Hearing Rather Than Seeing

Hearing Rather Than Seeing

by Bamiji Ibronke, Missionary Fellow 2020-21, Detroit Program

Of all the human senses, sight is arguably the most valued. Take any poll and one would probably find individuals who are willing to part with their ability to hear before losing their eyesight. In many ways, I too share the same sentiment. However, during a recent experience in ministry, I found sight to be less useful than usual, instead, it was the things that I heard, the sincere questions raised, and the resolute answers to appeals that I found to be most promising. As I spent time studying the Bible with Daniel, watching God prepare him for baptism, it was not seeing but hearing that fostered belief.

About halfway through preaching a sermon on Sabbath, I noticed a new face slip through the rear chapel doors and silently take a seat in the midst of the congregation. Daniel was easy to notice however, he was young, casual, and male, a unique guest amidst our predominantly formal and senior parish. As I neared the end of the sermon, I felt impressed to make an appeal for baptism to which Daniel responded. After the benediction, Daniel and I acquainted ourselves with each other and arranged for Bible studies in preparation for his baptism.

Bamiji Ibronke standing in the back giving a sign of peace posing with Pastor Steve Conway, Upuia Fineaso and others from Wayne State University.

The following Monday we met at the church for our first study. Though grateful for the opportunity, I determined to keep the study short fearing that the longer the study goes the more likely Daniel would be to lose interest. As we neared forty-five minutes, we discussed closing points and prayed. There was a strange and almost awkward silence. Daniel did not gather his belongings and leave as I imagined. Instead, he remained seated. I too waited completely clueless as to what this meant. The short silence was broken when Daniel asked a question which I was a bit unprepared for. “Is there anything else you want to say”?. Though I felt a bit caught off guard I did a decent job in not letting him notice. Daniel wanted to hear more of the love of Christ for man. More than my forty-five-minute time constraint allotted. After saying a quick prayer in my mind, I proceeded to elaborate on the love of God and his mission to save fallen humanity. Our conversation went well into the night and must have gone for a couple of hours since it was very dark when we left.

After bidding Daniel farewell and starting up my car I took a moment and reflected more on his question. “Is there anything else you have to say”? This apparently simple inquiry to me was indicative of a profound reality. The Holy Spirit was working on Daniel’s heart,  creating in him a thirst for the Christ that I had not noticed. Through what I saw I assumed that he would be satisfied with merely an ordinary study on Salvation. However, from hearing his sincere question I realized that unbeknownst to me lied in Daniel’s heart an immense craving for the gospel. A craving imperceptible to the carnal eye but only discernible through the sense of faith. God was teaching me that rather than going off of what is seen, to instead listen for indications of the working of His Spirit.

Bamiji and Daniel standing together before Daniel’s baptism.

Over the next few studies, Daniel’s questions continued to impress and reveal to me that God was working on his heart. “Can you send me the notes”, “when is the next time we can meet”, “can we discuss how we know the Bible is true”? The Friday evening before his baptism scheduled date we found ourselves studying Community. Since we were unable to get through all the material we agreed that Daniel would look over the fundamental beliefs at home and then contact me if he had any questions. Admittedly I was nervous about not being able to go over all the material with him but planned to talk with him early on the following day.

Saturday came and I texted Daniel in the morning. I got no response. I hadn’t heard back from him since the prior night. Trying not to think too much of it I went to church to help prepare for the service. At church, I texted him again for the correct spelling of his name for the baptism certificate. I still got no response. It was approximately thirty minutes to the start of service and I hadn’t heard from him at all. A bit disappointed I pondered how I would explain to the church leadership that there would be no baptism that day while figuring out where things went wrong.

Christ once explained to Nicodemus that those who are born of the Spirit are like the rushing winds which can only be heard but not seen. He stated that as we hear the sound of the wind but cannot tell where it comes or where it goes so is every one that is born by the Spirit. During our Bible studies with Daniel, I had learned to not draw conclusions based on what I had seen. Multiple times God was showing me that the work of the Spirit is unpredictable and mysterious.  It defies our logic and remains elusive to human reasoning. Further, as we cannot predict its coming neither can we predict its going. We do not know where it may take a man or the decisions it would lead one to make.

Daniel’s faith had been especially admirable. His sincere desire to know Christ had surprised me at each step. He had wanted to study longer, in more depth, and more often than I had assumed. His single question of “Is there anything more” stood as a constant reminder of the fallacy of my reasoning. Trying to predict Daniel’s spiritual state seemed to me as hopeless as trying to predict which way the wind blows. Christ was right. Here vision didn’t avail much. The most valuable conclusions came instead from those things which I heard. Watching God’s work baffled me at every step. It would seem that God was leading me to abandon any efforts to substantiate evidence merely through human reasoning. A greater method lied in drawing conclusions through faith.

