23 Sep


RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken – Farmington, New Mexico … The 150-member Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Farmington, New Mexico was front and center in the local community and surrounding area, September 7 – 11. They were initiators and sponsors of The Wall that Heals, a three-quarter-sized traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lillian Clopine, church member, got the idea several years ago that sponsoring The Wall That Heals would be a positive way for Adventists to be involved in their community. She, and her husband, Bill, along with members of the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, applied to host The Wall That Heals as it traveled across the country. They were elated when the application was approved. The Wall did not travel in 2020, and few new applications were approved for 2021. In November 2020, they received word that they would be one of 37 communities across the United States where The Wall would be displayed in 2021.

The Clopines and the Piñon Hills church enlisted support from a wide range of local individuals and organizations. Jennifer Halphen, a church member and vice-chair of the Host Committee, was deeply involved from the very beginning and led site logistics. Soon, Gary Smouse, owner of the local Chick-fil-A, joined as the second Host Committee vice-chair. His meticulous planning helped bring in an additional Host Sponsor, the Blue Star Mothers of America New Mexico Chapter One.  Many community members and local businesses came forward to provide financial and other support.

“This event was both rewarding and humbling at the same time,” said Lillian Clopine. For her, as the chief organizer,“this event has clearly brought attention and increased visibility to the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

As community members, the church, and citizens, they wished to honor the veterans. They also desired “to sponsor an event that would serve the Four Corners in a meaningful way. I believe the Holy Spirit has guided us through this process, and these goals have been achieved,” Clopine added.

The Wall arrived in Durango, Colorado on the afternoon of September 7. An honor guard escort of more than 70 motorcycles assembled to accompany the Wall from Durango to Farmington. Vietnam veterans led the procession, followed by the 53-foot semi, which transportsThe Wall. The rest of the honor guard of motorcycles and vintage vehicles with flying flags, followed. Colorado State Patrol escorted the procession to the border where the New Mexico State Patrol took over the rest of the way to the San Juan College athletic fields in Farmington, where volunteers would assemble the Wall on the following day.

Dr. Dick Stenbakken, Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, spoke at the volunteer breakfast held at the Piñon Hills Adventist church on the day of The Wall’s arrival and was also the keynote speaker at the honors ceremony the evening of Thursday, September 9. The breakfast honored the many volunteers who were on site to assist those visiting The Wall for the duration of the event. The San Juan County sheriff’s office provided a 21-gun salute that echoed back from the large Wall following a bagpipe playing taps.

The Thursday evening Honors Ceremony hosted more than 850 people, including presentations by Rear Admiral Bruce Black, State Senator William Sharer, and Chaplain Stenbakken. The opening event closed with a spectacular, low-level helicopter fly-over from Kirtland Airforce Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had received final approval from the FAA only 24 hours before their scheduled fly-over.

Saturday morning, a special Blessing Ceremony was provided by Navajo Nation representatives with more than 500 attending. The Navajo ceremony included the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo, Native American drummers, and a keynote speech by Myron Lizer, Vice President of the Navajo Nation.

Volunteers were at The Wall, even overnight, to help people locate specific names from the more than 58,200 names engraved on the Wall.

For Chaplain Stenbakken, the invitation to participate in the event brought memories from the past. “Being at The Wall was very personal for me,” said Stenbakken. “The name of a young man I met two days into my first pastoral assignment is there – panel 5-E, line 5. We corresponded regularly until he was killed in action. His face, his name, and his memory have never left me. I saw him off at the local airport, and I saw his flag-draped coffin return home to the same airport. When asked about representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church as an Army chaplain, his memory played a large part in my saying yes to that call and career.”

The semi-truck that transports The Wall opens to become a Mobile Education Center, which displays the history of the Vietnam war and the story of The Wall itself.  This Mobile Education Center is a traveling museum with artifacts from the war, items left at The Wall in Washington D.C., and digital displays honoring local Hometown Heroes.

This event was a unique way for the local Seventh-day Adventist church to lead a major community event for the entire Four-Corners region and is a testimony to what can be done with prayer, planning, and hard work. “Several Host Committee members expressed the conviction that they could see God’s hand throughout the process of preparing for this event and its success,” Clopine remarked.

