Members in Action
Testimony of a Neighbourhood Bible Study
“Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given.” This was a quotation from The Great Controversy, page 612, read by Pastor Mark Finley in his Thursday-morning sermon entitled “Pentecost Revisited” at the 2008 ASI convention. This is a remarkable quotation in and of itself. But it is what Pastor Finley said in conjunction with this quote that arrested my attention and pierced my soul the very moment he spoke them. He asked a series of questions which are reproduced in part here: “Did Ellen White see a vision of people going from home to home with Bibles in their hands and filled with the Holy Spirit…knocking on the doors of their neighbors…sharing the gospel of Jesus? Did she see that in vision? Did she see real people? Did she see you?” It is that last question that grabbed my heart and I knew in that moment that my answer was yes. So I determined that my reserved husband and I would go door to door in our own neighborhood…our own street. There was only one problem. I had never gone door to door in an affluent neighborhood before. But I was compelled by those words which Pastor Finley spoke to go to my own neighbors.
After having professional stationery made and writing out our Bible study proposal, we set out after lunch on a nice Sabbath afternoon in mid-September of 2008 to knock on doors. It was easier than we thought and sure enough we formed a small Bible study group. There was one couple, Debbie and David, and their family, who said they would come but did not. They live across the road from us in a rather large house with beautiful apple orchards. She and her husband were real estate developers by profession and appeared to have all the trappings of high society. On the first night of our neighborhood Bible study, she came over with flowers to give her excuses, saying that she would try to join the following week. But that never happened. They would stop on their way to their home if they saw us doing yard work (a rarity for my husband and me) and chat about generalities. When she had a medical problem late one night, they called us because we had exchanged phone numbers. They valued our medical advice.
Several years later, in the fall of 2015, one of our young neighbors died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He was only 47 and left behind his wife and their two young boys. We and many neighbors went to the memorial service because we were invited. As Bob and I were walking across the parking lot to the building where the memorial service was to take place, I spotted Debbie and David and one of their older boys walking to the service. We caught each other’s eye at the same time and they waited for us. I mentioned that I had not met this son before. She said, “This is Danny; he is just out of rehab for substance abuse.” I was blown away. Substance abuse? Them? My neighborhood? Impossible, I thought—the big house, the fancy cars—no way! Well, I quickly collected myself and said to them and to Danny, “Danny, I am going to pray for you.” I met up with her later after the service and she said that Danny is a heroin addict and that he has overdosed many times and nearly died. She was at her wit’s end. I reassured her that I would indeed pray for them and for Danny.
A few months later, in May of 2016, their daughter ran across the street with a card in her hand saying, “I am graduating from high school and I want to invite you to my graduation party at my parents’ house. Will you please come?” Taking the card, I said that I would. So, that Sunday afternoon, I went to her party. I could not stay long. It seemed that our entire neighborhood was there. When I arrived, Danny was one of the first people I saw. He had been in and out of halfway houses and rehab centers and had lost friends to overdoses since the memorial service and would find himself in deep waters subsequent to that day. I told him again, “Danny I am praying for you. I wrote your name in my prayer journal.” I went out to the pool area and the orchards where the event was taking place and Debbie ran over to me and said, “Andi, I want you to study the Bible with me.” I said “Sure, I would be happy to.” I was there for about 20 minutes and Debbie came to me twice more to ask me to have Bible studies with her. She said that she remembered when we came and knocked on her door years ago and had thought of studying with us ever since, but that now she was ready. About a week later, she sent me a text message to be sure that I knew that she was in earnest about the studies. She insisted that we study at my house, though.
So began this journey of Bible study that I am now on with my neighbor Debbie. As we began our first study, it was obvious that she knew absolutely nothing about the Bible but was a deep thinker. She was raised with some Catholic influences, though she is Greek. She knew something about Judaism because her husband is Jewish. She really had no knowledge of God but felt that even though she was not raised with religion, there was a void in her life and it must be that there is a God. We began our studies with seven studies on God. Who is He? What kind of Being is He? And she truly fell in love with God. The wonder and amazement that flooded her face with each study was truly a blessing to me.
As I presented this picture of God as revealed in the Bible, she asked why she had never heard these things before and asked what religion I was. I told her that I am a Seventh-day Adventist and I thought to myself that she would never come back. She asked what that is and I explained that all that we had studied to that point is fundamental to Seventh-day Adventism. I told her that all of our doctrines are based on the fact that God is a God of love who values our freedom, who loves us more than Himself, and wants nothing more than for us to be with Him for eternity.
