Ten-year-old Bryan and his father, Larry Lee, went on an afternoon Pathfinder food drive last Thanksgiving. As collecting goes, it was: Knock on a door, ask for a donation and watch neighbors chip in to help others. The interaction is but a few minutes and then the process is repeated.
The father-son duo just finished in Olympia, Wash., when Bryan asked, "Dad, can't we knock on just one more door?"
A lady came to the door and Bryan stumbled through a speech about Pathfinders and the food drive. "I know about Pathfinders!" the lady exclaimed. "I used to be a Pathfinder."
The Right People
The Lees chatted with Christina Pugh and discovered her first contact with Adventists happened at age 12 when she made friends, was baptized, and participated in Pathfinders for five years, including working toward her Master Guide, (the highest Pathfinder leadership level).
She married young and church became a "waste of a weekend," she didn't feel welcome, and most of the time, she saw every reason not to go to church.
As an adult, Christina looked back fondly on her religious teenage years. She thought about attending church again, and once visited an Adventist church on her own, but didn't feel comfortable. She owned a Bible, and thought about reading it, but didn't actually stop to read God's word. Life was just too busy for this single mom raising two boys.
The story could have ended here, but Larry had just learned the tools for purposely engaging people in conversation during the Impact Your World training session in Olympia with Gayle Lasher, Bible worker. He invited Christina to join their family the next weekend at church.
On Sabbath morning, Christina joined the pastor's study group. "It was different from what I remembered," she recalls. "I was surprised how welcome I felt. I felt like I could come here all the time—every weekend."
The Right Place
But there's another part to the story, starting in 2001. Insert: Rich Goldstein, New York City staff sergeant working as a police dispatcher. After the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, his National Guard unit was activated for security detail. Later, he became a paralegal and accepted a commission in Iraq.
Rich went to Iraq in 2004. In 2005 he went through a divorce. He requested to be stationed on the East Coast so he could be close to his two children in Rochester, New York. Instead, he was offered a take-it-or-leave-it contract in Fort Lewis, Wash. It seemed like a mistake—to go the opposite direction from home—but Rich accepted.
He arrived in Fort Lewis in November 2005 and began court reporter training. Several months later, the legal center consolidated and Rich found himself running the legal office by himself. It was new territory.
An officer handed him transition papers one day with instructions to "take care of it." Rich filled out the administrative portions and sent it on—only to find out a short time later, several pieces were missing. To correct his mistake, Rich sought help from Christina Pugh, transition coordinator. Several days after Christina helped him, he returned the packets and discovered she was having a hard day. Trying to be a friend, he chatted with her a bit and discovered she was in the midst of a divorce, similar to what he had recently gone through.
They began dating a year later. Christina told him about her religious upbringing, and her contemplation about going back to church. Rich had never been to church and didn't understand the Bible, but he knew this meant a lot to her.
When he returned to Iraq in July 2007, he took a Bible to learn more about what Christina valued. He discovered six other soldiers meeting weekly to study Bible guides from the Adventist church—the same church Christina joined in her youth.
"We asked a lot of questions, and whoever knew the most answered," Rich remembers. "I wasn't raised with the Bible, so it was interesting to me."
Days before Christmas, Rich's paralegal expertise was requested for a special investigation. This was a first for Rich. He had soldiers underneath him who should have done this mission. He didn't have the time—and his leave was quickly approaching. Three hours, after receiving his assignment, Rich was at the airport for a two-week, two-man mission with a colonel (who cannot be named due to his continued involvement in investigations).
The flight was delayed, and the colonel decided to stay at the airport instead of returning to base. The colonel pulled out a Bible, and Rich commented how he just started reading the Bible. They fell into conversation and Rich discovered the colonel was an Adventist and served as a youth pastor at home. The colonel offered to answer any Bible questions and also suggested they have a Bible study each night.
"I heard about Christina going to church," Rich recalls. "With all the different things happening all at once, it was amazing. Everything just came together. Here I had the chance to do a religious study and Christina had someone knock at her door and invite her to church."
Rich attended his first Adventist church service in mid-December, and he and Christian were invited, to share their story with the Olympia Life Transformation Center church family.
"The people," Rich notes, "were wonderful, welcoming and interested. It felt like the right place to be. They didn't pressure us—and that made it much more of a reason to go back."
The Right Time
How is life different with God? "I've gone through a lot of things in the nearly 20 years I've been in the military," Rich explains. "With God in my life, I'm brighter, and happier, and more thankful. I see how much happier Christina is too."
The day Rich returned to Washington on leave, he proposed to Christina. On Christmas Eve, the couple became Mr. and Mrs. Richard Goldstein. Rich returned to Iraq in January and still has 10 months of deployment there.
So even though the saga continues, "you can't look at our story and say it's a coincidence," Christina says. "There are way too many pieces to the puzzle for this to be a coincidence."
Rich began training with the Adventist colonel in January to learn how to give Bible studies. In March, Rich will lead his own Bible study group. Christina is planning to involve her two boys in Adventurers—and may work once again toward her still-unfinished Master Guide.
"As far as divine intervention," Rich says, "that's definitely what happened."