Previously Published

Strengthening Faith through Service

(Unlike my usual posts, this is a chapter in this recently published book)

When determining the world’s saddest countries, the Annual Misery Index[1] uses unemployment as a primary predictor of misery. When the employment rate creeps towards 7%, a country panics[2]—crime increases, health declines, divorce is on the rise, and even life expectancy is shortened. It is a time of crisis because less money and fewer people are attempting to fund the on-going needs of a country. More alarming, the negative consequences of unemployment often linger for decades, long after employment picks up.

The rate of unemployment reflects the number of “uninvolved” people—those not participating in a country’s economy. If a country panics when 7% or more of its population are unemployed, should not the church panic when an average of 80% of church members are uninvolved in the life of their local church?[3] In the average church, only 20% of worshippers[4] are “active”—these are the people who have a church office or who pitch in when there is a need. These active participants are ambassadors of their faith. The other 80 % are pew warmers, worshippers who check in for worship on Sabbath and check out of church life for the rest of week.

Similar to how unemployment has a debilitating effect on a country, the higher the percentage of noninvolvement and disengagement within a church, the greater the risk of a church becoming stagnant, losing members, or worse, shutting down—“By some estimates, every day in the United States, nine churches shut their doors forever.”[5] According to one study in 2014, of the approximately 300,000 churches in the United States, 177,000 had less than 100 members.[6] A lifestyle of service, on the other hand, is a key performance indicator of a healthy, vibrant, growing church. The measure of a church is not in its attendance but in the transformational effect it has on its community. It’s about the lifestyle of service that exists within the church family.

Servanthood—The Mark of Every Christian

If the current service projects in your church are not making a significant impact on the health and growth of your church, it may be because 1) only a small percentage of worshippers are involved in service while the rest are passive supporters, 2) the service initiatives are perceived needs and not the true needs and desires of the community, or 3) the acts of service are happening void of close relationships, and therefore are perceived as handouts or charity rather than love and support.

Connecting with the community is not solely the responsibility of the pastor.

Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the church, thus wearying themselves, and preventing others from performing their duty. They should teach the members how to labor in the church and in the community. There is work for all to do in their own borders, to build up the church, to make the social meetings interesting, and to train the youth of ability to become missionaries. . . . They should co-operate actively with the minister in his labors, making the section of country around them their field of missionary effort. . . .

This work has been neglected. Is it any marvel that God does not visit the churches with greater manifestations of his power, when so large a number are shut in to themselves, engrossed in their own interests?[7]

Servanthood—helping others in love—is not a spiritual gift. It is the mark of every Christian. Christians serve others just as Jesus did. It’s as simple as that. How we serve and how we use our spiritual gifts and talents are an assorted variety, but the call to serve is the common call of all worshippers. To experience maximum impact in your church, service opportunities need to be strategic, intentional, and occur at all of these three levels:

  1. The Church as a whole—service projects that the corporate church does as one large body (e.g. adopt a nursing home and visit the residents regularly with church worshippers on a rotating schedule)
  2. Small groups—service projects that come out of relationships created between worshippers and their friends and neighbors in the community (e.g. two families from church who live in the same neighborhood and who have children or the same age begin a book and babysitting club with two other families in the neighborhood. They take turns meeting in one of the four homes each month. After a brief study of the book, all the children are babysat by the host of the month in their home while the other three couples go on a date.)[8]
  3. Families/Individuals—service projects that individuals and families choose to participate in that make service an integral component of their Christian lifestyle (e.g. A musically gifted family offers their services once a month to a neighboring Sunday-keeping church. This interaction gives them opportunities to make friends outside of their own church family, partner with another church in community projects, etc.). “It is no small matter for a family to stand as representatives of Jesus, keeping God’s law in an unbelieving community. We are required to be living epistles known and read of all men. This position involves fearful responsibilities.”[9]

When service opportunities are supported by strong relationships and spiritual nurture, churches can result these positive outcomes:[10]

  • Increase in giving and in church attendance and involvement.
  • Increase in spiritual growth.
  • Increase in efforts to share one’s faith.

An example of this is a church in Groesbeck, Texas, a small town of about 4000 people and 20 churches. When John Carabin stepped into this church as its new pastor, the building was falling apart and its membership was at just nine faithful worshippers. First they changed their name to “Living Proof.” Then they began living their new name by proving God’s love to their town through meaningful service that met specific needs. Two and half years later, in 2016, their membership was 90. By 2019, it had grown to 200.[11] “In every land and in every community there are many opportunities for helpful service. . . . Look these ones up. Use your talent, your ability, by helping them. First give yourself to the Master; then He will work with you. To every man He gives his work.”[12]

Service—The Shared Space

“A company of believers may be poor, uneducated, and unknown; yet in Christ they may do a work in the home, in the community, and even in the “regions beyond,” whose results shall be as far-reaching as eternity.”[13]In their analysis of community-centered, externally-focused churches, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson emphasize that “the power of service requires a deep understanding of three intersecting circles that form a visual construct for the externally focused church. Wherever churches are engaged in community transformation, the avenue they’ve chosen lies at the intersection of the needs and dreams of the city or community, the mandates and desires of God, and the calling and capacity of the church.”[14]  This section is a summary of their three-circle concept that describes the connections between the local church, its community, and God’s desire for both.

The first circle represents the needs and dreams of the community. Rather than assume, learn what the true needs are. Being connected to people who work in key areas such as city government, law enforcement, schools is an easy way to be tuned in to the needs of the community. One church, for example, hosts a monthly lunch for a few leaders and businesspeople. The guest list is created with strategy and intention to encourage brainstorming and networking among one another, making the church a great community liaison.

The second circle is the mandates and desires of God. “From Isaiah 65:17–25, Dr. Raymond Bakke, speaking of a future city, outlines six characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God—public celebrations and happiness (vv. 17–25), public health for children and the aged (v. 20), housing for all (v. 21), food for all (v. 22), family support systems (v. 23), absence of violence (v. 25). To this list we would add meaningful work (vv. 22–23).”[15] This is what God wants for people everywhere.

