by Chet Jordan
Hastings and Norma Bean celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary with their church family at North Lake Church, Leesburg, Florida, on July 2, 2011. Much of their married life was spent providing care and housing for relatives and church friends who were in need.
Born on December 22, 1909, in Marysville, Tennessee, Hastings was a fourth-generation Adventist. When his parents moved to Avon Lake, Ohio, he met Norma Buswell, and they were married in St. Mary County, West Virginia, on July 3, 1931. Norma also became an Adventist in 1936. “I’ve always believed the Lord sent Hastings to my door,” says Norma, 99. “I don’t think anyone I know has had a happier marriage.”
After the wedding, they lived in Avon Lake for the next 54 years. Hastings’ entire working career was with Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. Upon retirement, the Beans moved to Eustis, Florida.
Their daughter, Carol Fife, says, “To think they have lived all these years together, gotten along so well, and shown such love between them is amazing.” Also included in their family are five grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.
by Naomi Zalabak
The location was a beautiful scenic spot, and romance was in the air as Burton Wright handed Myrna Jensen, the young lady by his side, a silver dollar with a request to read what it said.
“E Pluribus Unim,” Myrna softly read.
“What else?” he questioned.
“In God we trust,” Myrna read.
“United we stand,” Myrna read.
“Can we make that our motto for life?” Burton questioned.
Myrna was thrilled but a bit hesitant, because, although they had corresponded via letter for some time, they had only been together for a few weekends. With glistening eyes, she answered, “I think we need to pray about this, and I need to talk to my family.”
After Burton’s graduation from college, they were married in the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital Church, Takoma Park, Maryland, on July 29, 1951, with Burton’s father performing the ceremony and Myrna’s father singing.
And then the silver dollar began a journey of a lifetime as it traveled with the Wrights as they spent their lives in God’s service as follows:
- Mount Pisgah Academy, Candler, North Carolina with Burton as dean of boys and Bible teacher, and Myrna was a hospital supervisor.
- Spencerville Junior Academy, Silver Spring, Maryland, where Burton taught.
- Forest Lake Academy, Apopka, Florida, with Burton teaching Bible and Myrna serving as school nurse.
The coin then traveled half-way around the world as the Wrights were called to the continent of Africa as follows:
- Bethel College, South Africa, with Burton teaching ministerial students and church pastors.
- Malamulo Secondary School, Malawi, with Burton teaching academy students.
- Northern Malawi with Burton serving as principal of the boarding school and Myrna as the dispensary nurse, accountant for Mombera Secondary School, and home school teacher for their three younger children.
- Solusi College, Bulawago, Zimbabwe, where Burton taught ministerial students and Myrna taught home economics to 100 girls.
After twelve years of service in Africa, the silver dollar journeyed with the Wrights as they permanently returned to the United States in order to benefit their children’s education. They continued to teach or pastor at the following: Holbrook Indian School in Arizona; Joliet, Illinois; Elizabethtown, Kentucky; Lake Placid, Florida; and Arcadia, Florida.
At last, the silver dollar found a permanent retirement home in Avon Park where the Wrights remain busy in the Lord’s work. Burton has helped with Prison Ministries while Myrna has worked with children’s divisions of the church. For three years, she served as Assistant Director of Children’s Ministries for Florida Conference. She continues to use her storytelling skills to touch the lives of children.
After the church service on July 30, family, members, and friends gathered to help Burton and Myrna celebrate their 60th anniversary. Their four children, Judy, Jim Jeanie, Jon, and their families planned a celebration that included a potluck meal, anniversary cake, and insightful glimpses from the past.
by Cocolo Rivera
“I walked with Satan, but my God delivered me.”
I was born December 15, 1946. I was only six when my father separated my brother and me from our mother. From that moment on, I became a rebellious, disrespectful, and skeptical child. I reached adolescence with the same characteristics. Not knowing much about my God, since my father never took me to a church, I only heard about God in school.
