Thankfulness is at the heart of the Christian experience. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are invited to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
So even in the middle of the challenges of our world, we, as a Conference, continue to give thanks. Maintaining an attitude of thankfulness is the way we learn to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. It allows us to remember that this world is not our home and to acknowledge that God continues to be good and merciful by creating pathways for us to minister throughout our region.
During this year, we witnessed God’s goodness as we continue to share the gospel. One of the ways we saw evidence of this is through the expansion of our pastoral staff – we added 6 full-time pastors to minister to our local churches, which have seen growth of 302 baptisms, 113 professions of faith and 18 re-baptisms this year.
We have similarly seen growth in our school system, as well as God’s blessing as we passed the half-way mark of fully funding the BASS endowment, which now has a balance of $5.7 million dollars.
We praise God for all that He’s done for us this year. We know that He will continue to be true and faithful so we continue to give thanks to Him for “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1b).
In celebration of the Thanksgiving season the leadership team at Laurel SDA Church decided to dedicate a week towards focusing the church’s communications and outreach around gratitude. As a result, church members received positive feedback from their friends, family and community members and experienced the spiritual impact of their decision to maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Stacey Loper, a member of the church’s leadership team, described the campaign as a combination of devotional and testimonial videos as well as a series of social media posts and text messages. She shared that “I can truly say that there have been so many people who have been touched by the personal testimonies that have been shared and the devotionals that have come out every day.
I’ve even received personal messages from people about how the Lord has touched them from some of the stories that have been shared. It’s been a good reminder to be purposeful in our everyday sense of awareness of what God is doing in the moment – what he’s done in the past and how he’s going to lead in the future.”
The church community capped off the week of gratitude with a Fall Festival on the 12th of November 2023. Pr Lucas Caina shared the importance of the event saying, “Today we are celebrating the end of this week of gratitude we had here at Laurel Church. It was great because we had the opportunity to focus our hearts and minds on this very important subject about how to be grateful. Now, we are celebrating the great things our Lord is doing among us and we are so thankful because our God is good. He loves us. He wants us.”
Among those most impacted by the week was church member, Warren Blackwell, whose testimony was featured in one of the videos posted on the church’s social media page. As a result, he said, “I had several people reach out to me. I have a friend of mine – met him years back – and he reached out and said, ‘Your testimony was awesome to hear. I had no idea you had that kind of testimony.’ His mom has been sick and has been going to hospice. The friend asked, ‘If it’s not too much, would you and your wife pray for us?’
It kind of opened the door to have that discussion. I’ve never had that discussion with him before. We’re praying for him. That was a pretty neat experience to have that door open.”
You can learn more about Warren Blackwell's testimony here: View Warren's testimony.
On November 11, 2023, Pr Tiana Rabearison, was ordained as a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, while surrounded by family, friends, former and current church members as well as community members.
Gulf States Conference President Pr Brian Danese acknowledged the value of Pr Tiana’s impact in the Conference saying, “We’re thankful for Pr. Tiana and his ministry here. He’s served five years here in this district, and we now celebrate his ordination.”
Director of Ministerial Pr Josue Murillo reiterated this message saying, “In our conference we’re blessed by having amazing pastors. Today we had the opportunity to acknowledge the ministry of Pr Tiana. It is a privilege for us to acknowledge this pastor who has served our Conference for the past 5 years. Today, it’s time to celebrate.”
Recognizing the significance of the day, Pr Tiana expressed his thankfulness for the immense support he received saying, “I’m very grateful this day because God has done something amazing for me and my family. He has called and affirmed it today through this ordination ceremony. Thank God, and I cannot thank him enough.
It’s a special day and a special experience, not only the Gulf State Conference leadership have been here to perform this ceremony of ordination, represented by Pr. Brian Danese and Pr. Josh Murillo, and family, but also the church families from the two church districts, The Ridge Clinton, MS and Vicksburg, MS. They all have come here to support. Even the churches from College Drive in Jackson, MS and Roebuck, AL. People, even non-SDA members, have come here because of the prior connection God has opened.
I am thanking God and praising him for what he has done here.”
Each year, youth from around the Gulf States Conference gather to fellowship and grow in faith at the FEJA (Federación de Jóvenes Adventistas) or Federation of Adventist Youth gatherings.
