Santiago peered through the small window into the Sabbath School class room six at the Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Florida. He believes the Spirit moved him to open the door and come in, even though the teacher had already begun. The Grace and Truth class, with more than 75 attending each week, is led by Ted Hamilton, who coordinates the class and teaches along with Terry Shaw, Loran Hauck, Kelly Pettijohn, and Greg Ellis. All the teachers are senior leaders at Adventist Health System and Florida Hospital, and have been faithfully teaching a Sabbath School class for more than 20 years.
When my wife, Cheryl, and I joined the class after retiring and moving to Orlando, Florida, we immediately noticed that every week each teacher focused on Jesus, the Gospel, and how to live with full joy and confidence in the grace of Jesus. As the Bible was studied, Jesus, full of grace and truth, was always the focus.
Well, Santiago kept coming. Several in the class befriended him and learned that he had family in Nicaragua. He was now retired, living in Florida. One Sabbath during the prayer request time, he spoke of his mother in Nicaragua, and other family members who were Seventh-day Adventists, but because they had very few resources in the remote villages, he wanted to help the church members there get songbooks in their dialect.
The next Sabbath, the class was invited to raise money for printing the songbooks, which had already been translated. Robyn, who works at Florida Hospital, said she could get the songbooks printed, and in a few weeks Santiago was on his way to his family and the scattered Seventh-day Adventist churches in rural Nicaragua with 450 new songbooks. I assumed he was a member of the Adventist Church. A few weeks later, imagine my surprise when he approached me after class one week and asked what he needed to do to be baptized. He had been raised a Seventh-day Adventist, but had left the church many years previously. But, his mother, now in her 80s, had been praying for her boy every day.
It was a privilege to begin studying with Santiago the very next week. In a few weeks, a date was set for his baptism in February 2014. The class decided to have a special Sabbath meal at the home of Loretta and Loran Hauck, and celebrate his baptism which took place in their pool. What a celebration! And, we got to meet Santiago’s wife, Patti, for the first time. Immediately, we could see she was an active Christian. I recently heard a preacher refer to God as the Grand Choreographer, moving through events and people toward the purpose of completing His work of salvation (Philippians 1:6). More than 50 class members were in attendance that day, and God arranged for Patti and Santiago to sit at a table with Terry and Paula Shaw for lunch. Why? Because Patti, a CPA (certified public accountant), is a professor and co-chair of the Accounting Department at Valencia College, and Terry, who at the time was chief financial officer of Adventist Health System, is also a CPA. Terry and Paula took an interest in Patti, and they had a grand conversation of all things accounting and business.
We didn’t see Patti again for one year. Santiago kept coming to class and church. On the one-year anniversary of Santiago’s baptism, the class was thrilled to see Patti come through the door with her husband. Cheryl and I had lunch with them after church, and Patti talked about how Santiago kept telling her about the class teachers, and how much he was learning, and how kind everybody was. So she decided to check it out. And she kept coming faithfully every week, even when Santiago was out of town.
Several months ago, tragedy struck the family when Santiago’s daughter’s husband in Mexico suddenly died. She was left with five children. When we heard the news, Cheryl kept wondering what we could do to help them. The next week when Santiago and Patti arrived at class, we asked them how the class could help. Patti thought for a moment, and then the Spirit gave her the perfect idea: “She is a seamstress, but her old sewing machine is broken.” We got Loretta and Patti together, and that very week Loretta found a commercial sewing machine, and the following Sabbath the class members donated $1,000 for the sewing machine, as well as the airfare for Santiago to take the sewing machine to their daughter in Mexico. Patti couldn’t believe people would so quickly jump in and help. It’s not unusual for the class. One Christmas, the class bought a car for a single mother who is a member of the class. Several students have been helped financially at Forest Lake Academy.
In early 2017, Patti asked the class to pray for her since she had made the decision to leave her church, and she was going to tell the pastor. She had been a leader in the church and very involved. Even as Patti was making her announcement, a class member went over and put her arms around her. That Sabbath, Patti heard Pastor Geoff Patterson announce a week of fasting and prayer, and Patti and Santiago came every night. Patti is a praying saint. The first night they attended the prayer meeting, God brought Pastor Geoff’s wife, Alicia, to be a prayer partner with Patti.
And a few weeks later, after a Saturday night of games and popcorn at our home with several of the new members (in the past four years, through the work of the Spirit, 10 Grace and Truth class members have been baptized and joined the church), Patti lingered and asked if I would baptize her. Then, she surprised us. “It sure would be nice if I could have someone else baptized with me. I’m going to pray that God will impress someone else to be baptized at my baptism.” Then I told her that the Haucks had shared with me that when Patti was ready to be baptized, they would be thrilled to have the baptism in the same pool where Santiago was baptized. Patti was overwhelmed. So Sabbath afternoon, February 18, 2017, exactly three years from Santiago’s baptism, the whole class gathered again at the Haucks garden baptistry, and Patti was buried in baptism. AND her prayer was answered! Julia was baptized with her! Yes, God is the Grand Choreographer. Here’s what happened.
The Sabbath following Patti’s request to be baptized, it was announced to the class, and Patti told the class she was praying for someone else to join her in baptism. The following Sabbath, believe it or not, Julia, who had moved to Orlando to live with her son, Jon, after her husband of 50 years had suddenly died of cancer, and who had been attending the class for several months, approached me along with Jon, and shared that she wanted to study to prepare to be baptized and join the Church. You see, some five years ago her son, Jon, was in Costa Rica to surf and explore, and God initiated a contact between him and a young lady he had never met, Patty, who lived there. She was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. He was not. Her father worked for Adventist World Radio. He helped Jon learn the teachings of Jesus, he was baptized, he and Patty fell in love, were married, and now Jon works for Florida Hospital in Information Technology. He and Patty have been members of the Grace and Truth class for several years.
Jon then brought his brother, Don, to Jesus. Don moved to Orlando from Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, and while enjoying a meal at Jackie and Ted Hamilton’s home (one of many times they host various members from the class), I met Jon, his wife Patty, and Don. That day, Jon told me he thought the Holy Spirit was working in his brother’s life, and he was thinking about being baptized. We studied together, and two years ago Don, through his attendance at the class, the influence of his brother, and the impact of a Friday evening home Bible study and prayer group conducted by several members of the Sabbath School class, was baptized. That meant that Jon and Don’s father and mother became curious, and their dad started researching about the seventh-day Sabbath and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He became convicted through the Spirit, and invited the pastor in Ft. Walton Beach to come to their home and study.
Then cancer struck, and in a few short weeks, Julia’s husband, John, was dead. He died in Jesus, there is no doubt about that. So Julia moved to Orlando at the end of 2016 to live with her children. Of course she started coming to the Forest Lake Church where her sons attended, and to the Grace and Truth class. She loved it. The teachers kept teaching about Jesus and His grace.
And that’s how it came to be that through the providence of God and the Holy Spirit, Julia made her decision to be baptized. When Cheryl and I were studying with her, she said, “I’m so excited, I can’t sleep!” God knew all along that Julia would be the answer to Patti’s prayer. And Julia and Patti are now new friends in Jesus. Patti shared a moving testimony before she was baptized. “The genuine love and care I received from the members of this class, without judgment or question, have changed my life. You have shown me Jesus.”
Southern Union | June 2017