Around the world and close to home, members of the Southern Adventist University family are following God’s calling to serve Him.
The children rushed up to Adeline Piotrowski and the other volunteers, embracing them enthusiastically and showering their faces with kisses. Their innocent eyes shone with gratitude and love, and Piotrowski felt her heart swell in response. It had been a wonderful week in Morocco where the group from Southern Adventist University had put on a health fair, painted a beautiful mural, and celebrated God’s love with their new friends.
There are many ways to connect meaningfully with people; some we take for granted as common place, and others, like Piotrowski’s “relationship-building” trip to Morocco, are more nuanced but important and powerful. We all have gifts that we have been called to share. God’s Word tells us that “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms,” 1 Peter 4:10 NIV.
It is our calling in life to figure out how God wants us to serve Him. For some people, this involves helping individuals through social service organizations; others change lives simply through their daily interactions with those around them. Although serving God can take many different forms, all are an attempt to reflect His character.
Sometimes the simplest of interactions can leave a huge impression. When Sonya Fisher, a student who is not Adventist, came to check out Southern’s nursing program, she was immediately impressed by the kindness she encountered.
When Fisher first arrived on campus, she asked where the nursing building was. Rather than give her directions, an employee walked her all the way there. The next person who helped her was equally courteous, warm, and knowledgeable. The loving atmosphere on Southern’s campus was palpable, and right then Fisher knew that she wanted to be a part of it. She enrolled that day, and is now on course to graduate with her associate degree in nursing this December. She has also recommended Southern to multiple friends, suggesting they follow in her footsteps.
“I like how I’m not just a number here. My professors at Southern truly have their students’ best interests at heart,” Fisher said. “My son has a lot of health problems, and they have been so flexible and understanding. It’s more than just a job to them. I know I can talk or pray with them any time.”
Kindness is kindness, whether it occurs on Southern’s campus or across the sea. Morocco is a Muslim country, but while it is very different from the United States, foreigners are welcome to visit, and the people are very hospitable. During Spring Break this year, 15 Southern volunteers — including senior international studies major Adeline Piotrowski — traveled there for a special project. They helped present a children’s health expo for a public school of 500 students, grades K-8. Working with local organizations, the team emphasized health principles such as the importance of nutrition, water, exercise, sleep, and not smoking. They also painted a large mural on the school grounds, with the school children enthusiastically joining in. The volunteers’ efforts were warmly received by the entire community, and they have been invited to return again next year.
“It was a special opportunity to learn about Moroccan culture and share important values we have with the community there,” said Polina Kadatska, a faculty member at Southern and one of the trip’s coordinators. “We focused on the things we have in common instead of our differences.”
The Least of These
By day, Matthew Tolbert, a Southern alum, is an associate professor in the University’s School of Education and Psychology. In his free time, however, he serves on the boards of two local social services agencies, United Way of the Ocoee Region and Karis Dental Clinic.
“I take seriously what God asked of each of us — to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” Tolbert said. “These organizations allow me to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
At the United Way, Tolbert chairs a committee that focuses on finding the true impact an organization is having. They look not only for the crisis it is addressing, but more importantly for how it is attacking the root of the problem itself.
Tolbert explains that Karis Dental Clinic is an example of an organization that is making an impact first by meeting crisis needs, and secondly by addressing the root of the problem. Karis provides low-cost dental care to those in need, with a full-time dentist helping to run the clinic. Along with a second dentist, the team begins by treating emergency issues. Their goal is to offer an experience that reduces fear and will lead to educating clients about the importance of good oral care and regular check-ups. Karis has helped nearly 3,000 patients to date.
“God said, ‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you do unto Me,’” Tolbert said. “That is part of our calling, and through my board service, I have an opportunity to spread God’s love.”
Another Southern alum with a big heart for social services is Kristen Robinson, who graduated from Southern in 2015 with her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Since then, Robinson has worked at Cempa Community Care, an organization in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that helps HIV-positive individuals obtain needed services. At Cempa, a doctor and two nurse practitioners see clients for their primary care and infectious disease needs. They also offer testing and prevention programs, along with community education. For example, they want to raise awareness that if an HIV-infected patient is taking medication daily, the copies of HIV in his or her blood can become so low that they are undetectable by lab instruments and therefore are not transmittable.
Robinson is the lead medical case manager for support services at Cempa. She is in charge of providing client services, such as in-house financial assistance and referrals. Last year Cempa helped more than 750 clients.
“My favorite part of my job is being able to help people in a measurable, concrete way,” Robinson said. “My clients have a lot of needs, but sometimes as much as anything they need someone to treat them as humans. God’s Word provides the example for me to follow, to treat them as God’s children. In everything I do, I want to be like Him.”
is a Montessori preschool teacher who graduated in 2006 from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.
Southern Union | July 2019