The theme of this year’s FEJA event, held over the weekend of November 10-12, 2023 at Oakwood Latino Adventist Church in Huntsville, AL, was “Don’t Give Up!” This was tied together with the concept of the FEJA Champions League, allowing for comparisons of fútbol and life and how lessons of perseverance, resilience and faith can be learned from them.
Guest speaker, Pr Gustavo Squarzon, took attendees on a journey through the Bible, beginning with the story of the calling of Simon Peter as described in Luke 5 to illustrate what it looks like to persevere. He illustrated how Jesus, as a carpenter, called his disciples, professional fishermen, to trust Him by doing something unconventional that went against the accepted norms of their day and experience. He then illustrated how Jesus called His disciples to a life of deeper meaning, not just to fish, but to engage in activities that would change the world, for His glory.
In sharing this story, Pr Gustavo challenged the young people present to experience Jesus for themselves and to listen to God’s call to go beyond the conventions of this world to follow the same calling to change the world.
There were many opportunities over the weekend for attendees to respond to the invitation of Jesus just as the disciples did, from Pr Gustavo’s sermons to calls to prayer, spiritual talks, testimonies and a Bible trivia game.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the special music provided by the worship team along with the concert that was presented by the duo Primera Fe.
In addition to making new friends and meeting people from across the Conference, there were many other opportunities to have fun, especially on the field. The highlight of Sunday was the futból match between participating church soccer teams in the FEJA Champions League.
If you’re looking to join next year’s fun with FEJA, the annual gathering that brings together youth from across the Gulf States Conference for spiritual growth and social engagement, look out for more information about the event, which is scheduled to be held in Panama City.
Photo Credit: Oakwood Latino Adventist Church
“Leadership, if you don't give it away, dies with you,” declared Pr Roger Hernandez, director of ministerial and evangelism at the Southern Union Conference. “So we are here at EC3, helping pastors and church leaders to be able to mentor and be mentored.”
EC3 is an annual conference that is organized and hosted by the Southern Union Conference. This year, the event took place November 5-7 at Hamilton Community Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chattanooga, TN.
The primary area of learning during the weekend for pastors and lay people was in evangelism especially as it relates to the digital space. The scope of training included hands-on tech labs, preaching labs, general sessions and networking opportunities. Many of the sessions delved into strategies and techniques on how to use technology for mission.
According to Pr Josue Murillo, ministerial director at Gulf States Conference, EC3, is “essential for pastors to come and attend and get trained for their horizons to broaden and for them to see different perspectives on things.
We have had awesome presenters that have encouraged us to seek for mentoring and also to be mentors to others to leave a legacy behind, not based on buildings, but focusing on people to make a difference in our local churches, the people we know the families that we minister to and this has been an amazing, inspiring event.
I'm excited because our pastors are going back into their churches with this new perspective and this new emphasis that, as a matter of fact, we've been pushing for a while in our conference. So this is perfect, and we're so excited to be part of it.”
As Richie Halverson, director of church growth & revitalization for the Southern Union explained EC3 is “the place where pastors and lay people are coached to maximize their impact and evangelism in the digital sphere.” And, it provides the opportunity to “network with other pastors to hear about their experiences and how God is blessing them in their areas.”
Because creating key memory events for teens is an important part of their spiritual development, each year the Youth Ministries Department of the Gulf States Conference hosts EPIC Encounters, a teen invitational, at Camp Alamisco in Dadesville, AL. According to Youth Ministry Director Michel Rodriguez, EPIC Encounters is a place where teens get together to celebrate what God is doing in their lives.
On November 3-5, 2023, over 100 teens from across the Gulf States Conference, along with Southern Adventist University students from the ministry Engage, spent the weekend participating in worship services, nature adventures and social activities with the aim of creating lasting memories and spiritual encounters with God.
When speaking of the Southern Adventist University worship team Engage’s involvement in the weekend, Trace, a sophomore at Southern said, “This is my first Engage trip. Some of us are playing; some are singing. I’m running social media and getting content for the weekend. It’s super important for me to be here because I know that God has given all of us a great talent. I love that we’re able to come out here and share that with the kids and interact with people from the local area and have a spirit-filled weekend.”
