two days with fellow Seventh-day Adventists from around the world to focus on celebrating the supremacy of Jesus. However simple or common this may sound, the experience was powerful, unique and transforming.
As someone who is still in the early stages of ministry, I have asked myself many questions about the Church and my particular place in it. What does God want for our Church? What kind of pastor has God called me to be? Is there even room for me in this Church? These were the types of questions that were on my mind when I first found out about the One project.
Needless to say, I was excited when I learned there was going to be a gathering where only Jesus would be lifted up and that everyone would have the opportunity to share what Jesus meant to them. The reason for my excitement was not motivated by a feeling of self-righteousness or eagerness to vent about my frustrations with the Church I love so much. The truth was that something was missing in my life, and I sensed that heading to Atlanta would be an answer to my prayers.
I arrived at the hotel in Atlanta—excited, curious and open. If God was to speak to me, I needed to be.
Day one arrived. We had breakfast, sat at our (round) tables and began with a great praise service. There are some praise services that tell you something great is about to happen, and that was one of them. This was going to be awesome!
The basic structure of the gathering was presentations on various topics (i.e., "Jesus in Our Theology," "Jesus in Our History," etc.) followed by a discussion. Every section depended on and was immersed in Jesus. This was not about tucking Jesus into a point or two of the message. Neither was this talking about how others do or do not truly follow Jesus. This was simply all about Jesus.
The focus on Jesus and sharing of our own experiences was incredible. People made some great points, asked meaningful questions, and were honest with their responses. It was true celebration of Jesus.
At the end of the day, there was much to be reflected on. I had to be honest with myself. I realized that I did not know what a life that celebrates Jesus completely, in every aspect of life—history, mission, church, etc.—looks like. The topics and conversations were deep and made complete sense, but had Jesus been central to my faith, ministry and life?
We have to ask ourselves whether or not we are truly and fully celebrating Jesus in our lives. Reflecting that evening made me realize that I had assumed much in my life. I assumed that growing up in an Adventist home and attending Adventist schools was true celebration of Jesus. I assumed Jesus was central in my life because I led out in various ministries and participated in mission projects. I even assumed that my set of beliefs were automatically a celebration of Christ. All of those things are great, but they are not Jesus.
Realizing my assumptions was refreshing. After all, I re-discovered Jesus. That is an incredible feeling. I felt as though I was at square one in my relationship with Jesus, but it did not feel as though our relationship took a step back.
The second and final day came. I must point out that if the gathering ended after the first day, the trip would have been worth it. Up to that point it had been an incredible experience, but the second day was transforming.
The final message took place. It focused on the story of when Jesus washed the disciples' feet with His hands and our call to serve others. We were asked to close our eyes and put our hands on the table, palms up. As we reflected on times when our hands could be the hands of Jesus, the table leader/facilitator anointed our hands with oil as they read a blessing from a sheet on the table. That was a sacred moment for me. I brought the sheet home as a reminder of what Jesus did with the disciples and the implications it has for my life.
We eventually came to the end of the gathering, and we were all able to take part in yet another amazing event. Someone from my table, Rene, came to Atlanta sensing God calling him to pastoral ministry, but was not sure. Gilbert Cangy brought Rene up to the front and announced that Rene had decided to accept God’s calling to be a pastor! Everyone was thrilled. Gilbert said it would be appropriate to lay hands on Rene. All the pastors and elders (about three-fourths of those attending) placed their hands on him as Gilbert led the prayer. It was a powerful prayer that really seemed to be for everyone, because we were all being sent out.
It was with that prayer that the gathering in Atlanta ended. No one got on the microphone afterward to say good-bye or remind us to register for the gathering in Seattle. It ended by a prayer that sent out a minister of the Gospel. There was no better way to conclude. The experience in Atlanta reminded me of what matters most, Jesus. It may seem obvious, but we tend to forget. Jesus has become a sobering focus for my faith, ministry and life. In my celebration of Jesus, I found a deepened appreciation for the meaning Jesus gives the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I am humbled to be a minister of the Gospel. There is no greater life than one that makes Jesus. All.
Pablo Ariza and his wife, Erica, will return to the Southeastern California Conference when Pablo finishes his M.Div. this December. Pablo is currently serving as a student chaplain for outreach in the Andrews University Office of Campus Ministries.