he small seed of an idea was planted by an e-mail from a friend. An individual who has been on the front lines of young adult ministry for more than 15 years, and now passing the management mantle on to the next generation of young leaders, he sent me a short message outlining a simple plan. A few months passed. We met for lunch and over ice-cream cones (thanks, Allan Martin!) on a hot December day in Florida, the seed sprouted.
A year later the idea sapling blossomed into a tree, as Adventist Review readers responded to a call for nominations of outstanding Adventist Christians in their 20s who are impacting the world around them. School, church, community, family—we were looking for well-rounded, spiritually energized, Christlike people. Thanks to the overwhelming response from our readers, we found them.
More than 120 young adults were nominated, including several groups and husband/wife teams. Narrowing the field to a top 20 (and 10 honorable mentions) was difficult, and the assistance of young adult employees at the General Conference was critical. The peer group met, and after examining each nominee’s dossier, 30 individuals were chosen. (We’re sure some readers may see some honorable mentions as belonging to the top 20s, and probably vice versa. That’s to be expected.)
All the candidates were outstanding, but these are the ones that rose to the top—those with amazing verve and vitality, those in humble, devoted service to Christ—alive and verdant branches reaching from the Vine into the world. Here are your Top 20 in Their 20s.—Kimberly Luste Maran, assistant editor
Nominated by: Dori Press, Portland, Oregon, and Mary Jane Zollbrecht, Oregon City, Oregon
Les Zollbrecht is a rock climbing enthusiast and chaplain of Portland Adventist Academy in Portland, Oregon. His favorite place of ministry on campus is the school’s new rock climbing wall—a unique setting he uses to encourage students to be the best they can be, with confidence and determination. Les, married to occupational therapist Marshchelle, enjoys traveling, trekking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and reading, and as he says, “admiring the artwork of God and working for the sustainability of all His creation.”
Dori Press says: “Since Les’s arrival on campus, there have been a record number of student baptisms. He reaches students in the classroom, hallways, through Bible studies and worship talks, mission trips, summer rock climbing trips, and much more. His energy is contagious, his wisdom beyond his years, and he continually gives credit for changed lives to the Savior he loves and walks with on a daily basis.”
Nominated by: Dan and Julie Woolf, Ypsilanti, Michigan
As a second grader at Oakwood Seventh-day Adventist School in Taylor, Michigan, Sarah Woolf Canada decided that she wanted to be a teacher. Today, Sarah teaches grades K-3 at the same school she called her own years ago.
The 24-year-old educator has long had a passion for working with children, and has served on several mission trips to far-flung locations around the world.
Sarah’s love for service has been manifested in so many ways. “As a college student, Sarah felt the need for a Sabbath school geared to the needs of the university students. She, along with five others, formed ‘Higher Ground’ Sabbath school. Higher Ground continues to be a spark to the spirituality of Andrews University, bringing students and faculty together on a volunteer basis,” says Julie Woolf.
Sarah says: “I believe my life is about service. God has heaped many blessings upon me, and I know that He has asked me to use my life in service to Him. I hope others see me as a true Christian and real friend. I want others to see that I am a follower of Christ and that I pattern my life after Him.”
Nominated by: Richard Rose, Camino, California
“There are not enough words to describe how impressed I am with Jonathan and his achievements,” says Richard Rose. Jonathan is a gifted video editor and owner and operator of Ion Entertainment, a location, sound, and video postproduction services company.
“I worked with Jonathan in the Amazing Facts video studios at the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1999, during the NET NY99 Amazing Facts evangelistic campaign in Manhattan, Amazing Facts funded a complete rewiring of the video studio’s audio room. It was a rush project, and without Jonathan’s help, the job would never have been done as nicely as it was. He is simply an amazing young man, a super high achiever,” says Rose.
Jonathan’s life and work have been touched by God in many amazing ways. After graduation, with no job prospects in sight, Jonathan found himself trusting the Lord completely for direction. While volunteering at his home church, a former employer invited him to start his own business with some vacant office space they had available. Things took off from there.
Jonathan says, “It’s God’s business, and its success is due all to Him. So many people have told me how hard it is to start and keep a video business above water. Ion Entertainment broke even, however, in the first year of operation, and is now turning a profit after only two years in existence. That’s not my doing at all—it’s God’s! Can I trust Him to keep me afloat? The answer is a resounding yes!”