The third circle is the calling and capacity of the local church. “The capacity of each local church determines the part it will play as an agent of community transformation. No church can do it all, but every church has the capacity to serve the city and the people of the community in a meaningful way that represents the love, mercy, and power of God.”[16]

When these three circles come together, intersecting spaces are formed that define what happens between these circles and how they are connected. Rusaw and Swanson use John Calvin’s term, “common grace,” to describe the space where the city’s needs and desires of a city meet the mandates and desires of God—“Common grace is God’s beneficence toward everyone as reflected in Luke 6:35: ‘[God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’ and Matthew 5:45: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ God desires for all people to live in safety and with justice. The city wall that provides protection for believer and unbeliever is an expression of common grace. . . . Common grace is part of the reason we ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (from Mark 12:17)[17]

Control takes up the space shared by the city and the church. There are often limitations, boundaries, and laws a relationship between the church and the city.

Salvation takes up the shared space between what God wants and what the church is called to do. “God ‘wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). God’s words to the exiles who were carried off to Babylon are also relevant here: ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (Jeremiah 29:7).”[18]

The circles and the intersecting spaces point out that “as much as God wants the city to be saved and the task of saving the people of the city is the calling of the church, salvation is really outside of what the city desires.”[19] If you were to ask city leaders to list their needs and desires, salvation would most likely not be on that list. Service, on the other hand, is the space that is shared by all three circles.

Service is something that the community needs, God desires, and the church has the capacity to do. The community may not care much about salvation, but it does needs. It is in meeting those need through service that meaningful relationship develop, and out of relationships come endless opportunities to share the love of Christ and the gospel of salvation. The early church grew because its people loved and served. We believe servant can go anywhere. Service gives us access not only to places of need but also to places of influence. . . . Barriers to the gospel melt away when people are served and blessed. It’s been said, ‘There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus. But there are a thousand ways to Jesus.’ By creating a thousand entry points into the community, we create a thousand ways to show the love and share the good news with the city.[20]

The Community—An Extension of the Church

When you view the church’s immediate community as an extension of itself, it becomes easier to find ways to integrate the church into the life of the community, to “meet people where they are, and take them where Jesus wants them to go. . . .  Leading people on a personal level must involve hearing their individual story, understanding their worldview, and engaging persuasively through building bridges to a gospel-centered, word-centered way of life. ”[21] The strategy is simple—weave a fabric of friendship and relationships within the church’s immediate community.

One way to do this is to become a part of community events, initiatives and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Lions, Rotary, etc. This provides unparalleled opportunities to connect. Here is how one particular church takes advantage of its membership at the local Chamber of Commerce.[22]

  1. They show up and make friends—Whether it is the casual weekly meeting for small businesses or the formal monthly luncheon, they are there. But they don’t just attend to be seen;  they show up early to greet and connect and stay back to help clean up. This extra fifteen minutes makes a huge difference in not only how they were perceived but also gives them opportunities to mingle and get to know others. It is not just the pastor who attends—church officers and worshippers, be they members or not, take turns, ensuring the church is always represented.
  • They connect through service—Organized and intentional, worshippers form teams based on interest and relevance. For example, church families with children that attend the local public high school make up a team and work together to find ways to connect and build relationships with other parents in the school. This “team” represents the church by meeting needs specific to the school community. During the basketball season, for example, they provide bottles of water for the team and help out at school events.
  • They are always available—The church always keeps up with local news. When there is a news story about a need, they are the first to show up with a plan, ready to serve, and to rally other businesses to get the job done.
  • They take the church to the community—Rather than hold events at the church to lure the community, they go into the community where the people are. In the middle of town, during the week, they run a community center that offers a variety of programs such as after-school care and tutoring, various trade classes, and community service credits for teens on probation. And on their day of worship, the church has a parallel worship service right there in their community center. Because a majority of worshippers are active participants and not pew warmers, they have enough volunteers to do all of this.

Ellen G. White points out that “in almost every community there are large numbers who do not attend any religious service. If they are reached by the gospel, it must be carried to their home.”[23] While she was specifically referring to the work of missionary nurses, the premise is applicable in other situations. “It takes between 12 and 20 positive bumps (refreshing encounters with the church) before people come to Christ. Our presence in the public square through service gives us opportunities to provide these refreshing encounters.”[24] Take a look at the current programs in your church and determine which ones can be repurposed for your community. Here are a few examples:

  • If you have a Sabbath designated for Children’s Church, repurpose it as free day care to the first 10 who sign up.
  • Consider having the Pathfinders and Adventurers meet somewhere in the community and marketing it as a kids club for the neighborhood families.
  • Partner with a local organization and take movie night from the church gym to a public space.
  • Move your smaller Bible study groups from the church to a local coffee shop. The chances of random strangers joining your Bible study at Starbuck are slim, but the probability of strangers considering God and prayer during a bleak moment in life because of what they saw in Starbucks is a possibility.

Worshippers—Not Visitors

Within these relationships spiritual seeds will be sown. “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Gal 6:9, ESV). We must serve without any agenda but to reflect the life of Jesus on earth. If and when they come to church is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus served with no expectations. He healed 10 lepers knowing only one would say thank you. In His last act of service of washing the feet of his disciple, he had no agenda or expectation in return. Had He expected faith in return, he would have skipped Thomas. Had He expected loyalty, Peter’s feet would have remained caked in dirt. He didn’t even expect honesty for he washed Judas’ feet.

When the church is connected in its community and worshippers are plugged into their neighborhood, people from these relationships may visit your church. And as a church, we must welcome them as if we have been expecting them. From the moment someone new steps into our church, they become a worshipper—one of us. Calling them visitors implies a temporary connection.

Like meeting for the first time the family of the one you’ve been dating, first-time worshippers are often apprehension. But just as how one is slowly, but intentionally, drawn into a new family, it is important to build and nurture relationships from the moment they first walk into the church. The power of service can play a very important role in your strategy: Just as one gets comfortable with a new family through trivial yet significant tasks such as helping with the dishes, the church needs a plan that takes a first-time worshipper from “Welcome” to “Here’s the broom,” from “Good to meet you” to “You’re family.”

