The pandemic changed our lives. Church services went virtual. Gatherings were set on calendars labeled as “zoom meetings” or “virtual Bible study.” Church leaders intentionally invested in developing a robust digital evangelism plan to meet the needs of this ever-changing world. Then, things went back to “normal.” Most churches resumed their in-person services. However, a new platform for sharing the Gospel became a part of the fabric of church outreach in the digital space. The call from Jesus to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching them…,” Matthew 28:19, 20, is the same as it has ever been. Recognizing the constant need for quality and consistent online content within their territory and the world, the Gulf States Conference decided to plant a digital church.
The Digital Church was founded with a driving purpose, to share the everlasting Gospel in a new and expanding digital society. This is the first fully Digital Church in the Southern Union Conference. Its services are held on a weekly basis, every Friday evening on social media platforms. The launch is set for December 9, 2022, with its first sermon series entitled, “Jesus.” The pastoral team of the Digital Church includes Brian Danese, senior pastor and Gulf States president; Marcelo Mansur, associate pastor; Daniel Claudet, media pastor and Gulf States communication director; and Edwin Quinjada, worship pastor. The Digital Church will provide local churches with contacts that may have watched the service online, and are now looking for a local congregation to attend. Claudet said, “I am thrilled about this initiative. We move forward by God’s grace and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
The Barna Research Group, in their article entitled, “A New Chapter in Millennial Church Attendance,” reported that “millennials most likely … embrace hybrid worship.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the church attendance happened exclusively in person. Today, that’s only true for about half of churched adults. In fact, one in five (20%) is still primarily attending online, and one in four (26%) is mixing online and in-person worship.” The Gulf States Conference has a total membership of 13,054 (as of September 14, 2021) congregating in 89 churches throughout the Gulf States territory.
Ellen G. White wrote, “It is our duty now to employ every possible means to help in the proclamation of the truth,” The Publishing Ministry, p. 57-58. The Gulf States Digital Church heeds this call. It strives to serve its people by developing engaging social media content, biblical messages, and online interactivity within the new service. If you would like to subscribe to the Digital Church Community, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on our Facebook page @gulfstatesconference, or our Instagram page @gulfstatesconference. We believe “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come,” Matthew 24:14. Jesus is coming soon!
The most fantastic part of being an early childhood educator is watching children develop personal relationships with Jesus. So many students have come into our pre-K and kindergarten classrooms asking what prayer is, who Jesus is, or what a Bible is. What a privilege it is to respond to these questions! The answers are not simple definitions, discussions, or even whole units of study; instead, they are found in a personal relationship that develops only through the work of the Holy Spirit with each child.
As an early childhood educator, I provide a safe, engaging environment that supports students’ spiritual development. Of course, what that looks like varies from day to day and classroom to classroom, but here are some of my favorite activities that help students’ spiritual development:
First, we always begin and end our day with prayer. Students get excited about the concept that the Creator of the universe cares to listen to anything we want to bring to Him. During prayer request time, students share their concerns and praises with the class, and we bring them to God together. Students eagerly take turns being the prayer leader. We talk about how God always listens to our prayers. He loves us and always answers in the best way. Just like parents and caregivers, God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but we can trust that He always does what is best for us. Students get into the habit of praying for each other and themselves, and thanking God for blessings they notice throughout the day.
At the beginning of the year, we set up a prayer station where students can have quiet time with God and pray about anything they want. Students enjoy different activities at the prayer station, like making prayer chains, listening to music while they pray, or making books about prayers God has answered.
Throughout the year, we discuss how the Bible is not just another ordinary book of fiction. It is the true Word of God. It contains all of the important information Jesus wants us to know here on Earth so we can spend eternity with Him. Students learn to treat the Bible with reverence. They understand that we can trust the Bible because we can always trust its Author, God. We learn about Christ’s nature through the stories, and discuss how He wants us to treat each other.
Each week, we study a new Bible story. We learn about the story’s context, discuss the characters’ feelings and choices, look for the lessons God has for us in each story, and participate in activities that help students better understand concepts. One of my favorite lessons is the story in Mark 2:1-12 of the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof so Jesus could heal him. For this lesson, we use cardboard, mud, leaves, and pine straw to make a house with a flat roof. This helps students better understand what houses looked like in biblical times, and how the four men made a hole in the ceiling. When we study Jonah, students participate in an object-lesson activity where they try to run away from their shadows. Just like their shadows, God is always with them.
