Estefania Sanchez – The Journey Begins

My name is Estefania Sanchez. I am 21 years old and currently majoring in broadcast journalism at Southern Adventist University. I am the daughter of two hard-working parents and the second of four children. I come from a Mexican background and was raised to love, respect and appreciate all people.

From a very young age, I was taught that the world is a place full of many beautiful things; and as a result, I have fallen in love with learning. My interest in discovering new things has ignited in me a passion for traveling. I have had the privilege of indulging in the beauty of many places inside and outside of the country. However, I can confidently say that my favorite location is Chiang Mai, Thailand.

My trip to Thailand confirmed that I had a heightened interest in photography and writing. There was something about being able to capture a single moment in a photo or a piece of writing that was magical. It allowed me to share my story and the story of others with people that weren’t there in the moment. I strongly believe that this is one of the greatest treasures a person can possess. Being able to convey stories to others so that they may feel as if they were there is truly a gift that I would not trade.

Over the course of this semester, and through this project, I hope that I can deliver a voice and visualize to people of the world that diversity is beautiful.

Alva Johnson – Let’s Dig Deeper

Sitting in the nosebleed section of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri, my eyes panned the spectacular pageantry below. Nationals from across the globe decked in traditional garb. Colorful flags floating gracefully across the stage. Faces beaming with pride for church and country.

For attendees of the 2005 General Conference Session of Seventh-day Adventists, it was the moment that we had all been waiting for – a Parade of Nations to celebrate Adventism’s global diversity, and we were not disappointed.

From Panama to Papua New Guinea, Mongolia to Mozambique, Nigeria to New Zealand, representatives from each of the denomination’s 13 divisions paraded on stage to much pomp and circumstance, as compatriots in the bleachers cheered enthusiastically for their countries.

However, no group shouted louder than Seventh-day Adventists from the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, who let out a collective roar when Jamaica, Haiti and Guyana were called. That is when my eyes first opened to the true impact of Adventism in the Caribbean basin, the region of the denomination’s greatest success, according to some experts.

I am a fourth generation Adventist, with roots in Nevis and Antigua, where my great-great grandparents were among the first on their islands to embrace the Adventist faith. I am also a curious journalist who has written extensively about race, demographics and Caribbean culture over the decades.

I witnessed the demographic changes within the Adventist denomination first-hand, and I have long wanted to document them in a way that enhances the discussion about race, not only in the church but also in America generally.
Now, as an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University, I have the privilege of conducting this research with an amazing group of students.

Through “Investigating Diversity: Exploring Race, Gender and Unity in the Adventist Church,” we begin that journey

Kiaya Simone – Pushing the Conversation

Hi! I am Kiaya Robertson. However, per my byline, I go by Kiaya Simone. I am 19 years old and was born in the beautiful city of Atlanta, Georgia. I, along with my younger brother, was raised in a home of two loving parents.

My mother originally grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist and is now non-denominational, while my father grew up Baptist and now identifies as non-denominational as well.

I am a broadcast journalism major and a political science minor. My ultimate goal is to become a news anchor, international correspondent, or political correspondent for a broadcast company.

Some things that I enjoy doing in my free time are reading memoirs and any kind of fiction, singing, writing, listening to and discovering new music. I also enjoy swimming competitively.

As a communication major and practicing Adventist, I recognize how paramount it is to bring forth a balanced perspective when focusing on community and church. I believe that the Lord wants us to join in harmony, reason with one another, and shed light on how differently we think while making an effort to understand each other. There are so many different people around the globe that identify themselves as Adventist and really want to be a part of the church community.

I believe many members want to see a reflection of themselves in culture. They want to understand why diversity in age, gender, and ethnic background is crucial to our religious practice. I feel that with this platform, I have an opportunity to help bridge that gap, or at least start pushing the conversation.

Natalia Perez – Complex Identity in a Complex Church

Hello! My name is Natalia Perez. I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, and ventured down to the adorable little city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to pursue a writing degree.

Growing up amid Puerto Rican and Dominican cultures, my parents have fueled my rich background. Since I was raised in a bubble of Latinos for the greater part of my years at home, I didn’t really become culturally aware until I moved down South, where people, including my own people, question my ethnicity often and seem surprised when I speak Spanish fluently.

This forced me into cultural self-discovery, a switch between not only identifying as a Latina, but an Afro-Latina, a Latin American woman with prominent Afrocentric features.

Aside from my complex racial identity, I’m a passionate journalist and a second-generation Adventist who’s still discovering tons about race, gender, ethnic/people groups and how we all come together to make one church.

Understanding a diverse community is wonderful and necessary for our growth as a church. With our blog, we hope to intentionally raise awareness about the diversity within our people groups, our cultural backgrounds, and our stories.

Let’s navigate together.

Anaelys Trochez – Seeking the American Dream

Hello, my name is Anaelys Trochez, and I am a second generation Seventh-day Adventist. I was born and raised in the beautiful Sunshine State and the city known as Miami, Florida. As a child, I grew up in a multicultural environment — different forms of life and cultures surrounding my life, especially at church. I belonged to a small Hispanic congregation, which was my first exposure to different cultures. 

My mother was born in Cuba but migrated to the United States as a one-year-old, and my father moved to the United States from Honduras as a grown adult.

I heard the many stories of the different homes my fellow church members left behind like Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. I always ponder why would someone abandon their home country and searched for a new one.