Service Projects—Not Just for Members

New members who are not plugged into the life of the church either leave or become non-participants. Don’t wait until you’re sure they are there to stay. Be ready with ways to be inclusive. Don’t wait for baptism before you integrate a worshipper into church life. Have ready a strategy of friend-making and a list of ways they can be involved that don’t require membership. Here are some practical ways to be ready for and connect with new worshippers:

  • Groom people with the gift of social skills to be pew ambassadors. Have them in the same spot at church every week and look for first-time worshippers in the pews closest to them. Their primary task is to befriend  first-time worshippers by following a plan which the church may need to be periodically tweaked, depending on feedback and what doesn’t work.
  • When they begin frequenting the church and at the appropriate time, pew ambassadors connect the new worshippers with others in the church who share a common interest, are of the same age, or are from the same neighborhood, etc.
  • Plug them in to the life of the church by matching their interest with the church’s needs. Find ways to connect them to Christ, to their calling, to others in the church, and to their community.
  • Most importantly, grow your relationship with the now not-so-new worshipper.

Service—Woven into Life Events and Relationships

Plugging people into service opportunities is not just giving them a chore to do or an event in which to participate. It’s about discipling them, strengthening their spiritual health so they are comfortable sharing their story of Jesus. A nurturing plan that runs parallel to service opportunities addresses this need. Acts of service needs to be combined with social connections and spiritual nurture. To begin, the group needs to have something in common that they can self-identify with—say they are empty nesters, moms, men, or young families. Then they need to add a social element as well as a service-focused assignment. For example, three empty-nester couples who meet for a Bible Study every week [spiritual nurture], also volunteer together at a local shelter once a month [service] and take an annual trip together [social connection].

A legitimate barrier to any service initiative is the lack of time in people’s everyday lives. One way to combat this is to integrate service into events already on people’s calendar. Take, for example, two women at church who belong to a quilting group that meets at the community craft store. Since this is an activity they have already made time for and is one that brings them in contact with others in the community, this becomes their community connection, one where they intentionally, and together, befriend others and build relationships. This is an example of missional living, where you “take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walk-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Rom 12:1–2, The Message). Alan Hirsch puts it well: “We are designed and destined to be a missional-incarnational people. . . . There is no such thing as an unsent Christian! We are all missionaries. It is not a profession; it’s the calling of every disciple.”[25]

Just as important as it is to build new relationships is the need to repair broken ones. Reaching out to those who no longer worship with you is like making up after a bad break-up. It’s hard work to woo a person back into your life. You must be willing to admit when you’re wrong, forgive, make some positive changes, and most importantly  nurture a hurt relationship back to good health. You have a better chance of success if 1) you really knew the person in the first place and 2) if you make them feel loved and needed and again.

Service opportunities can bridge paths back to the church. People are more inclined to engage with a community project connected to the church before they consider returning to church. Following private, honest conversations geared towards reconciliation and renewed relationships, connect them to a one of the church’s community project. For example, if the person has audio-visual skills ask if they’d be willing to help with a community concert. Then continue involving them in projects while rebuilding the relationship. Prayerfully and patiently wait to invite them to church at a time that feels appropriate. If you’re turned down, preserve the relationship and continue connecting them with community events and service projects.

Servanthood—Without an Agenda

“Long has God waited for the spirit of service to take possession of the whole church so that everyone shall be working for Him according to his ability. When the members of the church of God do their appointed work in the needy fields at home and abroad, in fulfillment of the gospel commission, the whole world will soon be warned and the Lord Jesus will return to this earth with power and great glory.”[26]

But even when energized by our call to service and share God’s love, we must remember that we can only control plans and projects[27], not people and hearts. That’s the business of the Holy Spirit. When you’ve done all you can within the space where your gifts and calling intersect with God’s plans, shake off your frustration but continue in grace and service, love and prayer—and always strengthening your relationships. We must merely be “willing to step outside the safety net of our church pews and cross the street into real-life, real world acts of service in order to share the truth of Jesus Christ.”[28]  Let your life speak the truth louder than your words.

Implementation Ideas

Note: Some of these are my ideas and others are what I’ve seen work in churches. With every plan: 1) Add a spiritual element to your services without creating a sense of expectation or requirement. For example, provide a short devotional after an English class only for those interested. 2) Whatever the project, be regular, consistent, and dependable.)

  1. Small groups studying God’s Word in groups of 4–6 to allow the addition of another 4–6 of new worshipers. Meet in the community and add a social element to it.
  2. “Kind” bags for worshipers to take on their way out to give to the homeless. Content suggestions:

juice box, granola bar, encouraging thought or Bible text, a dollar bill. Place these by the door for worshippers to pick up on their way out after worship. It’s an easy way to engage with first-time guests.

  • Friendship ambassadors assigned to pews to sit at the same place every week in order to engage with new worshipers and connect them with members who may have things in common with them.
  • Hostess families— regular worshippers ready to take new worshippers home for a meal.
  • Babysitting Club—A small group of families with children in the same age group who meet once a month, rotating homes. They have devotional time or read a book together (as a book club), after which all the couples go on a date—except the ones hosting who watch the kids. The longer the tradition, the closer the ties. 
  • Host a family movie night in the community. Church can do this in a community center—In most small towns, there is an organized movie-in-the-park event; partner with another business. Families can do this for their neighborhood (project the movie on a garage door and invite neighbors to bring lawn chairs) .
  • Super Bowl Party with another community business 
  • Quarterly block party on church grounds or somewhere public for the neighbors within a block/ walking distance.
  • Partner with a business to start a community garden.
  • Adopt an apartment building—better yet, rent an apartment in the building you adopt. Have a strong disciple live there to minister to the people, to hold small group meetings, etc.
  • Repurpose current events into community services—Pathfinders, VBS, Sabbath School (take all of these to the community, outside your walls. Be intentional about including children from the community).
  • Begin various craft clubs that meet in public places (there’s a knitting club in the Panera near my home; tutors help kids at the eatery in Wegman’s).
  • Offer cooking classes in other churches right after their Sunday service (include a free meal).
  • Offer report card rewards to local schools.
  • Offer language classes in a community space (e.g. library).
  • Read the local newspaper to identify immediate needs and for long-term planning. Follow up and help!
  • Offer free rides to the airport (stick to a schedule, be dependable—offer this in airport advertising).
  • Welcome basket for people who buy homes in the neighborhood (home sales are public information).
  • Begin Bible studies at the local university.
  • Begin a travel club (worshipers traveling with non-worshipers provide many opportunities to share their faith).
  • Partner with a local hospital to provide a free gift to babies born there (Beginner’s quarterly, a pair of booties, book for parents).
  • Join local community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, etc. Encourage members to join as well.. 
  • Plan for a permanent presence in the middle of the community. 
  • Have offsite worship service in your community center or in a public space
  • Families and individuals find ways to connect with others in things you already do: E.g. Young parents from the church having play dates at the same time, same place, same playground to connect with other parents in the community. 
  • Join trivia night at the local bar (e.g. many bars in the US that serve meals as well designate one evening as family night and host family-friendly activities).
  • Worshipers gifted in music offer their services to churches of other denominations (most churches pay for special music and pianists).
  • Mini concerts in parks.
  • Monthly lunch with community leaders (six possible areas to target: business, government, education, health and social services, media, religion)
  • Social media ads, ads on buses (of your services and not what you are).
  • Identify businesses that will allow literature and handouts. Keep these stocked, ensuring the material is appropriate and includes the church’s name. E.g., stack of healthy recipes at the local grocery store; health DVDs at the Health and Human Services Office; notes on positive living at the yoga studio; free women’s health magazines at the hair salon; packets of seeds at the craft store.
  • Post on community boards a list of the month’s services and events the church provides. Keep these current :)
  • Create a detailed database of your worshipers—their profession, hobbies, fears, names of children, hours of work, favorite food, spiritual gifts, etc.
  • Have a plan that ensures someone of the leadership team has a one-on-one with every worshipper outside of sickness and death.
  • Assign a got-to personal church liaison to every worshipper. The liaison contacts everyone on his list at least once a month.
  • Solicit service ideas from worshippers and provide new and more opportunities to serve.

