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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Learning about the 10/40 Window

 By Paola Mora Zepeda

The 10/40 window refers to the countries located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator.  Within this region are 61 countries that have the least access to Christianity in the entire world. Most countries are predominantly  Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, though some are dominated by other religions.

When I first heard of this term, I was intrigued. Throughout my whole life, I have lived in an Adventist environment. So, it was hard for me to imagine a place where Christianity is almost non-existent. Hence, I saw this interactive map as an opportunity to learn more about these countries and the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) presence within their borders.

The map contains four variables: Population of the country, main religion, SDA church membership and percentage of Adventists according to the population. All of this information comes from data collected in 2016, as I was unable to get more updated results for all four categories.

What I discovered, left me in shock. I was not expecting a large SDA church membership, but I never imagined how ignorant my guesses were. My jaw dropped as I found out that some countries had less than 100 Adventists — some as low five or zero. 

I know that there are cases where not all church members are reported due to the political strife and/or lack of religious freedom. But as I analyzed the numbers, I found it bizarre that the building I was in, my school’s library, had a bigger SDA presence than an entire country.

Then, when I came across countries with 2,000 members or more I found myself saying “Hey, that’s not too bad,” while ignoring the fact that these countries have millions of inhabitants. Yes, 2,000 is better than 20, but the percentage of SDA always remained under 0.2 percent and most did not even reach 0.1 percent.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has grown significantly in both terms of numbers and diversity, but this map is proof that there are still hundreds of millions of people that have not yet been reached.

What do the colors represent? 

The colors represent the SDA divisions to which these countries belong:

Light Blue: Northern Asia Pacific Division (NSD)
Purple: Southern Asia Pacific Division (SSD)
Yellow: Southern Asia Division (SUD)
Pink: Euro Asian Pacific Division (ESD)
Light Green: West Central Africa Division (WAD)
Teal: East-Central Africa Division (ECD)
Orange: Attached to the General Conference (MENA)
Dark Green: Israel Field
Red: Does not belong to any conference

Mixed Religious Households

By Gia Arroyo

Growing up in a household that is split religiously is never an easy thing. My mother went through a situation like this at home. Although her parents were both Christian, it was still difficult living with a Seventh-day Adventist mom and Pentecostal dad. 

Wanting to see how common this is, I decided to research it online. According to a Pew Research Center study done in 2016, “roughly one-in-five U.S. adults were raised with a mixed religious background.”

The research center also discovered that 48 percent of children who grew up in a two-religion household are more likely to follow their mother’s faith. 

While researching this information, I remembered that my roommate, Shirali Pathak and her older sister, Prianca, grew up in a mixed religious household. They were raised by a Seventh-day Adventist mother and Hindu father.

“My dad not only wanted us to keep his values, as well as my mom’s,” said Shirali.  “We had a choice to make.” 

 Sabbaths were fun for Shirali. Being able to go to church and enjoy Adventures/Pathfinders is a memory that she’s fond of. The majority of her schooling has been in the Adventist education system. Prior to entering college, her father did not mind that she was in an SDA school. 

The issues arose when Shirali and Prianca decided to come to Southern.

“My dad was very against it ’cause he wanted us to be home, and he didn’t understand why we wanted to continue going to an Adventist school,” she said.

Because of this, supporting Shirali and her sister financially for school has fallen on their mother, she said.  Although it is difficult sometimes, when the topic of religion comes up, Shirali remains thankful that her father is understanding and respects her decision of being a Christian.

Do Christian artists feel limited by their beliefs?


In the video above, Madeline Mace, junior fine arts major, describes her journey with art and shares insight into the inspiration behind her pieces.

By Natalia Perez

This week, I interviewed four Southern students on their backstories as creators, and how their religious affiliation or cultural/societal gender roles have affected — or not affected — their creative process and expression.

Barry Daly, senior religious studies major, is an imaginative and detailed artist. He has been creating as a photographer for seven years.

Tell me a bit about you as an artist.

B: “For the majority of my life, I’ve tried my best to create from my imagination through writing, storytelling, and filmmaking. When I was starting out I would draw [inspiration] from everywhere, and as a result, I was able to draw emotion from my subjects that many other photographers could not. At this point in my creative journey, I draw from minor details in conversations, certain body language, details in movies, music, or other forms of entertainment.”

For more on Barry’s work, visit


Audrey Fankhanel, junior international studies major, has been especially flourishing as an artist during her year abroad in Italy. She creates through writing, photography, painting, and designing.

