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And the gift goes on...

Examples of sharing the gift

A word from the editors:

The stories that follow are just a few examples of how church members from around the Southwestern Union have been willing to share their gifts. Our prayer is that you will be blessed as you read these stories, and that you will also feel a sense of personal conviction to share the gift that keeps on giving.

Bonnie Shepperd: Sharing and Sharing Again

In April 2009, members of the Southwestern Union Executive Committee were invited to participate in a missionary trip to Africa. As one of the committee members, that included me. My first thought was, I don’t think so. After being approached several times by different individuals, however, I started to think, Maybe I can do this.

After making my decision, I told my pastor, Gordon Jones. He’d also recently received a call to go to Africa, and asked me for details about the trip. I encouraged him to go. So, as the Lord would have it, we both went to Zambia, Africa, along with a marvelous group of pastors and lay people from the Southwestern Union. For three weeks, we shared the Word of God with His people.

My perspective of the truths we hold to as a church changed completely during that time. As I preached the Word, it was like a double-edged sword going out and coming back directly toward me. I have been a Seventh-day Adventist Christian all my life, but never had a full purview of God’s Word and all the truths it contains until I went to Zambia.

One goal I had when I returned from Zambia was to convince my home church in Austin, the Alpha SDA Church, to donate funds to build a One-day Church for the people of the Zambezi branch in Livingstone, Zambia. I presented a slideshow about our trip at my church, and also shared a presentation about the One-day Church project with my church board. They agreed to sponsor a One-day Church—praise God!

As a result of my experiences in Africa, I am now delivering seven of the messages we preached in Africa at my own church. I’ve invited co-workers and friends to hear the messages. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will continue to win souls through me. I want my church family to be saved, and I want them to help save others. With the Lord’s help, these seven messages will revive God’s Spirit in each of us to go, teach, preach, and baptize.

If I can do this, anyone who can read can do this, by God’s grace and mercy. I am still thanking God daily for using me as an instrument to win souls for Christ and for letting me witness such a magnificent outpouring of His Spirit to His people.

Melinda Prater: God Gave Me the Words to Share

In June, our family, along with seven other families from the Joshua (Texas) church, traveled to Mindoro, Philippines, with a ShareHim team. Our children had learned to preach Truth 4 Youth sermons for the Filipino children, while many of the parents took the leap of faith as first-time public speakers for the adult meetings. I am not a public speaker—or, should I say, was not a public speaker—but God convicted me that He would take care of all my shortcomings. So, off we went.

At one point in the meetings, my son and I, along with my translator, Brother Aaron, went to visit Miss Nilda in her home. She was a distinguished lady who had been attending the meetings, but still had many questions. She lived by the beach, and as we walked out onto her back porch, we could see the beautiful ocean. We sat down under the shade and enjoyed the occasional breeze that floated by.

Sensing that Miss Nilda was ready to get down to business, I spent a few seconds in silent prayer, asking God to guide my words. I had never given a Bible study before, and was not sure if I could do this. Cautiously, I asked her what she would like to talk about.

“Well, for starters, why don’t you Adventists do this when you pray?” she asked, making the holy trinity cross with her hands as she spoke.

Hmmm, I thought, I have been an Adventist all my life, and I have never thought about why we don’t do that. I thought for few seconds and quickly realized I was in trouble. (I need to apologize to all my past teachers, who, I am sure, explained this to me.) I could not remember anything, but I knew Someone who could help me out!

“God, I need you to tell me the answers! I have no idea what to tell her,” I pleaded. As quickly as I had finished praying, the answer just seemed to pop into my head. I explained to Miss Nilda that making the symbol of the cross before praying was a tradition of man—that Jesus didn’t tell us to do that when He was teaching the disciples to pray. I told her that I wanted to follow Jesus, not human traditions.

She smiled a bit, as if she were sizing me up, and went right into a hundred other questions. “Why don’t you have statues of Mother Mary in your church?” “Why don’t you pray to the saints?” and “Why don’t you pray for the sins of your dead relatives?” Miss Nilda was hungry for the truth. With every question, God sent me the answer as quickly as she asked it. I felt like He was right there with me.

It was getting late, and though her questions seemed to be satisfied, she still seemed really worried. She had a far-off look in her eye, and I didn’t know if I had reached her or not. She said that she understood and believed the Bible truth, but she was hesitant to become a Seventh-day Adventist, because she felt like she would be abandoning the people who depend on her at the Roman Catholic Church she attended. She said, “There are so many people who look to me for guidance and support. If I leave them to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they will feel betrayed by me.”

This was hard, and I felt the anguish in her voice as she spoke. I listened for God to fill my head with the right thing to say, but there was nothing. I thought, “Oh no, God, don’t leave me now! I still need your help!”

Then my 14-year-old son, Dean, spoke up. “Miss Nilda, if you are such a trusted friend to so many people, then why not share this good news with them? And then they can share this happiness with you!” A bright smile lit up her face!

Miss Nilda and her husband, Martin, were baptized along with 145 others from Calapan City and the surrounding areas on the following Sabbath. Almost 1,000 people in all were baptized on that Sabbath in Mindoro!

Just after Nilda and Martin were baptized, three officers from the Catholic Church came to her house and offered her 5,000 pesos a month ($100 U.S.) to attend their workshop and to talk with the bishop minister. Even though Nilda needed that money desperately, she happily said, “Oh, I have attended a crusade in the Adventist Church and have studied the Bible and learned more about it. I learned that the true day of worship is Sabbath. I am already an Adventist, so I can no longer serve two Gods. I cannot accept your offer.”