It is estimated that more than 3,000 individuals visited the Wall while it was in Farmington. Local schools were also involved, and nearly 800 students visited and learned about this important part of American history.

Many Vietnam veterans who attended the programs expressed appreciation for being recognized for their service and this remembrance of people they knew whose names are engraved on the black stone of The Wall That Heals. The Wall also serves as a powerful reminder of Christ, who brings ultimate healing.

–RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, photos supplied

23 Jun


By Dick Stenbakken … Knowledge is a wonderful thing. The Bible encourages us to seek God’s knowledge above silver or gold. Knowledge, linked with wisdom, is more valuable than jewels and brings wealth and recognition when rightly used and appreciated (Proverbs 8:10-36).

Knowledge of the Bible, its doctrines and prophecies, is great, but there is something beyond knowledge: the ability to put that knowledge into practical work shoes and gloves to touch the lives of others. Paul’s thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians spells it out well. He says without love, the practical fruit of knowledge, without application of what we know, we are just making noise to no practical end. The results are zero. In fact, our noisy sharing of knowledge might just be irritatingly counterproductive.

The Scriptures challenge us to know. But beyond the cerebral sacrament of knowing, there is the reality of applying what we know to the needs of those around us: the honest, no-strings-attached life that demonstrates belief by unselfish, selfless service.

Jesus lived out what He knew. He touched lepers. He spoke to outcast women. He healed ceremonially unclean women and morally unclean men. He demonstrated His theology by his actions. His was a ministry of presence, an incarnational ministry we are invited to mirror. He ministered to people with a no-strings-attached love. He left the choice of belief up to them. There was no quid quo pro demand or expectation.

I have seen that kind of incarnational ministry, and it is winning and warming (as well as challenging!). Here are some examples:

Joe Martin was selling books when he encountered a man who said he would love to buy the books, but he didn’t even have money for shoes. Sure enough, as Joe looked, the man had no shoes. “What size do you wear?” Joe asked. When the man replied, Joe’s face lit up: “That’s the size I wear too! Here, take my shoes. They will fit you,” he said as he quickly removed his shoes and gave them to the shocked, but appreciative man. Yes, the books were “truth filled,” but Joe’s actions spoke an immediate and more readily understandable truth about God’s love than the printed pages of the books the man couldn’t afford.

Or, consider the woman who was teaching Sabbath School one winter when she saw a family come in dressed in well-worn, but clean clothes without any coats. “Did the children leave their coats in the hallway?” she asked the mother. “Well, no . . . they don’t have any coats,” was the timid response. The teacher smiled and said, “We are going to do something very different for Sabbath School today! Mom, you go to the adult class. We’ll meet you at the church service.” That day, the children’s class met at Target. When they got to the worship service, the children without coats all had new, warm winter coats and boots matched by ear-to-ear smiles. (You can debate the timing if you wish, but Jesus said something about the ox in the ditch on Sabbath. I think this equates.)

During the year I spent in Vietnam, I routinely went on convoys with the troops (remember the ministry of presence . . . incarnational being with people?). The troops started their day at 3 in the morning when their trucks would be loaded. At 7 or 8 they lined up and pulled out to deliver food, water, ammunition, supplies, and fuel to various locations. I was in an open jeep in the middle of the convoy (think “moving target in a shooting gallery”). There were safe (safer hopefully) stopping points where we would pause for lunch before going on to our destination. The drivers were young men with voracious appetites. But I never was on a convoy where I didn’t see many of the soldiers give their lunch, and extra goodies they brought along, to the ragged children who swarmed us like ants when we stopped. Somehow the news media never covered that, but I saw it time and time again.

Consider Greig, a Roman Catholic Army chaplain/priest assigned in the greater Washington, DC, area. His job was to give denominational coverage to multiple Army installations in and around DC. His schedule was brutal. He heard there was a brother priest who had been badly wounded in an Iranian IED blast and was now in Walter Reed Medical Center. He didn’t know the man, but he was a brother, so Greig went to visit him. When he got there, the man’s mother and sisters were in the room. They were haggard by the long vigil they were keeping, and by the serious injuries of their loved one. Greig visited with them, had prayer, then said, “If there is anything I can do for you, here is my home number. Feel free to call.”

