North Pacific Missionaries Testify at Maranatha Convention
The inevitable rustlings of a crowd of more than 600 people dissolved into silence at the words of Ken Lauren, family practice physican from Redmond, Wash.
“I think I represent a significant number of people who had left the Adventist Church and were really loved back into the Adventist Church through the love of Maranatha.”
In a brief, but poignant interview on stage, Lauren, a Maranatha volunteer, shared his personal testimony during the Sabbath afternoon program of the 2004 Maranatha Volunteers International Convention at the Gladstone Conference Center in Oregon. He revealed his former cynicism about Adventists, told us how he drifted away from his church, discussed the resulting problems in his personal life, and told us about the trip that ultimately changed his life.
In 2000, someone invited Ken and his wife Linda, on a Maranatha mission project to Nepal. “I went for a strictly selfish reason. I thought it’d be a great way to see an exotic country,” said Lauren.
But it was no ordinary vacation. As Lauren worked with his fellow volunteers, the walls he had managed to build over the years started to crumble. “I began to really see people for who they were. They were ambassadors for Christ. They were loving Christians. It really opened my eyes to the Adventist experience," he said.
When the project ended, he recalls telling his wife that the mission project was “probably the closest experience to heaven that I’ve ever had.”
After going on more mission trips, last year Ken and his wife were accepted back into the fellowship of the very church where he was baptized as a boy.
“Your wilderness experience ended for all practical purposes—" the interviewer began.
“—with Maranatha,” finished Ken.
His spiritual journey encapsulated the theme of Maranatha’s convention, which focused on answering God’s call to serve. From Oct. 8–10, volunteers and church leaders stepped forward to share uplifting stories of how missions are changing people’s lives.
Throughout the weekend, keynote speaker Dick Duerksen, Florida Hospital assistant vice president of mission development and host of Maranatha Mission Stories television show, shared the stage with Adventist leaders from the Dominican Republic, Peru, India, Cuba, Ecuador, and the United States. Each guest offered a powerful message about how Maranatha is helping to establish the Gospel in his country and the world.
Programs also featured several stories of Maranatha volunteers, most of whom were from the Pacific Northwest. Kevin Ford, 17, a Columbia Adventist Academy student, talked about what it was like to preach for a congregation in Peru during a mission trip. Like his favorite heroes in the Bible, Ford said he was reluctant to preach at first but found he could not resist God’s call to face new challenges.
Jere and Sue Patzer's daughter, Carissa, shared the touching story of how she met her birth mother in Guatemala during her father’s evangelistic meeting. As a result of the meeting, Carissa’s birth mother began studying the Bible with local Adventists.
Carissa took it upon herself to raise funds for the construction of a new Maranatha church for her birth parents' congregation. In September, Carissa and her family returned to Guatemala for the church dedication service.
Also highlighted were the mission efforts of the Fjarli family from Medford, Ore. Merlin and Joanne Fjarli and their son, Bruce, have been working in India for the past three years. They have helped to coordinate six Maranatha 50-village church construction and evangelism efforts in India. (They left for their seventh and eighth efforts in mid-October.) The Fjarlis recruit volunteers, raise funds for churches, and hold large-scale evangelistic meetings in targeted areas of India.
“I’ve been blessed to preach over there six times. I’m going back for trip seven, and it truly does change your life,” an emotional Bruce Fjarli told the audience. “I was very afraid on the first trip, but our heavenly father is there. And I have the most awesome guardian angel on the face of the earth . . . they will comfort and guide you, and you get the peace that only the Holy Spirit can give.”
During his interview, Bruce challenged everyone in the audience, closing with a statement whose Aramaic translation defines Maranatha: "Our Lord come!"
“I encourage all of you not to stay at home if you’re afraid. I encourage all of you to go if you are afraid. [Going to India] was the most wonderful experience of my life—to cry out to the Lord and have Him touch me. Then I had the blessing of going and meeting these people,” said Bruce. “Someday, someone is going to tell the last person on earth about Jesus. And then we get to go home.”