April 8, 2021
Each year in preparing for the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, I examine my life, both spiritually and physically as commanded in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:28). I am sure you do the same. As part of that process, I try to remember what my life was like when I began this journey as a freshman at Ambassador College many years ago and what changes I have made since that time.
I don’t think I was a lot different from other 19-year-old college students during those years. I enjoyed my classes, and I had a great job working on the college ranch. I could drive tractors, ride horses, herd cattle and enjoy being outside in the fresh air. It was a carefree time in many ways, but preparing for baptism caused me to think about things a bit differently. I was put in the position of making a decision about my beliefs, my conduct and my relationships.
Each Passover I must address the same questions about who I am, what I believe, and what my relationship with others is. Of course, it isn’t just on Passover that I consider these issues, since they are really never far from my thoughts. My beliefs have been strongly etched into my character, which defines who I am. It is the third area, concerning relationships, that often keeps me awake at night. Relationships are so important for each of us, and yet we can easily take them for granted. People come in and out of our lives, and how we relate to them says a great deal about who we are.
The focus of my letter this month is simply to thank all of you for the love, friendship and support that you have given to the Church and those of us who work for the Church over the past decade.
I have told and retold the story of sitting in a restaurant in Antigua, Guatemala, last year and receiving a phone call from my son-in-law in El Salvador. He warned us to take the next plane back home, or we might not get out of Central America for quite a while. We took his advice, and on that Friday, March 13, we were blessed to get seats on one of the last flights to the U.S. from Guatemala for the next three months. The reason for all this was a mysterious virus that no one seemed to understand but was spreading quickly around the world. At that time it was called the coronavirus, but later we learned its official name, COVID-19.
That was in March of 2020. For the next 14 weeks we could not hold in-person church services in the United States. For other areas of the world, lockdowns came a few weeks later and, for many areas, countrywide or citywide lockdowns continue to this day! This has dragged on for more than a year, and while there is some good news from certain countries, it is obvious that we are not yet at the end of this virus experience.
Through it all, I have been inspired and encouraged by all of you. While some requests were not pleasant—wearing masks, not hugging, not shaking hands, not getting too close when talking with someone—our Sabbath attendance has continued to rise. We also had an excellent attendance for the Feast of Tabernacles last year, and we set a “pandemic era” record for attendance on the first day of Unleavened Bread this year.
Your faithfulness to God and support for this work has been inspiring to see. Our income has consistently increased over the past year, leading us to refinance the mortgage on the Church office. We were paying 5.1 percent on our previous loan, but our new loan is for 2.94 percent, saving the Church thousands of dollars annually. With the new loan, we have a plan to pay off the mortgage within the next six years or so. We could actually pay the building off completely today without a major impact on our daily operations, but we have decided to wait by keeping funds in reserve. What a blessing!
And there is more. A few years ago, when our East Texas congregation was offered an opportunity to purchase a building that was refurbished to meet their needs, we encouraged them to go forward with the transaction. At that time, we took out a mortgage on the property from a local East Texas bank, and I am happy to report that last month (March) we paid the note off completely. I received a notice of full payment from the bank just prior to the Passover.
I certainly give God the thanks for all these blessings, but in my own self-analysis prior to the Passover, I determined to be more appreciative of others and their part in my life. I also want to make sure that I thank all our employees, including the pastors and elders who have served all of us over the past year under difficult circumstances. They have continued serving, in spite of the fact that for the better part of a year, visiting members, giving sermons with a live audience and getting together with groups of people, have not been possible at times. That in-person contact is extremely important and something I am sure we have all missed. But times are changing, and I am looking forward to things being back to normal very soon in all our congregations. This won’t happen all at once, and it won’t happen everywhere at the same time, since some countries are still in lockdown. Even in the United States it won’t happen at the same speed in every congregation, but I believe it will happen over the next few weeks.
Through all of this, I have found what Paul wrote to the members in Rome to be especially meaningful. “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (Romans 1:7-10).
Personal contact is an important part of the work of the Church. For most of the past year, we have been unable to travel and visit with brethren in the various parts of the world. I pray every day for the time when we can resume traveling and visiting brethren, both in the United States and in other countries. Visiting the brethren in their home countries is one of the greatest joys of my ministry.
Thank you for your faithfulness, for your love, for your generosity and, most of all, for responding to the calling that God has given to each of us, that even though we are not deserving, we are “called to be saints.” It is a privilege to be on this journey together with all of you.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,