My name is Joseph Burton and I study theology at Andrews University, I just finished my first year. Thinking back to my childhood, I don’t remember knowing much about the character of God. I grew up in a dysfunctional home characterized by family conflict and the presence of drugs and alcohol. However, I knew about the Sabbath and other Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and clung to what I knew.
In my early teens, I had clashes with various members of my family who tried to pressure me into doing chores on the Sabbath or eating certain foods that I considered unclean; I was told that Adventism was “shoved down my throat.” During this time, I lived in an unstable position between relatives, and the Department of Human Services (DHS), recognizing the abusive situation, nearly placed me in foster care. The adults in my life told me that I was a “bad son”, that I was “ignorant” and that nothing I had was due to me or belonged to me. From these experiences, I learned that living your faith comes with a cross.
After moving across the country, I was able to attend an Adventist academy for a short time. I enjoyed my time there, interacting with dedicated teachers and being around other young people who loved God and wanted to know Him. However, others had a negative view of Adventist education, and I was fired from the academy. At that time, I didn’t know what to do. In my life, I had suffered from the poor choices of others and continued to suffer, being continually denied the opportunity to be part of the church and to develop faith-centered relationships. Through this series of trials, the Bible gave me hope.
Alone most of the time, I began to read the Old Testament extensively using the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Later, while reading the New Testament, I decided to memorize the book of 1 John. I loved the Johannine writings and for some strange reason felt compelled to memorize 1 John like life depended on it. Until then, I had only memorized certain Psalms and isolated passages from the Old Testament, so it was quite an undertaking. What followed was something like magic.
I memorized 1 John with little difficulty, then other books much faster. In a short time, I memorized the 13 chapters of Hebrews and the 22 chapters of Revelation. Books like 2 Peter I memorized in a single day. I didn’t really have an elaborate method; somehow I held it all in while I read. Currently, I can recite 12 books of the Bible and am finishing memorizing Daniel and Hebrews a second time, now in German (Der Brief an die Hebräer).
Reading and memorizing the scriptures is important to me for a simple reason. God is Truth and His Word is Truth. We often fail to grasp the thought – the reality – that the contours of the earth will sooner before a single Word of Scripture fails. The promises of the Bible are literally true: And this is the record, that God has given us eternal life, and that life is in His Son (1 John 5:11 BC). In a world where tomorrow is uncertain, we can rest the anchor of our faith on the promises of the living God, they are unshakable.
Although I graduated from high school in the public sphere with honors, I was determined to go to an Adventist university. I chose Andrews University because I saw that faith was taken seriously by the faculty here. Looking back on my virtual visit, I remember the host faculty taking the time to pray for me, an important experience for me coming from a secular school. I did very well in anatomy, physiology, and chemistry in high school, and my teachers expected me to go into pre-med. However, medicine alone can almost not quell the depth of human unhappiness. I realized that the most pressing need in the world is to have men and women of principle who will engage in the work of God. I chose to pursue theology studies here at Andrews University.
As a theology major, I engaged in any campus ministry that was presented to me, teaching Sabbath Schools and participating in Scriptural Pursuit media ministry and the iCanvass club. In the spring of 2022, I was blessed to be part of a mission trip to Beirut, Lebanon. Even though I was not able to make this trip financially, I believed it was imperative for me to go. The reason is simple. God organized His church for service—we have light; we have to share it. All are called to give their all for God and to engage in any service opportunities that may arise. Does our faith go beyond the pages of a book? Are we truly believing the words of the Great Commission, making them our own? If so, it is imperative that we go.
There, in Beirut, our team led a week of spiritual focus at Middle East University, giving sermons during the day and conducting activity programs during the evening. We also conducted a literary evangelism campaign and met with Syrian refugee children at the Bourj Hammoud Adventist Learning Center. The most memorable examples of the missionary experience were the great examples of faith I encountered. As I met students from Iran, Iraq, and other nations, people who had made great sacrifices for their Adventist beliefs, it reminded me that, though they may be few in number, God always has his followers who are ready to give up everything to follow him. It was also encouraging to hear others tell me that I helped inspire them, following my recitation of the last chapters of Revelation, those on New Jerusalem, during our last Sabbath Vespers there.
In the future, I plan to do more missionary work, both here at Andrews and professionally. There are many places in God’s latter-day work that He expects us to fill. After graduation, I plan to attend Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and then work in the path God calls me to – where there is the greatest need and the least. want to go.
Through the difficulties of my life, I have seen God move. As much as godly friends and support are a blessing, it is essential for the individual to develop a personal relationship with God. One must actively choose one’s identity as a child of God, establishing the perimeters of one’s own faith. This is what the circumstances of my life led me to seek. So as we choose to follow God, He will lead us and make known His character—He will. As the old hymn says: Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (Who only wants to be guided by the good God). He is very close to us, but are we ready to give him the reins?
Joseph Burton, Theology Major, Andrews University