Nominated by: Kendra Avila, Collegedale, Tennessee
Even as a college student, 21-year-old Jaela Carter has a gift for ministering to young people. Kendra Avila knows this firsthand. She says: “I first met Jaela at Camp Cohutta Springs in Georgia. I was looking forward to teen camp and having fun with friends. I soon found out that someone named Jaela Carter was going to be my counselor. Soon, I noticed that there was something very different about her. She just seemed so happy all the time.
“The last night of camp, Jaela took our whole cabin for a walk, and she told us how important it was for us to have a relationship with God as a Friend. She really touched my heart, and I decided to accept Him into my life.
“The great thing about Jaela is that she doesn’t just talk about God; she lives Him in her everyday life. Of all the people I have met (besides my parents), Jaela has impacted my life the most.”
Nominated by: Tammy Ganson, Terrace, British Columbia, Canada
Tammy Ganson first met Travis McMurray when he was child. Years later, their paths crossed again when Ganson moved to Terrace, British Columbia.
“I started a tumbling team at the local church school, and asked Travis if he would be one of my assistant coaches,” says Ganson. “I felt he would be such a spiritual asset to our team, as well as added strength. I got everything I hoped for and more when Travis came on board. He was a coach, friend, mentor, an example of true Christianity, and a blessing to be around.”
Today, Travis is a personal trainer and weight loss coach, and is the owner of Homebodies Weight Loss. “I volunteer twice a week at the Canadian University College physical education center, running a fitness program for senior citizens from the community. During the school year I lead ‘Sabbath School Outreach’—a service-oriented college Sabbath school class; Sundown Worship, a Sabbath evening worship service for college students; and I give in-home Bible studies,” says Travis.
“He really does love His Lord,” adds Ganson. “And it shows.”
Nominated by: Robert and Evelyn Osborn, Takoma Park, Maryland
“Kimberly richly exemplifies Christian service in all aspects of her life,” say Robert and Evelyn Osborn.
Kimberly has always had a heart for service. And the former intern with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) with a deep passion for humanitarian efforts has even more plans, as she says, for “giving a voice to those that society has locked away and forgotten.”
“I had gone to West Africa as an ADRA intern working on its health project. I was given a tour of the capital’s prison, and I found a passion for justice in the unbelievable dignity and grace of men, women, and boys being held without charge,” Kimberly says. The prison, meant to house 300, held more than 1,200 individuals. The government decreased rations, claiming that allocated funds for feeding them were depleted, and reduced their daily allotment of nourishment to just four tablespoons of rice per day. “In response to these conditions, I worked with ADRA to develop a prisoner’s advocacy center,” she says.
“My thoughts remain in West Africa. I cannot escape the images of injustice I witnessed, and I don’t want to. Currently, I am working with several human rights and humanitarian organizations to promote international standards for prisons, as well as raising awareness of those being held at present. Not only is this my responsibility, it is my passion, driven by my belief in a just and loving God,” says Kimberly.
Nominated by: Donna Sinclair, Houston, Texas
“Kyna Griffith exemplifies what it means to be a Christian, serving God and fellow human beings to her fullest,” says Donna Sinclair.
While completing a recent internship at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Kyna was very involved in services at the Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I enjoyed playing the piano regularly for Sabbath school, rendering special music through voice and violin; singing with the praise team; and mentoring youth through Adventist Youth and Pathfinders. It is at church that I feel most comfortable and enjoy the privilege of contributing to God’s service,” she says.
Now based in Oklahoma in a postdoctoral fellowship with an emphasis on chemical dependency, Kyna says: “The Lord has done many great things in my life, and I know that there is more to come if I just continue to trust Him. I still have a couple more years to go in my 20s, and I look forward to counting God’s blessings as He continues to use me in His service to bless others.”
Nominated by: Laurie Barcelow, Bethel, Vermont
Shawn Brace—currently attending the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University—spent a year as an interim pastor for a small district of churches in Vermont. Laurie Barcelow, then one of his parishioners, shared the following:
“Shawn Brace was a breath of fresh air to our district, and despite his youth showed great leadership, sincere godliness, and a willingness to help in any area. The youth really bonded with him, and he sang and played guitar, and joined them on the basketball court. He had a remarkable ability to deliver a sermon without notes, and they were always practical, spiritual, and well-delivered.
