One pack of cigarettes, one cigarette lighter, and one ashtray lay on the table in front of us. “These are all the items in my house,” she said. “I’m ready to quit.” We had gathered for a special cessation ceremony with Elena* in her home, and as we sat in a circle in her living room, I wondered if it would be enough.
All of this had resulted from our visitation several days prior. Elena lived in the house adjacent to our house church, and she had been attending our evangelistic campaign meetings in Pilotos. Every morning, our campaign team made visitations to the people attending our meetings. Leydianis, one of our Cuban team members, led the conversation, while Jesús, our translator, filled me in on the main ideas.
As we conversed, she shared her struggle with smoking. She explained that she had already tried to quit, but had failed. “I know it is bad for my health, and I’m tired of it. I don’t want to smoke anymore,” she told us. As Leydianis did all the speaking, I searched for something say. I knew that the Church had resources like the 5-day cessation program, but I didn’t have any of it memorized. Without internet access, I had no practical advice to give off the top of my head. So I reasoned that I could at least share some encouragement from the Bible. However, as Elena and Leydianis continued speaking, I noticed that the conversation had already shifted to a spiritual focus. “I believe in God,” she affirmed. “I read God’s word every day, and I am well acquainted with the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I also read many different devotional books.” Here was a woman who already knew the Bible and fundamentals of Christianity. I hadn’t expected that. What could I say that she didn’t already know?
Elena knew all the theory. Most likely, she would already be familiar with any promise that I could share from Scripture. She had probably read and claimed them herself. But yet, she had not been able to kick the habit. As I stood there, still without saying much, I thought, “Where does theory meet reality?” For her, there was some kind of disconnect between words and real life.
This disconnect, I believe, is all too common in Christianity, and particularly in Adventism. We have all the theory well-polished. We have present truth. We speak and preach about the power of God. We preach a true gospel of righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, not a watered-down justification-only message. But theory alone isn’t enough. We often claim the promises of Ezekiel 36-37, Mark 9, and 1 Corinthians 10, and these are beautiful, precious promises. If we’re honest with ourselves, though, it sometimes seems as though God is silent. There are times when it doesn’t really translate into real life and practice. We read God’s promises and believe them; we see His power displayed in other people. But why doesn’t it happen in our own lives? Where does theory meet reality?
I’ve been there. I’ve wrestled with the same question. I personally didn’t have a good answer. How then, could I help someone else?
Nevertheless, I figured something would be better than nothing. Thus, I decided to share a few promises and advice anyway. But as I did, I wondered if I actually believed what I was saying. Finally, Jesús suggested a special ceremony in which we would gather all the cigarettes and related articles in her home, have a special prayer, and then destroy the items. Elena agreed.
A few days afterward, Jesús, Sir Michael, Jonathan, and I paid Elena another visit. This time, she invited us inside, and in her living room were the three items. “These are all the cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, etc., in your home?” Jesús asked.
“These are all the items in my house,” she said. “I’m ready to quit.” In the time we spent together, she shared with us her story. From the information she imparted, we could gather that she had probably grown up in a broken family, devoid of love. As a young adult, she was drinking in the streets and likely had been through numerous failed relationships. At the age of 27, she began smoking. She worked in a dental office and knew the harmful effects of smoking, but that didn’t stop her.
That was 25 years ago. Now she was 52 years old, held fast in chains of bondage. “I’m tired of it, and in my heart I know that I don’t want to do this anymore,” she explained. She also told us that God had helped her previously to break the habit of drinking alcohol. “I still serve the same God. There’s no reason why He can’t do it this time.” As we spoke with her, we gave her words of encouragement, practical advice, and promises of Scripture. We gave her the assurance of divine assistance, even though the journey would be difficult. We reminded her that even if she fell down, God wanted her to still get back up and continue. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if it must be at 2 in the morning, we are willing to come and pray with you,” Jesús added. Somehow it all seemed a bit more convincing.
We knelt on the concrete floor and prayed together. When we arose, we sang Faith is the Victory and prepared to leave, taking the cigarettes with us.
…Faith is the victory… faith is the victory… oh, glorious victory, that overcomes the world…
Would this faith be victorious? I hoped so. Where does theory meet reality? I still didn’t have an answer. Only time will tell. But I know that God is faithful.
Michael Hess, Jonathan Supit, Joey Shiu
Pilotos, Pinar del Río Province, Cuba