[1] Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke’s misery index is the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates, minus the change in real GDP per capita. For the 2018 Misery Index, see Katie Jones, “The Most Miserable Countries in the World,” Visual Capitalist, October 4, 2019,, accessed November 3, 2019

[2] See, e.g., these news stories: “Greek Unemployment Rate Fell to 18 Pct in December 2018,” The National Herald, March 2, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019; “India unemployment  rate highest in 45 years,” Aljazeera, January 31, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019; and “South Africa’s economic growth stutters,” Financial Times, March 5, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[3] According to several research studies, e.g., Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011).

[4] The author uses the term “worshipper” instead of church members to be inclusive of all who attend church, be they members or non-members and because a lifestyle of service has the same effect on both members and non-members.

[5] Angie Mabr-Nauta, “Mourning the Death of a Church,” Christianity Today, March 11, 2014,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ellen G. White, Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 2017), 291.

[8] Children in this group also benefit from this practice and often remain friends into their college years and adulthood, continuing the tradition of spiritual nurture and social connection.

[9] Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1952), 31.

[10] Based on a study of over 7000 people and 35 churches, these findings are from Diana Garland, Dennis Myers, and Terry Wolfer, The Impact of Volunteering on Christian Faith and Congregational Life: The Service and Faith Project (Waco, TX: Center for Family & Community Ministries School  of Social Work, Baylor University, 2006),, accessed April 2, 2019.

[11] “A Living Proof of Love—How a Dying Church was Transformed Through Service,” Outreach, May/June 2016, 34. The author confirmed 2019 membership with Pastor Carabin, phone call, January 6, 2020.

[12] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958), 1:103

[13] Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1905), 106.

[14] Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, Externally Focused Church (Loveland, CO: Group, 2004),Kindle Edition, location 562–564.

[15] Ibid., 581–583.

[16] Ibid., 594.

[17] Ibid., 599–600.

[18] Ibid., 609.

[19] Ibid., 611.

[20] Ibid., 616–620.

[21] Todd Engstrom, “Meeting People Where They Are,”, November 19, 2013,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[22] This was a non-Adventist Church that the author observed during her time as vice-president of a chamber of commerce.

[23] Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1991), 311.

[24] Dave Workman, Pastor Vineyard Community Church, quoted in Eric Swanson, “Changing Evangelism in Campus Ministry,”,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[25] Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Apple Books

[26] Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: 1911), 111.

[27] See list of 36 service ideas entitled Nurture Through Service, Implementation Ideas and which follows this chapter.

[28] Kirsta Petty, “Connecting Your Church to Your Community—First Steps to Externally Focused Ministry,”, accessed April 2, 2019.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Previously Published, Spiritual Musings

a study on christ’s priesthood

(This is a Bible Study written for small group leaders and previously published by Adult Bible Study Guide)

STEP 1—MOTIVATE. Help your class members answer this question: “Why is this lesson important to me?”

Franck Kabele, a 35-year-old preacher shared a revelation he received with his congregation. He told them that he believed he could walk on water just like Jesus if he had enough faith. To demonstrate this, he invited them to join him on a beach in Gabon, West Africa so they could be eyewitnesses to this divine fete. With the intention to walk across the Komo estuary (which takes 20 minutes to travel across by boat), he stepped into the water. Within seconds, the water passed over his head and he was never seen again. (, August 30, 2006)

Ask the class: What is it about human nature that urges us to attempt to be God? What is the difference between being God and being Christ-like? How does this human trait get in the way of letting God be God in our life?

STEP 2—EXPLORE! Help your class members answer this question: “What do I need to know from God’s Word?”

Commentary (Read Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 1:13; Psalm 110)

Helpless and Hopeless. Every time David tried to control his life without the help of God, he failed. And every time he failed, he fell to his knees in recognition of his unworthiness and God’s power and grace.

Beloved of God, King David represents each of us. Because we can’t escape our sinful nature, we have a need for a priestly mediator.

Consider This: Randomly read passages from the Psalms. Meditate on the bi-polar behavior of the sinful heart, the vacillation of emotions and needs. Then give praise to God for Jesus the Mediator.

Revelation and Reconciliation. Christians—born in sin, living in the constant awareness of this sinful world—have two basic, spiritual needs: to know God and to be with God. Constrained by this sinful world, we learn quickly that life is more manageable when we know who God is and what His purpose is for us. Unaware of our inadequacies, we yearn for ways to be with God.

So God, in his love and mercy gave us His Son—someone who understands both parties 100%, someone who can mediate and straighten out the problems and misunderstandings that exist between God and us.

Consider This: God’s plan for Jesus to be Mediator is the most efficient solution to the sin problems that take place between the Fall of Man and the Second Coming. Could there have been any other way for Jesus to be Mediator and Priest without His death? Explain.