I decided to enlist in the Armed Forces. In 1965, when war began between the United States and Vietnam, I wanted to unleash my anger on the battlefield. Those who knew me branded me as a madman. In April 1966, my wish came true, and I was deployed to Vietnam in southeast Asia.
Although I had never visited a church, I talked with my God every morning. Each day, I felt protected. I survived many dangerous situations for eight long months until, in November, I was struck by a sniper. For several weeks, I remained in a coma.
One day after I awoke, the attending doctor asked me, “What religion do you belong to?”
“I have no religion,” I replied. “I just talk to God every day.”
Smiling, he replied, “Well, you have very good communication with Him, because He brought you back to life.”
I was discharged from the Armed Forces and returned to my home town. My faith grew, and I felt safe. Although I was addicted to marijuana, alcohol, and prescribed morphine, I sensed that Christ would help me again. He gave me a wonderful wife, a young woman from my neighborhood named Margarita. We grew up in the same neighborhood, almost under the same circumstances.
Poor girl! She had no idea that, by marrying me, she would have to face a tough test. She would have to deal with a rebel, addict, and mentally ill person. In 1968, a month before our first daughter was born, I lost my memory. I was admitted to a mental institution with a syndrome of combat.
Only Margarita’s love and faith in God could give her strength. By 1972, we had our home and three other daughters. Margarita continued struggling with a madman. Though I never physically assaulted her, I did with my attitude. She believed in a powerful God and instilled her faith in our daughters. In my spare time, I worked with children and youth. I did not want them to become addicts like me.
In 1989, we decided to move to Orlando. It was a positive change for our family, because our daughters learned more about God and began a close relationship with Him. That led me to visit the churches they were attending. In spite of my condition, Margarita and my daughters were determined to take me in the path of the Gospel. It was an arduous task, but they never gave up.
In 1991, I met the owner of a radio station and started working as a sports commentator, something I had not studied or known. Now, I believe God was leading me in the path He wanted me to go.
In 1992, Don Manuel Toro gave me the opportunity to collaborate in his weekly newspaper, La Prensa, as a sports columnist. My God allowed me to succeed in the media and, for a time, on the small screen. However, with this success, my ego grew, causing more problems for Margarita and my daughters.
My friend John Torrado, owner of radio broadcast La Fantástica, gave me the opportunity to work in his program. My popularity with the Hispanic audience was tremendous. I met many people of faith who prayed for my salvation. By the end of 2000, I met Lucimar, producer of a morning program, and started working with her. By 2009, my popularity had grown. I was awarded on several occasions. Apparently, God had an ongoing plan, although I did not see it at that time.
One morning as I was preparing for the radio broadcast, I heard a sublime voice that said, “It is over.” I thought it was Margarita, but it was not her. Two weeks later, at the same time, I heard the same voice, this time more assertive, “Enough, now you will work for me!” My hair bristled; yet, I understood the message. It seemed like, in my heart, I was already wanting to quit. I did not resist or feel discouraged.
I went to the station and told my colleague that this would be my last week on the radio. She was surprised and asked me what happened. I gave no explanation, for she would not understand. At the end of the week, I said goodbye to my listeners. There were a lot of callers wishing me a restful retirement. At the same time, I was struggling with cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, so many listeners thought that I was retiring due to health problems..
During my 18 years in sports communications, I met three of the Gonzalez brothers: Oscar, Pucho, and Samuel, who are Seventh-day Adventists. They, like me, are sports fans. Oscar invited me to attend the inauguration of the new Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Deltona on April 19, 2009.
Although I did not belong to any Christian denomination, I was a believer in Jesus Christ. Every morning, I communicated with Him and thanked Him for his kindness to me and my family. After my retirement, in my conversations with Jesus Christ, I asked Him, “Now, what shall I do? I do not know much about the Bible.”
When the inauguration date came, Margarita and I decided to go. Upon our arrival, we noticed a large number of people in the church’s courtyard and I looked for Oscar among them. When he saw us, he immediately came to greet us and introduced us to his wife, Gisela, his in-laws, retired Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera, and his wife, Fela. I also had the honor to personally meet Oscar’s parents, Guarionex and Santi, and other relatives. I was introduced to many members of the church, and some recognized my voice from the radio. Margarita and I felt welcomed and warmed by the hospitality of the Seventh-day Adventists.