When he got home, there was a message on his answering machine. The family was asking him to come sit with their loved one on Saturdays so they could get a break. Would he be willing to do that? Saturday! Saturday was Greig’s only free day. It was, essentially, his Sabbath day of rest.

Greig spent every Saturday for the next three months reading and conversing with a man who was so severely injured that there was no way of knowing if he was even aware someone was in the room with him, let alone comprehending what Greig was reading and saying to him. Greig told me he would read for up to eight hours on those days. He would read until he was so hoarse, he could speak no more.

Consider an adult Sabbath School class who was invited to help a teenager get some clothing that was appropriate for her situation: she barely had the basics. The class took up an impromptu offering, including IOUs for those who didn’t have checks or cash with them: the class raised more than $400 on the spot. Two weeks later, it was proposed that the class start a fund to help people in need and to have funds on hand to meet the needs when they arose. The class voted to do so. That was more than 10 years ago. Since then, there have been no appeals for funds. People just continue to give and meet needs as they emerge. Thus far, gifting has been more than $50,000. Funds have covered food for neighbors in need, payment for heating bills during a winter for an immigrant family, help for mission trips, and more. Recipients don’t need to be members of the church; all they must do is demonstrate a need. No strings. No hooks. Just modeling a willingness to put faith into action and theology into practice.

James, Jesus’ brother, put it well: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Esoteric knowledge about the Bible, prophecy, and theology has a place, but meeting needs and modeling the Gospel is always appropriate. Compassionate ministry of presence opens hearts and blesses both the giver and the receiver.

We can be so absorbed in attempting to parse prophetic details that we miss needs and opportunities to bless others right around us. Beliefs that wear boots and gloves to lift others’ burdens bridges the gap between profession and practice.

The poet, Edgar Guest, said it well in “Sermons We See”:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how
you live.

–Dr. Dick Stenbakken, retired army chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. He lives with his wife Ardis in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jul


By Dick Stenbakken . . . I knew from as far back as I can remember that I was adopted. My parents made it clear that they chose me to be their own. To me, it always seemed somewhat special —an honor— to have been adopted. It didn’t make me any better than anyone, but it created a special bond with my parents.

Paul mentions adoption in his epistles (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). The churches to which he wrote, mentioning adoption, were all Gentile-Roman groups. While there was no practice of adoption among the Jews, the concept of adoption had very special meaning in Roman culture. Romans adopted others as adults, not as children. Adoptions were done to pass on inheritance and continue the family line. It also carried with it the responsibility of the adoptee to not only inherit, but to correctly manage the estate inherited and to bring honor to the new father and family name.

Roman adoption process was a very formalized ritual. On completion, before witnesses, the son now became officially a new person with an entirely new identity.

The new identity was more than a change of name. The adopted son now had full legal rights of inheritance as if he were a natural-born son. All past debits were gone. He was officially related to the new, not the old, family. In Roman law, and in many states today, once someone is adopted, he cannot be disowned by the adopting father. While the Roman father could disinherit a natural-born son, he could never disinherit his adopted son. Adoption was forever. The adoptee could walk away from his new father, but the father could never walk away from his adopted son.

Read that last line again. Let it sink in. No wonder Paul says, “…We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons….” (Romans 8:23 NIV). Our adoption as children of God differs from Roman adoption in that we make the choice to allow our adoption. It isn’t something done to us, it is something in which we actively participate. When we do, we are His—forever. He will not walk away from us. He invites us to be full inheritors of His name and His kingdom. We can leave the past and be a totally new person.

I was a newborn when adopted. I had no say in the process. God gives us a choice, an invitation to be adopted and be fully, freely, finally and forever His. It’s an honor to be adopted— twice.

–Dick Stenbakken, Ed. D. Chaplain (Colonel) U.S. Army, Retired