Joi McClellan is a first-year dental student at the University of Michigan. You may remember her as a missionary last year when she was praying for God to lead in her decision of dental school.
Joi’s first reflection is that being a student is harder than being a missionary, “I knew to expect this, school is a lot. It is easy for it to be my number one and only focus. This year has been a journey of asking God, ‘what I am here for?’ I know I am here to get a DDS degree, but I know that God has me here for something more. To share the gospel.”
The journey began in the first semester relating to God in a transactional way. Joi explains, “I had this warped idea of that if I put God first in my studies that He would help me to do well. If I spend extra time doing work for God, like ministry activities that God would in turn give me what I need for my studies.”
However, mid-fall, all that thought process was challenged because she realized she was thinking of God as a machine. She reflected, “I give God time and He will in return He will give me good grades. I realized that even if I take the time to study the Bible with a friend that it does not mean God will give me a good grade on my test, but He is with me in my academics.”
God began to change Joi’s heart to see a bigger picture of ministry and how He desired to work in and through her life. Her prayer turned from “What should I do, God?” to “God, You put me here today, show me what serving You looks like.”
Joi’s perspective continues to grow this semester and God has moved her to ask that He be glorified no matter the grade. Now she prays, “Whatever way You think that You can be glorified, whether higher grades or lower grades, please make it happen, all I want is to bring people to You.”
While reading the Scriptures one morning, she realized that by spending time with God, He is the source of all wisdom, and He will grant her wisdom like Daniel, thus making her wiser than her teachers. As she began to pray that prayer, one particularly difficult exam came back with a solid A.
The temptation to study at the expense of her health was something she prayed about before entering the university campus. Suicide rates are very high among dental students. Students often meet the rigorous demand of academics and clinics at the expense of their health. Joi began to see the demands, but she had purposed in her heart while a missionary to not abuse her body for the sake of academics.
In March of last year, she prayed for God to wake her up each morning to have time with Him, and He has done so ever sense. She shares “It is just a confirmation that God doesn’t intend for me to abuse my body to accomplish His work and succeed in my studies.” She tries to be in bed between nine and ten o’clock at night. This has opened the way for her to minister to her classmates who often stay up very late to study.
One day she was talking with a classmate, and his seatmate said, “I am so tired.” She agreed, but he responded, “No I am tired tired.” She talked with him a bit more and realized he was very discouraged. They finished their conversation, and both went back to work. Joi prayed for him that night but was convicted to do something more. She found his email address and sent him a message that she was praying for him. He responded that her email was such an encouragement.
CAMPUS is piloting a mentorship program, where Joi is a mentee. In one of her sessions, she was trying to process how to do ministry, knowing what to say yes and no to. Her mentor pointed out that her goal is not to reach all 108 students in her class but rather to take five minutes. In other words, to be present in the five minutes she has with whomever God has placed with her at that moment. Changing her focus has allowed her to meet more of her classmates, minster to them, and pray more specifically for their needs.
The missionary training program for her was unique because it was during a time when everything was still shut down. However, the greatest work was the heart work that God did while in the program. Joi says, “So much of my experience last year was God working in my heart personally. What God was doing in my heart was the biggest benefit to help me this year.”
When Daniel was taken captive and enrolled in the educational programs of Babylon, he purposed in his heart to not defile himself with the wine and meat from the king’s table. So, what does his example have to do with students? The academic life of pursuing a degree often eats away at students’ health. Joi McClellan frames the demands of dental school in context of God’s higher call for her to be a missionary and purposed in her heart that she would not abuse her body for academic achievement.
I interviewed Joi asking about her experience as an Adventist student attending the Dental School in the nation. She explained that suicide rates are high among dental schools, which speaks to the rigorous schedule and expectations of dental students.
Joi knew taking care of her body could only happen with God’s help and choosing to make it a priority. While a missionary, she had asked God to wake her up in the morning to have time with Him, and she would not set an alarm and would make sure to sleep at a healthy time. She knew acting by faith during the missionary training program was easier when there were not the deadlines and appointments of dental school. However, she trusted God and has not set an alarm to this date.
During the fall, she had a transactional view of how to relate to God in terms of her academic success. She knew having good grades would be a witness to her professors and classmates. However, through a series of events and conversations God reveled to her that He can use her to be a witness with higher grades or lower grades.
In the second semester, Joi’s prayers began change to “God, show me what ministry looks like here. I just want you to be glorified, I simply desire to be a vessel for people to see and know You.”
God is answering this prayer in simple ways. Although Joi does not have the time as she did in her undergrad, God is teaching her to be present to whomever happens to be in her path at that moment.