“When one of our elderly women asked for prayer in our prayer-request portion of the service, Shawn asked the congregation to get up and surround her and hold her hands while he prayed. She was touched and blessed by the physical and emotional support.”
Shawn, newly married and passionate about his studies, preaching, writing, traveling, photography, and New England, says: “My life is about responding to Christ. What really motivates me though is the desire to help prepare people to be wedded to Him. I want others to see me as a person who has humbly surrendered to Christ—someone who really cares about them and is jealous for their salvation.”
Nominated by: Frances McNulty, Portland, Tennessee
God, family, and service are all hallmarks of Norman McNulty’s life. The third-year neurology resident has served on the evangelistic team for Restoration 2006, a student-led evangelistic series; he was an original founder of Advent Hope Sabbath School, a discussion-based Sabbath school of the Loma Linda University Church; and served as the director of the first annual Southwest Youth Conference. Currently, Norman serves on the executive committee for a citywide evangelistic campaign in San Bernardino, California, near Loma Linda.
Norman’s future goals include completing his residency training and having the opportunity to serve overseas. On being included in this special issue of Adventist Review, he says: “I pray that God will be glorified through all of this and that others will be encouraged to serve God with all their hearts no matter how rigorous their schedules may be. Adventist young people need to be serious about being a meaningful part of God’s church to help finish His work here on this earth.”
Nominated by: Gary Walter, Colorado Springs, Colorado
“Brandi Bickell was first introduced to me through Marti Schneider,” says Gary Walter, pastor of new Colorado Springs church plant, Common Ground. “As she got established in the ‘Springs,’ she became more involved with Common Ground. Eager, enthusiastic, and solid in her relationship with Christ, Brandi immediately became a driving force here. She began to invite people and created opportunities to be involved. Of all the young adults I’ve worked with, Brandi is easily one of the best!”
At Common Ground, Brandi oversees four key areas of the church through a program called Encounter—and all are related in some form or other to outreach. In addition to these responsibilities, Brandi also leads a weekly small group that ministers to about 19 individuals—including children!
“Brandi told how she always longed to recapture the experience of short-term mission trips,” says Walter. “She shared that she longed for that feeling to be a regular part of her life. Through getting involved with Common Ground she realized that a ‘missions’ attitude is alive and well in North America, and without a desperate dependence on God a church plant will not succeed. This is what she was looking for, and she is thrilled to be used by God in this way.”
Nominated by: Jewell Cunningham, Jamaica, New York
“I think that Seanna-Kaye has been, and will continue to be, a tremendous blessing as she travels life’s pathways,” says Jewell Cunningham. “To date, she shares a lot of her time with young people who are not much older than she, and strives to make a difference. She is ever-giving of her talents and resources to fulfill the needs of young people as she deems necessary.”
Seanna-Kaye, who recently earned her doctorate in clinical psychology, says: “My life is about service. One of my favorite hymns is ‘It Pays to Serve Jesus,’ and I am a living witness to the truth of that song’s lyrics. I believe that my career is a gift, because I am able every day to serve children and families whose lives carry so much pain, but still share the same hopes and dreams and need of a Savior as most anyone I know. Service to others is a tangible way for me to connect with Jesus.”
Nominated by: Rene Montforth, Converse, Texas
“Elizabeth Bazan is an exuberant asset to the San Antonio Highland Hills Church,” writes Rene Montfort. “She brought extra energy to the worship services, congregational prayers, and children’s stories. Most notable was the day she presented the Sabbath inspirational message that appealed to all age groups and exceeded the congregation’s expectations.”
Elizabeth, a junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is an architecture major who says, “The Lord is so merciful to me and so forgiving when I least deserve it. I am humbled to think how much God loves me regardless of how many times I stumble and fall.”
Deeply committed to working with at-risk youth, Elizabeth is also involved with the Roy Mass organization, a youth alternative emergency shelter for abused children.
“What I desire is not for my actions to be shown or my words to be heard,” says Elizabeth. “But I desire for God to see my devotion. I desire for God to ‘create a clean heart in me’ and for Him to ‘renew a right spirit within me.’ I recognize that I am nothing without Him and everything that I have accomplished has been because the Lord has allowed me to. I owe God everything—my life is all I have to offer.”
