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For the Least of These

posted on September 14, 2012, under Member by

by Eiren Oh

Robert Wilson. (Photo: Eiren Oh)

“And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit You? …Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least of these My brethren, you did it for Me.” —Matthew 25:39-40 (AMP)

“Look no further,” answered Lakeland Church member Robert Wilson when he learned that inmates at Polk Correctional Institute in Polk City asked Sergeant Duffy Le Boeuf to find an Adventist to preach to them. After 11 months of filing paperwork, waiting, and praying, his application was accepted in October 2005.

As the massive doors locked behind him, Volunteer Wilson was shown to a room where his congregation of four awaited him—three inmates and Sergeant Duffy. Instead of being discouraged, he pressed on and saw the attendance increase each week. Seven years later, an average of 36 men attend the Sabbath services every week. Along the way, his wife, Blandina, and other members volunteered until there are now ten individuals helping with the program. So far, God has blessed this ministry with 69 baptisms.

In June 2006, Wilson was granted the opportunity to become an official volunteer chaplain. At first, he was spending 13 hours on Fridays working one on one with the men and doing crisis calls. Now, he has six hours a week to hold an open Bible study every Sunday afternoon, anger resolution classes every Wednesday evening, and an increasing number of invitations to preach on Sabbath.

Wilson also began ministering in the Cross City prison once a month. He started out just sitting in a circle with the men, talking about his personal experiences, sharing the love of Christ, and encouraging them to share as well. As a result, nine men came forward to accept Christ and were baptized. Economic reasons now keep him from going to Cross City. He is hoping to return, because he feels responsible for the nine men he left behind.

Overall, the men in both prisons truly appreciate the commitment and sincere interest Wilson and the other volunteers show as they invest time, energy, and prayers. The men also enjoy receiving Bibles and literature donated by friends of the ministry. They have many questions about biblical beliefs and appreciate the answers.

One of the Lakeland Church members prayed with Wilson and his team one Sabbath as they were leaving for the prison. He asked God to give Wilson at least one soul that night. A man who had been attending the meetings for six months came forward to accept Christ. He was baptized three weeks later, and he is a faithful member of the prison congregation as a result of one person’s prayer.

Two men stand out in Wilson’s mind from all the people to whom he has ministered:

One man from Polk Correctional Institute needed to understand forgiveness and ask people he had hurt to forgive him. Wilson helped him write to these individuals, and one of them actually accepted his apology and forgave him.

Then, there’s Cheston, an inmate at Cross City prison. God used Wilson to help him understand that God takes us where we are and changes us. Over the course of six sessions held once a month, Wilson helped him to seek forgiveness by writing to the people he had hurt. By the sixth session, he asked if he could be baptized. In the baptismal waters, Cheston shared his testimony before his fellow inmates and asked God to forgive him as he named the ones he had hurt.

Above all, Wilson wants to follow God’s leading in going to facilities and spreading His love. He still keeps in contact with men after they are released or transferred to another facility by writing to them and sending whatever literature he can to encourage them in their walk with God. He says he wants to make good use of the opportunities he has to reach these men as long as he can.

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The Measure of a Man: Horace Edward Walsh—67 Years of Service For the Master

posted on August 31, 2012, under Church, Florida Living, Member by

UPDATE: Horace Walsh passed away Thursday, August 29, 2013 at age 93. Services held September 3 at Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church, 515 Harley Lester Lane, Apopka. Visitation: 1:30-2:30 p.m.. Funeral: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Military Honors: 4:00-4:15 p.m. at Deltona Memorial Gardens, 1295 Saxon Blvd., Orange City.

More information is available at the Deltona Memorial Funeral Home web site.

Horace Edward Walsh. (Photo: Lee Bennett)

by Gladys Neigel

What great accomplishments would propel a person to the cover of Florida Focus? Can you tell the measure of the man from a photograph? Let me introduce you to Horace Edward Walsh.

As a young man, Horace had two interests that might have guided his career track: Baseball—In his early teens, he spent several days as an official bat boy for the Washington Senators baseball team during spring training in Orlando. Music—Horace worked with a vocal instructor in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to train his Irish tenor voice. In order to accompany himself, he studied piano. Later, he was privileged to attend The Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1939, Horace enrolled at Washington Missionary College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Maryland. After a few months as a student in pre-medical studies, he felt the call of the gospel ministry and changed his major to theology.

