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 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.
“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.”
Erika Hernández heard about CAMPUS while attending Hi-C after arriving from Mexico and appreciated the spiritual atmosphere. She became more acquainted with CAMPUS after talking with her Pastor, Leeroy Hernandez, and his wife Cori, who had become an Adventist Christian as a result of the ministry at Michigan State University. Erika realized it must be a great ministry, but never thought of becoming a missionary. She was focused on finishing highschool, working, going to college, starting a career, and family.
At the final charge for the 2019 Hi-C, Pastor Jermaine made an appeal to take a year off and serve as a missionary. Erika’s heart was stirred, but the enemy was quick to remind her of the influence of her peers who were seated around her, and that of her family. Culturally, she was expected to go to college, work, and be a responsible young person. Erika’s heart was very tender to God and in that moment she stood up. She felt God calling her. She recalls, “It was overwhelming but I felt peaceful. When I stood up, all the desire to go to school went away, and God was saying that this is what He wants for me. I felt trustful that it was going to be ok.” She admits, a person can fool other people but you cannot fool God with your commitment to Him.
Even though she had stood up, she struggled filling out the application for the Missionary Training Program (MTP). She dismissed the growing feeling that she needed to apply, resolving she needed to talk to her parents first. A month passed and GYC came. CAMPUS financially helped her and some of the young people from her church to attend GYC. Pastor Israel Ramos’ final charge moved her to make Adventism great again. January came; then February, but she still had not applied. She finally sent an email to the program director, Pastor Jermaine Gayle, to know if she could still apply. The reply came that there was still time. Pastor Leeroy and Cori Hernandez were a constant godly support to Erika.
The fleece to discern God’s leading was her FAFSA application for school the following year. Though all the paperwork was filled out, nothing was showing that it was accepted. She submitted the FAFSA paperwork ten times, but the IRS would not accept it. Then COVID hit and there was no way to reach anyone at the FAFSA office. It seemed God was showing that He had a different plan. So, she decided to talk to her dad about the MTP. She decided to write a letter to her dad explaining her situation. Although she was very nervous, her dad helped her to see that she was making an adult decision that needed to be between her and God.
She concluded to pray and fill out the MTP application, then do the FAFSA one more time. She prayed that whichever application would go through that would be where God wanted her to be. As her dad saw how things were not working with FAFSA, he shared with her his experience of how God led him and that a personal experience starts with God. “It is just you and God. This is when God begins to lead you personally, and it may be different than your family.” He shared how God was involved in his life and his family wasn’t there. He encouraged her to make the decision based on how God had led her personally. Her dad’s appeal to trust God relieved her, but the next few challenges were talking to her mom in Mexico and finding the funds since she didn’t want to be a burden to her parents.
Missionaries are unfamiliar to her Mexican culture. In other words, most young people do not suspend their studies, especially in the US, to do ministry. So, the task of talking to her mom made her very nervous. Erika prayed that God would give her mom an understanding heart. Erika shared with her mom how God had led, the difficulties with FAFSA, and her conviction of taking a year to be a missionary. Then she waited for her mom’s response. Her mom began to speak in a soft voice, which was uncharacteristic under these circumstances. Her mom reasoned that even if she was not in school, she could also work and get money for school. She shared that the financial aspect of taking a year to be a missionary was overwhelming to her dad. She concluded that they cared about Erika, but from then on the decision was hers and they would support her. It is not what they wanted, but they would support her even though they could not financially assist.
Now, she was concerned with how to pay for the MTP and began to apply for jobs, but did not get one until July. By the time she got the job, she had a month to raise all the money. She was so distraught and asked God what to do. A sister from church helped Erika write a letter for financial support from the local church. Yet, she delayed in giving the letter, thinking it was a lack of faith to ask the church. God taught her that it was His will and that she was not to worry about the money. From that time on, she was not overwhelmed with concern, knowing that God would provide.
As the program neared a week away, she didn’t even have half of what was needed for program expenses. She began to get frustrated and considered writing to the program director informing him that she could not come. Erika shared her sorrow with the sister at church who helped her to understand her role and God’s. The sister stated, “By you asking for donations, working, and giving this letter to the church, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have faith. You are asking for the donation, but their response to give is a response to your faith.”
