Debra Brill, Former North American Division Vice President, Dies at Seventy-One
On August 27, 2023, Debra Brill, a former vice president for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for twenty-one years, died after an extended illness.
“My heart sank as I received the news of Debra’s passing. She was a colleague, a friend, and a tremendous example of Christian grace,” said G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president. “Debra was an unusual and unique blend of dignified strength, humility, compassion, vision, and calm perseverance. She could always find an encouraging word to say during the most difficult circumstances. She knew how to navigate the complexities of church structure to get things done. I consider it a high honor to have worked beside her for more than 10 years.”
Brill, with 33 years of denominational employment, currently holds the record for longest-serving vice president of the NAD; and she was the second woman to occupy a vice president position at the division.
“I followed in the footsteps of Rose Otis, who was an amazing evangelist, and also a mentor to me,” said Brill during an interview around the time of her retirement. “At the time, there was not a track for women. There were so few women pastors, and there were so few women even in conference leadership, much less union leadership. So I did not feel adequate, I did not feel like I had the proper training, the theological training. But people believed in me, and Elder Alfred C. McClure, NAD president, said, ‘We want you to come and work with the leaders here at the division.’ And, in fact, he did poll them and they were supportive.”
Brill is survived by her husband George, former associate director for NAD Information Technology Services; their two children and their spouses; and three grandchildren. Visitation will be held on Saturday, September 2, 2023, from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, at the Nelsen Funeral Home in Richmond, Virginia. A memorial service will be held on September 10, at 3 p.m. at Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Collegedale, Tennessee. The service will be streamed; link details will be provided as soon as they become available.
–From North American Division Communication Department, “Debra Brill, Former North American Division Vice President for Ministries, Passes to Her Rest.”
Texas Bill Allowing Public School Chaplains Challenged by Seventh-day Adventist Church and Other Groups
A recent Texas bill allows religious chaplains to work in state public schools. Jack Jenkins, writing for Religion News Service, reports, "More than 100 chaplains signed a letter urging local Texas school boards to vote against putting chaplains in public schools, calling efforts to enlist religious counselors in public classrooms “harmful” to students and families. The letter was organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Interfaith Alliance as well as local advocacy group Texas Impact."
Signers of the letter are members of an array of Christian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Disciples of Christ, and Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some are part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Several other signers identified as Jewish, Buddhist, or Unitarian Universalist.
The letter comes just days before a bill allowing public schools to hire school chaplains becomes law in Texas, the first state in the country to pass such a measure. The legislation, which had been pushed by activists associated with Christian nationalism, gives the state’s nearly 1,200 school boards until March 1 of next year to vote on whether to employ chaplains.
The chaplains who signed the letter, released Tuesday, August 22, bemoaned the lack of standards for potential school chaplains aside from background checks, contrasting it with the extensive training required for health care and military chaplains.
While chaplains who operate in multi-faith environments are generally barred from proselytizing, the Texas bill, SB 763, outlined no such condition, leaving each school district to answer the question on its own.
As SB 763 made its way through the Texas Legislature in May, state Rep. James Talarico, a Presbyterian-minister-in-training, repeatedly challenged the bill and linked it to Christian nationalism. He also expressed concern about the bill’s champions: the National School Chaplain Association (NSCA) an arm of a Christian missionary organization that has previously expressed a desire to convert students and school officials to Christianity.
—From Religion News Service, “More Than 100 Chaplains Urge Texans Not to Hire School Chaplains.”
Lahaina Seventh-day Adventist Church Members Aided by Fellow Christians
The recent wildfires in West Maui spared a number of churches in the hardest-hit town of Lahaina. In addition to surviving nearby flames, the Lahaina Seventh-day Adventist Church is still standing. Although members lost homes and other important possessions, no Adventist lives were lost, as reported by Lalaine Ignato for the TFC News.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church's new Filipino pastor Ramel Ramos was grateful that most locals had survived. “Even amidst these fiery trials, it is a big testament that God really cares for his church and his people,” said Ramos. “They lost all their belongings and their houses, but none of them got hurt. They were able to move out in time.”