Jesus, Customized Savior. The role Jesus plays on our earthly journey is so multi-faceted. Writers of the Scripture, inspired by divinity, have used metaphors to describe the function of Jesus to enable us to appreciate and apply Jesus’ presence in our daily living—Jesus is described as the shepherd, the door, the light, the vine, the cornerstone, etc.

The Bible uses more than 100 names/titles to describe Jesus. The meaning His life hold for us is beyond our fathoming; His role as priest and mediator will be appreciated in its fullness only when we see and understand God’s divine government in heaven.

Consider This: Have the class think of other metaphors that symbolize the intimate, concerning, priestly role that Jesus plays in our lives. (The metaphors don’t necessarily have to be biblical; they may have modern implications) Ask how the many titles and functions of Christ help them keep the faith?

STEP 3—PRACTICE! Help your class members find the answer to the following question: “How can I practice the information I just learned?”

Thought Questions:

What would your prayer life be like if you didn’t have Jesus as your priest and mediator? What would your prayer be lacking? Do you think that works would play a bigger role in salvation without a mediator? Explain.

To be someone’s advocate is relatively risk-free; but to be someone’s savior is a commitment beyond death! How does Jesus’ death as Savior make Him the most competent priest and mediator you could have? How does Jesus’ title “Priest” affect your relationship with Him.

Application Questions:

  • Talk to a lawyer about the pros and cons of his job. Compare your findings with what Jesus does as a mediator. Share this with someone in your family.
  • How can volunteering in a social service activity (such as tutoring a child) help convey the attitude of Christ as a mediator to someone? What other kinds of interactions could help us be mediators like Jesus?

Witnessing: Help your class connect their community projects with Christ-like attitudes and behaviors. Help them see how they can be “mediators” for the church.

Consider This: Jesus came to show us how we can access divine power for meaningful life on earth. Our interactions with people give us opportunities to be a Christ-like mediator. Encourage your class to match their spiritual gifts with opportunities of mediation (e.g. spiritual gift of listening enables one to be a problem-solver)

STEP 4—APPLY! Help your class answer this question, “With God’s help, what can I do with what I have learned from this lesson?”

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2: 5,6, NASB)

During the second century Irenaeus of Lyons taught that Jesus was offered as a ransom to the Devil to free people’s souls. The Devil, however, was defeated because he did not know that Jesus was God himself!

For hundreds of years, this theory was adopted by the Christian world until Anselm of Canterbury pointed out that Irenaeus’ theory assumed that the Devil had far too much power. Instead, Anselm said that Jesus’ life was paid to God and not to the Devil!

What a more poignant picture that makes—Jesus’s life given as ransom to God in exchange for MY eternal life!

  • A ransom is required to free the hostages. Sometimes, a hostage exchange is demanded to guarantee the transaction. How is Jesus’ death more than a “hostage exchange?”
  • What are the benefits of having a Savior who is superior to anything or anyone else? How can His superiority motivate you in your life? What is your potential if you maximize the use of His superiority?
  • Compile verses about the power of Jesus as Savior and Priest as a gift to a neighbor or friend. Or email your friends a verse a week about the power of Jesus.
  • How can you actively bring Christ as a mediator into the workplace and thereby be a witness of your Christian lifestyle? What role can prayer play in this endeavor?
    Feature image by Yekaterina Golatkina on Unsplash
Previously Published

cancer center creates hope

(published August 2010)

It was November 2009. Herb was in his doctor’s office and nothing could prepare him for the words he was about to hear. “You have cancer.” Over the next few days, numbness enveloped his family. They didn’t know what to do.

Despite rising survival rates, cancer continues to be the second most common cause of death in the United States, claiming 1,500 lives every day. Regardless of type, cancer is a complicated disease with a tedious and stressful treatment regimen. A heavily-involved and fragmented process, cancer treatment necessitates a variety of specialists, procedures and tests. Often, these services are not available at a single facility. Some hospitals may have an oncology department, but no oncology surgeon. Patients and their families are shuffled from one place to another over the course of several months. Cancer takes a toll not just on the victim, but on the entire family. In addition to the physical and emotional devastation, families must cope with time away from work, travel costs, childcare, side effects of treatment and financial drain.

Facing a daunting future, Herb and his family were gripped with fear. They felt helpless at the prospect of navigating a future so uncertain, so out of their control. But all that changed when Herb and his family met Cindi Cantril and the caregivers at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center. “She took the pressure off of everything. The center was the absolute perfect setting for healing from every aspect.”

Personalized Treatment Eases Fears
Established at St. Helena Hospital in Northern California, the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is designed to be more than a medical facility. It is a healing center with personalized cancer treatment. Here, patients and their families can find everything they need for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Three key elements — comprehensive services, a caring medical team and a message of hope — combine to create this incredible healing environment.

The 12,500 square foot facility was built with patients and ease of use in mind. Describing the concept behind the center, St. Helena Hospital President/CEO Terry Newmyer says, “We designed our cancer center to provide convenient, centralized care. Patients and their families are literally steps away from everything they need to navigate the healing process.” With all aspects of patient treatment housed under one roof, Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is able to provide truly comprehensive care.

In addition to these centrally located services, the center has developed a partnership with one of the top 10 cancer research facilities in the nation — University of California, San Francisco. This affiliation allows patients access to National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials. Their unique brand of specialized, patient-centric care attracts cancer sufferers from beyond the Napa Valley. Forty percent of Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center’s patient-base comes from the economically-disadvantaged areas of Lake County, 90 minutes away. To accommodate those patients, the center operates a free shuttle service — picking them up from a sister clinic in the area.

Offering a Complete Package
But services at the center extend beyond traditional cancer treatment. The facility’s staff focuses on whole-person integrated care with behavioral therapy, nutritional support and spiritual counseling. The center’s restoration spa is paramount in providing a peaceful, healing environment for patients and their families.

Also available is the resource library. A free service open to the community, the library houses a large collection of books, magazines and other media. Here, patients and family members are guided by a resource specialist. The resource library has proven that a better understanding of cancer and its treatments can alleviate the fear of uncertainty that can accompany diagnosis.

