At a ceremony at the Ubly high school on Feb. 23, 2022, Vassar Church Pastor Andrew Park (center) presented awards to two Ubly high school students: 1st place winner for the oratorical contest was Ubly High School senior, Maze Gusa (left). She received a check for $2,500. It so happens, her brother, Utah Guza (right), won second place in the video contest.

February 24, 2022

Michigan church explores creative approach to temperance

In the neighborhood surrounding one Thumb region church it wasn’t hard to find signs that things were heading in the wrong direction.

An abandoned factory near the center of town, was converted into a marijuana commerce park—complete with outdoor shopping, café, private smoking rooms and a cannabis beverage factory.  

“The development of this large-scale-marijuana manufacturing and grow site, in a rural town like Vassar, and right next to railway for quick movement of large quantities says a lot,” notes Vassar Church Elder Raymond Waller. Waller’s interest in this unwelcome facility was informed by his background as past CEO of an addiction hospital and as past chair of the American Hospital Association's Governing Council for Psych and Substance Abuse Hospitals. 

In 2018 Michigan voters legalized recreational use of marijuana, which followed the legalized delivery of alcohol by mail, and since then sales of these products have skyrocketed. For instance, sales of marijuana in Michigan last December alone topped $135 million. 

To counteract aggressive measures from the alcohol and marijuana industries, and out of a recognition of God’s love for His children, the Vassar Church felt it had to respond.

“As Seventh-Day Adventists, temperance should be in our DNA,” explains Waller. “And knowing the downstream collateral damage that addictive substances inflict on communities and individual homes, the volume of our collective voice on this topic needs to increase in a marked way. Spirit of Prophecy tells us, ‘Of all who claim to be numbered among the friends of temperance, Seventh-day Adventists should stand in the front ranks.’”  [Review and Herald, Oct. 15, 1914].   

Starting with a small committee of five, organizers designed a simple poster for an essay and oratorical contest, targeting 7th – 12th graders across the region. Students would address the topic, “What negative health effects does Marijuana and Alcohol have on the brain and body?”   

The idea quickly developed, gaining church support, and several volunteers at other Thumb Region Adventist churches. They concluded that reaching young people was key, because through them their parents are also impacted. Thus, it made sense to allocate a portion of the church evangelism budget, $10,000, for cash awards to the contest’s winners.   

To promote the contest, a group of church volunteers emailed every sheriff, mayor, city manager, judge, school principal, art teacher, English teacher and head librarian in Huron, Port Sanilac and Tuscola counties. In addition to the favorable responses from these community leaders, the connections provided an opportunity to introduce the Adventist churches to regional thought leaders.   

At a ceremony at the Ubly high school on Feb. 23, 2022, Vassar Church Pastor Andrew Park presented awards to two Ubly high school students: 

  • 1st place winner for the oratorical contest was Ubly High School senior, Maze Gusa. She received a check for $2,500. (It so happens, her brother, Utah Guza, won second place in the video contest.)
  • 1st place winner for the essay contest was Julian Gerstenberger, a home-school student in the 8th grade. He received a check for $1,500. 

Now that the contest has ended, organizers are asking the question, “Where will we go from here?” They’re considering holding the contest again next year. However, they’re not merely wanting to promote their stance on temperance since the message of health is broad-based. To that end, they have partnered with an Adventist non-profit called Lifestyle By Design Health ( to distribute immune care box. “Our members are prayerfully giving boxes to neighbors, family and friends, with the intent of promoting strong immune health and educating on right health principals,” says Waller. 

They are also praying and fasting that the next time an announcement is made for an evangelistic harvesting series, the community will respond favorably. 


Raymond Waller, elder of the Vassar Church with Lake Union Herald staff