Nominated by: The members of the Corning, New York, Seventh-day Adventist Church
“I want others to see that I am passionate about my love for Jesus and His end-time message, and especially the joy of going to heaven. I want others to see that Christ’s love exudes from every fiber of my being—He is working on that part in me,” says Dustin Hall.
As a budding evangelist in the Corning, New York, area, Dustin has worked tirelessly to put his life’s creed into practice. And it has paid off. When first nominated by members of his home church, he was holding Friday night meetings in the town library with more than 20 non-Adventists in attendance on the first night. And the fruits of his labors? Today, a brand-new church plant exists with about 30 people attending on a weekly basis.
Corning church members say, “Dustin is truly devoted to Christ and has a real interest in his fellow man, evidenced by the enthusiasm and energy he has in the work he is doing. Evangelism is where his heart has led him.”
Nominated by: Christine Galera, Altamonte Springs, Florida
“Robert is 21 years old and has already done so much to glorify God through music,” says Christine Galera. “At first, he was asked to perform special music at several local church services in central Florida. Now as a young adult, he continues to provide special music, either through solo performances or to accompany vocalists.
“He is the pianist for the Florida Hospital church chorale and the musical director for the Faith Foundation of Orlando, as well as the director of Heavenly Harmony Anklung, a group that plays bamboo musical instruments native to Indonesia. Robert is also musical director/codirector of the Mission for Christ drama group—a 35-member team whose ages range from elementary school children to college-age students,” adds Christine.
Robert, an aspiring nuclear medicine technologist, says: “My life is about uplifting and helping others that they may see Christ working through me. I really want my life to be about what God wants it to be. And so far, He’s still directing me through the joyous occasions and the darkest moments.”
Nominated by: Mamie Lorenz and Letha-Alayne Lorenz, Devore Heights, California
Firefighter, sheriff’s explorer, ski patroller, medical student, husband, brother, son, friend, devoted child of God. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Allen Patee, a newly married, third-year medical student at Loma Linda University Medical School, came highly recommended for inclusion in this special issue.
“I see Allen as driven, with a mission in life to serve God by helping others. Even as a little boy, this came shining through,” writes Mamie Lorenz.
According to sister Letha-Alayne, Allen is more than a brother—he’s her hero. “Not only has my big brother always been there for me and has been my best friend, he has also taught me and other youth a lot about God. With each new adventure, challenge, and goal he takes on, he always shares awesome stories and manages to show how God cares about us through each and every story. This has taught me that through every triumph, tribulation, and tragedy, you can always see God and feel Him close to you.”
And what does Allen say? “My life really comes down to taking responsibility for what God has given me. We’re called for no more and no less. Life is a journey; we all experience up times and down times, but there is profound joy that comes from striving to live up to your heavenly calling.”
Nominated by: June Smith, College Place, Washington
June Smith writes: “I first met Hailu Gabriel when he roomed with my grandson during their senior year at Upper Columbia Academy. We welcomed Hailu as a member of our extended family. Hailu is deeply spiritual, thoughtful, and sociable. He calls me ‘Grandma’ and visits frequently to check on my husband and me, and helps with whatever chores need to be done. His cheerful and thoughtful ways brighten the lives of those around him.”
Hailu, a senior civil engineering major at Walla Walla, spent the summer working as a civil engineer-in-training in Eagle River, Alaska. After receiving his professional engineer license, Hailu hopes “to use the skills I’ve acquired to provide aid and assistance in less-fortunate areas of the world.”
Hailu, who loves all sorts of outdoor activities and counts unicycling and juggling among his many pursuits, says he can sum up his life in two words: learning and service. “I love learning. From the stars, to calculus, to biology, to Spanish, to a new connection in the Bible—I love learning something new. And I love serving. I truly enjoy helping other people, and hope that people see in me their two extra hands. I want people to know that if they need help, I’m ready and more than happy to assist.”
Nominated by: Phyllis McFarlane and Susan Hunter, Houston, Texas
“We all fell in love with Jason when he came to Southeast Houston in 2001. He was interested in the life of the local church, and ready to help wherever he was needed,” say Phyllis McFarlane and Susan Hunter.