Bible stories are usually a springboard for deep student-led conversations and lessons. For example, after we study Mark 2:1-12, students almost always ask about the hole that was left in the roof. Did the homeowners forgive the four men? Did the man who was healed help fix the roof? Students share what they would have done. I ask what they think Jesus would have done. Similarly, students ponder what Jonah would have felt like and smelled like after spending three days in the belly of the fish. What would have happened to Jonah in the storm if the fish had not swallowed him? Would the story have ended differently if Jonah had obeyed God the first time He told him to go to Nineveh? What can we learn from this?
Students take home a simplified version of the Bible story or a Bible craft each Friday to tell their families the Bible story in their own words. We practice the story in class, and students leave eager to share the Word of God with their families and friends. When they come back to school on Monday, I invite students to share their experiences. Students gain a sense of accomplishment, and find joy in spreading the Gospel message.
While my work focuses on bringing children to develop a personal relationship with Christ, children have much to teach us in this area. Matthew 18:2-4 NIV says, “He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” From birth, children have an innate expectation for caregivers to meet their needs. They begin life with faith and the ability to completely trust in their caregivers and what we present to them as true. Experience in this sin-laden world teaches us to doubt. Therefore, teaching children that they can trust in Jesus in these precious early years is extremely important.
The Elders, Deacons and Deaconess retreat was held at Camp Alamisco the weekend of December 9. The theme was “Christ’s way to a thriving spiritual life”, with relevant messages presented by guest speaker Dr. Phillip Samaan, who served for more than 20 years at Southern Adventist University as a professor in the School of Religion.
Leaders from different regions of our territory joined for this crucial retreat with the desire to learn more about how to improve their ministries in their local churches.
“We came together for this holy convocation, and learned the Jesus method of doing evangelistic work”, said Pauline Brown-Baylock, Deaconess at State Line SDA Church in Alabama.
“It is a great time to gather in Camp Alamisco with our Elders, Deacons and Deaconesses. It is important that as a leader we all get away and get time of refreshing and fellowship, so we are thankful for those who were able to come. It was a spiritual blessing here with Doctor Samaan, so thankful for the messages of encouragement that he shared, said Gulf States Conference’s President Brian Danese.
Teachers from all educational institutions in the GSC territory gathered for their annual retreat at Camp Alamisco from September 29 till October 2nd. This is a time for our teachers to acquire tools that will enhance their professional life and also find encouragement and fellowship among other teachers.
"Coming to a teachers' convention we can join with other teachers, to allow us to come together and realize that we are all in this together," said College Drive school Principal Ashley Neill. "We all go through the same struggles, we all have the same successes, and we can bond with each other and know we are not alone in our mission to bring Jesus to our students every day," added the teacher from College Drive Christian School in Jackson, MS.
We are delighted to announce that the Agape Company from Tupelo, Mississippi, has achieved church status as of August 13. The ceremony was attended by many church members and church officials who gathered to dedicate the new enterprise, whose official name is now: Tupelo Hispanic Adventist Church.
After the service, we spoke to Gulf States' Conference Executive Secretary Martin Fancher, who confidently affirmed that "the best days of this church are still ahead. His statement resonated with Pastor Brian Danese's sermon that urged the church to be a lighthouse in the community.
"Now our responsibility is that this place becomes a place where the community can come for help," said the new church's First Elder Edgar Maldonado. "A place where broken families can find in Christ a restoring solution, a place for those in need who wander in the streets can find the peace and refuge that this church can provide them. It is a great responsibility that we are taking upon ourselves, but we've only taken it because we are holding Jesus' hand," he added.
Tupelo Hispanic, which began as a group, became a company and moved to church status thanks to the New Albany Church that nurtured and supported it, both spiritually and financially, as it matured.
According to the district's Pastor Jorge Belisario, "This has been a long and challenging path, but we can say that 'thus far the Lord has helped us.'"
We ask you to continue to pray for their continuous growth.