SIR, I want help. I am not an Adventist. I am not even a Christian. I have never voluntarily attended a church in my life." So began one of the many thrilling stories experienced during visits of the Columbia Union College Better Family Living team. This particular incident ended in the baptism of the one making the appeal, the re-establishment of a wayward Adventist youth, and the dedication to the Lord of a newborn baby. Yes, things happen on those weekend visits to the churches.
The Columbia Union College Better Family Living team was born more than six years ago from a group of faculty members discussing the call of the Elijah mes sage. We claim to be the people of the Elijah message, but we are doing relatively little in a practical way about it. This mes sage is to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and of the fathers to the children. It is a family message. Never were families in greater danger and greater need than now. From this thought germinated a concept of qualified men offering their services to the field. The original team was composed of men—some evangelists, and some faculty members of Columbia Union College, all trained in counseling in various specialized aspects of good family living. Among the group was a psychologist, a pastoral counselor, a family and marital counselor, and one who specialized in youth problems. This composition has been essentially maintained, although some members of the team have changed. The team has made many visits covering thousands of miles, but they have been greatly encouraged and rewarded by what their eyes have seen.
In one city an enthusiastic pastor advertised the team's visit in the local paper. The wife of a prominent local businessman attended. Her home was breaking up: She had never heard of Adventists, but saw the newspaper invitation. She reported later that things had changed for her family, very much for the better. They had instituted family worship, and she was having Bible studies.
In planning the team's program we have developed what seems to be an effective way of accomplishing much in a short visit. The first meeting is generally on Fri day evening, when we hold a panel discussion of the place and effect of religion in the home. Before the discussion we show a movie on The Family's Heritage (worship). On Sabbath the team members often teach the classes in the Sabbath school. This established a close rapport with the church members. The Elijah mes sage and its meaning for today is presented at the devotional service. The lunch period is planned to keep the members together in a fellowship meal, then we begin our services again at 1:30 P.M. At this time we show a film on mixed marriages. The first afternoon period is an open forum with free exchange between the team members and the floor. Written questions, oral questions, and discussion suggestions are all welcomed. After about an hour and a quarter we divide into groups, for example, parents of preschool children, parents of grade-school children, parents of teenagers, and general home problems. During the whole of the afternoon one team member, usually a psychologist, devotes time for private interviews.
Constantly we need to beware of the danger of making the church a forum for philosophy instead of a city of refuge for sinners. We can become too absorbed with doctrinal theory instead of reaching a helping hand to those in distress or in a crisis. It is altogether possible that while we are discussing the fine points of righteousness by faith our youth are seeking other paths and our homes fall apart. After all, the main part of the church and its destiny is decided in the homes of the people, not in the pulpit of the church. "The restoration and uplifting of humanity begins in the home. The work of parents under lies every other. Society is composed of families, and is what the heads of families make it. Out of the heart are 'the issues of life'; and the heart of the community, of the church, and of the nation is the household. The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences." —The Ministry of Healing, p. 349.
The strange part in our emphasis is so often "how to live with others at work and in the community." We need to know more of how to live better and more effective lives at home. Inasmuch as there are effective principles that govern the building of better homes, it seems to be an important part of the message of the church to foster and encourage the development of these principles. Contrariwise, the neglect of certain considerations erodes the home structure.
Protecting the Home
It is the objective of the Better Family Living team to promote serious consideration of these matters and to help families protect their homes from decay and disaster. Few would be calculatingly apathetic of basic principles that hold a home together. But in our busyness we carelessly neglect to cultivate love, to take time to understand and to help other members of the family. Faith is not an individual isolate, but is found in corporate fellowship.
The story is often told of a wise pastor visiting the home of a member whose faith was shaken and growing dim. The delinquent member insisted on going it alone and finding his own way independent of family or church. Without a word the preacher took the fire tongs and lifted a live coal from the fire. Then he watched as slowly but surely the isolated coal got cold arid died. Comment was unnecessary. Faith and love grow when shared, but die in isolation. Good homes keep the fires of faith and love alight.
Another problem is one of communication. Some time ago I sent out a questionnaire to marriage counselors in the Greater Washington area. A part of this questionnaire asked the counselors to list in order the problems they considered the important causes for the breaking up of a home. In almost every returned questionnaire, number one on the list was "lack of communication."
Another objective in the conferences of Better Family Living is discussion. So much is done when people are able to discuss and talk over their difficulties. Suggestions made by others frequently give a new slant to a problem not thought of before. "It is a law of nature that our thoughts and feelings are encouraged and strengthened as we give them utterance. While words express thoughts, it is also true that thoughts follow words."—Ibid., pp. 251, 252. We need more opportunities in the church for dialog on important practical issues.
The importance of team visits becomes evident when one remembers that the home has been the objective of Satan's special attacks ever since the days of Eden. "Is there not enough taking place about us to show us the dangers that beset our path? Everywhere are seen wrecks of humanity, neglected family altars, broken-up families. There is a strange abandonment of principle, a lowering of the standard of morality."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 601. "The angels had cautioned Eve to beware of separating herself from her husband while occupied in their daily labor in the garden; with him she would be in less danger from temptation than if she were alone." "Eve had been perfectly happy by her husband's side in her Eden home; but like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her." —Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 53, 59.
Homes today are the object of Satan's particular onslaught. If he can wreck homes he can ruin society, the church, and the world. The greatest work we can do is to make our homes bulwarks of peace and safety, places of security in this corrupted world of ours.