When I first came to the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, 11 years ago, Ailyn (left) and Alexander’s (Middle) mother asked me to have baptism studies with Ailyn, who was about 12 at the time. Shortly after Ailyn’s baptism her mother introduced me to another family in the neighborhood that wanted to have Bible studies. And thus begun my longest continuous study group ever, lasting 9 years!
Gus, Ana, Eneida, Natalie, Stephanie and Kimberly are the family Ailyn and Alexander’s family introduced me to. This picture was taken back in 2007. Kimberly, the youngest did not know how to read when we first began studying, and would bring her picture Bible to our studies. When I would have everyone turn to a verse, Kimberly would ask me to show her the verse in her picture Bible. Of course the verse was not in her picture Bible but I would find a suitable picture and tell her that was the verse, and she would be satisfied. Kimberly recently turned 16. She still talks about her picture Bible and me helping her find the right “verses.”
Over 9 years our study group had many other members, and venues. Here you can see Natalie, who was just recently baptized, in blue, enjoying my enchiladas at my apartment after one of our Bible studies back in 2008.
Occasionally our group would take advantage of the Florida scenery for our Bible study venues. This picture was taken in 2007. While Natalie already has found the verse, you can see Stephanie helping Kimberly find the right verse in her picture Bible.
On November 8, 2014, Natalie, her friend Leo, and family went to Chilis to celebrate Natalie’s sister Enedia’s birthday. The fact that Eneida was actually 1,400 miles away in Texas, serving for us in the military did not keep us from still celebrating her birthday. During our 9 years of having our study group together, there would be short periods of times that members would get distracted and we would stop studying together for a while. Were will still family though, and would keep hanging out together. Eventually Natalie’s family would tell me while we were hanging out that they wanted to start the Bible studies back up and again and we would.
Once, after Natalie and Leo graduated high school I met them for lunch at Taco Bell. Being the “grownup” I assumed I was paying. I was used to always paying when hanging out with the youth unless their parents paid. I was very impressed when Natalie and Leo insisted on buying lunch that day. I appreciated the fact that they valued their time with me, and saw me as a friend. They were hanging out with me because they treasured our friendship and not because I was “paying.”
Natalie is already quite mature and responsible. Last year when we were celebrating her sister Stephanie’s graduation, their mother told the waitress to put all her kids on her ticket. Natalie, said, “No. I am twenty. I pay for my own food.” I told her, “Don’t tell my parents about that rule!”
Even at an early stage of her adult life, Natalie has learned financial responsibility, and has a mature and sincere appreciation for family and friends.
When this picture was taken above, after 9 years of Bible studies, Natalie’s family was coming to church. It was at this dinner, while we were hanging out that Natalie asked to be baptized. This is why friendships and relationships are so important. It was not during a Bible study that she asked to be baptized, but while we were just enjoying our friendship hanging out together.
So Natalie and I began our Bible studies preparing her for baptism! We used our cell phones to study the In Light of The Cross Bible Study Guides.
I want to thank William for baptizing me and for being my friend the past nine years. He was not only a friend but a follower of Christ who brought me closer to the Lord. He influenced my decision to live the rest of my life for Christ who died for our sins. Before meeting William, I did not know too much about what it meant to be a seventh day Adventist and how important it is to seek God for every situation but now I know how important those two things are. One day at Chili’s with my family and William, I decided to become baptized and I told William about it. Every Thursday morning after that, William and I studied many important concepts in the bible such as death, salvation, stewardship, and etc. These study guides were tremendously helpful and I learned lot from reading and studying it with William. After we were done studying the study guides, I was ready to complete my commitment to Jesus. On April 11th on a Saturday morning, I was baptized and it feels amazing to know that I had accepted Jesus into my heart and that I have a brand new family, the church.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. Galatians 3:26-27 NLT
When we first began our study group with Ailyn and Alexander’s family, Natalie was 11 years old. When Natalie was baptized this April she was 20 years old. I thank God for the privilege of being a part of Natalie’s family for these 9 years and the joy it has given me to see her grow up making such wise and mature decisions all the time. I think this was her best decision ever!
The story does not end here. My Bible study and friendship with Ailyn and her family led me to meet and begin a 9 year Bible study group with Natalie and her family. After studying for several years with Natalie and her family, they introduced me to their cousins, and we have now been studying on Friday nights for two years now. We have up to 11 members in our study group and a few of them have just recently started coming to church on Sabbath!
If you are in the Tampa Bay area and would like to start a study group like the ones you have just read about I would be glad to help you. Just email me at laypastor@TampaAdventist.net. If you are not in the Tampa Bay area still contact me. I can find a study group for you in your neck of the woods!