With that we embarked on the doctrines. All of these doctrines were presented in light of the Cross and she was in awe that this is truly who God is. Well, the day came when we were on the topic of the state of the dead. So I began, as I usually do, with a question. I asked her if she had any thoughts on what happens when you die. She said yes. She believes that when you die, your soul goes to heaven and that she had seen hers leave her body. Well, I did not react. I simply said, “Oh, tell me about that.” She then related a story she told me at our very first meeting, but which I did not address because I wanted to lay a foundation with her about who God is. This is what she told me. When she was in her 20s (she is now 47), she had lymphoma and when she received chemotherapy, she was always very sick. She said that one day as she was lying in bed, she heard some bells and saw her soul leave her and float down the hall, and that she watched it as it floated down and then returned to her.
I then offhandedly said, “Well let’s see what the Bible has to say on death. I am not sure what was going on in your life at that time, but let’s look at the Bible.” I always heavily infused each doctrine with the Cross and began to lay out the biblical view of death. I discussed with her that Jesus really did die for us as a selfless act, and it was not just six hours of agony on a cross and then—poof!—off to heaven. I said that this would not be self-emptying agape love. We looked at John 3:16 and the fact that Jesus was really given for us as a sacrifice. Then we moved to some passages that may be considered difficult, including 1 Samuel 28, which tells about Saul and the medium of Endor. I was not ready for what happened next. She grabbed her chest and pushed her chair back from the table and said. “Now I know what happened to me. I have wondered all these years about that experience. Now I know.” She was nearly in tears but she looked happy. She said, “What you are saying is true, Andi. It is true.” She then gave me the name of a certain woman and asked me if the name rang a bell. It did. Her father was at that time married to one of the most famous witches in Massachusetts and she and her daughter had done an incantation over her a few days before she had this experience with her “soul” floating down the hall. She then asked me a very interesting question. She asked me how I knew to say “I am not sure what was going on in your life at that time…” Fortunately, that was the last part of our study. We prayed and she hugged me and thanked me for helping her. She understood it to be of the devil, indeed. She said it was her favorite study to that point and that she was going to rush home and share with her mother, who lives with them. The next morning, I was at the hospital working and I got a text message from her saying that she and her mother were rejoicing in the truth and that they cried and prayed together that morning. Praise God!
The study on hell and the destruction of the wicked were also very high points for her. She was really struck by a God who does not torture the lost for eternity. This was a brand new thought to her, as she had always thought that indeed God tortures people for eternity. Our understanding of a God who does not micro-manage and who values our freedom of choice, and how that answers the question of sin and suffering in the world was eye-opening to her. She says after every study, that our religion and our view of God, death, hell, creation, and the destruction of the wicked, all make sense scientifically and fit in with the God that she is discovering really exists in the Bible. Even the Sabbath was quickly accepted as it made sense in light of the studies we had to that point. I presented the Sabbath as the day that God especially created for us, a time to meet with us, not as an arbitrary day, but as a day that He specially instructed us to come apart and commune with Him. She has asked to attend church with us and is now reading on her own and sharing all she has learned with anyone who will listen to her.
I think back on that ASI in 2008 and the providence of God in having Pastor Finley preach on that Thursday morning. I have learned a few things. First, we may think that our witnessing is in vain. It took Debbie eight years to come to the place where she felt her need of a God she knew nothing about. To all appearances, our door-to-door outing was not really a success, as the people who came were already Christians. They were unmoved. I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV), which says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” There is someone out there, someone in our sphere of influence in whose heart God has placed eternity and we need to be actively vigilant.
Secondly, the message of the Cross speaks in a compelling way to people. We have nothing to fear if we infuse every one of our doctrines with the Cross of Christ. Ellen White said, “The love of Jesus—who can comprehend it? Infinitely more tender and self-denying than a mother’s love! If we would know the value of a human soul, we must look in living faith upon the cross, and thus begin the study which shall be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity” (Messages to Young People, p. 115). She also said “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones” (The Desire of Ages, p. 83)
Thirdly, I have also learned that attending ASI in person is totally different from watching on TV or another media outlet. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pastor Finley in that place and it was palpable. God wants to move on His people in these closing hours of earth’s history, and I believe that we cannot afford to miss the blessings that are poured out in meeting together in a place with no distractions but the speaker. Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Lastly, when God calls you to do something, trust Him and do it. He will supply all you need. Respond at that moment and follow through. I pray that God will entrust us with many souls for Him. See you at the convention this summer!