Seventh-day Adventists put faith in action, take ministry to streets

Youths meet in city for conference, service

April 25, 2003|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

There was a time, said the Rev. Fredrick Russell, when Seventh-day Adventist missionaries went abroad to save souls.

"But right here in Baltimore, there's a mission field of people in desperate need," said Russell, a pastor in the city's southwest.

And that's why a yellow school bus pulled into the parking lot of the Edmondson Village Shopping Center yesterday afternoon, disgorging dozens of young people with Bible tracts in hand.

The Seventh-day Adventists had arrived to spread the gospel.

"We want to try to take back the city for God, show people the truth and try and get as many people to join our church as we can," said Etelka Thomas Jr., an 18-year-old high school senior from Owings in Calvert County who passed out Signs of the Times, a church magazine.

More than 300 youth members of the church were in Baltimore for a four-day regional conference at the Baltimore Convention Center. Organizers expect attendance to swell to 5,000 by the weekend.

The young people spent the morning in workshops that covered both worldly matters, such as money management and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and spiritual subjects such as planning church activities. Then they boarded buses that took them to six city sites to put their faith into action.

They proselytized in the marketplace, cleaned up trash in the street, repaired a community center and visited a homeless shelter. Their conference, titled Magnify the Message, is part of a broader effort to increase the visibility of Seventh-day Adventists in Baltimore. Last year, the 12 million-member church, which has about 26,000 adherents in Maryland, declared the city a "mission field" and launched the Baltimore Metro Initiative to expand community services.

"With all of the violence, with all of the serious social ills occurring in Baltimore right now, it's the church that has to begin to make an impact," said Russell, pastor of Miracle Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southwest Baltimore.

His congregation will open a new church complex next month that will include the Faith Center for Wellness and Advancement, a health outreach in cooperation with the nursing departments of Johns Hopkins and Morgan State universities.

Founded in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has its roots in the followers of William Miller, a Baptist preacher who predicted Jesus' second coming in the mid-1840s.

When Jesus did not reappear, an event that became known as the Great Disappointment, a remnant reinterpreted Miller's prophecy and declared that God had instead established a special ministry in heaven on that date for his followers.

These descendants of that group, who call themselves Adventists, still believe in an imminent return. Seventh-day Adventists are also distinguished from other Christian churches by their practice of celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday, following the practice of the early church.

There are eight Adventist churches in the city, all with outreach ministries -- including soup kitchens, services to the homeless, senior housing, adult day care and health services. These will expand as part of the initiative, supported by a central church service center.

The young people in Edmondson Village yesterday were foot soldiers for a local pastor trying to determine the needs of his neighbors. The Rev. Ron Edmonds, pastor of Edmondson Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church near the shopping center, supervised the youths as they helped shoppers fill out questionnaires.

"We're gathering information from untouched areas in the community and determining what the needs are. Then we'll send people out to fill those needs," Edmonds said. "It could be from helping someone to cut their grass to cleaning the house to going to the store for them to holding Bible studies or just having prayer with them." Edmonds called the street ministry a "renewed effort" to carry out what the church has done for more than a century.

"This is basically going back to the ABCs, going door-to-door, going to the centers where people gather," he said.

Although the Adventists were focusing on physical needs yesterday, they hoped it might create an opening for the spiritual.

"If they say they want to come to church," said Edmonds, "I will not say, `No.'"

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