A: “It is hard to become an artist. It’s something that is innately within you. I have been creating since before I can remember. I have a portfolio for every year of my life, each filled with short stories and paintings. However, I still struggle with calling myself an artist because by claiming the title I feel a huge responsibility and pressure to create.

I am most inspired by nature, but my works are not directly about nature. I’m fascinated by the rhythms and patterns found in every aspect of the natural world, from the orbit of an electron to the ever-expanding universe. This life is so unpredictable, but these natural laws are perfect and never changing, and if that isn’t evidence of a God then I don’t know what is.”

For more of Audrey’s work, visit


Kristen Vonnoh, senior journalism-publishing major, has a special flair in her writing that matches her personality. Her writing interests include faith, fashion, and music among other things.

K: “I guess my writer’s journey began when I made a blog in fifth grade documenting horribly written short stories. I never really considered calling myself a writer until college, and even now I typically call myself a journalist. But I suppose “writer” is all-encompassing, which I like.

I definitely tend to be the overly dramatic, overly romantic type, so I draw creativity from pretty much everything honestly. Whether it’s a super mediocre cup of coffee or a TED talk I just heard, my mind is constantly absorbing ideas for my writing. That and my journalism professors have given me the wonderful advice to always, always, always be looking out for interesting stories.”

To read Kristen’s work, visit
To read her blog, visit


Jordan Putt, Southern alum, is a soulful and heartfelt creative. On April 21, 2018, he released an EP called “Honest to God,”  available on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and all music online-streaming sites. His album is a meditation of God, humanity, imperfection, and faith; and it’s the culmination of almost four years of sporadic writing. His music reads like a love letter to a best friend.

J: “I’ve been interested in music for as long as I can remember. Since I was old enough to pull myself up onto the piano bench, I would pretend to play music on it. I got my first guitar when I was 10, and it’s been a love affair ever since. I draw inspiration from my own experiences and feelings, as well as whatever I happen to be listening to at the moment. I think one of the things that has helped me become a better musician is listening to music from as wide a variety of musical genres and eras as I possibly can. I get a lot of inspiration from hearing what other people have done and trying to assimilate that into my own playing and writing.”

To listen to Jordan’s EP, visit

Here’s more of what the four artists had to say on this topic:

Do you feel limited by our religion or do you feel it enhances your creativity?

B: “When I was younger, I really believed that anything was possible within the confines of the church. As I have gotten older, I’ve consistently encountered judgment and opportunism. For the longest time, I had no idea why so many made the decision to leave the church. Often times, church-goers don’t take the time to really show love and support artists. Ultimately, I don’t believe that religion and belief limit me, but the people who “control” them do their best to shame creatives into fitting in the box they’ve built.”

A: “Growing up surrounded by the Adventist culture in Loma Linda, California, I absolutely have felt limited creatively. My spiritual beliefs enhance my art more than anything else, but the religious culture in which my beliefs reside creates a bubble of “appropriateness” that SDA’s are expected to operate within.”

K: “I 100% believe my relationship with God fuels my creativity. Understanding the gospel and my freedom in Christ has only allowed my creativity to flourish. And I think the key in all of that is a relationship with God—the ultimate Creator.”

photo courtesy of Jordan Putt

J: “I feel less limited by my beliefs than by what I think my audience will tolerate. My beliefs go hand in hand with my experiences and who I am as a person, so as long as I stay true to myself in my art (which has always been my goal), I won’t even think about creating something that goes against my beliefs. However, I do think that there are a lot of taboos in Adventist culture as it relates to doubts, struggles, and questioning. I have felt like there’s a lot of pressure to put on a good face and appear secure and content all the time, even when that may not be the case. This can be especially true for people who have been raised in the church.

For me, the anxiety that comes from being vulnerable and open about those questions or struggles can sometimes cause me to feel limited in what I feel comfortable talking about because of how I think it may cause my audience, especially the more conservative segment, to perceive me as a person.”

What do you think differentiates traditional feminine art from masculine art?

B: “I believe that the biggest difference is that most often it’s much easier for women to show emotion, and they are most often more willing to be vulnerable because for them art is healing.”

Madeline Mace displays dried flowers hanging from her ceiling in her art studio. A project representing traditional feminine art.

A: “Traditionally, masculine art has dominated feminine art, and this is mainly at the fault of the consumer. Male artists are given unwritten permission to be provocative and enticing. Their works tackle big ideas and complex emotions. Meanwhile, females are associated with creating “pretty” paintings or fun business logos. There are many female artists creating just as great works as males, but you will never hear about them. This goes for the Christian church as well, especially if you look at preaching as an art form. How many mega churches do you see being spearheaded by women? How often do you hear of a great female theologian outside of the context of an “inclusion” seminar?”

