“Welcome to Historic Adventist Village,” I told the arriving busloads.
General Conference Executive Committee members, spouses and attendees of the 2018 Annual Council LEAD Conference streamed past me into the Great Tent. In truth, I had just arrived a few hours before they had. I had not even toured the village yet. How did I get to Battle Creek, more than twelve hours' drive from North Central Arkansas?
2017 Annual Council
Last fall I watched both the GC Annual Council and the North American Division Year-End Meeting online. I rejoiced and prayed and agonized for my church leaders as reports were given and difficult discussions held. I wanted to see the process for myself. I wanted to be be there to pray.
I opened my son Elijah's newsletter from Historic Adventist Village to find an ad for volunteers to assist HAV during the LEAD conference before Annual Council. Elijah had gone with Ouachita Hills Academy a year ago. Now he would go with me. What a perfect way to enjoy Seventh-day Adventist history and attend Annual Council! My husband opted to stay home and watch us online.
HAV director Don Scherencel sent the tour guide script. I began to study it and research SDA materials to enhance it. I read Spiritual Gifts, Volumes 1 and 2, in preparation for the Great Controversy portion of the tour. Wow—why had I not already read this powerful volume?!
Elijah warned me that HAV wouldn't have enough costumes for all the volunteers, so I began praying and asking others for period clothing. Three precious ladies lent me costumes; I only lacked a matching bonnet. Then Betty Scherencel phoned. All tour guide positions were filled, but I could be a relief tour guide since I had learned the script. Elijah would be a gate guard.
October 11, 2018
Elijah drove us onto the HAV property; we registered with Betty and settled into our housing. I chose an upstairs room with a large closet, since I had brought so many costumes. I would share it with three precious fellow volunteers. I donned my first costume, dug a bonnet out of the costume chest downstairs, and went to supper.
Before 6:00 p.m. I joined other costumed volunteers outside the Great Tent to welcome the AC attendees. In English, in my scanty Spanish or Korean, I welcomed them. “I'm praying for you,” I told them. Hugs and photos with old and new friends, prayers for the session, partially distracted me from the blustery fall weather.
An online friend from World Church Affirmation Sabbath stood just inside the tent door. I introduced myself. God's church will go forward in His way, we believe! Fellow Newboldian David Trim spoke, chronicling scores of early SDA missionaries who gave their lives in foreign service. After vespers, I followed a friend for a photo and a prayer with a kind GC official and his wife.
My housemates at HAV came from all points of the compass. We had converged on Battle Creek, drawn by our God-led SDA history and anticipating a memorable weekend with representatives of our world church. My three roommates and I briefly swapped life stories, then shared bedtime prayers for the weekend just ahead, asking for God's Spirit to hover very near Battle Creek and overrule any interfering spirits. I asked God to guide my weekend—how would he use me?
A fellow volunteer brought news that I was needed in the James and Ellen White home to give the Great Controversy portion of the tour--what a providence! Oh why didn't I bring my copy of Spiritual Gifts along? I could have read excerpts from it during tours.
The morning tours flew by; I glanced less at my script as the narrative became part of me. When a division president came through with a GC videographer, I sent up an extra prayer and gave it my best, despite the camera in my face. I challenged my tour groups to follow the Great Controversy theme through the personal stories of the Whites' sons, and to beware its impact on our world church today. “I'm praying for you as you conduct God's business,” I told them.
I ate my box lunch in the Great Tent, sitting near a heating vent. Despite all my layers, my costume was insufficient for the cold, windy day. Friday afternoon tours were also thrilling. When possible, I asked my tour groups about the SDA work in their territories. I collected reports from around the world; one lady gave me her business card with a personal invitation to Tanzania. I would love to go, if God opens the way. I will keep in touch with her.
I greeted my Adventist Heritage teacher from Southern. I apologized for not paying better attention and studying harder during his class. He assured me I was more than compensating during this weekend. A Chinese classmate walked up; I heard his report on the SDA work there. I will continue praying for China.
Friday vespers at Battle Creek Tabernacle was a musical treat for a hymn-lover and hymnal collector like me. Elijah said, “Mom, you are in your element.” Jim Nix and William Fagal led an evening of beloved SDA hymns. They included my father-in-law's poem, now set as a hymn: “Holy Sabbath, Day of Rest.” Back “home,” I swapped stories and shared prayers with my roommates. One roommate brought us souvenirs from her stint in the Second Meeting House: communion towels. “A Past with a Future; Looking Back to Move Forward; 2018 Annual Council.” There is hope for church leaders who will humbly wash each other's feet.
On Sabbath I got up early, hoping to get my Sabbath costume just right. Hats and hatpins are foreign to me, also heavy skirts. I got to church without knocking my hat off or tripping over myself, pausing for numerous photo requests, feeling so awkward. A conference president sat in our pew and I introduced myself. We are concerned, yet hopeful for our beloved church.