Following graduation, he was assigned as a singing evangelist for an evangelistic campaign in Salisbury, Maryland. Horace willingly accepted the duties assigned him except when the sermon was on hell, and Evangelist Dan Harris wanted him to dress in a devil suit, stand on a corner, and pass out fliers.

Horace’s first pastorate was in Wilmington, Delaware. One of the young people, Elizabeth Sterndale, remembers him playing volleyball and starting a camera club for them.

Later, two firsts came into Horace’s life: he was the first to receive a Master of Divinity degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and the first Adventist minister chosen to become a military chaplain.

1st Lieutenant Horace Walsh, first Adventist Army Chaplain, proudly donned his uniform some 60 years later at the June 10 retirement celebration. (Photo: Lori Bennett)

“Congratulations, Horace, on your retirement after nearly 67 years of ministry,” wrote Gary Councell, Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries. “You are the first to receive Ecclesiastical Endorsement from the [Seventh-day Adventist] denomination as a chaplain. Since your visionary and courageous step, more than 200 men and women have followed your example and legacy.”

After the military, Horace became Chaplain at Loma Linda Hospital (now Loma Linda University Medical Center) in California and taught Bible classes for 10 years at Loma Linda College of Medical Evangelists. His inventive nature soon had him presenting a daily devotional program, Silver Linings, that was piped into each patient’s hospital room.

While pastor of Florida Living Church at Florida Living Retirement Community in Apopka, Horace was appreciated for his compassion. Pictured: Horace prays with Betty Downs at the neighboring Florida Living Nursing Center. (Photo: Les Clark)

Horace went on to pastor in Rochester, New York; Miami Temple Church, Miami, Florida; and Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Florida, before his first attempt at retirement in 1983. He continued to preach in various churches for two years before returning to Miami Temple Church where he helped plant the Kendall Church in Miami. He then pastored churches in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and DeLand, Florida, before his 17 year pastorate began at Florida Living Church, Apopka, Florida.

As an example of this beloved pastor’s influence over the years, several people who attended a June 10, 2012, retirement celebration shared their stories. Dr. Ted Furnish, a Urologist from Spokane, Washington, told how his choice to not carry a gun while in the Army in Germany had upset his superiors. A fellow soldier whose mother was an Adventist told him to “go see that Adventist Chaplain” to get him out of the mess.

Furnish, who wasn’t a church member, attended the Adventist service and spoke to Chaplain Walsh. Soon, he was taking Bible studies, and even before his baptism, Horace had him teaching the Sabbath School lesson. Dr. Furnish’s comment, “Thanks so much for the introduction,” was a testimony of his gratitude to Horace for bringing him into the Church.

Carmen Rodriguez, Florida Conference Executive Secretary, presented a plaque to Horace commemorating his years of service. (Photo: Lori Bennett)

At age 92, with 67 years of service, Horace Walsh closes his ministry as senior pastor of a congregation and stands tall among the denomination’s elder statesmen. To recognize this milestone, members gathered on June 10 to honor their highly respected friend and celebrate with him in thankfulness for his many years of service for the Master.

Rejoicing with them were Horace’s daughter, Bronwyn and her husband, Bob; and grandchildren, Bobby and Sam. Horace’s son, Bryan and his wife, Callie, could not attend.

Horace’s first wife, Pat, passed away in 1977 and his second wife, Aimee, passed away shortly after they came to Florida Living Church.

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Conrad and Eda Visser Celebrate 60 Years of Marriage

posted on May 11, 2012, under Member by

by Eda Visser

Eda and Conrad Visser. (Photo: Claude Visser)

Conrad Visser and Eda Bertolo were born and raised in Argentina, South America. They met at River Plate Adventist College where Conrad graduated with a theology degree in 1951. After a wedding on March 13, 1952, they taught at J.B. Alberti Academy in the Northern Mission of Argentina. Five years later, Conrad became director of the youth and education departments.

In 1958, he was called to be director of youth, education, and public relations at North Central Conference in Santiago, Chile. While there, he finished his master’s degree in education and counseling and later became vice president and director of the Teacher’s College at Chile Adventist University in Chillan, Chile.

In 1965, the Vissers arrived in the United States where Conrad became pastor of Broadway Church in New York, N.Y. for nine years and finished his master’s in education at Columbia University.

In 1976, both Conrad and Eda were called to work in Puerto Rico—Conrad as president of Antillean Adventist University, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and Eda as translator for the nursing department. Later, he served as vice administrator of Bella Vista Hospital.

After working for ADRA in the public relations department, they moved to Florida where he was employed at Hialeah Hospital to complete his 40 years of denominational service. In retirement, Conrad taught Sabbath School for 14 years at Markham Woods Church in Longwood, Fla.

