Stepping out of the Adventist bubble

In the second-grade, I was in a multi-grade class with a teacher who was also the principal. It was tough for me to comprehend what she was teaching half of the time due to the distractions.

Because I had difficulty learning in such an environment, my parents decided to pull me from that Adventist school. So, starting in fourth-grade and up until eighth-grade, I was enrolled in an Episcopalian School.

It gifted me the experience of going to school with people outside of my denomination and outside of my religion. Each and every student in my class was different. We all had a story,  and we all had different beliefs, but we somehow put it all aside and became friends.

I was able to learn about everyone’s culture and religion in a wholesome way. In eighth grade, each student of a different religion/denomination presented to the class their beliefs. Then we’d research as a class different aspects of those religions and visit their place of worship.

Upon graduating from Saint Joseph’s, I went to a Baptist high school in my area. My two years at Berean Christian School were tough, mainly because for the first time in my life my beliefs were challenged.

If I said I went to church on the Sabbath, they would mock me and tell me how that made no sense. It was exhausting trying to explain it to so many people and just hearing people judge or question me.

Going to school outside the “Adventist Bubble” has many advantages and disadvantages. I was able to learn about my friends’ different religions. I was exposed to things while at Saint Josephs that I would have never learned at an Adventist academy. At Berean, I learned how beautiful it is to praise Jesus through praise and worship.  I wholeheartedly believe that being at Saint Joe’s and Berean made me appreciate Adventism even more.

When my family was transferred to Orlando, I completed my last two years of high school at Forest Lake Academy. Being able to go to school functions that didn’t conflict with the Sabbath was a beautiful and refreshing feeling. It felt great not having to deal with the pressures of the social norms from my previous high school. Everyone understood me, and I understood them.

I believe it is important for me to do the same for my children. Keeping me in a private Christian school was very beneficial to me, despite it not being Adventist.

In the end, I am thankful for the path my parents and God put me on- even if it meant leaving the “Adventist Bubble.”

I felt excluded at a women’s retreat … Here’s why

In March, I attended a Hispanic Weekend Spiritual Retreat for ladies and girls, ages 10 years and up, in my local church conference. The retreat was held in Cohutta Springs, Georgia. I traveled there with my mother, sisters, and other women from my parents’ church. 

I enjoyed the event.  However, throughout the weekend there was a constant stream of topics to which I could not relate. The irony is that it was supposed to be a  retreat for women of all ages. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

The first night’s meeting made me feel like an outsider.  It focused on married women with children and single mothers. There was a separate program for girls ages 10 through 17.

 Once the speaker began to speak about her intimate relationship with her husband, I felt awkward. Other women nodded their heads in agreement as she openly talked about healthy, loving marriages and ways to love and treat your husband, but I could not agree or relate.

My mom noticed a shift in my body language. “If you don’t feel comfortable being here, then how about you join the youth group,” she said.

I looked at her with an irritated facial expression.

I told my mom I am 21 years old and an adult. Simply not married and childless. For a retreat the marketed to all women, it just so happened that they forgot about my age group. When I expressed those sentiments to my mother and twin sister, they told me to take the information as advice for when I marry in the future.

According to the 2018 North American Adventist  Demographics Report, a study conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry and Commissioned by the NAD Office of Education, nearly four out of five adults in the Adventist population are married. But surveys of single adults among Adventists have reported that they often feel that congregations are dominated by married people and not very welcoming for singles.

“Over the last decade since the 2008 survey, the Adventist population has shifted even further away from single adults toward married individuals,” according to the study. “The percentage of divorced singles has not changed, but the percentages of primarily younger never-married singles and primarily older widowed singles have each dropped by roughly half. “

The demographic study suggests it could be an indication that Adventist congregations in North America are not improving their ability to connect with single adults and make them feel at home. It clearly states that there needs to be attention given to developing a more effective single’s ministries in the NAD.

I hope for the next Hispanic women’s retreat won’t overlook us single ladies; because although we are not in relationships or have children, we can still bring our flavor to the world.    

How Traveling Can Break Borders  

By Hannah D’Avanzo

When I was a second-grader living in the United States, my parents homeschooled my brother and me, and we spent several months traveling to Hawaii, Pohnpei, and the Philippines. I remember many school days spent on the beach studying the culture of where I was visiting.

Due to this, a desire for travel was instilled in me at a young age. Some treasured experiences include swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines with local Filipino fishermen, visiting several temples in Korea among people who differ in worship style from me and going to Nicaragua during a revolt. I spent days listening to the local’s struggles and stories.

Travel spurs curiosity.  Though I have traveled overseas my whole life, I feel that there are so many more places to visit and beautiful cultures that have yet to be explored.

I spent a year living in Italy as I studied the language and culture, fitting in exploration time of other European countries. These cultural experiences have shaped who I am today. Everywhere I went, I took a little piece of the rich cultural experiences with me.

Due to traveling, I saw a variety of races from a young age. Seeing people who looked different than me was normal. Strongly appreciating other cultures was something my family instilled in us. I believe traveling has a strong power to create cultural awareness and open one’s mind.

At the same time, traveling leaves you vulnerable, and many times you have to rely on the kindness of other people who look nothing like you, which leaves you with an appreciation of people. Most times you will be surprised at how pleasant these experiences are.

Travel spurs curiosity.  Though I have traveled overseas my whole life, I feel that there are so many more places to visit and beautiful cultures that have yet to be explored.

Travel also gives you the ability to relate to others. Most people take pride in their countries and ethnic backgrounds. Asking questions can open doors to great conversations and even friendships.