The next day, three nuns came to her house and requested that she go with them to the monastery, because the head nun wanted to talk to her. Miss Nilda was the president of the Nuns’ Association, and they were very unhappy to lose her. Her daughter, Zeny, was very afraid that her mom would be persuaded by the nuns to come back to the Catholic faith, but instead, Miss Nilda firmly said, “I have decided to be baptized because the Seventh-day Adventists really depend on what the Bible says, and I want to follow the Bible. It is also written that the true day of worship and rest is Sabbath! So I can no longer serve in your church, because I have found the true church, the church that waits for Jesus Christ’s return.”

As Miss Nilda turned to walk home, the same three nuns who had come to collect her were now following her down the street. “What do you mean ‘true church’?” and “Explain this ‘true day of worship’!” they demanded.

Now, I don’t know what has happened since then, but in my mind’s eye, I imagine Miss Nilda, Mr. Martin, and Zeny sitting on their back porch, answering their friends’ questions!

Karen and Brandon Van Meter: A Welder Forms an Everlasting Bond

My husband, Brandon, used to be a police officer in our small community near Tulsa, Okla., but his career in law enforcement began to take a toll on our marriage and family. After a period of drifting, both spiritually and financially, he decided to try working as a welder. At about the same time, he also re-committed to making Christ first in his life, and making our struggling marriage work again.

Brandon had started attending a church each Sunday morning. I would stay home and enjoy the quiet of not having the children in the house. To be honest, I was feeling rebellious, and didn’t really care whether our marriage worked or not. But the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to make a change in our lives.

While they were at church each Sunday, I started watching a series of prophecy seminars on TV. I was fascinated by the way the Lord revealed his plans through Daniel and Revelation. When the series abruptly ended mid-stream because of a timeslot change, it left me with many unanswered questions.

After a diligent Internet search, Brandon discovered that the rest of the meetings were available for online viewing. We eagerly watched the remaining meetings, but still had many unanswered questions.

We contacted the ministry headquarters, and they told us that the South Tulsa Fellowship of Seventh-day Adventists had been the ones airing the series. They shared a phone number, so we called the church to ask if someone could come and visit with us to answer our questions.

Bill McClendon, senior pastor of the South Tulsa church, came right out to visit with us. The next Sabbath found us attending what was soon to become our new church home. It wasn’t long before we were both baptized. That was a year ago.

But that’s not the end of our story. When you discover something that changes your life, you can’t keep it to yourself. It wasn’t long before Brandon was sharing with his friends and coworkers. One of Brandon’s coworkers, Terrell Knox and his family, have attended several meetings with us. They are studying and God is working in their lives.

We’ve been through many hardships and trials, but we see God’s leading in each step. We’re so thankful to have a stronger family and a stronger marriage. Just like in welding—two pieces of metal joined together with great heat and a bead of molten metal—God has allowed the heat of our troubles to bond us together for eternity.

We’ve been blessed to learn so much about God’s love for us. We know we have a long way to go, and much to learn, but it’s a blessing when we can share that love with others along the way!

John Mathews: Turning a Motorcycle Into a Church.

My wife and I owned two Honda Enduro motorcycles for about three years. They had less than a thousand miles on the odometers. I recently sold one and had $2,000 burning a hole in my pocket. What shall I do with the money? I thought. There were many ways to spend it, and I could hardly wait.

At that same time, I attended a special worship service with my coworkers from the Southwestern Union office. We met at the site of the One-day Church that had been erected on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University. Since our office was planning a mission trip to Zambia in August, Elder Max Trevino gave each of us the opportunity to make a gift to help build One-day Churches there.

I really didn’t have much interest in giving money or going to Zambia, but little did I realize how God would speak to me.

Driving home from the union office, the Lord spoke to me in the car: John, you’ve had your motorcycles for three years. You have polished them, sat on them, ridden them through the neighborhood, and bought batteries every year. Now that you have sold one and taken a $1,500 loss on your investment, take $1,500 from the motorcycle sale and invest it in a One-day Church. Your motorcycles have been toys that you could see, feel, and touch. Now invest in something you cannot see, feel, or touch.”

I have never had such a startlingly clear directive from the Lord. Then and there, I prayed, Lord, I will give $1,500 for a One-day Church that I cannot see, feel, or touch. I am the director of planned giving and trust services for the union, but I had been a reluctant giver. But now I couldn’t wait to tell my wife that I was buying a church with my motorcycle money! The union staff gathered enough money to build six churches in Zambia. I thought to myself, The Lord must have had several conversations with people!

Three months later found me in Zambia, Africa, preaching a series of meetings. My grass hut church in Ngwenya was selected as a site for a union-sponsored One-day Church. Garwin McNeilus came to supervise ground preparation for church construction. He was handing out candy to the kids when I met him, and, with a big grin, he started talking.

“John,” he said, “I like this Ngwenya group. They are really doing something. I am drawing plans for a new church building for them that will be a new prototype that is bigger than the normal One-day Church. We are going to build everything for them. There are more volunteers coming to work on it. We will build the windows, walls, pews, baptistery—a complete building—and it will be featured at the General Conference Session.”

I thought, So this is what it’s like to make a gift to something you cannot see, feel, or touch—a gift that will never stop giving. My motorcycle church gift gave me more satisfaction than all the time I owned the motorcycles!

Have you made a gift to God for something that you cannot see, feel, or touch? That is what tithes and offerings are. The tithe is His, and the offerings are given from love, but you cannot see, feel, or touch the end results. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse. I am determined now more than ever to be faithful in my tithe and giving to the Lord. During this holiday season, how about you? Don’t you want to share gifts that will keep on giving?

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