After the traditional ribbon cutting, we went inside the temple—a beautiful building worth offering to our God! After listening to the words of gratitude from several pastors, including Oliver Mastrapa who was the leader of the congregation at that time, Florida Conference evangelist Rolando de los Ríos presented the main message for the occasion. The words of his message touched me deeply!
At the end of the meeting, we all went to the social hall, where they had prepared a hearty Adventist-style lunch for everybody. I met the rest of the Gonzalez family and others who later would become very important friends to us: Carmen and Víctor Rodríguez, Carlos and Rosa Matos, and singers of the quartet, Harmony.
After leaving the temple, I told Margarita, “I think I found the church that I sought.” She nodded firmly, “Me too.”
We decided, in spite of the distance from Orlando, to attend services every Saturday at the Deltona Spanish Church. Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera offered to instruct us in Bible studies. I was beginning to see God’s work in me. Although I was a miserable sinner, He was offering His forgiveness and parenthood to me.
The third Saturday we attended, the preacher was Carmen Rodríguez. Incidentally, that day I learned that she is Executive Secretary at Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Her message was very spiritual, and it touched my heart. After the service, I told Margarita, “I want to be baptized,” to which she answered, “So do I. For 42 years I have been waiting for you. Thank you, Lord!”
That day, as we gathered in the social room, we informed Oscar about our decision. You can imagine his excitement! Both Pastor Oliver Mastrapa, and Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera volunteered to help in the preparation for this solemn moment. The joy of Carmen, Victor, Carlos, Rosa, and the Gonzalez brothers was very evident.
We agreed that the date for our baptism would be June 20, 2009, the same week of our 43rd wedding anniversary. I knew that during those 43 years, Margarita had always wanted to confirm our marriage vows in a church. And the Lord said, “This is the time.” I wanted to surprise her and made the arrangements with the pastors to have the confirmation of our wedding vows before the baptism.
The long-awaited moment came. I will never forget that date. It was a joyful moment for my wife, Margarita; my daughters, my brother, Victor, and his wife Mari, a Seventh-day Adventist all her life; and their daughter Dana, my darling niece.
Confirmation of the marriage vows took place first by Pastor Mastrapa, and the baptismal ceremony was officiated by Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera. The temple was full of brothers and sisters. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the church. Thank you, my God!
The same day, Margarita had a very pleasant surprise. Pastor Rivera arranged to reconcile her with her sister in Puerto Rico. They were distanced for many years, but her sister sent a letter which was read at her baptism. It was a very emotional moment for Margarita.
We became Seventh-day Adventists! My God released me from the chains that bound me to drug addiction, alcoholism, and bad eating habits!
Some weeks after that great event, Margarita and I enrolled in the Hazkell Institute. This seminar to prepare lay Bible instructors was taught by Pastors Oliver Mastrapa and Emilio Ruiz every Wednesday night at the church. Finally, we graduated.
Weeks later, I was approached by Oscar Gonzalez who informed me that a brother in Christ was interested in hosting a Christian ministry on the radio, and he had recommended me for that purpose. During the week, I was telling my God, “Aren’t you going too fast? Remember, I do not know much about your Word.”
I made arrangements with the owner of La Fantástica radio station to have a space every Sunday from 7:00 to 8:00 pm . With the blessing of the Lord, the radio program launched on November 1, 2009. Exactly one year later, the Lord had confirmed the panel of participants: Joel and Aitza Ruiz; Jose Acevedo; Gabriel Fragos; Margarita, my wife; myself; and guest speakers, Pastor Oliver Mastrapa, Pastor José LeGrand, Carmen and Victor Rodríguez, and others. On the last Sunday of every month, the youth ministries of our church, under the leadership of Juan Rivera and myself, host the radio broadcast. A number of other brothers and sisters in Christ who wish to remain anonymous help with monetary contributions to pay the expenses of the radio program.
