By Steve Moran  |  12 January 2020  |  

Sheila got up in front of 600 people in tuxedos and shimmering gowns to tell her story, her four children at her side.

“I was homeless, living in a tent next to the river with my kids, then without them when the authorities took them away. I was miserable, I was worthless…My kids experienced things they should not have experienced, saw things they should never have seen.

“Then I heard about Saint John’s…

“I had to call every day for 68 straight days before they had a place for me.

“I am now out, living on my own, I have my kids back. St John’s is my rock… they changed my life. To those of you still working the program hang in there, it is worth it.”

The Big Gala of the Year

Saint John’s Program for Real Change is a safe and sober women’s shelter in the Sacramento area that is narrowly focused on getting women and children off the streets and into safe and productive jobs. They graduate about 200 women and families a year with about a 96% success rate, which means they are living in their own home or apartment with a job that pays them a living wage and that they are clean and sober. 

Funding is a real challenge for Saint John’s. It used to be that the county government provided more than half a million dollars in funding each year, but the current thinking by homelessness experts, which the county has adopted about solving the problem, is to provide low barrier shelters (meaning no requirement to be and stay sober) and that they should not be for women only. 

To help make up the gap, they have two huge fundraising events; the bigger of the two is a huge gala attended by more than 600 people. The tickets are pricey and the event fancy. The auction items are equally pricey, with the least expensive going for several thousand dollars and the most expensive near $20,000. 

And yes, I was there in my tuxedo and Chuck Taylor Tennis Shoes, my wife in an elegant gown. 

At this one party they raised well over half a million dollars, all going to rescuing women and children.

What Struck Me

As Sheila spoke, I looked around and could see that the alcohol was flowing freeing, hearts were breaking with the pain of the circumstances these women came from and with the joy of knowing that Saint John’s and each of them were playing a part in rescuing – turning around – the lives of these women and children.

I found myself wondering how most of the members of my local church would feel about the party where there were a lot of emptied wine and booze bottles, where the menu included pork and lobster, and where a few minutes later a DJ would fire up his sound machine and the partiers would hit the dance floor.

Salvation

You might think this article is about how we as a church should be rescuing, and maybe that is true, but realistically what Saint John’s does is complicated and difficult. It takes real estate, staff, connections and millions of dollars. It is not something most churches—even big churches—could do. And there are many churches that recognize this and come alongside Saint John’s to help, a much better choice since St. John’s has figured it out.

What really struck me was how messed up and impractical, maybe even unholy, our theology is. Somehow we believe that keeping the Sabbath, not drinking, not smoking, not eating unclean meat (and if you are really good, going vegan), believing the right things about what happens after you die—on and on and on—are the things that save us. 

How We See God…

Ultimately this is a question of how we see God. Do we really believe God will save us if we keep the Sabbath, don’t dance, smoke, drink coffee or eat unclean meat—and never ever do anything to help women and children living on the street or on a riverbank in a tent, because we are so busy doing that other stuff that is so important to Adventists?

And that God will refuse heaven to those drinkers and dancers who are a part of helping women and children off the street because they dance, drink, smoke, eat whatever they want and don’t have proper theology? 

A Better Way…

I am not suggesting that Adventism should abandon anything but rather that we have elevated the unimportant to the most important. Matthew 25 suggests a simple and easy, and yet incredibly difficult, salvation test: 

Notice those in need and do something about it. 

    • What if we were the biggest supporters of programs like Saint John’s with people and money? If we attended these parties and treated drinking and dancing like preferences instead of theological imperatives? 
    • What if we built relationships that then allowed us to talk about the gift of the Sabbath, that one day of the week we reorient, we reset our priorities? 
    • What if we leveraged those relationships to talk about how good it feels to eat and drink in moderation?
    • What if we would trust the Holy Spirit to lead people toward a new lifestyle—or not—as the Spirit chooses?
    • What if we would trust the Holy Spirit to lead people to a “right” theology, whatever that is, as the Spirit chooses?

Steve Moran is the publisher of Senior Living Foresight, a web based publication for senior living leaders.  He lives in the Sacramento, California, area, where he attends the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist church and teaches the best Junior Sabbath School students in the whole wide world. 

To comment, click/tap here.