Some members from the Lahaina Seventh-day Adventist have been staying at the Kahului Filipino church. Jonathan Baker, a volunteer, said of the church. “It shows that God is, to me saying, we're going to rebuild. There are some churches still standing in Lahaina, and I'm sure they'll rebuild.”
Another Filipino resident in Lahaina Anacleto Topinio said his pastor, Ben Williams, warned parishioners to evacuate just before the blaze spread. Topinio's household of 24 members managed to escape just in time, thanks to the pastor's guidance.
Once safe from the fire, many of the Lahaina parishioners sought refuge at the Kahului church. Its members also stepped up to volunteer and support the displaced individuals.
“As a Christian, that's what we're called to do,” said Baker. “But also, being born and raised in Hawaii, it's that Aloha spirit. We come together to help out.”
—From TFC News Honolulu, “Lahaina Parishioners Cling to Faith as They Reel from Wildfires.”
The Little Shop of Kindness Featured on CBS TV in New York City
The Little Shop of Kindness, operated by the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church in New York City, has been featured again in the news media. This time it was shown on the CBS TV affiliate in New York City, reported by Zinnia Maldanado.
Team TLC NYC Director Ilze Thielmann was interviewed. The "grassroots organization [is] providing basic needs and legal support to asylum seekers. The group of volunteers started off by greeting thousands of asylum seekers arriving at Port Authority with clothes and toiletries late last year. In April, they decided to open up shop inside the Seventh-day Adventist Church along West 40th Street. . . . It looks like a store where you'll find shoes, clothing, toys and books. . . . The Little Shop of Kindness is run entirely on donations.”
“Some of the stories we've heard of people's passages here are just mind numbingly horrendous,” Thielmann said. “For people to put themselves through that to come here, you know, they must be dealing with something truly, truly horrendous.”
Rick Perez is a Team TLC volunteer. He resonates with those they help because he himself immigrated to New York City from Cuba back in the 1970s. “Being bilingual, I find that they find a sense of relief when they speak to someone in their native tongue, I can translate for them,” Perez said. “They help accept the fact that I'm an immigrant and not to forget my roots. A lot of us—when we have made it in this country—we forget where we came from.”
Thielmann said the shop has helped thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in the city since last year. She emphasized the goal is to provide more than the basics—the team wants people to feel seen and taken care of by their fellow New Yorkers.
“We set up the shop to be beautiful and welcoming and to look like a real boutique and to treat these folks with as much dignity, respect and kindness as you would hopefully get in any regular store,” Theilmann said. “It's a lovely thing to not just to get the bare necessities of survival in this world, but to actually have some of the pleasures and also the things that make us feel more human and more dignified.”
Loma Linda, a Blue-zone City, Shares Spotlight in New Netflix Documentary
A new documentary series titled Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones has been announced by Netflix. “The series, featuring author Dan Buettner, explores five communities around the world where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. Buettner, who partnered with National Geographic in the early 2000s, traveled extensively to identify these regions, which he coined “Blue Zones,” according to Ticker.tv.
The Blue Zones are areas where individuals experience higher-than-average life expectancies. Currently, five Blue Zones have been discovered, including Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. These communities share common characteristics that contribute to longevity, such as a plant-based diet, regular physical activity, and strong family bonds.
The documentary will take viewers on a journey to these remarkable Blue Zones, providing insight into the lifestyles and practices of their residents. It aims to inspire and educate viewers about the keys to living a long, vibrant life. The release of this documentary on Netflix provides a platform for a wider audience to learn from these communities.
The Blue Zones movement has gained traction in recent years, with Albert Lea becoming the first certified Blue Zones community in the United States in 2016. As a pilot project, Albert Lea implemented strategies based on the Blue Zones principles to improve the well-being of its residents.
—From TickerTV News, “Netflix Releases New Documentary on Blue Zones.”
Pam Dietrich taught English at Loma Linda Academy for 26 years and served there eight more years as the 7–12 librarian. She lives in Yucaipa, California
Photo by Pieter Damsteegt for the North American Division Communication Department.
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