This year, 2011, I became a Sabbath School teacher. Day after day, I knelt down to talk with my God and said, “God, I think I’m going too fast, but I trust you and with your help, I’ll move forward in your name.” I thank God for allowing me to be His son.
Now, I understand God’s purpose in directing me down the road of communication for 18 years, even though I interpreted it wrongly. My life has had a 180-degree turn. Although Satan, the enemy, will not accept that God has delivered me from his chains, I am convinced that my life belongs to my God. Thank you, Father!
by Jacqueline Flottmann
(Reprinted from 3ABN World, March 2010.)
Hermya Smith walked into Jacksonville Mandarin Seventh-day Adventist Church and immediately began to cry. “They were deep sobs,” Hermya recalls, “so deep I was unable to talk. But when the words finally came out, all I could say was, ‘I’m lost! I’m lost!’”
This dramatic moment was the end of her old life, and the beginning of a new one—of a life touched by divine grace!
Resentments, and Questions
“I don’t know much about my father, except that he was a staff sergeant in the Army,” Hermya begins, “but my mother was an educator. When I was three my parents separated and my mother took me to live in Florida, where she cared for my grandfather. We were a black middle-class family, mostly made up of educators and pastors. My father insisted on christening me a Catholic at an early age, but I mainly attended the United Methodist Church while testing the waters in other denominations. I never really was into church, preferring to stay home watching television. Then a pastor’s remark one Sunday caused my mother to leave at the end of service and never return until the day of her funeral.”
Many years after her mother’s death, Hermya decided to come back to that church, and eventually became their secretary. But even while she attended church, she struggled with questions of doctrine. “I’d ask why we worshiped on Sunday, since the Bible always speaks of the Sabbath as Saturday,” she says, “but I never felt I got a proper answer to my questions.”
The Crack Trap
Hermya was about to take a turn down a very dark and difficult path. “I began smoking weed in my twenties because my husband tried it,” she says. “But when the police busted his supplier, he became frightened, and we quit. Later, in my mid-thirties, I began smoking it again, feeling that as long as I loved God and didn’t hurt anyone, it was okay to live my life as I wanted. My idea of righteousness was, It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it.
“Then I met a new friend whose husband smoked crack cocaine and I tried it. I liked the smell, and it made me eat less. It had a high that was quick and powerful, but it also made me very sensitive to sounds. Rhythm was my thing, and crack caused the music to come alive! Before I knew it I was smoking more and more.
“When I moved to the other side of town it became hard to find, so I stopped for about five years. But then one of my girlfriends wanted to smoke some without her husband knowing, and we set out to find the drug on our own. This time I made my own contacts and continued using the drug until God impressed me that if I didn’t stop I would die. But because I thought I belonged to Him, I believed Satan couldn’t have me. Little did I know he already did! Even then, the Holy Spirit kept impressing me not to use, but my flesh always won out.”
Hermya eventually was arrested and spent the night in jail, but the judge dismissed the charges, and she managed to get off without a criminal record.
“I was careful to carry myself in a certain way, and I worked everyday,” she says. “You meet people like me all the time—in church, in business offices, as employees. Many drug addicts are people you’d never suspect. I was a ‘functional’ addict, and was generally able to pay for my habit. Of course most of my paycheck went towards my drugs, so I was always behind on bills. I constantly begged my family for money, which always left them angry with me. They’d ask what I was doing with my money, and I’d lie, of course. But most of the hell I lived through was with bill collectors who kept calling and calling. After a while it all began to get old.
“I realize my story is not typical,” Hermya admits. “Most crack addicts end up on the street, stealing, and selling their bodies for drugs. But I actually thought I was somebody, and that my family owed me something because they had a little money (which they had worked very hard to obtain). I rationalized they should give some to me, because I wanted it! (There is that ‘I’ again.)”