The team at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is comprised of 11 oncology specialists in a variety of fields, including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery among others. These caregivers collaborate to create personalized treatment plans for every patient. Shepherding these patients through the treatment process is a “nurse navigator,” Cindi Cantril. An oncology-certified cancer nurse, Cantril has more than 30 years of experience. But her greatest asset is her genuine interest in her patients. She makes a point of forging personal relationships with patients, making them feel comfortable and secure throughout their treatment. She is available 24/7, even giving out her personal cell phone number to patients. “I want my patients to know I really care,” she says. “I’m like their GPS. I follow them on my computer while they are at the center and make at least 12 to 15 face-to-face contacts every day.”

Visually Depicting Hope
There is an overriding theme at the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center — at the heart of its personalized treatment plans, resource library and nurse navigator. It is hope and it is embodied in the 13-foot high sculpture that adorns the lobby.

JoAline Olson, vice president of Innovations at Adventist Health says, “The Hope Tree is the first thing you see upon entering the facility. We want everyone who comes through the door to feel peace, relief, to know that they’ve found a place that will help them through this ordeal.”

Bathed in warm yellow and green earth tones, the lobby exudes a feeling of peacefulness. Engraved on the tree are 48 symbols of hope from around the world, representing different cultures and faiths — praying hands, angels and olive branches. A sleeping lamb lies tucked behind its roots, symbolizing peace amidst the struggles of life. In the trunk is an opening that holds messages from patients, family members and caregivers. These are messages of hope, of encouragement, of love. They serve as a hopeful reminder to new patients: you are not alone.

These messages gave Herb and his family the strength to endure their struggle with cancer. Six months later, Herb was declared cancer-free. Now, his story will do the same for others.

The Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center not only inspired hope in Herb and the rest of its patients, but also in St. Helena Hospital as a whole. The team’s care epitomizes the Adventist Health mission “to share God’s love by providing physical, mental and spiritual healing.” Their focused care and success of patients like Herb has revitalized the entire Adventist Health system, imbuing them with sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Feature image by corey oconnell on Unsplash

Personal Ramblings, Places, Previously Published, Reading Life Between the Lines

The Woman in the Trunk

My most memorable journeys have been those punctuated by stories of people I’ve met along the way. This one happened at It’s a Burl in Kerby.

I almost drove right by the hodgepodge of wood carvings piled along the roadside and the tall strange structure that spewed purple waters into a frothy pool. But I’m glad I didn’t. It was a treasure-trove of art and artists, one of whom was Robert Marconkowski.

Oblivious to the people milling around him and the giant fly buzzing in his ear, Robert buried his head in the cloud of sawdust billowing from his chainsaw. Peering into the trunk of a dead cedar, he was looking at something. Moving closer, I hovered.

He was carving out a woman who stretched from the trunk. Slender yet voluptuous, the woman seemed to rise out of the wood — tall and confident, looking upward, letting her curls fall toward her hips.

Robert didn’t see me. It was more his need for a cigarette than my breath on his neck that finally had him turning off his saw and noticing me.

“How do you do that freestyle?” I asked.

“It’s not me. It’s her,” he said, waving his saw toward the trunk. “She’s been in there all (the) time. I’m just letting her out.”

When I asked him to tell me about her, he set down the chainsaw, lit a cigarette and told me a story that went like this:

“The story doesn’t start with her,” he said. “It begins with her friend.

“The friend is walking through the woods one day. She is thinking, meditating, praying “… whatever “… for her friend. They’ve been friends a long time.

“And then she sees this dead tree in the middle of a forest full of live trees. ‘Not fair,’ she thinks. ‘All these beautiful trees continue to live, but not this one? Not fair.’

“The tree reminds her of the friend for whom she’s been sending up good thoughts. It’s not fair. When everyone around her is alive, why should her friend be dying? Life is not fair.

“The friend circles the dead tree, thinking angry thoughts about life, about cancer, about death. And then she notices what used to be the joint where a strong limb grew out of the trunk. The joint is now a gnarly, empty socket; no strong limb there anymore. But there was something else: a tiny green sapling, stubbornly holding onto life, refusing to give into death.

“The woman’s despair turned to hope. It happened in that one moment. So she brings the trunk to me and says, ‘Make something for my friend.’

“So I looked very hard and very deep inside this trunk. I looked for a very long time, trying to see her, to listen to her. The more I looked, the clearer I could see her. She was in there, struggling to come out and say something. She wanted to say something to this cancer that was trying to kill her.

“Look at her! Can you hear her? She’s looking up, head held high in confidence, breasts anew in victory. And she’s yelling out, as loud as she can: ‘#%@!# cancer! You may kill my body, but not my spirit!’ “

Taking one last puff, Robert put out his cigarette and picked up his saw.

“The best part of the story,” he said, “is that the friend went into remission while I’ve been working on this.”

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_(This one was published in the November 16, 2011 issue of the Mail Tribune’s Joy magazine.)

Feature image by Katie Musial on Unsplash

devotion, Previously Published

a study on stewardship

Key Text: Matthew 25:29


1. Know: That stewardship is a lifestyle.

2. Feel: Joy by living a life of stewardship.

3. Do: Maintain a balance in your life and manage the resources with which God has entrusted you.

Lesson Outline:

I. A Life of Stewardship (Luke 16:1-12)

A. This passage is one of the most cited parables when discussing stewardship and in which talents are equated with money. But stewardship is more than a prudent use of money; stewardship is about making God a priority over everything else in life. What are some aspects in your life of which you can be a better steward?

B. Jesus accomplished so much in his three years of ministry, balancing ministry with family, friends and personal spiritual growth. In what ways can you emulate Jesus’ stewardship in your life?

II. The Joys of Stewardship (Romans 12:1)

A. Paul urges us to become living sacrifices, dedicated to pleasing God. A life of stewardship is a continuous state of worship. What joys do you get from knowing that you are worshipping God through your actions?

III. The Balance of Stewardship (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

A. The Bible teaches that there is a time for everything. This suggests a life of balance. We must strive to achieve a balance in all we do. How did Jesus live a balanced life? How can you achieve the same balance?


Stewardship is vital to discipleship. Prioritize life and live in accordance with God’s plan.

devotion, Previously Published

a study on heaven

Key Text: John 14:2,3

1. Know: That the Kingdom of God is within you.
2. Feel: Encouraged knowing that life on earth is but a transient phase.
3. Do: Be focused on the face-to-face communion with your Creator God that awaits you when this life is over.