The Vissers have three children: Hernan, Claude, and Vivian, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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My Personal Devotional Time: Son-rise Before Sunrise

posted on March 19, 2012, under Member by

by Geoff Patterson, senior pastor, Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church

Pastor Geoff Patterson. (Photo: Alicia Patterson)

I used to live by the saying, “If God had wanted us to see the sunrise, He would have scheduled it later in the day.” Then, I had children. It did not take me long to discover they didn’t care at all what time I went to bed, they were still going to get up early.

I go to bed a lot earlier now than I used to. As a bonus—though I am not certain it is a bonus I longed for—I have seen many more sunrises in the past 16 years than I intended to see in my lifetime.

I mention all this not for the sake of sympathy, for what I have experienced is no different from anyone who has raised a family. Rather, I mention this to make a point: when opportunities, blessings, and responsibilities increase, nothing unplanned and unprovided for will ever happen consistently.

Getting to the real point of these words: there are very few who would argue there is little value in devotions—spending personal time in Bible reading, reflecting, and praying. In fact, most would affirm these things are critical to personal spiritual health. Yet, as I have discovered in my own life, it is one thing to affirm these words, but altogether another to actually live them.

My own history with Bible reading, reflection, and prayer was uneven for many years. I knew I wanted to read my Bible each day, but sometimes struggled to know how much reading was enough. Because it was several years before I included a reflective journaling component in my devotional time, there were days when I must admit the noise in my mind quite effectively blocked out anything I was reading. What I needed was a plan.

Nine years ago, I found the plan I needed. Since then, my devotional time has become the strength of my life.

A quick word about plans: I believe everyone needs to have a plan for daily Bible reading, reflection, and prayer. I do not, however, believe one plan will work for everyone. My plan works perfectly for me, but it does not work for my wife or my eldest son. That is okay, they have their own plans which nurture their spirits.

Do you have a plan?
For my plan to work, I need to be alone in a quiet house. In my house, that means early morning, and so it is that I drag myself to the shower around 5:15 each morning. Do I have to get up this early to make my worldly appointments on time? No. But I have a Heavenly Appointment that I just can’t afford to miss. I have a time, I have a place, I have a plan, and I have a Heavenly Father who meets me each and every morning.

It is the most important thing I do every day, my own personal Son-rise before the sunrise.

Yes, it’s early. Yes, it’s tough. But starting the day with God is what I want and need most.

I have a plan. It’s hard sometimes, but it works for me. Do you have a plan? You need a plan.

We want to hear from our members throughout Florida Conference. We invite you to share ways/experiences in which you find special meaning to your devotional time. E-mail us at floridafocus@floridaconference.com

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Medicine With a Personal Touch

posted on February 03, 2012, under Member by

Patricia McEachrane-Gross, M.D., M.D.H., recently opened a new medical practice, Peppertree Primary Care, in Ocala, Fla. Following is a condensed version of a story printed with permission from Ocala Magazine.

Patricia McEachrane-Gross

Patricia McEachrane-Gross, M.D., M.D.H., worships with the Crossroads Mission Group congregation in Ocala, Fla. (Photo: courtesy Ocala Magazine)

“I call my philosophy ‘functional medicine,'” says Dr. Patricia McEachrane-Gross.

“It’s treating the patient as an individual person, with a unique makeup, and looking at the symptoms to find an underlying cause,” she explains. “It’s just a natural way of thinking about things…. We then might use a combination of mainstream medicine, drugs, supplements, and modification of one’s lifestyle and diet as treatment. That’s preventive medicine.”

Prior to seeing a patient, Dr. McEachrane-Gross will review the individual’s medical history and background in detail, followed by a 20-minute conversation with the patient. Her approach, she says, involves “spending time with the patient, looking carefully at the symptoms and medical history, and getting lots of information.” This helps her tailor the treatment for each individual.

Dr. McEachrane-Gross is board certified in family medicine and preventive medicine. Her practice, she notes, will be primary care with office hours throughout the week. However, she intends to reserve Thursday and Friday afternoons for house calls—a component of family medicine that has practically disappeared in the 21st century.

Educating patients about proper diet and lifestyle will be a major component of her practice, she says. “Most of our chronic diseases, whether it’s high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cancer—all of them have a lifestyle basis. Yes, there are some hereditary aspects, but the majority of the causes are based on lifestyle and diet. The Western diet is what I call an inflammatory diet, because it produces inflammation in the body…. Often, it’s what we choose to eat.”

