You know how it was when you were growing up, and some things you did became so routine that you imagined everyone else in the whole world did the same things and felt the same way about them? And then you got older and you realized it wasn’t like that at all, that you world was such a small portion of the larger world, and you were blown away by how you could ever feel differently. That’s how I was coming out of the Adventist church, where being a missionary to others is paramount.
Speaking of being a missionary, the word “missionary” means “a person strongly in favor of a set of principles who attempts to persuade or convert others.” Now, before you think that everyone in the church was out knocking on doors or heading to Africa to work with the natives, having a mission meant simply to tell others about Jesus’ love for them, invite them to come to church, and to experience what He can do for them. You see, being SDA isn’t just about the seventh-day part. There is also the Adventism, which means believing in the second coming of Christ and doing all you can to be “ready when Jesus comes.” Unlike some religions who believe they keep their own and let no one else in, or religions based solely on ethnicity, being an SDA means sharing the message and trying to convert others.
As a preacher’s kid, many things were expected of me aside from following in my father’s footsteps. One of the primary outlets for proselytizing was preaching, and I did plenty of that from the time I was 10. However, there were many others, not the least of which was puppeteering, being in bell choir, actually going door to door in the community, vacation bible school, being a pathfinder, selling religious magazines, participating in tent meetings, and going to youth conferences.
“There was nothing worse than going somewhere where others don’t know your message and may be skeptical…”
First, it was all about preparing. There was nothing worse than going somewhere where others don’t know your message and may be skeptical without having yourself ready to answer any and all questions. Secondly, it was about clothing choice. Usually we wore suits (and dresses for the ladies), but for pathfinders there was a certain uniform that showed who we were. And it didn’t matter how young or old you were. When we were going to door to door sometimes there were people with us who were over 80, and some under 10. This range of ages wasn’t intentional, but it served to help, to show that we were actual members of the community, that we understood where they were coming from, no matter how old or young we were.
My favorite was puppeteering, though. And yes, it was exactly as it sounds. We had an entire ministry based on using puppets to get through to groups of people, and to share the message of Adventism with them. At first, there were 10 of us, and a few puppets between us, so not everyone would be able to participate in every skit. As we grew, though, so did our budget and the number of puppets we were able to obtain. This increased our repertoire. The part I loved the best was creating new characters and character voices. First, we would write a skit together, or we would find a skit that fit our purposes and use it. Then, the big task was to decide on character voices. I’m very good with impressions (and I was then too), so I was basically in charge of deciding what voices characters would have, what backgrounds inspired those accents, and to teach other members how to use the voices I had created. Eventually, it expanded into me recording the skits using all the voices on tape so they could perform the skits without even having to remember the voices when I wasn’t there (which happened, sadly, more and more the older I got). Ironically enough, I wasn’t that involved in writing the skits, even though you know me as a writer now. Once the skits were created and learned, we would then go to places like retirement homes, the YMCA, other churches (amazingly they let us in), and various other places where community would congregate. Every once in a while we would even set up on a street corner and attract people that way. It was inspirational.
The Pathfinders were next on the list. If you don’t know what they are, remember when you were young, being in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts (love those Thin Mints), or knowing people who were in those organizations? Well, being SDA, we had something akin to a scouting club. We had badges we could earn by doing certain activities. I remember one of those badges was for winter survival, and you could only do that in a place like the Poconos in the dead of winter (I did not like, nor did I get, that badge). We would go camping, learn how to start fires without matches, sleep in lean-to’s, and learn how to tie different types of knots. To this day I still know how to tie the clove hitch. Go figure. We would also march in parades, holding our banners high, and we had a marching band as well. I was the bass drum because I was the biggest kid (I was rather hefty, I’ll admit). Walking with a bass drum isn’t easy, so imagine marching with one. I was a legacy, too, as my dad had been the Pathfinder director for many years before I was of age to join.
And, interestingly enough, even though I was practically raised by the church, I was never in vacation bible school as a participant. My mother was instrumental in vacation bible school for our church, so she would take charge of it every summer, or she would be visible in some other way, and I would tag along. From the start, though, I wanted to help. I felt like there were so many kids in the community who could use a role model (not that I felt I was the best role model, but it was worth a shot). So, for 12 years I helped out in any and every way. From fetching the snacks
“I loved being a missionary for the Adventist church because those were the times when I could see the hand of God in action.”
for them, to assisting teachers, to finally being a teacher myself for the last four years I was involved. It was amazing to see those kids from the community come in their summer best, dropped off by wary parents who just we always suspected were just using us as babysitters, but we didn’t mind. We wanted to introduce Jesus into their lives, and that’s just what we did. We had those regulars who would stop me on the street and ask me when exactly VBS was starting. I loved those moments, because it’s when I felt the most worthwhile.
And I loved being a missionary for the Adventist church because those were the times when I could see the hand of God in action. Not in the sermons could I truly see it. Nor in the traveling from church to church with my dad, but in the one-on-one interactions with people who didn’t know what I knew, and teaching them what I knew, I found what I was looking for.