Not a Pretty Picture
Hermya’s life was not a pretty picture, in spite of her seemingly normal appearance. “I lived with my uncle after I was divorced,” she says, “and we lived in a nice home. But my personal living space was a dump! There were clothes and videotapes all over the bed and the carpet was crud because of all the perfume and air freshener I constantly sprayed to camouflage the odors of crack, weed, and cigarettes. No human being should have to live in the room I survived in daily. It was a pigsty—broken crack pipes hidden in drawers, empty crack and marijuana bags, cigarettes—the walls yellow from the smoke, and the furniture black and sticky from the aerosol spray mixed with perfume. My former friends told me they always knew what I was doing because they could smell the perfume and air freshener two blocks away!”
However, Hermya’s 30-year addiction to crack cocaine, marijuana, and cigarettes was about to come to an end. One day, as she was channel surfing (and smoking crack), she stopped on Three Angels Broadcasting Network’s (3ABN) downlink television station in Jacksonville, channel 50. Although she thought she was watching a cartoon show, what she saw was the opening of Pastor Stephen Bohr’s program, Cracking the Genesis Code. Suddenly realizing the program was about the change of Sabbath worship to Sunday, she was amazed at how he was answering one of the questions she’d had for years. Soon she could be found in front of her TV every Tuesday night, eager to see what Pastor Bohr would say next. She watched more and more 3ABN programs, eventually to the exclusion of any other stations.
Then came the day we began airing the first-ever Ten Commandments Weekend from Washington, D.C., “and that’s when God began shouting at me! I kept thinking, He’s real! His Commandments are real! And the Sabbath is real!
“I wanted to read the book they were giving away to see for myself if what was written measured up to what I’d seen.”
Lost and Found
Several days later she looked in her phone book for an Adventist church, but found only one—the Jacksonville Mandarin Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I jumped in my car right away,” she says. Then I noticed two doves flying across the street while I was stopped at a light. I watched as they flew across and landed on top of the light pole, and the one in front began to peep at me over the street sign. ‘I’m going! I’m going!’ I told God!”
After finally finding the church, Hermya saw the secretary, Barbara Mills, and two deaconesses, Carolyn Relaford and Sue Smith, as she came in. The ladies were tidying up the fellowship hall after a funeral luncheon for one of the church members, but came over quickly when Hermya began to sob.
“She was crying so hard that we started crying with her!” Carolyn says. “She kept saying, ‘I’m lost! I’m so lost!’ and we thought she meant she was lost in the city and didn’t know where she was going.”
Hermya explains, “I was on the road to condemnation, even though I thought I knew God. Now I realized I was really lost!”
The ladies tried their best to console her. “We gave her tissues, hugged her, and talked at length,” Sue says. “Barbara gave her a gift bag of books, and then we invited her to our prayer meeting the following night.”
Hermya was back the following night—and on Sabbath, too! But most importantly, she asked God to remove her terrible addiction to crack. God impressed her instead that He would take away her desire for cigarettes and marijuana as well, and from that night on she was delivered from her addictions—without any withdrawals!
Winston Relaford, the church head elder at the time, began to mentor her by focusing on God’s grace. Meanwhile, Sue began Bible studies with her as well. “She was an eager learner but never took anything I saw as gospel. Instead, she checked every Bible test for herself,” Sue says.
Three months later, Hermya’s dream came true as she was baptized and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“It was a very emotional day for us all,” Winston remembers, “and I was overwhelmed with the privilege of helping to bring another child of God into His kingdom.”
Today Hermya is more active than ever in her church, serving as head deaconess and leading out in Wednesday night prayer meetings. “She’s like a ray of sunshine in our church, and being around her makes us all want to do more for our Lord,” Carolyn says.
But Hermya has helped her fellow church members in other ways, too. “She’s helped us understand the value of people,” Winston says. “She’s taught us to love everybody, regardless of their backgrounds. Piercings, tattoos, drug addicts—this is a place where they’re accepted and can grow in a safe environment. Jesus is being lived here. People come in and always come back because we love them.”
Pastor Juan Rodriguez agrees. “Our congregation is very multicultural,” he explains. “We have many different worship leaders and we afford them a lot of freedom, so each of them brings their own flavor to the worship service. Those who visit us for the first time find no one looking down on them for the way they dress, or whether they still smoke or not. We tell them to come as they are, and we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in their hearts if they come our way. We really strive for transparency—to be real no matter what. It’s not unusual for us to have someone share a testimony about the difficulties they have had in their lives.”