Dr. McEachrane-Gross is aware of how difficult it is for some patients to make a transition to a healthier lifestyle, but she says she’s here to help. “It can be difficult to make these changes, but that’s my goal—to help my patients through these transitions.” It’s a common-sense philosophy, or as Dr. McEachrane-Gross calls it, “medicine with a personal touch.”

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Former Quartet Members Celebrate Wedding Anniversaries

posted on January 03, 2012, under Member by

by Martin Butler

Collegedale Academy's Harmonaires Quartet, circa 1948, from left: Craig Asher, first tenor; Sherman Cross, second tenor; Stewart Crook (sitting at piano), baritone; and Obed Graham, bass. (Yes, that is Obed Graham! Florida Conference president from 1990-1997.)

Four young men met at Collegedale Academy, Collegedale, Tenn., more than 60 years ago and formed a quartet. Sherman Cross sang second tenor, Stewart Crook was baritone, Obed Graham sang bass, and Craig Asher held down the first tenor position.

During their academy years, Sherman and his girlfriend, Patricia Blevins, and Stewart and his girlfriend, Martina Martin, became friends. After graduation, the two couples planned August weddings with Stewart standing as Sherman’s best man. Six days later, Sherman was a groomsman for Stewart. Both couples celebrated 60 years of marriage this past August.

Sherman and Patricia Cross.

Sherman and Pat married August 13, 1951, in Lynn Wood Hall Chapel on the campus of Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University.

Sherman studied business, then spent 28 years in hospital work and 17 at McKee Baking Company in Collegedale, Tenn. Pat has worked as a cosmetologist for 35 years and continues in this profession today in Zephyrhills, Fla., where the couple makes their retirement home.

The Crosses have three daughters and four grandsons.

Stewart and Martina were married August 19, 1951, in St. Petersburg, Fla., Church.

Stewart and Martina Crook. (Photo: Tim Putt)

Stewart studied music and taught at several Adventist academies and Southern College (now Southern Adventist University). Later, job positions found him wearing varied hats including dean of men, youth leader, pastor, and trust services director.

He received his Trust Services Certification from the North American Division in 1986 and spent 10 years at Southern Union Conference in Decatur, Ga., before retiring from full-time denominational work in 1997.

In retirement, he served full time in planned giving at Georgia State University and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital before coming to Florida Conference where he works part time in Planned Giving and Trust Services. Martina’s work career was mostly spent in the bookkeeping and accounting field.

The Crooks have three daughters, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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My Lord, the Strength of My Hope

posted on December 21, 2011, under Member by

by Adriana Pasos, Spiritual Ambassador Coordinator, Florida Hospital Mission Development, Orlando, Florida

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” —Romans 1:16

Adriana Pasos reads from a near-100-year-old Romanian-language Bible used by her grandmother. (Photo: Lee Bennett)

The larger-than-life Bible stood open on the round, beveled glass table in my grandmother’s bedroom. The sunshine flooded the room through the opened, sky-blue French louvers. As I lazily opened my eyes, I could see Buni, my dear grandmother, kneeling down to pray. As I tiptoed my way out of bed, I quietly knelt down beside her. Even at the tender age of 7, I understood those moments were sacred.

Every morning, without fail, Buni would read from that huge, red Bible that covered nearly half the table. Its pages tattered by use, the red and blue markings and notations were a clear indication this Book had been read many times. It was only later on I would realize the courage it took for her to even own a Bible, much less have it displayed in plain sight, in a country where Christians were persecuted for much less.

Every morning when I would get up, she would read a verse out loud from that Ancient Old Book. Then, my mother and I would harmonize soprano and alto voices, giving praises to God through precious hymns.

I couldn’t wait for evening to arrive. It was then that Buni would recount to me the wonderful Bible stories in such a vivid way. My favorite was Joseph. His faithfulness to God, his courage in the face of adversity, and the power to stand for what is right, no matter what, would leave an indelible mark on my life that I would only later discover.

As I look back at those experiences, I realize now how they shaped who I am today. They painted the picture of a Saviour who is real. A Saviour who hears me, who forgives me. A Saviour who will never, ever leave me. A Saviour who loves me “immeasurably more than I can hope or imagine.”

Today, so many years later, I am convinced that starting my day with God is the most important thing I can do for my own sanity and that of my own family. I have found that when I don’t, my actions and reactions are quite different than I would desire. My husband and my children have experienced the difference first hand and have lamented many times, “Oh, no. Mom has not had her time with Jesus today. Watch out!”

