Several minutes before the Seventh-day Adventist program begins, I slip into a chair next to a woman who is dressed to the nines. She and I appear close in age, though I am a dull stone next to her sparkle. She is wearing a bright yellow dress with a full skirt and matching heels. The color is electric against her black skin. The vibrant, lady-like attire simultaneously fights and flatters her tall, athletic physique. If life was a fashion spread, hers would be part social commentary, part satire: a fresh interpretation of the 50’s housewife. Her smoothed-back hair highlights a perfect heart-shaped face.
In a charming patois, she tells me she has recently moved here from the Dominican Republic to start a graduate program. I listen, enraptured. Her family wasn’t religious, she tells me, and didn’t attend worship services; she would watch from her bedroom window as a school acquaintance waited every Saturday morning for the bus to church. Something in her classmate’s patient demeanor piqued her curiosity about the destination.
Then, in high school, she began to receive visits from Jesus. She explains matter-of-factly that for many nights, he came to her in dreams, so vivid and real. I can tell by the sincerity with which she speaks that this experience had a profound influence on her. Not long after, she began to wait for the bus with her friend.
What she describes is not so different from what happened to Ellen White, the spiritual head of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. White’s visions began within a few weeks of the Great Disappointment. Something about the failed prediction regarding Christ’s return emboldened this otherwise ordinary young woman to channel divine messages.
During the visions, White grew limp and unresponsive on the outside; on the inside, she took epic journeys guided by angels and other heavenly creatures. She learns that Christ’s failure to appear was all part of God’s plan. Jesus hadn’t come to earth, but he had taken up residence in a “heavenly sanctuary” that, from what I understand, is an intermediary space a little closer to earth than wherever he was before. From this new location, the angels tell her, Jesus is conducting an “investigative judgment” of the planet’s inhabitants. In the meantime, true believers must get ready for the moment when Christ’s invisible presence becomes visible. Engaging in this preparation is the backbone of the Seventh-day Adventist belief system.
My new friend is hoping to meet Jesus again, this time in the flesh.
The Seventh-Day Adventists may be anticipating Jesus’ imminent return, but they don’t seem overly concerned regarding the details. The only mention of any sort of apocalyptic vision came at the end of the service as the microphone was passed around for congregants to share a few words about this or that. The microphone landed in the hands of an older Asian woman. She looked aristocratic, with her hair in a chignon and streaks of grey at her temples. She said, “I’m just so thankful the lord will be returning soon.” Everyone nodded their agreement and then it was time for lunch.