Growing up in the southern United States, I felt racism heavily and the underlying separation between cultures and the ignorance many people carry. It was always hard for me to grasp why people separated themselves and automatically assumed things about different races.

Though not everyone is able to travel overseas due to expense, I believe there are many opportunities around us to get better acquainted with people from different cultures.

Listen, learn, try their food. Be truly open and curious. By breaking boundaries and having honest discussions, I believe many stigmas can be broken.






Unconscious bias affects everyone – including Christians

Last November, the Latin American Club of Southern Adventist University (SAU) invited Willy Ramos, better known as the “Ghetto Preacher,” to share his testimony during some of SAU’s worship services. I remember sitting that Friday evening in the pews and seeing Ramos walk on stage.

He wore a black leather vest and some dark shades. There were chains attached to his clothing and a big silver cross pendant pinned to his shirt. To me, he looked like a wannabe-rapper, and the first thing that popped into my mind was, why is he here?

I did not think someone with a “gangsta” look could help my spiritual life in any way. Within a few seconds, however, I realized how wrong those thoughts were. I realized that judging someone like that is not correct. And even though I reprimanded myself within a short time, where did those thoughts come from?

I realized that judging someone like that is not correct. And even though I reprimanded myself within a short time, where did those thoughts come from?

Unconscious bias, also referred to as implicit bias, is an involuntary response towards a situation or person based on previous experiences, cultures, attitudes and background. We put individuals in boxes and act accordingly based on their gender, age, race, as well as what they do for a living, what they wear and many other characteristics.

According to an article by Forbes, there are over 150 forms of unconscious bias. Three of the most common ones are affinity bias, performance bias and confirmation bias. The first one refers to the phenomenon that happens when individuals tend to like or favor people who are most like them. The second means that “we judge the ‘ingroup’ based on potential, and the ‘outgroup’ based on performance.” Finally, confirmation bias means that one is actively seeking proof and easily accepting evidence that might back up that already-made assumption.  

Many people may feel that they have escaped this way of thinking, but the truth is that unconscious bias is simply repressed prejudice – and most people are guilty of it, according to experts. Everyone has his or her own culture, background and experiences that lead them to think, even if it is for just a moment, a certain kind of way.  The question that remains now is: How can this implicit bias affect a church? To answer this question I will go back to my first illustration and compare it with the three most common forms of unconscious bias.

Many people may feel that they have escaped this way of thinking, but the truth is that unconscious bias is simply repressed prejudice – and most people are guilty of it.

Ramos had never done anything to me. He had never offended me; he had never hurt me; we had never even spoken. Yet, the moment I saw him walk on stage my mind was clouded with prejudice. Why? Because he did not look like me and did not look the way most people in the church looked. I was overcomed by affinity bias. He was not wearing a suit or dress shoes. He did not have a tie or a white collar shirt. His look was like that of someone off the street, not someone on the pulpit. He simply did not fit in.

I think this is a common problem with the church. We speak of preaching the message and loving our neighbor but we judge when our neighbor comes from a different “neighborhood.” Maybe we do not discriminate directly based on race, but we discriminate about makeup, tattoos, marriage status, political views, etc. We do not like it when others do not act the way we act or look the way we look. On the outside, we are smiling and shaking hands. But on the inside, we are examining from head to toe.

When Ramos walked on stage, it was obvious that he was not your usual preacher. He did not look the role; and unless he proved himself, I was not going to give him the part. Yet, there have been times when other well-dressed-holding-Bible-in-hand pastors have appeared on the platform and I got ready to hang them the oscar even before they had gotten the chance to act. This is performance bias. Those who fit the “ideal preacher” image received my full attention, but those who did not show those “characteristics” only received partial listening until I could decide they could “play the role” too.

How many times have you observed that same phenomenon in the church? How many times have you found yourself guilty of the same reasoning? Sometimes people in the church categorize others based on in-groups and out-groups; those who fit the role and those who don’t.

“She is the pastor’s wife?! Why does she wear so much makeup?”

“I do not know about her, she was baptized two months ago but still wears her skirts so short.”

Too often in the church, if someone does not fit the stereotype then we mentally require them to prove their worthiness.

Sometimes people in the church categorize others based on in-groups and out-groups; those who fit the role and those who don’t.

The hard thing about unconscious bias is that we do not realize it is there until it reveals itself (note that you cannot unhide it, you just recognize it after it comes out). Sometimes rather than addressing this bias problem, we try to make it seem “less problematic.”

If we can find “actual proof” for that repressed prejudice that just popped into our minds, then it means we had a legit reason to feel the way we did. It means that we are not such horrible human beings after all. As I realized the error in my thoughts, I found myself paying close attention to Ramos’ vocabulary and expressions. In a way I wanted him to say a word I knew was wrong  or make a connotation I knew was inappropriate for a church setting because then my unconscious bias could have been justified. I was turning from affinity bias and performance bias towards confirmation bias.

However, no bias is acceptable. All biases cause the same level of harm. If the church is free from affinity or performance bias but is still chained to confirmation bias, then we we are still slaves to prejudice. If we are looking at the actions of our neighbors, watching their vocabulary, appearance, friendships, etc., expecting to find faults, then we are but captives to hatred, discrimination and injustice seen everywhere in the world.

Humans are all guilty of unconscious bias. It is a poison in everyone’s mind and this poison has even intoxicated the church. Just because it is there, however, does not mean that we have to welcome it.

When I realized how wrong my thoughts towards the Ghetto Preacher were, then I knew I had to clean up of my mind. The church needs to do the same thing. It is not always easy but it is necessary if we are trying to live a life like Jesus. It is time we get rid of this poison called unconscious bias and clear the cloud of prejudice.

Just because it is there… does not mean that we have to welcome it.

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