Joi went to ask a friend a question, and his seatmate said, ‘I am so tired.” She responded with ‘yea I understand.’ Yet, he pressed the message further giving Joi the impression that he was not doing well. She listened for a while, and they went back to their work. However, in the evening she was really impressed to pray for him, and in the morning, she found his email address and sent him a message telling him she was praying for him. He responded that it was the encouragement he needed.
Joi has been able share with a classmate about her decision to take care of her health and with another about the rest of the Sabbath. As a result of her focus to be being present and prayerful about the peers she encounters at school, Joi has been a testament to God’s faithfulness. God has blessed her grades, and her classmates, who are not religious, have asked her to pray for them and their studies.
If you are a student and find yourself tired and overwhelmed, consider stepping out in faith and asking God to help you to be faithful in taking care of your health and giving God the best part of your day. He desires to use you to be a blessing and to connect with you personally each day.
You might be tossing around that ‘term’ in your head and thinking “Hm, I haven’t heard of that in a while.” In fact, you may not have seen a young adult in your church before the Divine Service since the last time the sweet ladies at church served breakfast. We are known for skipping. You don’t have to rub it in, we’re guilty. And yes, I have lived up to your low expectation. I was a delinquent Sabbath Schooler.
Since entering young adulthood, Sabbath School has never held much intrigue. I felt that most churches did not see its purpose and invested little to nothing in it, and frankly, neither did I. Going away to college, I quickly fell into the habit of being a regular Sabbath School absentee.
As the pandemic broke last spring and everyone was booted out of normalcy, like most other extroverted people in the world, I realized what a great loss this was to community and started searching for long-lost means for creating it. God came through in a most unexpected way. A well-meaning but annoying friend (annoying, that is, because she knew I was not a Sabbath School fan) was convinced that she and I must start a Zoom Sabbath School class. I was not in the least interested.
After reluctantly and barely participating for a couple of weeks, I was dragged further into what I meant to be a theoretical discussion on how to advance the potential of this Zoom class. That discussion quickly changed into a practical and joint execution. My friend and I started brainstorming about the fundamental elements and goals for a Sabbath School, considering resources that could actively plug the growing number of participants into the Word, and ways to build a space for Christ-centered friendship. If we were going to invest in this class, make people wake up and be present early on a Sabbath morning, it must be worthwhile. We wanted a Bible study that could keep us all on the same page, yet something with ample space to dive directly and actively into the Word. The topics needed to be straightforwardly relevant to our currently off-kilter lives. The newly minted General Conference InVerse Bible lessons were the perfect fit.
From March through the entire summer, there was a consistent, large, and geographically diverse Sabbath School group made of Adventist and non-Adventist students and young professionals alike. Being a part of this class I began to see the potential of what a young adult Sabbath School community, digging into the Word could produce. Organically, a vibrant Bible-centered community was birthed and each person was fully engaged and practically challenged.
Fast forward to August. The first weekend I arrived at CAMPUS in East Lansing, I attended my final Zoom young adult class. I had not realized how much my heart had been changed to love and value Sabbath School, and now found myself eager to engage in the Sabbath School in this new community. To my surprise, however, I found that the University Church did not currently have a young adult class. It did not take long for one of the CAMPUS fellows, Grady Yonas, and I to put our heads together, pray, and seek the steps necessary to start a safe, in-person young adult class.
Throughout the last eight months, the young adult class has been running, mostly in-person, but for phases of time on Zoom during holidays and lockdowns. There have been lulls and highs, but overall the class has experienced more consistency than I could have expected. There are non-Adventist young adults who come and participate— some who only come to church for Sabbath School and have only stepped into the Divine Service twice. In fact, the commitment has been the highest among those without an Adventist background.
The fundamental goals for this class have been similar to but further built upon what was done over Zoom. Our goals have been to maintain a discussion-based Bible study in which each person is engaged. Engagement is not based on whether a person has previously studied the Sabbath School lesson or not, but a study in which we together learn practical hermeneutical approaches to the Bible and walk away with not only theoretical but applicable lessons. In addition to Bible study, it has been our goal to see those who study together grow closer as a spiritual community that goes outside of the Sabbath School hour. Though every goal has not been reached perfectly, as leaders, we constantly and prayerfully reevaluate to further grow.
Personally, being a facilitator for this Sabbath School class has challenged my spiritual commitment and deepened my passion for studying the Word within community— not relying on someone’s pre-chewed exposition of the Word but digging into it, learning directly from the text and discovering together. By the kindness of God, He has taken me from being a dispassionate Sabbath schooler and has made me useful in a most unlikely area of His work.
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.
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