In addition to the spiritual encounters, the chance to build strong friendships stood out for the teen attendees.
Eliana from Bay St. Louis SDA Church highlighted her favorite moment saying, “EPIC has been good to me because of the friends I have made and the friends that I meet here.”
Similarly, Sofia of Rainsville SDA Church said, “My favorite thing about EPIC is you get to meet a lot of different people from other states, and you learn more about God. It’s fun when you come with your friends. I come with my friends every year.”
Because of the beautiful setting, the attendees were able to go on nature walks, hike and canoe. The standout event was on Saturday evening at midnight, when attendees participated in the long-standing tradition of the Polar Plunge, where the campers jump in the lake at midnight.
Zack, senior finance major from the Engage team at Southern Adventist University, expressed that “Engage has been a blessing. It has been my journey the whole time at Southern. I have been able to go to events like these – youth rallies all over the United States – get to meet youth in high school. This is an important moment in your life. This is my second time at Engage. I still remember some kids. Being able to provide that worship, we let them know that God loves them and we love them; and we get to worship together. It’s just been a blessing.”
Samuel from Bay St. Louis SDA Church said that “Alamisco is one of my happy places. Coming here has been really exciting, and the sermons, the music and everything is building up to tonight where everything is going to wrap up but hopefully we all bring home a special piece of what has happened here.”
By Josue Murillo
Vice-President for Ministerial
I still remember the day, early in my ministry, when I was driving back home after the Winter Pastor's Meetings. I was full of excitement after being inspired and challenged. I looked to the passenger's seat and saw the tall pile of documents I had received from every Conference department, and it suddenly hit me.
My Conference leadership spent lots of precious hours and resources planning and preparing initiatives to be applied at each district, and even though they were masterfully crafted, none of them could be applied in any of my churches!
After sharing my concern with more seasoned colleagues later in the year, I realized it was a shared sentiment.
As I find myself serving in my current position, my heart is at peace to report at the Gulf States Conference; instead of pushing the vision of the administration, we are fully committed to supporting the vision of the local church.
I must clarify I'm not writing this to criticize any approach nor to politicize ours. I consider our Strategic Planning process more efficient for our setting and effective for the pastors and members we serve.
Planning is not only necessary but biblical. Jesus said in Luke 14:28-30, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish."
Elder Danese emphasizes the following statement by Ellen White as one of the most convincing and practical reasons why we are fully committed to the Strategic Planning process we have intentionally developed and applied at the Gulf States Conference, "It is essential to labor with order, following an organized plan and a definite object. No one can properly instruct another unless he sees to it that the work to be done shall be taken hold of systematically and in order, so that it may be done at the proper time.
Well-defined plans should be freely presented to all whom they may concern, and it should be ascertained that they are understood. Then require of all those who are at the head of the various departments to cooperate in the execution of these plans. If this sure and radical method is properly adopted and followed up with interest and good will, it will avoid much work being done without any definite object, much useless friction. (Evangelism, p.94 Manuscript 24, 1887)
We pursue to apply this "sure and radical method" by praying, focusing, planning, communicating, and executing strategic plans.
Now, let me describe our Strategic Planning Sessions process.
From October 3-5 and 16-19, we met in groups of five or six pastors at a time. Two groups every day. Each shepherd presented a brief report on their district's progress and accomplishments regarding the current year's Strategic Plan and the areas of growth they had personally experienced.
Then, we moved into the Strategic Plan for the following year, focusing on personal areas of development, evangelistic approaches, ministry emphasis, and the specific mission outcomes they expect to see in every church in 2024.
After each pastor's presentation, we leave time for prayer, questions, affirmation, and suggestions.
This is my third Strategic Planning Sessions in Gulf States Conference. The outcome we seek is not growth in "numbers" but growing healthy churches.
If you only focus on "numbers," you will get only "numbers." Instead, we focus on growing healthy churches where people can meet Jesus Christ and experience transformation through His unlimited power and grace.
Our pastors know we are called not to dream our dreams but to dare to dream God's dreams for our people. Our Strategic Planning sessions allow each servant to share, learn, and grow in an environment of camaraderie where creativity and boldness are encouraged.
