“Don’t Get Convicted”
by Karissa Baker
hen he walked into his first Revelation of Hope seminar in the summer of 2013, Jon Baker told himself, “Don’t get convicted.”
Up until that point, Jon and his wife Karissa weren't the least bit interested in God. They would much rather be throwing back a few cold ones with friends over a football game than sitting silent and stiff in a wooden church pew.
But that night, as the couple listened to their old high school friend Taj preach the gospel, something shifted in their hearts. They couldn’t tell you later what the topic had been. They may not have remembered any of the verses. But they knew one thing—God had grabbed hold of them, and they needed to make “a lot of changes.”
They started with emptying the alcohol pantry—and they haven’t looked back since. But their testimony goes far beyond a party-hard couple getting sober. It’s about family and friends who never gave up. It’s about second chances and a loving God who will stop at absolutely nothing to get to the heart of His children.
Jon and Karissa both grew up in Adventist homes. Going to church on Saturday and avoiding unclean foods was part of their everyday life, but without a personal relationship with God, they were lost and didn’t even know it.
Jon grew up on the west side of Oahu in Waiʻanae, a place known as the slums. Jon had to learn street smarts at a young age. He was often left to fend for himself, which sometimes meant having to steal just so he could eat. His family life was a lot different at home than what was portrayed at church so Jon never had a deep desire to learn about God. When Jon was a junior in high-school, Waiʻanae SDA Church had a revelation seminar led by Pastor Nemaia Faletogo. It was then that Jon felt on fire for the Lord and decided to move mid-year from Waiʻanae High School to Hawaiian Mission Academy.
Karissa grew up in Wailuku, Maui. Shortly after being baptized around the age of 12, Karissa succumbed to the influences of her peers. Occasionally smoking cigarettes later led to smoking marijuana and drinking. She had the philosophy that as long as she came home with “A’s” and “B’s”, her parents wouldn’t question her social life. At the end of her junior year of high school, she realized a change needed to be made or she would end up “spiraling downward.” Karissa decided to move to Oahu and attend Hawaiian Mission Academy.
Jon and Karissa first met at Hawaiian Mission Academy, but they were just friends at that time. Here they became friends with Taj and Wati, two individuals who were also attending Hawaiian Mission Academy. After high school, Jon and Karissa slipped away from following God. Jon stayed on Oahu and enjoyed the party life. Karissa went to Pacific Union College for a year, but came back to Oahu to finish college.
In the summer of 2005, Karissa and Jon ran into each other at a bar and exchanged numbers. A few months later they started dating and Karissa eventually moved in with Jon. Jon worked as a valet and Karissa was a bartender; they thought they were living the ideal life. Partying, clubbing, and gambling were typical pastimes for this couple. About a year after dating, Jon and Karissa found out they were expecting. Young and unmarried, Karissa was afraid to break the news to her parents and Jon was contemplating abortion. To make things right, they decided to move to Maui and get married before the baby arrived. On March 31, 2007, Jon and Karissa had a shotgun wedding and the next day, on April Fools Day, Karissa gave birth to their first daughter, Makaylah. A couple of years later, their second daughter, Marley, was born. Other than being parents, not much changed. The partying continued. Whether it was a football game, MMA match, or birthday, it would be a “party at the Baker’s.” Throughout the years, Taj and Wati tried to reach out to Jon and Karissa, but their attempts were dismissed. Jon and Karissa weren’t interested in hearing about God.
In the summer of 2013, Karissa’s parents told her about an upcoming revelation seminar at the Kahului SDA Church and that Taj and Wati would be there. At first Karissa wasn’t interested, but God was working on her heart. The opening night of the seminar, Karissa asked Jon if he wanted to go, but he wasn’t interested. Nor did they attend the second night. On Sunday, Jon and Karissa decided to stay home and drink a new beer they recently discovered at a beer fest. The following night, Karissa tried a different approach and told Jon they should just go and say “hi” to their friends. Jon grew up with Taj in Waiʻanae, and Karissa and Wati were both Maui girls. Jon and Karissa were also classmates with some of the musicians playing for the meetings. Jon agreed to go, but just for dinner. They planned to leave before the sermon.