So, I am learning, in a world that’s running at warp speed, I need Him above anything else. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) The world in which we live screams for our attention, through every device possible and every application. Each one can be used for my good or for my bad. The choice is mine.

I have found, however, that one timeless invention—the Sabbath—is still at the top of my list as the true oasis from the chaotic, crazy pace I run. That piece of eternity in a dying world, linking us to Our Eternal Creator God as a reminder of Who He is and whose we are, is a most precious gift. Just as in years past, our family still gathers together as a third and fourth generation, around the piano, singing those hymns, talking about what God has done in our lives, and watching our own children now play out the Bible characters they’ve learned. No doubt, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

2012 Camp Meeting Speaker Releases New Book

Sperantza Adriana Pasos grew up under the stronghold of Communist Romania. At age 14, she and her mother braved a daring escape plan, evading government officials and armed guards, with the teenager wondering whether she’d ever see her four-year-old sister and adoring father again.

This heart-stopping venture is now told in a new book, Hope In Present Danger, and set for release January 13 through Florida Conference Adventist Book Centers (ABC). The ABC will also host a book signing at Camp Meeting 2012 after Adriana tells her dramatic story.

“You will be inspired as you read this amazing story of hope and courage,” says international speaker Mark Finley. “Adriana’s story, in the face of overwhelming odds and insurmountable obstacles, will touch your heart, lift your spirits, and increase your faith.”

Pick up Hope In Present Danger at the ABC beginning January 13, by telephone order at (877) 553-5222, or at Camp Meeting.

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Blessings Without Measure

posted on December 21, 2011, under Member by

by Gladys Neigel

Indiana Academy faculty members Fred and Gladys Neigel.

It was a cold, blustery winter evening, far removed from the balmy Florida nights I would later enjoy. It was home leave for Indiana Academy students, and the empty campus was covered in deep snow. A blizzard howled about us as my husband, Fred, and I trudged through the snow from an evening meal and fellowship with the boys’ dean’s family.

When we arrived back at the girls’ dean’s apartment, I discovered my watch was missing. Not just any watch—the white gold watch with its slender band was a statement of commitment to a marriage still in its beginnings.

What was a dutiful husband to do but retrace the lighthearted steps of the evening in response to his wife’s tearful entreaties while the hosts of the evening searched their apartment. The watch was not to be found.

Upon the students’ return to campus two days later, they looked up and under and around snow banks searching for the missing watch. At first, I prayed that my husband or one of the students would find the watch. While appreciative of their efforts, I had lingering doubts of ever seeing my watch again.

From the beginning of our life together, returning tithes and offerings was part of a pattern that we each brought to the marriage. I began to claim the promise found in Malachi 3:10:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

The engagement watch, shown in its original case (with a new band), was lost in the snow and miraculously found. Even today, the experience reminds Fred and Gladys of God's care and concern for large and small details in life. (Photo: Lee Bennett)

Claiming this promise gave me hope. One week went slowly by and then another began with no watch to be found. On the last day of the second week, the rains came and made short order of all the snow piles. That afternoon, my husband grabbed an umbrella and headed for a class he taught in the administration building, which was quite a distance from the dormitory. As he was about to open the door to the building, much to his surprise, he saw a shiny object in the mud and rain. Yes, there was my watch! After a little cleaning, it was as good as new.

The watch still resides in its original case, and the young couple who have become seasoned veterans of marriage still work for the Lord from a warmer climate. However, the remarkable recovery of the watch has not lost anything in telling and retelling the story. God’s Word is still sure—the God who rewarded our faithfulness still opens the windows of heaven and pours out blessings without measure to those who steadfastly return their “tithes into the storehouse.”

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The Impact of One Life

posted on December 21, 2011, under Conference, Member by

by Gladys Neigel

“Without the blessing of God and the dedication of our Pathfinder lay leaders, this could not have happened,” are words Cheeko Cotta often repeated when constituents approached him with accolades about the Florida Conference Pathfinder program.

Cheeko, your team thanks you for the impact you've had on their lives and the lives of young people in Florida Conference. (Photo: Tamara Fisher)

Cheeko burst onto the Florida Pathfinder scene in December 1983. At that time, there were approximately 2,000 Pathfinders. When he retired in May 2011, there were more than 5,000.

“No one can measure the impact Cheeko has made in Florida,” says Micky Santiago, a fellow staff member. “His service was always consistent and unselfish.”