At this a member from church donated $500 towards the MTP expenses. She prayed that God would help her unbelief. She felt that she didn’t deserve the gift because she was so faithless. She was reading so much about faith in the book of Hebrews and in James that faith without works is dead. At church that next Sabbath, a person gave her $500, then another gave her $300 and another $100, and this continued. Her heart was full.
As a result, Erika took the next step in faith and asked her dad to bring her to the CAMPUS house for the beginning of the MTP program the following week. She packed and bought the required items for the missionary year as if all the money had already been provided. The Friday that the program was to begin, she had everything raised but $300. Erika thought about asking her dad, but did not want to put that kind of pressure knowing that was an extra expense, and it was not her parents’ first choice for her to delay her education. After talking with her mom, she learned that her dad had decided to pay the balance needed. Erika also finally sent the letter to the church, but it was very last minute. The elders held a special meeting to discuss her request. One of the elders asked what was left of the balance. The elder paid the $300 and her dad did not draw from their income. When Erika arrived on Friday, the program was paid in full.
On the day she arrived at the CAMPUS house, her mom sent her a picture of a Bible verse which said, “It makes me happy to know my children are walking in the truth.” The message from her mom meant a lot. She reflected on it, “Although it was not her own words coming from her mouth, it touched me because it meant that even though going to the program was not her choice for me, my mom felt it was better for me to be here than anywhere else. It is better for me to stay in the truth.”
God provided through so many trials; the virus had affected many families’ finances, the support of her parents, and the local church. Only God can touch the person’s heart to give such large amounts. The journey has been her leap of faith. Her part was to move forward in what God has asked her to do, and to give people opportunities to share in the blessing by helping financially. God touched people’s hearts and her MTP cost was paid. Through this experience she understood more fully how faith and works function in harmony.
Joi McClellan always had an interest in missions, but not necessarily the type of missions you might think of when that word comes to mind. Joi just completed her undergraduate studies this past spring at Southern Adventist University, majoring in music and working hard to get into dental school. During her junior year, she considered taking a gap year upon graduating and prior to dental school. She considered the options for her the gap year: primarily research in different parts of the country, but possibly overseas missions too. However, as she moved through her senior year, and nothing had panned out for the research programs, she began to ponder other options, i.e. something non-academic.
At Southern, there is a large emphasis on overseas missions. Although she never felt compelled that God was leading her to overseas missions, she considered it. Joi contacted friends, MC and Abby Shin, who have a music school and Center of Influence in Cambodia, and began exploring the possibility of helping with the school. Though there was an opening, she was still unsure that was exactly where God was leading for this year and still kept her eyes open for other opportunities– something that would really make her grow spiritually and individually.
Considering her pre-dental track, Joi believed it was unlikely that she would be on an Adventist campus again for dental school, and thought it would be ideal to gain experience and training that would prepare her for attending a secular university. She had observed throughout her undergrad years many students who, after spending a year in overseas missions, would return to pursue the same goals and live the same lives as before. She wanted something different.
She heard about CAMPUS as a child when the director came to speak in Atlanta. When GYC came around last December, she decided to stop by the CAMPUS booth to get information. Upon returning to school, in a random conversation with a friend, David Glenn, she shared her lack of direction in trying to discover where God was leading for her gap year. She mentioned different possibilities that had come to mind, which included her potential interest in CAMPUS. David was from Michigan and had worked with a CAMPUS Missionary Alumni at summer camp. He was eager to connect her with Miranda Lentz (17-18) and Pastor Jermaine Gayle.
Joi’s connection with them was extremely beneficial in understanding the program and opportunities for training and mentorship. She saw the Missionary Training Program as an opportunity to prepare her to be a missionary in her next steps of dental school, and also to practice living with purpose in the day-to-day culture of Western society. She wanted to be in an environment where she could live out the everlasting gospel and grow from the mentorship by like-minded people. Joi answered God’s call this year to join the MTP. Looking back, she realized that research for the gap year would not have worked as many physical campuses are closed this semester.
Joi has applied to multiple dental schools around the nation and has been accepted in to each of the schools. One of her top choices is the the University of Michigan. Please continue to keep her in prayer as she seeks to know God’s will in where she should attend for dental school.