While having dinner and catching up with their classmates, the couple’s daughters took it upon themselves to go to the children’s program. Karissa and Jon had no choice but to stay for the sermon that night. Before entering the sanctuary, Jon repeated in his mind “don’t get convicted.” They stayed, listened to the whole sermon, then headed home. The car ride home was dead silent. When Jon parked the car, he turned to Karissa and said “there needs to be a lot of changes.” The next day, the pantry that was once full of alcohol was emptied out and the couple started getting rid of jewelry, clothing, movies, music…anything they felt God was telling them to clear out. They started going to church on a regular basis, hosting vespers at their home, surrounding themselves with fellow believers and making God the foundation of their home. Six months later, on January 11, 2014, the couple was baptized by Taj in a fresh mountain stream at Iao Valley.
The couple still resides on Maui and are still faithfully serving God. Jon serves as a deacon and the young adults leader and Karissa serves as the teen Sabbath School teacher and VBS director. Their home is still the hangout spot, but now for missionaries, visitors, and the Adventist young adult group that has grown over the years. “Allowing God to be the center of our marriage and family was the best decision we ever made,” they said. Jon and Karissa also started a Christian clothing brand named J3:XVI (John 3:16). This brand has opened up many doors for the couple to work with the Maui community, other Christian brands, and believers of all walks of faith.
Jon and Karissa are amazed to see that God never gave up on them. To see how God used Taj and Wati and Revelation of Hope Ministries to bring them back to His fold is something Jon and Karissa will be forever grateful for. Karissa has come full circle and now works as the new Communications Director for Revelation of Hope Ministries.
Never give up on reaching out to your loved ones. Taj and Wati never forced, never judged, and were genuine each time they reached out to Jon and Karissa. Karissa’s parents never gave up on inviting them to church. You may have been praying for someone close to your heart and have reached out several times, but don’t get discouraged if they have not yet responded. God’s timing is not our timing. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Just as God used many to reach Jon and Karissa, God is working in your loved one’s life and when they are ready to listen, God will do wonders.
– The Traveling Team
Ignorance Can Be A Good Thing
by Trevor Connell
roverbs 18:16 says, “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” I have been blessed to see this verse proven in my own life, especially as a Spanish translator. For many years, I have traveled with non-SDA mission groups, often as the only ‘official’ Spanish speaker in the group, even though the trips were in Spanish-speaking countries. I have found myself translating for government dignitaries and mission leaders, and could only marvel at the experience. At a previous General Conference Session, I had the opportunity to serve as one of the translators, a very humbling experience.
However, this article isn’t about translations, rather it is about health and (again) how the Lord provides opportunities for us to share the Gospel. But we have to be prepared. We must have the gifts that will open the doors of opportunity.
Working in the healthcare setting as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist I have had occasion to see and learn much about what goes on in the healthcare industry. But my interest in following the plan that God has outlined for mankind’s health through Scripture and the writings of Ellen G. White has grown over the years. The “world” has come to recognize the truth and value of following a plant-based diet and other approaches that naturally promote health instead of relying on drugs and medical treatments as the end-all.
I work in an outpatient healthcare setting, and because of my passion for health and overcoming diseases, I dedicate myself to sharing with staff and patients approaches to natural healing and lifestyle and dietary changes that can improve and/or overcome health challenges. I often say that God created our bodies to heal themselves if given the right care. We don’t have to be sick regardless of our age, income level, ethnicity, etc. To a large degree we determine our health by the what, the when, and the how much we put in our mouths.
People are always surprised to know that their diabetes can be reversed and cured; that they don’t have to have cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure; that even cancer (in some cases—and I speak from personal experience) can be reversed or made less acute. And these are just some of the major health issues that can be radically altered with time and effort.
A few weeks ago, I spent some time talking with a particular patient. We chatted and I tried to figure out why he was on medications for his blood pressure when according to his history, he was totally healthy, with no health issues whatsoever. He had only come to see me for a routine health check-up. We talked for a while about weight management, dietary changes essential to good health, the use and necessity of certain medications and supplements, and more. You name it, we talked about it! For the most part, he asked questions, seeking clarification about common beliefs, protocols, medical information, and health concepts including elements of NEWSTART.
During our conversation, we had a lot of interruptions from people coming in to ask my patient for his autograph, to express their admiration for him, or to give him some other compliment. Each time the admirers left, he would refocus on what I was saying and continue to ask questions.