Jason joined Houston’s Gulfhaven church and quickly threw himself into church life. McFarland and Hunter say, “Jason was instrumental in building our youth Sabbath school. He teamed up with a young woman, and the two created Friday night home fellowship groups. These meetings were deep, spiritual, and faith-building for our teens, who are the best testimony as to how the Lord has used Jason in their young lives.”
A newlywed and, as he says, “currently learning the ins and outs of marriage and owning a home,” Jason’s devotion to connecting others to Christ isn’t just concentrated on church activities alone. Jason feels he projects Christ in his life “in how I behave and carry myself. My coworker frequently tells me he has never met anyone like me before . . . and that’s a compliment. I try to be as friendly and outgoing as I can to hopefully attract others to see that how I live and how I act is different in a good way. Life in Christ is a happy and hopeful one.”
Nominated by: Angela Schafer and Jacque Smith, Lincoln, Nebraska; and Wendy Eberhardt, Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Rich Carlson, Union College chaplain and mentor to Gina Jacob for several years, writes: “From the first day Gina came to Union College, she was excited about giving her God-given gifts back to Him in service. Through her teaching, preaching, drama, leadership qualities, and personal one-on-one contacts with anyone, Gina demonstrates that she lives what she believes. She continues to impact others as she lives her life in casting visions for what we can become when we discover our gifts in Jesus.”
Gina recently completed a stint as math teacher at Central Vermont Academy, and is a certified aerobics instructor and marathon runner. Her first book, Crafting a Culture (AdventSource, 2006), is “the culmination of a two-year-long project researching Adventist colleges and universities to discover the elements that make a campus ministries program successful,” says Gina.
“I hope that people who are around me see themselves through Jesus’ eyes,” Gina says. “I hope that people can see how precious they are and that they were designed specifically by the Creator of the universe. I love teaching people that they have invaluable gifts to give this world, because they were created unique.”
Nominated by: Debra Watkins, San Jose, California
“The transformation seemed swift,” writes Debra Watkins. “One day, David Dean was just another indifferent teenager in the East Palo Alto church congregation wearing the hip-hop attire of his generation. The next thing I knew, his pants were sagging just a little less. Then, the earring came off. I looked up from my pew one Sabbath morning during the divine worship service, and David was being ordained as the youngest male elder in the history of our close-knit church!”
“David’s ordination thrilled me most. I had watched him grow up and into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. An incredibly gifted orator and poet, David allowed the Holy Spirit to use him to win many souls to Christ,” adds Debra.
David Dean now works full-time as an urban youth evangelist with the Central California Conference. “So far, our urban team has completed evangelistic meetings in Bakersfield and Merced that resulted in more than 50 baptisms,” he says. In addition, David’s debut book of poetry entitled Nightfall will be released shortly.
David says: “My life is about being fully surrendered to the Lord and being used as a blessing to those around me. I try to find joy and peace in every given situation while keeping before me the fact that this world is not my home and there is urgent work to do for the salvation of humanity. As Paul says, ‘my life is hid with Christ.’”
Nominated by: Julie Curtis, Vilas, North Carolina
“With a head full of blond dreadlocks and a heart for God, my friend Katie Bowers came into my life nine years ago,” says Julie Curtis.
“Katie knocked on my door one day holding her tiny baby boy on her hip. She made a casual visit to our little log cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, having heard that a young, pregnant girl and her husband lived there. Over the ensuing years, Katie and I grew closer as we shared our lives. Those years brought Katie three children and an orderly home with organic gardens, dairy goats, and chickens; and a small handmade soap-making business. Katie, having almost completed her college education, laid her plans aside to care for her family and homeschool her children.
“After attending the baby dedication of our third child, Katie and her husband, Jack, decided to attend our local Adventist church. They were soon baptized, and Katie threw herself into the church as a deaconess, family life leader, and teacher in the children’s Sabbath school division.
“Many qualities make Katie an exceptional person. A quick sense of humor and cheerful lightheartedness give Katie a wonderful openness and make her a joy to be around. She has a gentleness that exudes the very presence that must surround Jesus. Combined with gentleness, she possesses a strong sense of commitment, vitality, and energy. Through all these years of knowing Katie and watching God develop His character in her, my own life has been greatly blessed,” says Julie.
At press time, Katie Bowers and her family have sold their home and most possessions and are preparing to leave for service in the Middle East through Adventist Frontier Missions