Like so many others, this story has no end. “Immediately after Hermya’s baptism, two women approached her and asked about being baptized,” Sue says. “The pastor said he would like for both of us to study with them, which we did once a week. They were both baptized, too!”
“She’s the kind of person who is sold out to God,” Pastor Rodriguez adds. “She’s a woman of prayer, and she moves forward on her knees.”
If you’re in the area, why not stop in at the Jacksonville Mandarin Church? By all accounts, if you do, you’re life will be changed as you experience the warm embrace of fellowship from your brothers and sisters in Christ!
The Jacksonville Mandarin Seventh-day Adventist Church is located at 10911 Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville, Florida. Why not worship with them? And if you do, be sure to say hello to Hermya and her friends. They’ll be looking for you!
by Gladys Neigel
“I thank God every day for my talents,” says Heather Clark, 18, a Saint Augustine Church member. “I’ve never been able to understand why I can do the things I do, but I’ve decided to go ahead and accept that God knows what He’s doing with me, and I want to follow Him wherever He leads.”
Heather uses her gift as a classical guitarist to provide special music for worship services by playing her own hymn arrangements. She’s an integral part of a youth group that meets Friday evenings for Bible study. Recently, Heather played for a youth-organized Daniel Seminar.
“She wants to use her talents to help others,” says Thomson Paris, youth leader. “Her goal is to become a music therapist. Heather gives a deeper and fresher meaning to the songs she plays and sings, like her rendition of Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, which is powerful.”
Heather also has opportunities to share Christ at her high school such as playing for beginning music classes to give them a feel for classical guitar. In addition, she participated in spring and winter concerts at her school which are still rebroadcast on local television.
Known as one of the top 27 classical guitarists at the high school level in Florida, she was selected as one of four students from her school to participate in the All-State Guitar Concert held during a Florida Music Educator’s Conference in Tampa. Heather has played guitar for seven years and started taking classical lessons three years ago from guitar instructor Trey Brewer who says she is one of the students “who eat, drink, and sleep guitar.”
by Gladys Neigel
Sylvia Torres-Thomas, Winter Springs Church member, is one of 18 students to receive University of Central Florida’s (UCF) most prestigious student award—Order of Pegasus.
Sylvia is a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Nursing. She received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, and a Master of Science in nursing from UCF. She presently serves as vice president of the Organization of Doctoral Students in Nursing and holds memberships in several honor societies.
The Order of Pegasus award honors outstanding academic achievement, university involvement, leadership, and community service. As a doctoral student, Sylvia has participated in National Institute of Health funded research and presented her findings in the area of Hispanic health issues at a national nursing conference in Washington, D.C. Service in the community includes involvement in family and children’s ministries at Winter Springs Church and volunteering as a nurse for Shepherd’s Hope Clinic.
by Melissa Cechota
Keren Taccone, third- and fourth-grade teacher at West Palm Beach Junior Academy (WPBJA), is among 10 teachers in North America selected by the Alumni Awards Foundation (AAF) to receive a 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award. Since 1995, this nonprofit organization has recognized 106 exceptional teachers.
Keren also serves as Special Needs Coordinator for her school in partnership with the Florida Conference Office of Education. In this volunteer position, she assists in regional training by demonstrating effective ways to implement positive learning communities. At WPBJA, she initiated After Glow ministry services and organized the first campus drama team.
Through her dedication and effort, low-achievers and behaviorally challenged children are beginning to meet with success for the first time. “As a teacher, I can be a doctor for the hurting student, a lawyer to plead on their behalf, and a counselor to guide them as they make choices,” says Keren. “This career choice pays in great rewards, as I can impact lives for eternity!”
by Angela Baerg
Sean Lemon, a member of Forest Lake Church, Apopka, dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He excelled in the sport throughout his high school years at Forest Lake Academy (FLA) where he developed exceptional skills, in part from training with former NBA player Anthony Bowie.