Lesson Outline:
I. Not of This World (John 15:9) A. We are God’s children and we are “not of this world.” Yet we are called to live in this world until Jesus returns. How can you best represent the Kingdom of Heaven while here on earth?
II. The Kingdom Within Us (Luke 17:21) A. When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, He responded that the Kingdom was within us. What do you think He meant by that?
III. Focused on the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:12) A. Because of our inability to comprehend the reality of heaven, we tend to place importance on tangible earthly, material things. Satan uses our lack of comprehension to skew our view of life and our value system. Identify specific elements in your life that monopolize your time and attention. What can you do to stay focused on heaven despite the fact there is so little we know about it?

Summary: Jesus assured his disciples that He was “going to prepare a place” for them. When discouragement and pessimism creeps in your life, remember that your Creator is getting heaven custom-ready just for you.

Previously Published

sarah emma edmonds: lessons from a mistress of disguise

In 1842 Sarah Emma Edmonds entered this world as a baby girl. It was an era that dictated girls stay strapped in frilly petticoats and master the art of cooking. And Sarah’s determination to prove that she was as good as a boy provoked her father’s temper so much that he became abusive and she had to leave home as a teen.

Answered the call. Civil war was breaking out and when the first call for Union enlistments went out, Sarah responded. Still raging against gender discrimination, she enlisted as a man–She cut her hair, wore a suit and called herself Frank Thompson. Thus on April 25, 1861, Emma Edmonds aka Frank Thompson became a male nurse in the United States Army.

Crossed boundaries. For the average woman, being disguised as a man would be a sufficient dose of drama and point-proving to last a life-time; but not for Sarah. When the Union began looking for a spy to plant in the Confederate camp, she learned everything there was to know about weapons, tactics, local geography and military personalities. She applied for the job and got it.

As a spy her disguise as Frank Thompson led to other disguises. She was “Cuff” a black man working on Confederate ramparts. Using silver nitrate, she darkened her skin to the point where even the people she knew well could not recognize her. “Cuff” studied the enemy’s size, morale and weapons; She was Bridget O’Shea, a fat Irish peddler woman. Bridget returned wounded but loaded with confidential information and a horse she named Rebel; She was Charles Mayberry, a young white man with Southern sympathies. Charles went to Louisville and identified the Southern spy network in the town; She was even a typical 1800’s black mammy, complete with a black face and a bandanna. As a mammy she laundered clothes in the enemy camp and found official papers in the pocket of an officer’s pants!

Took risks. When Private Frank Thompson was not needed as a spy, “he” worked long hours in the military hospital. All was going well until Thompson got malaria. Realizing that her true identity would be known if she was admitted in the military hospital, Sarah decided to leave camp, be a woman until she recovered, and then return to camp as Frank Thompson. But things did not go according to plan. While recovering in a private hospital, she came across a list of deserters from the Union army—it included Private Frank Thompson.

That was the end of Private Frank Thompson but not the end of Sarah Emma Edmonds. She worked as a female nurse, wrote her memoirs titled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, fell in love, married, and had three sons—one of whom joined the army.


While Sarah’s past secret life had brought her excitement, fulfillment and satisfaction, she sometimes brooded over the fact that her career ended as a disloyal deserter of the army—and that Frank Thompson had gotten credit for Sarah Emma Edmonds. So, in her later years, she petitioned the War Department for a full review of her case. The case was debated and on July 5, 1884, a special act of Congress granted Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson an honorable discharge from the army, plus a bonus and a veteran’s pension of twelve dollars a month. And in honor of her duty and devotion to her country she is the only female member of the organization formed after the Civil War by Union veterans-The Grand Army of the Republic.

While Sarah Emma Edmonds got her recognition, there are those who don’t. Many daring women answer the call to do the unthinkable, cross boundaries set by society and take risks for the sake of conviction. Yet not all fight for recognition because a fight for recognition takes on the appearance of arrogance and conceit. More than a hundred years after Sarah, society continues to be biased.

So, if your accomplishments have not been acknowledged, speak up for justice. Then if your society is still not ready to validate you, go to the High Court of God and pray for courage and forgiveness and the endurance to continue to answer your call, cross boundaries, and take risks. Rewards and recognition are for the righteous saints on earths. That’s everyone living under God’s grace—be it a man or a woman. Take heart, there’s a crown of jewels to validate a life of glory of earth.

Think of ways women in your community can support one another in the pursuit of answering their call in spite of the lack of adequate validation. Avoid group meetings where sympathy and sad experiences take over. Instead, encourage encounters that promote self-worth in God.

Previously Published, Spiritual Musings

our lineage and what it means

(published 2006 in the Adventist Review)

When Tom Robinson, an amateur yet avid genealogist, sent a sample of his DNA to a bioarchaeology firm, the resulting discovery required more than a letter in the mail. Robinson received a personal phone call that informed him that he was a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan.

For some, genealogy is just a hobby; for most, it is a pastime that rapidly turns into an addiction. This obsession to trace and document one’s lineage is not a new fad—The Old Testament devotes large portions to genealogy. It is as though human beings are inherently driven to discover their roots—Finding and sifting through the lives of ancestors, in some unfathomable way, brings meaning to the living. Details of family history can heal wounds of an abandoned childhood, boost the low self-esteem of a dull and boring life, explain a harmful habit, justify attitudes and actions, or simply quell a yearning to answer the question Who am I?

Genealogy helps people understand who they are–Robinson’s connection to Ghengis Khan caused him to reflect on personal traits that could be a result of his lineage to this noteworthy world leader (albeit ruthless warrior)— his supervisory role at work and his ability to ride a horse.

For Christians, however, it takes more than family history to understand the significant slots into which we fit. Whether our research unveils a hero or a villain, who we are and what we are destined to be results not from DNA or genes or history, but from a lineage that connects us directly to Jesus Christ. We must remember that we are “all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:26 (NLT) With this knowledge in our hearts, we must live lives worthy of that connection to the Cross. We must live like children of God.

Previously Published

Ramabai: Overcoming Obstacles

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be a woman. Society saw no value in women except for procreating and housekeeping. Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; the expendable widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre to be burned alive atop of her husband’s corpse.

