I arrived a day later than I was scheduled for a book signing at the ABC booth during the NAD Pastoral Convention in Austin, Texas, this summer. For the uninitiated, the ABC is the Adventist Book Center — seller of my literary works. NAD stands for North American Division, as in the more than 5,000 pastoral families working in North America I hoped would buy multiple copies of my new book, Life of Ellen White for Teens.
When I walked into the ABC, I was escorted to the cashier area where a lone, used copy of my book The Day the School Blew Up sat waiting for me. The ABC worker informed me that a little girl had really hoped to meet me at the previous day’s book signing, but since I didn’t make it she left her book, hoping I would arrive at some point to place my signature on the inside cover.
I opened the cover and wrote a note to “Melanie,” apologizing for my lateness and hoping she enjoyed the book. I handed the signed copy back to the cashiers and continued about the massive conference. I enjoyed seeing colleagues, professors and a variety of exceptional booths promoting materials, while sincerely hoping I wasn’t the only person to disappoint customers.
I also enjoyed a riveting tale of how P.F. Chang’s ran out of eggplant during the feeding of the 5,000 pastors and how area waitresses suffered anxiety attacks every day at noon when meetings let out for lunch.
Following the NAD meetings, I boarded a bus — part of a caravan containing hundreds of the faithful headed to the GC Session in San Antonio, Texas. Also for the uninitiated, GC Session is where 60,000-plus Adventists take over a city and force all restaurants in the area to create vegetarian menus, offer prepaid options for Sabbath enjoyment of those menus and perform church manual labor.
During the first Sabbath worship experience, I marveled at a crowd of tens of thousands of people singing and studying together. Afterward a human obstacle course presented itself as a host of Sabbath-keeping locusts made their way out to devour the goods offered at local restaurants or the session cafeteria. As I drew close to the door, a man gave me a funny look and said, “Do I know you? You look familiar.”
“Uh … Seth Pierce?” I offered noncommitally.
This is a dangerous move in these situations, since I had not determined if this person was hostile to my work. Normally I keep a wide selection of aliases in the files of my mind. They allow me to hate on my own work along with the stranger should they not recognize me. A safer reply might be, “Oh, yeah, that guy is a blight on the church … just terrible. My name is Alistair McCracken, so as you can see, I have no relation to that heretic whatsoever.”
I figured there were enough people moving forward that if he did turn out to be hostile, I could put enough people between us and make a run for it. But there was no need. He smiled and said, “My daughter is a big fan — you actually signed her book in Austin at the pastors' meetings!”
In a moment, his lovely family, including Melanie, was by his side, and we were shaking hands and enjoying a lovely meeting. What struck me about the exchange, outside of meeting a wonderfully normal family serving our church in the St. Louis area, were the odds of that meeting even taking place.
Who could have choreographed our connection in the midst of 5,500-plus people in Austin and tens of thousands in another city an hour or two away? Yet, in spite of the odds, here we were, talking together as scores of other people streamed past at one of the largest worship experiences available to Adventists on Earth.
In the second chapter of Acts we see narratives describing miraculous healings, prophetic words, speaking in tongues and mass conversions. However, the greatest miracle appears after all that. Luke writes, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:42–45).
The gathering of different people into one loving community, which shares everything and makes sure each other’s needs are met, is nothing short of miraculous — especially if you have spent any time in a local church. It’s a God thing.
Whenever I experience a community experience like this, whether in a local church, at a coffee shop, at a family reunion or even during a brief moment while exiting San Antonio’s Alamodome, I am grateful. I pray that all of us have meetings like these and they remind us of God’s incredible work to help us answer Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “that they may be one even as we are one.”