To provide the proper support and keep accountability, our Administration team proceeds to visit and communicate with our pastors regarding their progress through 2024.
The tension between planning and trusting is real, but it's something we need to embrace. Yes, let the Spirit of God move and work in us, through us, and our churches as we allow the same Holy Spirit to move in, inspire, and work through each Strategic Plan. As the writer of Proverbs 16:3 says, "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."
I'm so thankful to see what the Lord is doing, and I'm eager to witness what He will continue doing through each pastor, local leader, and church member involved in ministry in our Conference.
As October was Pastor Appreciation Month, it allowed me to pause and reflect on my days of pastoring when I would have to leave my family and be out early in the morning or return home late at night. I even remember staying behind at church to minister to the church members after my family had already made their way back home on Sabbath. And this is just a small taste of what our pastors experience as they carry out their ministries.
There are so many things our pastors in the Gulf States Conference do, many of which go unseen.
To our pastors, we understand how much you love your churches and sacrifice for them. We know you are making an impact in the lives of your church members and on those who are still getting to know the Lord. Pastors, we feel blessed to have you serving in our territory.
And to my fellow family members of the Gulf States Conference, I would like to invite you to continue to express your appreciation for the shepherd God has given your congregation as an overseer.
We pray to continue to see God’s movement in each of our local churches and communities.
The strength of the Gulf States Conference is in the members who sit in the pews on Sabbath and live missional lives during the week. The aim is to have members who share the love of Jesus with others at home, school and play.
With this in mind, as part of an initiative from the Southern Union, each year, leadership from the Gulf States Conference and other sister conferences in the Southern Union, visit the Loma Linda University Medical school with the intent of inviting the medical, dental and pharmacy students to consider living and working in the Southern Union region after graduation.
This year, Pr Martin Fancher, executive secretary of the Gulf States Conference, spent three days getting to know the Loma Linda Medical school students and acknowledging their call to medical ministry.
Pr Fancher shared with them that “since God called them, then God would empower them, and bless them, and see them through school.” He emphasized that God would open doors to guide the students on where they should live and practice and encouraged them to “consider becoming a part of the Gulf States Conference family.”
Over the course of his visit, Pr Fancher observed that one of the most frequently asked questions he received related to the students’ interest in church involvement for the students’ families. Many of them wondered if the Gulf States Conference churches would accept them and their children and allow their children to be a part of Sabbath services by helping to lead song service and read scripture.
Pr Fancher noted that many of them want to be medical missionaries in the communities in which they will ultimately live and work, and they expressed an interest in serving in their local church and training their children to be leaders in the local church.
Pr Fancher wholeheartedly shared that every Gulf States Conference church would accept them with open arms and would love to invite them into their church families. He added that their children would be encouraged to be a part of the church and Sabbath School services as well.
After his visit to Loma Linda Medical School, Pr Fancher expressed that he was so happy to be a part of this year’s ministry to Loma Linda University students. “I left blessed and spiritually filled, and I am so excited for the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Gulf States Conference because God is still raising leaders for such a time as this!”
By Ruwie Vazquez-Juarez
Assistant to the Stewardship Department
Have you noticed how difficult life suddenly becomes when you decide to make constructive changes?
The plan is set, you have strategically prepared your meal and workout schedule. Unexpectedly, out of “nowhere,” someone gifts you a box of your favorite chocolates. The following day, endless meetings arise at work and you miss your gym session.
In Stewardship, we often refer to the 7 T’s –
Focusing on the first: time.
We are all limited to the same 24-hour period, yet many of us seem to not find the proper balance to implement some, or any, of the 7 Ts.
God desires that we seek Him first [Matthew 6:33] and promises to provide for all our needs. Philippians 4:19 tells us, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Did you catch that? Every need – spiritual, mental, physical, financial -- will be supplied by our Heavenly Father!
My question for you (and me too) is, are we placing God first in our lives today?
If possessions, people or occupations are controlling our time, let's re-examine and surrender them to God. I am sure we won’t regret it.
