When we were invited to attend by the couple who had mentored us into the Adventist faith, I did not know what to expect. Keep in mind, I was relatively new in the faith and the largest gathering of Adventists I remember attending was a conference-wide Spanish camp meeting which consisted of several hundred people.
When we arrived at the session, you can imagine the surprised look on my face when I began to see thousands (35,000 to be exact) of Seventh-day Adventists from around the world, many dressed in the clothes unique to their culture. My brother and I would try to guess from which countries they came. It seemed as if other people were doing something similar because, at one point, two men came up to my brother and me and asked what country we were from. In all innocence, I said, “The Bronx.”
Despite the many years that have passed, I still remember three things that deeply impressed teenaged-Carmelo that Sabbath. The first thing was the huge banner above the platform with the words, “That the World May Know.” The second was singing “We’re Marching to Zion” with 35,000 other sojourners. Singing that song gave me a burning desire to see Jesus come soon and looking forward to singing that song again on the glorious day we literally make our way to Heavenly Zion.
My third vivid memory was of president Robert Pierson who began his sermon with the prayer of Christ for his future believers, ….that they may be one, even as we are one (John 17:22 NRSV). I can now see why he spoke about the need for unity in that session. At that time, the U.S. was in a deep political and cultural divide with talk of racism, injustice and deep suspicion towards those who were leading our government, and with good reason.
We are in the midst of such deep political divides today, not only in our country and our world, but our worldwide church also is facing serious tensions and divisions. More than ever we need to see the relevancy of our Savior’s words: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13 :34-35 NKJV).
Love one another? Nice words! But how do you really do that? Our former union president, Don Livesay, led an event known as “Journey to Healing and Understanding” at the Berrien Springs Village Church in the fall of 2016. The audience looked like an accurate representation of the diversity in the Berrien Springs community. They came together to learn about the pain that African-Americans have faced, and still face in our society today. I came away from that meeting seeing a need for dialogue and compassion for one another. Since that meeting, the Lake Union has committed to continuing a dialogue, beginning in 2017 and through 2020, in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit. The vision is for pastors and laypeople of all different cultures to come together, all with the goal of fostering understanding and compassion, healing and networking.
Our strategy of learning how to really love and trust each other will be put into practice when the next General Conference session comes to Indianapolis in 2020. The Lake Union is partnering with both the Indiana and Lake Region conferences to conduct evangelism in their various cultural contexts. Discipleship training, the organizing of small groups and compassion ministries, such as the Adventist Community Health initiative, will be active in 2019 and 2020. Evangelistic plans will involve media ministries such as It Is Written, Breath of Life and Esta Escrito in 2020. Our ultimate hope is that scores of people will be won for Jesus and rejoice in having discovered the grace of God through the preaching of the Word and experiencing the loving fellowship found in the Seventh-day Adventist faith.
As we enter 2019, I would like to urge you to pray for God to speak to your heart and surrender your whole life to Him. We all, myself included, need to follow the examples of the disciples in the upper room who fasted, prayed and confessed their sins to God and their offenses to one another. This is not easy to do, so let me suggest that you first pray to God, asking Him to give you a hunger for His presence. I also highly recommend getting a copy of the book Steps to Personal Revival by Pastor Helmut Haubell. I suggest you read it, not once, but at least six times. And find someone who will read it with you (download it for free at https://steps-to-personal-revival.info).
As you start this new year, consider beginning a 40-day prayer experience and, if possible, do it with someone else. Encourage your whole church to do it. I also encourage you to study closely the remainder of this quarter’s Sabbath school lesson on the theme, “Oneness in Christ.”
Christ longs to see His prayer fulfilled, that we may be one so that the world may marvel and be attracted to our church when they see a people, despite the variety of differences in culture and our understandings, keep in daily practice the two great commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV).