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.
by Leo Ranzolin
The salvation of young people is still utmost on the minds of former youth directors who met earlier this year for fellowship at Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center in Sebring. More than twenty retired leaders who gathered for the event have served young people for an average of 30 years. Their love and support for youth ministry is still evident by the reports shared with the group:
Responsibility of Parents
Norm Middag, former North American Division leader, presented a devotional about parents’ responsibilities to guide children’s footsteps.
Reclaiming Alumni Pathfinders
Wayne Hicks, Upper Columbia Conference Pathfinder Director, sent a document that described a plan to reclaim alumni Pathfinders. The proposal received favorable attention.
Young People in Volunteer Army
Les Rilea, National Service Coordinator and Civilian Chaplain for Southern Union Conference, reported on problems facing young people in the United States volunteer army, especially in keeping the Sabbath.
Terry Dodge, President of the Youth/Pathfinder Museum to be established in Battle Creek, Mich., gave a project status report. The hope is to settle soon on property to make this dream a reality.
The next meeting of retired youth leaders will be held in Orlando, February 26, 2012.
by Herb Pritchard
I was there to see Ricky Couch baptized at a special Saturday evening vespers program along with his Ocala Church family. With a love only a mother could display, Karen Couch stepped to the pulpit and read a letter written to her towering 14-year-old son before signing off, “Little Mommy.” My heart burned in this moment that inspired me from head to toe.
As Ricky’s parents, Karen and Rick, stood arm-in-arm, Pastor Dave Swinyar dipped Ricky into the baptismal pool. As he arose, the smile on his face was met with resounding “Amens” from his church family. As an octogenarian in the congregation, I praise God for young people who, with spiritual vision, have pledged themselves for the better things of life, both now and for eternity!
Karen Couch’s Letter to Ricky
January 15, 2011
What a special occasion this is. Nineteen years ago, Daddy and I stood right here and began our life together. Six years later, we stood here and dedicated you to God. Now, 14 years after that, we stand here again to watch as you are baptized.
As a mother, my greatest desire is for you and your brothers to know God and to choose to follow His principles for life. Today is not so much a new beginning for you, but a continuation of what has been growing in you since you were a little boy. You have always had a heart for God, and it has been a joy to watch you grow and mature in your relationship with Him.
I know from your studying of the Bible that you believe God is love, and everything He does is because He is love. I am glad you are learning to think for yourself and that you understand God wants us to reason and think things through for ourselves rather than just accept what someone tells us to be truth. Be settled in the truth you know, but never be satisfied that you know all truth. God is infinite, so our knowledge and understanding of Him will always be growing. How you know Him today is only one point on a line that will continue for eternity. Always be willing to learn and grow as the Holy Spirit leads you.
As you stand in the water this evening, I will be standing here with you, not only to support you in your decision to allow God to do His transforming work in you, but also to reaffirm my own decision.
Well, I can’t believe it has been almost 15 years since I first held you in my arms. A huge, tiny little baby, and now you are taller than me. How did we get this far so fast?! I enjoy our talks and conversations. You have some deep insights into things and I learn from you. I love when you make me laugh. I am proud of you, and I look forward to seeing what else God has in store for you.
I love you with all my heart,
Your “Little Mommy”
by Amanda Martin
Adventist Contact was designed to introduce compatible and single Seventh-day Adventists. The need for this service arose from the number of men and women who were marrying outside of the Church and leaving their Adventist heritage.
In 1974, Adventist Contact was a new, innovative instrument to introduce couples who would not have ordinarily met. Since its inception, hundreds of individuals have married and found happiness as husbands and wives—some of whom in their eighties and nineties. Such is the story of Ron Bryant and Claire Breaux, the third couple to meet and marry through Adventist Contact.
Ron lived in Michigan and Claire lived in Louisiana. Ron didn’t know what a Cajun was, and Claire didn’t like cold weather, so only God could have brought them together. They were introduced through Adventist Contact, and its comprehensive profile helped them get better acquainted before meeting in early 1975. They married in August the same year.
Today, as Ron and Claire give back to God by attending and volunteering at Forest Lake Church, Apopka, Fla., they look back with no regrets for their prayerful decisions to join Adventist Contact. They are strong advocates for this matching ministry which serves only unmarried Seventh-day Adventists age 18 and older.
Adventist Contact information can be found at www.adventistcontact.com