I found that although the journey from which we all come from maybe be different, the reason remains the same. Like my parents, the church members sought a new way of living and the American dream.

Although many had to leave their families behind, they created new ones within the church community. Ultimately, the freedom to worship drives us to share in fellowship.

As a mass communication major, I want to be able to tell the story of our church that unites us as a whole.

Although we are all different, we have a Creator who loves us the same.

The Big ‘SO WHAT?’

By Estefania Sanchez

As we begin to dive in and explore the topic of our big research project, a few questions pop into my head.  What is diversity? Why is it important? And most importantly, how is it directly impacting our church? 

What is diversity? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word diversity means “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: VARIETY” 

A couple of years ago, I was given the opportunity to participate in a mission trip that took place in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I will admit, at first I was very nervous. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the villagers and locals around me because we spoke two different languages.

Yes, we had translators, but there is something about two groups of people from two different cultures interacting that almost seems like a form of art– a miracle more precisely. I quickly learned that diversity is something that can be found either on the other side of the world or even right next door to you. To be diverse means to bring something to the table of ideas that nobody else has to offer, and combining those ideas with the ideas of others to form a stronger community.

Why is diversity important? Well, to simply put it, without diversity, our world would be pretty dull. Diversity allows us to discover things about ourselves and others that we may never have been able to see. It is a concept that allows us to explore the cultures, lives, and ideas of other people so that we can be more informed as to how we are different from those around us and the impact those differences make.  Diversity helps us see the world around us in full color, and it allows us to understand different views and perspectives those around us may have.

How does diversity directly impact our church?  In today’s church, we see a rainbow of cultures that gather in one congregation for the same cause;  to worship and praise.  Seeing that it is not uncommon to have people of many cultural backgrounds meet in one place with the same goal, one must question, ‘”Is it diverse in numbers or is it diverse in cultural participation?”

Yes, diversity is the key to unlocking the background of people’s cultural habits and beliefs, but is it always accepted in the church? 

This is a question that is in the process of being answered; and with this project, I hope to have an update soon.

Zailin Pena – Navigating Two Worlds

My name is Zailin Peña. I was born in Cuba and was brought to the states at the early age of one.

I was raised in a Hispanic household, my parents not speaking English. My sister and I had to fend for ourselves when we went to school.

Eventually, we learned the native language of our new country, and we were able to do what was needed to succeed. It wasn’t easy, but I discovered that being bilingual has its many perks and can open many doors.

My grandfather was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Cuba, and he continued to be one once we moved to the states.

I was raised Adventist, along with my older sister. Our parents and grandparents always reminded us of what was right and wrong according to what the Bible said, and that we should never lose our faith.

As life has gone by, I have realized that I haven’t lived up to some of the spiritual expectations that were set for me as a child.

I have grown, and I’ve made decisions that don’t reflect the ideals that I was taught. I have seen the error of my ways, and I am trying to grow from them.

Gianni Arroyo – Growing up a PK

Hello! My name is Gianni Arroyo but I prefer going by Gia. I was born in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. My family moved from Puerto Rico to Miami after my dad graduated from Antillian Adventist University.

Growing up a pastor’s kid I had to deal with moving around quite a
few times. Adjusting to new environments was difficult for me. So, at an early age, I found ways to cope with the changes through writing.

This opened a new world for me. Being a Seventh-day Adventist is a big part of my life. So much so that I’ve lost count of how many generations my family has been a part of the denomination.

I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in our church, especially as a pastor’s kid.

Diversity within our church is a topic that I find very interesting and important.
It is critical to our survival as a denomination.

I believe in the message of our church and would love to see us flourish.

Hannah D’Avanzo – Just Call Me Hannah

To ask who I am, one would get an answer that is complex, yet straight forward. My first name is simple, Hannah. My last name, if spelled correctly, comes with an apostrophe…D’Avanzo.

I am a child of two parents who are from different races and have very different cultural practices. My mother is Filipino and my father is Italian. In our home, strong Asian values prevailed yet I only understood and spoke the language native to my father. For that reason, I often felt that I should choose which race I would be more a part of than the other. In reality, I am not just one or the other.

Today, as I expand my knowledge of research and race, I realize my background does not dene me, but is an accessory of who I am.
I do not have to choose one race because one box can’t be as encompassing as I am. I am diverse, and diversity is beautiful. Having said that, I am very excited to be a part of Interactive Journalism, where we will closely explore and write about diversity, race and unity within the Adventist church. I hope you will follow our posts and enjoy our discoveries on investigating diversity.

Paola Mora – Growing in Diversity

My name is Paola Mora and I had a problem with belonging.

My parents are missionaries and, as a result, I moved around a lot. In my twenty years of life, I have lived in eight different countries: Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Argentina, Chile, Philippines, Hong Kong and, finally, the United States.

It sucked. I just wanted to go somewhere where I belonged. I wanted to nd a culture that I could entirely embrace or a country that I could call home. Instead, I was a mix of various customs, values, and beliefs. I was like a puzzle piece that could never just quite fit in.

But as the years passed I learned about the beauty of diversity. I realized that things that separate us have the power to unite; the things that make us different are what make life worth living. When I became aware of this everything changed: It changed the way I viewed the world and the way I viewed myself.

That is why I am so excited to be working on this project. I hope that our research gives some insight into the diversity around us; its conflicts, its strengths and what it all means. I hope that this study helps others realize that unity is not always perfect but it is always beautiful.