K: “I’ve always found this idea interesting because while there are universal feminine and masculine characteristics, much of it is also determined by culture. As a woman going into the field of journalism, I definitely recognize the “masculine” aspects of the craft (i.e. analyzing, collecting data and documents, etc.) and honestly I love it because it pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to engage with a different aspect of my mind.”

J: “I think art that we perceive as feminine usually tends to deal with softer, more traditionally feminine themes — love, family, etc. What is generally perceived to be masculine art usually deals with things that are traditionally male themes or traits, such as aggression, strength, security, etc.”

If you're a Christian artist, do your beliefs inhibit or enhance your creative process?

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La Familia: The Latino Experience at Southern Adventist University

By Natalia Perez

The interactive map and slideshow below feature the population of Southern’s Latino students whose citizenship is outside of the U.S., along with stories from students who are second-generation immigrants. 

Last semester, I and a team of ladies from the Southern’s School of Journalism designed and assembled the content for the Latin American Club’s first magazine, “Unidad Latina” (Latino Unity). The purpose of the magazine is to both celebrate the Latin American students of Southern and connect them with Southern’s alumni and the surrounding community. Although LAC has traditionally celebrated Latino culture through LAC events and especially on LAC night, this year we’ve opened a new avenue of expression through the written word.

Throughout this first issue, as well as the map above, you’ll find that many stories hold prominent themes of strength, family, and remembering home. In light of the various struggles Latinos face in the U.S., we find joy in celebrating our cultures together, and we’d love to celebrate them with you.








Listening to my Cuban grandmother wasn’t always easy. But I loved her.

Anaelys Trochez

When I think about the Seventh-day Adventist church, one of the most important people that comes to mind is my Cuban grandmother, Nancy Mestre. She inspired me to be a better Christian.

Every morning, mi Abuelita (Spanish for “my grandmother”) would always pray for anyone who crossed her path in life. I learned most of my beliefs and values from her.

But there were times I wish I didn’t listen. Abuelita and I had different views within the church. I was struggling to see God as a loving being. She had legalistic views  and I did not agree. As a result, it shaped my views (both negatively and positively) about being a part of a church.

Here’s a challenge: Think about the people you associate with in church. Are the majority of your friends outside or within your generation?

I asked that question of myself and realized that the majority of the people I spend time with at church are youth and young adult members of the church. I only spend time with the older generations when I have to — like in Sabbath morning church services and church board meetings.

I realized that I am not intentional about speaking with someone of a different age.

Why? Because of past negative conversations with older church members, their actions (or lack of), and personal stereotypes.

In the Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Clint Jenkins and A. Allan Martin published a dialogue called Engaging Adventist Millennials: A Church Embracing Relationships in the spring of 2014.

In this article, they reviewed a study completed in 2013 by the Barna Group to investigate how congregations can be more effective in maintaining engagement with those born between 1980 and 2000.

They surveyed Millennials who were (or had been) part of an Adventist congregation to understand their collective experiences and attitudes. The study details six perceptual grievances that Millennials tend to harbor against “the church” as a cultural institution. These grievances hold that the church is (1) intolerant of doubt, (2) elitist in its relationships, (3) anti-science in its beliefs, (4) overprotective of its members, (5) shallow in its teachings and (6) repressive of differences.

Jenkins and Martin noticed that maintaining engagement among young adults is through positive experiences and relationships with older Adventist members and church leadership. They realized that intergenerational relationships are vital and can be the reason Millennials stay or leave the church.

I found this to be true. A close friend of mine does not attend church because church members disliked her bold choice of hair color. Another young church member feels discouraged about planning programs to which only a few attend and some don’t show up at all.

I remember attending a church board meeting where older church members were reluctant to participate in youth group activities because they felt out of touch with our generation.

According to the study,  establishing supportive intergenerational relationships, expressing forgiveness and acceptance and sharing experiences might be ways to build a bridge between the generational gap within the church.

Mi Abuelita, my beloved grandmother,  passed away Jan 6th  of this year, just four days after my 21st birthday. As I reflect on our relationship, there were many times that I let our differences be an excuse for us not getting along.

I wish I understood sooner that we were both broken individuals trying to be a Christlike. I miss her smile and most of all, I miss her prayers for me. She would always pray for my studies and education. I am where I am because of her early morning prayers.

I challenge young people (myself included) to establish a friendship with someone outside their generational group. Talk, pray and support them whatever way you can.