Upon graduation from high school in 2006, Sean took the next step toward achieving his dream—he enrolled at University of Central Florida (UCF) and went to his first basketball tryout, which was held on a Sabbath. During the exercises, Sean broke his ankle, disabling him from completing the tryout.
Discouraged, but determined to try again, he planned for his training to get him back to the same skill level by the same time exactly one year later. Ironically, one month before the second tryout, Sean broke his wrist on his shooting hand in a casual basketball game with friends. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t God’s plan for me to play basketball,” says Sean. “It was my Jonah story. I figured if I didn’t listen, I might get swallowed by a whale!”
With his basketball dream demolished and his grades dwindling to a 1.9 GPA, Sean knew he needed a change, so he followed his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline Soler, to Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. Southern’s environment was different from that of UCF, and Sean initially resented living under Southern’s rules. Four years later, Sean is glad he decided to give them a shot. As a health science major with a 3.34 GPA, he graduated May 1 a different person in many ways from the one he used to be. Sean attributes his turnaround to God’s persistent efforts to pursue him and Southern’s Christian atmosphere of fellowship.
“Now, I appreciate the rules,” he reflects. “I actually feel that having them helped me mature. I’ll probably follow a lot of them for the rest of my life, like having worship every night, going to bed early, and getting things done in a timely manner.”
More than simply following the rules; however, Sean became proactive in pursuing God and helping others. Rather than dreading worships, Sean worked as a resident assistant and often held worships in his room for the dormitory men on his hall.
He also served as vice president of the Wellness Club on campus, organizing activities for college and elementary students, and raising money for charity. He was involved with Flag Camp which connects Southern Adventist University students with local children through football, snacks, and arts and crafts. This past year, Sean received the Student of the Year Award from his department for involvement in both school and community.
Sean’s positive life changes also helped him win over the girl of his dreams. He is engaged to Jacqueline, the high school sweetheart he followed to Tennessee. After graduating, the two returned to their parents’ homes in Florida. Now, they will pursue their masters’ degrees—hers in social work and his in health and business administration and finance. They plan to marry in the summer of 2012.
“God wanted me to be at Southern, though it wasn’t what I wanted at the time,” says Sean. “Before I came to Southern, what I knew about Christ was what I read about Him. Now, I truly understand what He did for me. Being at Southern made me want to live with Christ leading in my life. In any success that I have, I am humbled because it is a testimony to His glory.”
by Martin Butler
Relious Walden fulfilled his military duty with the United States Army in 1949, sold his motorcycle for quick cash, and used the G.I. Bill to enroll at Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University) in Collegedale, Tenn. There, he was attracted to student Beverly Smith as she diligently worked in the school cafeteria. After she transferred to a local business college, their courtship continued to develop. On June 27, 1951, they married in Chattanooga.
Two years later, after Relious graduated with degrees in religion and business, the young couple moved to Nashville to join the work force at Southern Publishing Association. In the 40 years which followed, treasury-related positions for the Adventist Church took Relious to Georgia; Florida; New Jersey; Ohio; Uruguay, South America; Iowa; California; and back to Orlando where he retired in 1993 as treasurer of Florida Conference.
Throughout their marriage, when Beverly wasn’t at home caring for their three children, David, Lisa, and Neal, she served as a secretary in conference offices and as administrative assistant for Glendale, California, City Church and Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Fla.
“Long-time friends we made in all the places we lived have enriched our lives,” say the active Forest Lake Church members. Six grandchildren and twin great-grandsons also bring them additional joy.
by Sandy Doran
Eric Doran, pastor of Kress Memorial Church in Winter Park, recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Doran’s dissertation focused on the sermons of radio evangelist H.M.S. Richards as a basis for examining the distinct purpose of Seventh-day Adventist preaching.
“This has been a deeply spiritual journey for me,” he says. “I am grateful to Florida Conference for providing this opportunity which has led me to re-examine my preaching in light of the unique message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Doran received his degree at Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, on May 1, along with graduates from more than 50 countries.