I took notes on the recommended Sabbath School program components. As SS Superintendent, I will implement these ideas at home. The “Unity” study theme, so divinely timely, included a seven-minute group discussion, Spanish and English in my group. Next came a group photo, then a memorable church service, capped by Elder Ted Wilson's sermon. I took notes as he ran through a list of key SDA Bible doctrines, urging us to be faithful on each point, lest society derail our mission to the world. He reminded us of Israel's Jordan crossing during the “impassable” flood stage; this was God's timing to showcase His power over all obstacles.
Elder Wilson challenged us to return home bearing a “good report” from our Battle Creek experience, like faithful Caleb and Joshua in Numbers 13-14. Here I attempt that, though I admit to hearing an undercurrent of discontent and disagreement during my stay, and observing less-than-model behavior from some. Church closed with a baptism; a tour operator from Mexico was converted after watching our leaders conduct church leadership retreats near Cancun.
Sabbath lunch was haystacks, the tasty SDA tradition. We HAV volunteers had a cozy sharing time in our heated food tent. A troop of younger volunteers came to assist in our afternoon tours. The sun was shining at last. I met Jesse and Ahmad; together we gave the Great Controversy tour. During short breaks between groups, I learned these young men are both recent converts to the SDA message through the C.A.M.P.U.S. outreach program; they are now working with C.A.M.P.U.S. for one year. A group of young people came through; they were in Battle Creek for some Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) training. What godly enthusiasm! The afternoon tours ended too soon. When could I do this again?
We discussed our plans for Sunday. We could take the volunteers' tour in the morning, help clean, then head home in the afternoon. But I was praying to attend the Annual Council business sessions. I gave the decision to God, planning to rise early and see what unfolded. Sunday morning, Betty came to my room just after 7:00 a.m. She needed volunteers to scan badges at the business session. Would Elijah and I be available? YES!
Betty fed us breakfast then directed us to the Kellogg Arena. We met two kind and capable experts, Ian and Jonathan, who taught us how to use the GC laptops and scanners during the afternoon discussion on the proposed compliance document. Ian prayed with us before and after the training, then before the afternoon session he prayed again. He failed to mention his Sabbath appendectomy; we learned about it through Elder Wilson's morning prayer. About then, I noticed my right shoe needed major surgery; some stitching was coming out! I must walk carefully.
After our morning training, we enjoyed the Annual Council reports from the mezzanine. The stage backdrop caught my eye—the B of “Believe His Prophets” was crooked; it got worse, then dropped onto the stage during the GC Secretary's report! A sign? Commentators said, “'Belief' slipped; 'His Prophets' didn't!” Agreed.
At the back of the hall, a giveaway table and touch screen display introduced the new Vivid Faith website and app, which links mission organizations with those seeking service opportunities. I took an inflatable airplane for Sabbath School children back home, then exited the meeting for a delicious lunch. I ate with some of the prayer room team members. We were praying God's Spirit would rule during the potentially tense afternoon business session.
A division president stopped me after lunch. “Hey, you were my tour guide!” (Now how did he recognize me without that bonnet?) “Yes, I was. May I pray for you?” I responded. I prayed the same prayer I had prayed for him for weeks, that He would honor God in all things, and would reflect the nobler of the two Bible characters whose name he bears, while conducting God's business.
In the meeting hall, I spied a copy of the Executive Committee gift book Lessons From Battle Creek lying unattended on a table. I picked it up. The first few chapters were heavily marked. The owner, a college classmate, offered to lend me the book for the afternoon. I read a few pages but was mostly engrossed in the proceedings.
From start to finish, the afternoon was 99% calm, cool, collected and prayerful. You owe it to yourself to watch the entire recording here. Don't take secondhand rants and writings out of context. A decision was made. God's church will go forward. This will require prayerful self-denial from all of us.
You know, I never scanned one badge. Betty had sent extra volunteers, so I paired up with my 18-year-old son, who assured me he had it covered (and he did) so I was free to pray and observe the process of God's church in business session.
An evangelist standing near the back told me the real issue was not even being discussed: would the Seventh-day Adventist Church be driven by culture or by Scripture? Back at my seat, I looked down at my ailing shoe; the outside stitching was gone, too.
The discussion closed. The vote was taken: 60% to 40% in favor of the document. I walked cautiously to return my friend's book. He said, “Would you like it? I can get another one.” YES! I will study it and return to HAV for another tour guide stint, maybe when the Pathfinders come next August, en route to Camporee.
Late supper; late bedtime. Two roommates had left; the other wanted to discuss the day's events with me while I packed. Again, we prayed for God's church, for our roles in it. She is a pastor's wife; I'm an elder's wife.
Monday morning, my birthday, was cold and drizzly. After breakfast, Elijah drove me to Oak Hill Cemetery and pointed out a few SDA pioneers' graves. Back at HAV, I lingered in Betty's Heritage Shoppe, a bookworm's paradise. Elijah bought me some books. Goodbye, Historic Adventist Village. Goodbye, Annual Council. We will be back!
“And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us, a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not,” (Numbers 14:7-9).
Holly Joers is a lifelong SDA who was raised in Southern California and now is blessed to live in rural Arkansas with her husband Skip and son Elijah. She is a church pianist and is addicted to Bible study, gardening and bargain-hunting, among other things.