Later that Sabbath Daniel and I eventually found ourselves in the Pathfinders room picking out his baptismal gown. He had explained to me that his phone was off and therefore didn’t see my text immediately. I was quite embarrassed about how easily I took his delayed response to mean “no longer interested” or “ I changed my mind”. There was the folly of trying to predict the work of the Spirit again. That day Daniel was baptized with his family supporting from the front stage. I eventually gave up trying to predict Daniel’s state based on what I was seeing and learned to listen more for the working of the Holy Spirit. After his baptism and voting him into the  church body, I asked Daniel one final question. Turning to him and placing my hand on his shoulder I asked. Daniel “Do you love Jesus”? Daniel replied, “Yes”. His answer was more than convincing.

The Journey

The Journey

by Erika Hernandez, Missionary Intern 2020-2021, East Lansing Program

We live in a world where we see the consequences of sin every day. Where suffering, violence, hardships are normal; still, this was never God’s intention. It was not His purpose for us to experience these situations nor the baggage that results. The Journey class taught by Pastor and Mrs. Conway described how people’s upbringing and baggage can affect the sharing of the gospel. 

Each person’s background is important because it influences their identity, as well as how this self-concept frames how they see others. We often perceive infancy as the beginning of exposure, understanding, and influence in the world around. However, I learned all of this actually begins even before we are in the womb. Consider King David’s description in Psalms 139:16 “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.” Also, Jeremiah quoted the same “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;…”. (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, based on Jeremiah, we had a beginning before we were conceived in the womb; our beginning started with God. 

Erika posing with Joi while taking a break from classes

Unfortunately, this scene that Jeremiah describes does not protect the defenseless creature from the consequences of sin. The baby born on this earth, defiled by evil, known by God from before the womb, has to deal with what is before him or her: sin. Sin already has an impact on them. When they experience an unloving, abusive home, or other bad experiences, it affects how that child forms his or her self-identity, increasing the previous baggage, and influencing how they relate to and accept the word of God.

As a result of the unstable life, it leads to what is called self survival. In other words, after a glimpse of what the world is, he or she tries to survive in any way possible. After the family was a danger, the individual builds distrust because the people who were supposed to provide did not, thus they walk in defensiveness. They will do anything necessary to survive; they search to survive in their means. In this world, most live with the baggage of sin every day, and switch their minds to survival mode to protect themselves from past experiences to be able to live “happily”. They are not what they were first made by God. Compassion, love, goodness turns to guard. They create a wall and become resistant to the Word of God. 

As missionaries, our job is to be aware of our brothers and sisters’ responses to the Word of God, to prayerfully discern and recognize that they might be resistant because of their past, then we are to reach them. We are to share Jesus’s love that will break the cold and harden heart damaged by sin. Naturally, people do not want the love of Jesus to guide them nor the Holy Spirit to transform them. They may think the transformation will make them vulnerable and hurt again because this has been their experience from the beginning; their caregivers and others have failed them. Yet God does not fail; He is unchangeable. 

The class was significant to me because it spoke to my personal experience and those around me. In other words, young adults from this generation, who are overwhelmed by their past, go into depression, anxiety, and self-harm, and cannot find help or have the resources for healing. Reflecting on the baggage we carry through life is an important topic because broken people are everywhere; it is the reality. We connect with people in our day-to-day activities, discerning life stories, loving instead of judging. The people we can reach are limitless; we must learn how to approach and interact with people everywhere: school, work, ministry, every one-to-one interaction in life, sharing the gospel. We live in an imperfect world and are all imperfect, full of baggage. 

However, the Lord cannot complete His work in our broken lives and others if we are unwilling to recognize our condition and allow Him to make us whole. In so doing, we can be lights, agents used by Christ to bring healing. Only the Word of God can give real satisfaction to the soul, take the baggage, and heal the brokenness. As we experience what only God can do, we are to impart the good news of love, healing, and salvation to others

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper

by Joi McClellan, Missionary Intern 2020-21 East Lansing Program

I grew up knowing the importance of Bible study but was consistently overwhelmed when I approached it. I would open my Bible and start reading but would hardly get through a phrase before doubting my understanding of the English language and feeling a pressing demand to uncover something most profound. I would then haul my family’s gargantuan Strong’s Exhaustive (rather, exhausting) Concordance, and look up every word of the text in Greek. Not finding any great spiritual insight from that endeavor, I would then attempt to read every single cross reference possible connected to the verse. For bonus points, I would look at all available English Bible translations. This is what I felt constrained to do every time I opened my Bible. A tad exhausting? You bet. 

Joi and Erika visited Upuia in the Detroit program and stopped by one of the Mosques near the Detroit Center of Influence

My tiresome yet earnest efforts reflected my value of and desire for Bible study. I saw others gaining deep and meaningful insights yet wondered why my experience rarely paralleled theirs. On the contrary, Bible study was stressing me out, and I was growing to resent it. Realizing that something was wrong with my approach, and desperately wanting to experience enriching time with Jesus, I laid aside my defective deep-sea diving gear and headed back up to the proverbial surface to take in some vital breaths. I turned my attention to gaining a love for God’s Word through simple reading, mediating, and memorization. This decision allowed me to exponentially grow in my devotion for God and love for His Word, but I nonetheless desired to one day know how to dive into the treasures of the Word without the stress and pressure that my former methods had imposed.

