By Kelsie Petersen
I spend more than my fair share of time on social media. Since I left Adventism in 2004, social media has exploded from now-virtually-extinct MySpace to the all-encompassing platforms we see today. Fourteen years ago, I didn’t have the variety of ways to connect with others who shared my background and my questions, and the online platforms certainly weren’t as popular or well-used as they are today. I found my way onto an apologetics website that hosted a forum, and there I found myself on the board for discussing Seventh-day Adventism. I would estimate there were maybe 10-20 active participants there at the time, about 50% Adventist and 50% former Adventist. In the days that led up to my discovery of that website, I remember having so many questions, and being sure that I couldn’t possibly be the only person in the world to be asking them. I was so unsure, however, of where I would find others like me, and even more unsure of where I would find people who could give me answers that were not biased to their particular religion or church affiliation. I remember feeling surprise and relief when, having posted my questions, I was met with compassion as well as solid, biblical answers from the former Adventists in the group.
I’ve maintained a couple of those connections to this day, though we have updated our platform to what is now the most common mode of communication for many of us who are connected by our personal histories in the Adventist church. Along with those “old-timers,” I’ve added a host of new “friends,” people with whom I’ve laughed and cried over the past 10 years.
It’s interesting to me, and frustrating to some of my family, how these people, most of whom I’ve never met in person, can be so familiar and feel like extended family. We may only speak via chat or mobile text, but our hearts have become close as we bear one another’s burdens across the miles. None of our sorrows are uncommon in this world, but because of our common history, because we know from where each other has come and understand the spiritual journey it requires to walk out of Adventism and into the Gospel, there is a sense of connection we feel that is not always quite the same with friends who don’t share that commonality.
I’ve prayed for my friends from South America to Europe to Australia and throughout North America as they have faced cancer, divorce, chronic pain and illness, the death of a child, the death of a parent, the difficulty of placing loved ones in care as they decline beyond being able to be cared for at home, and the pain rejection from family because of their decision to leave Adventism. I’ve prayed for new friends as they find their way into our online groups, asking for answers, for support, as they begin to navigate their journey out of Adventism and into the Gospel, as they face anger and hurt from those they love, as they try to find the words to share what they are learning. These new friends often turn into old friends as we question and wrestle and share our hearts.
It’s a two way street, as I have faced struggles over the years. My friends in these groups helped pray me through my cancer two-and-a-half years ago and provided some of the most deep, profound scriptural comfort I could have received during that time. They have shared my sorrows and my joys over the years. They have cried with me and rejoiced with me, and they continue to do so, right to this very day.
I have learned so much from them. They have taught me their love of the Word, they have shown me what courage looks like, what love looks like. They have demonstrated such a willingness to stand for truth and to be on the receiving end of much misunderstanding and even anger and hatred. I have seen them humble themselves, I have seen them reach out in love to those that are hurting. I have seen them pray in earnest for the salvation of their loved ones, and of strangers surrounding them in their towns and cities.
I have had the blessing of meeting a few of my online friends in person, and it has truly been just that—a blessing. I even got to meet one of the “old-timers” who first reached out to me way back on the old apologetics forum. I’m forever grateful that they took the time and the patience to walk with me through that time, and the importance of what they did is what often motivates me to keep reaching out on the new platforms, to offer the same encouragement and hope that was offered to me.
The very first place I was able to meet my “online” former Adventist friends was at the first Former Adventist Fellowship Conference in Michigan in 2012. I was also able to attend the FAF Conference in Southern California in 2016, and there I met even more of the people I have come to love and respect so much through our online conversations.
This weekend, FAF is once again hosting their conference in Southern California. Held in Loma Linda for the first time, at the new home of Redeemer Fellowship, this weekend is packed with solid biblical teaching that is so applicable to the hearts and lives of those of us who have left Adventism for the Gospel. I will be there in spirit (and watching on live feed), knowing how wonderful this weekend is for solidifying connections and speaking truth into hearts. I’ll be rejoicing with the “old” faces, and praying for the new faces, as curious questioners come to listen and take in what is said, hoping to hear the answers they are seeking.
I don’t know how many more of these amazing people I will get to meet on this side of Heaven, but I do know that I will make a lot more new friends that I will probably never meet, as new people pour into our groups each week. The rise of the internet and its accessibility has certainly had its pitfalls and downsides, but this is not one of them. Because of the information now available at the click of a button, Adventists all over the world are able to find easily the answers to questions that I, just 14 years ago, had to spend much more time and effort to find (although I still had a much easier time than those who were questioning a mere 10 years before me).
Let’s pray for those who are searching around the world today, and for those who will be searching in the coming months, weeks and years. Let’s pray that they would be softened to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and that those they come in contact with online would welcome them with open arms and a boldness to share the truth in love.