Against all odds. Ramabai was fortunate to have a father who believed that destiny is not predetermined by gender. While society espoused that girls were not worthy of education and opinions, Dongri—a renowned scholar of Sanskrit—educated both his wife Laxmibai and his daughter Ramabai at home. However, his ways contradicted society, and he was soon ostracized. Wherever they went, they were denied a place to stay, food to eat, and the company of others. So Dongri moved his family from town to town, relentlessly trying to bring about positive change. Experiencing little success, they were forced to retreat into the jungles to eek a living off the land. Their nomadic lifestyle even took them through a famine when they survived on just water and leaves for eleven days. Finally, the wanderings took a toll and Dongri and Laxmibai died.

Alone and destitute, Ramabai and her brother continued to stand up for what they believed, regardless of consequences. Ramabai fought against child-marriage and advocated education for women.

Proving oneself. Ramabai’s thirst for knowledge continued. But being a woman, she could not enter into any school system. So she found and created opportunities to prove herself over and over again. Her competency in Sanskrit soon gained attention and stories of her impressive memory spread—of how she had memorized 23,000 shastras even before she was 16 years old. She was so talked about that the elite scholarly group (made up of all men, of course) called her into their presence to check her out. What they saw and heard astounded them and they did what had never been done before. They offered her—a woman—the opportunity to take the most prestigious Sanskrit exams. These exams were difficult and it was common for men to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks on her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when life seemed to be getting better, her brother died leaving her alone. Six years later, she married a man of a lower caste but one who supported her causes. Again, just as her life took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. Although now a widow with a baby girl, she was unwavering and strong. Next Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit and then later to the United States. During this time, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit and Marathi. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and to a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change her destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India where she established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and the suppressed.

For most of her life, Ramabai was alone—physically, emotionally, sociologically. She could have allowed loneliness to cripple her. But she didn’t. She rose above it to stand tall, look over the horizon and see her calling—her destiny.

What is the crippling factor in your life? How do you overcome obstacles. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

Check out her Wikipedia page for biographical details.

Life in Nepal, Previously Published

scars are not forever

(I co-authored this with Dr. David Pennington. The article appeared in the Adventist Review in 2004)

Surendra’s is a typical Nepali family—Every day his parents leave home before dawn to work in the fields till dusk; His brother, Suman, and he are left alone at home. Surendra was only 3 months old when his life ended in so many ways.

Baby Surendra and Suman slept bundled together. In the darkness of early morning, Suman awoke to use the outhouse. Unaware that one end of the blanket was tucked in his shorts, he swaggered between the bed and kerosene lamp. In less time than it takes to strike a match, the lamp tipped over and the fire travelled up the blanket and wrapped itself around Surendra’s leg. Suman pulled at the blanket to save his brother, but the fire was faster than the boy. Melting wool and flesh together, the fire won taking Surendra’s future as a trophy.

The village clinic could do nothing. Slowly and painfully, over many months, Surendra’s burns healed, but his leg was deeply scarred and his toes fused together and bent upwards onto the top of his foot.

There are many like Surendra, but there are no methods in place to know how many because 1. People accept the cards life deals with a Ke Garne attitude (What to do?) 2. The labyrinth of mountain villages are connected to main roads only by days of walking, making it impossible to transport burn patients. 3. There is no referral system between villages and hospitals.

A walk through a village will reveal the grotesque “bodies” scurrying along the sidelines—beautiful people trapped in ugly contractures of tissue and bone. Thousands need surgery—not to make them beautiful again, but to give back their life and livelihood.

Nepal has only three hospitals and 18 beds that offer reconstructive burn surgery to its population of 25 million. Scheer Memorial Hospital saw this as an opportunity for Christian compassion where proselytizing can put you in jail. Charles Sharpe (Head, ADRA Nepal Cleft Lip Palate) identified David Pennington for this pilot program. Head of Plastic Surgery, Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia, Pennington is world-renowned (the first to reaffix an ear) and an Adventist with a heart for missions. He arrived in March 2004 with Melissa Goman, a specialty nurse. But what he expected was not what he experienced.

I came expecting to offer my expertise and change lives. What I didn’t expect was the change in my life and perspective!

Melissa and I were overwhelmed with emotion at the line of 40 deformed people wearing big smiles—people who had suffered without even the simplest medication. As a physician I understood their indescribable the pain–how slowly they had healed, how being crippled handicapped them! It was more than about how they looked; it was about being too mangled to eek out a living! (A woman reaped a field with one normal arm and the other so disfigured only one finger poked out of her shoulder.)

The severe contractures were a surgical challenge needing a wide range of plastic surgical maneuvers, including complex skin flap and graft repairs. (I released Surendra’s contracted toes, leaving a large raw patch. Then his foot was sutured to a v-shaped flap of skin on his thigh, leaving one end still attached. The flap on the thigh covered the exposed tissue of his foot. Initially the blood supply of this tissue came from the thigh.  Surendra’s foot was attached to his thigh for 3 weeks. The flap then had its own blood supply from the foot, and could be safely separated from the thigh, leaving a soft patch of skin on his foot)

A Christian’s raison d’etre is service to God and man. For a fourth generation Adventist like me, it is easy to linger in the “comfort zone”… go to church, study the Bible, give an offering. But God uses experiences like mine in Nepal to challenge our lukewarmness.

Before my stay ended I made a commitment to return with more surgeons! Australia and Nepal have the same population; but where Australia has 250 plastic surgeons, Nepal has only 12. Moreover, 80% of plastic surgery in Nepal is either cleft lips and palates or burn-scar contractures—not cosmetic! The need is unimaginable!

People starving or in pain get little solace from a sermon. We must first feed, heal, befriend . . . none of which are illegal anywhere!


Victims like Surendra simply accept their fate. But it’s a new beginning when someone takes the time to trek days to a village to tell the people to gather the maimed for there is hope through a people who love Jesus.

With Surendra there were others: children whose fingers were stuck together; a mother whose arm was plastered to her side; a teenager whose breast was affixed to her groin; a young man whose chin was connected to his chest. Three weeks later: the children wriggled their fingers and waved; the mother held her child; the teenager smiled shyly knowing she was feminine again; and the young man held his head up and smiled!

A few days after his foot was released from his thigh, Surendra dropped his foot into a plastic bag and tied the “handles” around his ankle. His family cheered as he flexed his new toes and took his first step into his new life. Dr. Pennington had long since gone but his reflection of Jesus will be remembered with every step Surendra takes.