Cheeko knows no strangers. Everyone he encounters is rewarded with his friendly smile and words of cheer. “He is a man of God, a leader, and a friend to everyone,” says Stu Davis, Brazilian Chapel Pathfinder director in Deerfield Beach.

“When Cheeko accepted the challenge to direct the Pathfinder program in Florida Conference, his vision was for growth,” say Calvin and Myrlin Brooks, south area Pathfinder administrators.

“His philosophy was to allow lay leaders to build the program under his direction, and it worked. He left a defined mark on the Pathfinder program in Florida Conference and on our lives.”

Lisa and Brad Gary, Conference lay Adventurer directors, add, “We have always considered Cheeko as our close friend and confidant. In the years we worked together, he not only taught us so much about Adventurer ministry, but he taught us to have confidence in ourselves and in our ability to help others.”

When Cheeko received a Ministry Award from the North American Division, he was cited for “his commitment to a caring Pathfinder ministry, his steadfastness in teaching Pathfinder values, leading young people to meaningful spiritual experiences that blessed the lives of thousands of young Adventists, and being an example to other Pathfinder leaders.”

How can you measure the results of 28 years of Pathfinder ministry in Florida Conference and more than 14 years in Potomac Conference? Any report would include: thousands of young people baptized, mission trips, Reveilles, Red Zones, camporees, drill and drum corps competitions, and Bible Bowls.

Every winning team has an encourager, guide, trainer, planner, and leader. Cheeko was that person. Through it all, he would say, “With the Savior’s blessing and thousands of dedicated volunteers, these things were accomplished.”

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Nine Days That Changed My Life

posted on December 05, 2011, under Member by

by Mason Sumner

"As I looked over the desolation, I couldn't even think of where to begin helping." ---Mason Sumner (Photo: John Sumner)

My name is Mason Sumner. I am 15 years old and live in Nobleton, Florida, with my dad, mom, and twin baby sisters. We were baptized into the Adventist Church in 2006.

My family and I are currently members at an elderly church in Inverness; however, we are searching for a church with younger people. With a youth group, we could help change lives by showing God’s love. Until that happens, I am going to keep doing all I can to positively impact lives, just as mine was forever changed in nine short days during the month of June, 2011.

Mason Sumner. (Photo: John Sumner)

You may recall the headlines in the spring of 2011 when disaster struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with no mercy. The after effects were devastating. Tornadoes destroyed everything, not caring if you were rich or poor, big or small. They came with one purpose; to completely desolate.

Out of that destruction, God put together a plan that sent me on my first humanitarian mission trip with my dad through our family’s 5 Loaves 2 Fish Ministries. I have grown up with a commercial contractor dad who, on the side, loves to give—whether it’s helping a neighbor put on a new roof or an elderly woman paint her weathered home.

When I saw the path of destruction the Alabama tornadoes left behind, it was hard to comprehend. Those people were left with only fragments of their home, scattered county wide. As I looked over the desolation, I couldn’t even think of where to begin helping.

This tent in a campground served as Mason's living quarters during her volunteer time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo: John Sumner)

During the next nine days, my dad and I worked hard in many different places for multiple organizations while staying in individual tents at a campground. It was eye opening. God showed me how blessed I am and how fortunate my family is. Our mission trip wasn’t to deliberately preach God’s word, but to show Christ’s love through our actions. We went in the name of God to be servants of the Lord for others. Wherever we picked up a branch or pieced a home back together, footprints of God’s love were left behind. As a result of this mission endeavor, I developed a stronger love for helping people in their time of need.

One memory that stands out above all the rest is the day I was volunteering for Salvation Army. A women and her son came for help to get back on their feet after they lost everything. Their home was no more, and their belongings could not be located. The fear and pain I saw in their eyes was heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but ask her, “How do you recover from this?” She replied, “God has a plan; He will provide.” Hearing that response from a person who just lost everything was such a powerful witness of faith—that there is still hope on this earth.

The enormous impact that one person can have on another is incredible. Just imagine that impact if we all came together and worked as one, united in the Body of Christ. It took a disaster for me to realize that, so it is my job to spread God’s love to other people of all ages now, before another disaster strikes.

I think we all see that some churches are failing to embrace their youth. As an effect, the youth are leaving the church to find unhealthy places where they feel truly welcomed. The whole church—not just a few pastors or youth group leaders—needs to embrace each other so, when disaster strikes, we can all help change lives by showing God’s love.

Disasters do not care if you are young or old, and neither should we. We are all God’s children.

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