At the beginning of 2020, I knew it was time for me to start studying again. God was restoring my love for the Word of God and slowly taking me into Bible study, but I had a long way to go. His purposes unbeknownst to me included, God brought me to CAMPUS, a fancy-sounding class called Hermeneutics. In this class, which taught practical steps for contextual and thorough Bible study, I was given the tools to begin chipping away bit by bit deeper into the Word of God. Ironically, we still used cross-referencing and concordances (CAMPUS is so cool that we use an app), but these helpful steps did not make me feel like every word must be read in Hebrew in order to gain insight or that I had to track down every related verse in the whole canon of scripture. I learned how to approach Bible study with a large-tooth comb and work up to a fine-tooth, meanwhile learning to look for beautifully woven threads of the love of God that give practical and devotional insights.

Not only has what I gained from Hermeneutics been personally impactful, but God immediately presented an outlet to put my learning to regular use. Following the completion of this class, I helped to start a young adult Sabbath School class in which hermeneutical Bible study is the foundation. Co-facilitating this Bible study keeps me on my toes and regularly diving into the Word with a lot less stress and pressure

By God’s sweet grace, and through the means of my CAMPUS class, Hermeneutics, Bible study is no longer as threatening and wearisome as it used to be.

A Fool to Stay Home

A Fool to Stay Home

Upuia Fineaso, Missionary Intern 2020-21 Detroit Program

Upuia Fineaso watched her parents’ conversion into the Adventist Christian faith at the age of five. She grew up going to a church Sunday with her mom’s family, and then to church on Sabbath with her dad’s family. Her dad was a back-sliden Adventist. However, her mom responded when bible workers came to promote an evangelistic effort in Sacramento CA. Her dad slowly started coming and soon both her parents made the decision for baptism and rebaptism into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Although she had never felt a call to foreign mission, she always wanted to carry on what the Bible workers did when they helped her parents come into the church through inner city evangelism.

Upuia, the other interns and fellow with Dr Karl Tsatalbasidis. 

Upuia enrolled at Hartland College, graduated in 2019 with a health ministry degree, and became more familiar with CAMPUS when Jermaine Gayle came as a Resident. Then her classmate, Grady Yonas came as a Resident. While Upuia was applying to nursing school, she attended GYC Louisville and was praying for God to open up opportunities for ministry. The morning messages were from Sikhu Daco, and one morning she spoke about taking a year to be a missionary. Sikhu also talked about the importance of ‘purposing’ in your heart as Daniel did to follow God. She asked her parents about doing OYiM+ and went to ask parents, and her parents told her to wait; she took the advice and admitted it was her biggest regret.

Mission work was not in her parents plans. However, when God desires for a person to be in missions, and that person desires to do His will, He will give that person another opportunity. At GYC Houston, Upuia was praying once again that God would lead her to a ministry. Pastor Steve Conway talked about starting a Center of Influence in Detroit near Wayne State University.  Originally Upuia looked for an OYiM opportunity in her home Potomac Conference, but there was none. So when she saw Pastor Conway again at another GYC, she asked him about the Detroit Center of Influence. At the end of the conversation, she was led to fill out the application at the CAMPUS booth.

However, Upuia had to submit her application three separate times due to the application shutting down. The application usually takes about an hour to fill out due to the essay questions. CAMPUS nor Upuia could figure out why the application continued to shut down. So, she interpreted the difficulty as the enemy not wanting her to apply to the program. Upuia preserved and after a month she was able to submit the application.

Now, she had to tell her parents, but she waited until she knew she was accepted. After her interview with the Conways, they let her know she would receive an answer in two weeks. Two weeks passed, and God impressed her that she needed to tell her parents. However, she delayed another week.  Her mom was out of town and when she returned, God gave her the courage to talk with her mom and dad about being a missionary at the Center of Influence in Detroit. Two days later Pastor Conway reached out and extended an invitation for her to be a missionary in Detroit as a missionary.

Upuia with Pastor Steve Conway and others from Wayne State University.

“This is the first time I have diverged from their expectation for me about the future.” She admits “They want me to serve the Lord, but they also want me to be successful.” Her parents are more content now, but there was a lot of denial from March until July. Then August hit and she made preparation for leaving. This is when the reality of her leaving settled into the home. Up to this time, Upuia  was a full-time student at her local community college and working part-time as a barista. This allowed her to help around the house, care for her younger siblings homeschool, and transport her brothers to functions; both her parents work full-time. Upuia loves her parents and deeply appreciates their advice, yet she also realizes that God is the one who led her to come to Detroit to help establish a Center of Influence near Wayne State University.

Originally she understood that transportation would be provided and she would not need a vehicle. So when someone offered to give her a car to use, she declined. Then a month before she was to come to Detroit, she learned she would need her own car. She went back to the person who offered her the transportation, and the couple was happy to help her. Now she has been able to drive to and from ministry opportunities this fall. God worked out all the details. In reflecting on her decision she shared, “God was so clear, I could not question. I would have been a fool to stay home and ignore the facts of his providence.”