When we had finished our discussion, I moved on to see another patient, but I was curious because of the attention he received and stopped to ask, “Who is he?” The group I asked were shocked that I didn’t know who he was! “He’s the famous…” (a major sports figure worth millions and whose privacy I’ll maintain by not naming him or the team he played for).
I am not a sports fan, but I marveled at how God allowed me in my ignorance to share valuable information with this individual. Perhaps knowing who he was would have prevented my open discussion with him. Not knowing him allowed me to share in an open way, and allowed him to receive information without someone fawning over him. We never know to whom we’ll have an opportunity to witness.
Missionary Training Fund Students Fulfilling the Mission
by Norbert Restrepo
It was calm and quiet in the Hartland College library one evening as Indian student John Samuel Dilli Babu studied. Yet within him raged a tempest of doubt. His past mistakes and current challenges made him almost despair of living up to his ministerial calling. But God reassured him as he read, “[God] saw through the rough and repulsive exterior and loved us for what we could become through His grace” (Reins on My Life, p. 6). His courage renewed, John remembered how receiving missionary training sponsorship had not only made Hartland possible financially, it had confirmed God's calling for his life.
It is thrilling to see how God places a calling on young people’s lives and takes them wherever they will best be prepared for His service. He opens doors and gives encouragement when the way forward looks impossible. Samuel Amirtharaj also had challenges as he sought to fulfill God’s calling. In his native home of India, freedom to choose is restricted by the family’s wishes. Samuel’s Hindu relatives wanted him to stay in India and receive a secular education. But Samuel was steadfast in his decision to pursue God’s purpose for his life. Finances were a challenge for him also, and he too felt confirmed in his calling by receiving missionary sponsorship from Hartland.
John and Samuel both feel called to minister in India, a country where Christianity is not only a minority religion, but also tends to be embraced only by the poorer classes. Jesus longs to reach people at all levels of society, and He brought these young men to the United States to equip them for this purpose.
At Hartland, both John and Samuel chose the four-year pastoral evangelism major. When asked as a junior how Hartland was preparing him for ministry, John answered, “Hartland is preparing me in three ways: by giving me intellectual knowledge of the Bible in classes; by giving me opportunities for practical experience in evangelism and church-related activities; and by providing me an environment and experiences to help me hold communion with God.” Samuel responded, “The student experience at Hartland is unique. I really enjoy the spiritual atmosphere here. This helps me to grow closer and closer to God. The staff and teachers are a huge blessing to me. They help me not to get distracted from my calling, but instead guide me in the right path. It is very hard to find this mentorship.” And God had even more mentorship and experiences awaiting John and Samuel during their undergraduate internship during their senior year.
With much consideration and prayer, John and Samuel moved forward as the Lord opened the doors for them to intern at the Living Hope School of Evangelism under the experienced mentorship of Pr. Mark Finley and Pr. Chris Holland. Here they were able to learn and witness first-hand the effectiveness of Christ’s method of ministry—gospel medical evangelism. They helped with many creative outreach programs designed to touch the health needs of the community. They learned how to befriend the attendees and draw them into spiritual programs, personal Bible studies, and commitment to Christ.
Through these experiences, they witnessed how non-Christians’ prejudice could be broken down through health ministry. This was especially meaningful because of the prejudice against Christianity they were preparing to meet back in India.
During their internship, John and Samuel also learned how to contextualize outreach strategies. For example, Northern Virginia, being an affluent community, is very responsive to professionally-styled seminars. As well as observing their mentors, John and Samuel had exciting opportunities to run some seminars themselves. They saw good results with this contextualization method, giving them experience and ideas for ministering to all sectors of Indian society.
John and Samuel have now graduated from Hartland, prepared, under God’s guidance and provision, to be missionaries to their people. Samuel’s vision as an undergraduate was specific: “One of the needs in India is for a strong Bible-based training center for evangelism. So my plan is to start a training center in India in association with my brother who majored in health at Wildwood.” John was also touched by the needs of the church: “Our Seventh-day Adventist Church in India needs pastors and evangelists, and I want to use what I have learnt by theory and by experience to be a laborer in His vineyard in India.” We’ve seen how God has truly worked mightily to prepare them for these ministries.
Please join us in praying that many lives will be touched by these young men who, through God’s grace, have become part of “the Lord’s army of youth, rightly trained” (CT, p. 555).