By 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, October 28, 2023, there were already several vehicles in the parking lot of the College Drive Seventh-day Adventist Church located in Pearl, Mississippi. The volunteers were in their assigned spots to welcome the attendees to the opening night of the series, "We All Have
From 6:30 p.m., the first guests were welcomed by the parking lot attendants and the greeters at the doors. Attendees and volunteers were ready for a night of worship with Pastor Roger Hernandez, ministerial and evangelism director of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
This evangelistic campaign, which ended on Sabbath morning, the 4th of November, was the climax of nine months of preparation coordinated by Katherine Hernandez, ministerial and evangelism coordinator of the Southern Union.
The campaign launched on the 4th of March, led by Roger and Katherine Hernandez during a rally held at the College Drive Church. We were reminded on that day that “A Christianity that asks for nothing and costs nothing ends up meaning nothing.” As a result, our members were motivated and ready to live a meaningful Christianity and to share the love of Christ with those around them.
During the following nine months, several training sessions took place, where we were blessed by speakers who motivated us to keep our focus on our mission.
On Sabbath, the 8th of April, Pastor Glen Altermatt shared on the topic of “Reconnecting and Retention.” On the 29th of April, the importance of service evangelism was exposed to us by Pastor Kymone Hinds; this coincided with the beginning of our “Seasons of Service.” Over the course of forty days,
our members were involved in several acts of kindness towards the people they encountered.
This was followed by a presentation from Pastor Kendal Turcios on Sabbath, the 3rd of June, entitled, “Reaching the Next Generation.”
From there, a forty-day, church-wide season of prayer took place prior to the meetings. This was launched by Pastor Roy Rugless on Sabbath, the 9th of September, where he taught us about the importance of having a life of prayer and devotion.
In the afternoon of that same day, Katherine Hernandez had a training session for all the committee leaders and volunteers during which we were reminded of the importance of being good representatives of Christ by aiming to accomplish our tasks with excellence.
One of the highlights of this period of preparation was the banquet with the theme “A Little Rock in My Shoe.” At that time, several couples joined us in the fellowship hall to listen to Pastor Roger Hernandez share in a humorous and practical way what he and his wife Katherine have learned during their 30 years of marriage.
After all of this preparation, the attendees to the evangelistic series were blessed by the sermons preached by Pastor Roger Hernandez which were entitled: “Epic Fail”, “We All Have Issues,” “Rest," “Dollars and Sense,” “Building Bridges,” “The Problem with Pain and Suffering,” “Surrender” and “Hope Wins.”
Each night we were led in worship by a guest artist. On the opening night, we had the privilege of welcoming Tamara Bodie, who was followed by Hugo Yin on Sunday. Madisen Renée and Neville Peter were with us on Monday and Tuesday respectively. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, Jamayra Nunez was our singer, whereas Lisbeth Melgar was with us on Friday night and for our closing meeting on Sabbath morning.
This evangelistic series was also an opportunity for us to connect with organizations that are making a difference in our community.
Four non-profits that were invited on four different nights had the opportunity to present to us what they do for the community and in what ways we could collaborate with them. This included, Brian Crawford, president of Mission Mississippi, Bridgett Macklin the founder of God’s Haven. Scott Walters the ministry coordinator of All things New, Inc. and Samuel Bolden, the executive director of the Jackson Leadership Foundation.
As tokens of our appreciation for what they do for others, each non-profit leader received an award, as well as a check for $400, along with a plaque that had the inscription, “Local Legend Award, Presented by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in recognition of your selfless and positive contributions to our community.”
During the entire series, we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, particularly on Thursday night when we had an anointing service. The pastors and elders present had the opportunity to pray with those who came forward.
The apex of this series is, by far, the thirteen souls who gave their lives to Jesus through baptism (11) and profession of faith (2) during the three ceremonies we had on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. We do not forget the two souls who also gave their lives to Jesus prior to the evangelistic series, which makes it a total of fifteen baptisms for this particular evangelistic campaign.
One of the newly baptized members, who was invited by one of our Bible workers, Marie and Arjen Bes, happens to be a sign language interpreter. She generously offered her services and came each night to translate. When the call for baptism was made, the sign language interpreter decided that she would be baptized. What a great testimony!
To God be the Glory!
Murvin Camatchee, MDiv, MBA
Senior Pastor of the College Drive Seventh Day Adventist Church (Pearl, MS)