I’m a second generation Seventh-day Adventist woman. I was born in Argentina, in the rural region of Entre Rios. My birth and identity as an Adventist begins here: with convert parents who met at an Adventist university, married, and dedicated both daughters to the church.
I grew up in a city founded and exclusively populated by Seventh-day Adventists. Like most churches in South America, my home church believed that men were not only the head of the household but also the head of the church. Although this concept was reflected in most families who attended the church, my reality was different.
I was six when my parents divorced. From that point on my mother raised my sister and me on her own and became the head of the household. Divorce as taught in church and even in school, was a sin and a bad example for the community. For this reason both my parents lost their teaching positions at the Adventist university. My father moved to Mexico with hopes of a job there. Suddenly my mother was left alone, with no secure income. Thanks to the support of a few friends she found a job as a receptionist at the local hospital. Within a year she moved up from a receptionist to the administrator of the entire public relations department. I grew accustomed to the image of a strong, independent woman. I watched her in a suit every day, going to work in her own office space, with a personal assistant.
Before I could learn that my mother’s example was an exception in my Adventist home community I moved to the United States. When I was twelve my mother reconnected with her high school sweetheart who lived in Riverside, California, and decided to get married. We sold all our possessions, packed our bags, and booked a ticket with LAX as the final destination. On the ride to my new home, distracted by the gray scenery of buildings, freeways and smog, I couldn’t see clearly what my new life would look like. My identity was suddenly shifting. I was now a fifth grader pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. In the midst of adjusting to a new culture and to a new language, one thing still remained intact: I was still a Seventh-day Adventist female.
I began attending 5th grade at Collett Elementary School. Besides the language barrier, I began noticing that my female peers looked and acted different than me. Most of the friends I had made were Mexican-American girls who wore a lot of jewelry — something I was not allowed to use growing up Adventist. Often, I visited Wendy to get help with my English homework. It was in the living room of her house that I first realized that my new friend had a different culture and religion. As I walked in I noticed the image of the Virgin Mary at the entrance. It was the first time I had a Catholic friend. Wendy could do what she wanted Friday nights, and she attended mass on Sunday instead of church on Saturday. Despite our differences Wendy became my best friend. Attending public school for the rest of middle school and high school exposed me to very different religions and cultures: from Asian Buddhists to Middle Eastern Muslims and American Mormons. This exposure allowed me to break many stereotypes and be more accepting of diversity. This experience also allowed me to question my own identity as a Seventh-day Adventist and my place in the world. For this reason I decided that after high school I was going to attend La Sierra University in order to explore my Adventist roots.
My leadership skills had developed throughout high school as I joined clubs like AVID (an academic club), Latinos Working Together and the Photography Club, which I founded. My social life was centered on my high school friends and I never found a place for socializing or leading out in the church I attended every Sabbath.
Despite the lack of involvement, La Sierra University church was my pillar to maintaining my Adventist identity. I did not realize that my faith community struggled with female leadership until I witnessed the ordination of Pastor Chris Oberg at La Sierra University Church. Suddenly it became news across the Adventist world: “The first women pastor of a major church.” Then I began noticing the pattern. Against the wall at the entrance of the church there is a collection of photographs of all the head pastors in the history of the church. The three rows of black and white photographs trace a line of men, and in the final photo the first woman. For the first time in my life, I had come to the realization that not everyone in the Seventh-day Adventist church believed that woman were capable of being leaders.
I carried this concern with me as I decided to continue my studies at La Sierra University. I wanted to make sure that, as a woman, I was going to have a place in the Seventh-day Adventist church. I was delighted to learn in my religion classes that women had been very involved in the foundation of the Adventist Church. Although I had learned that Ellen G. White was the founder of our church I had not realized she had opened the way for many other women. In fact, in the history archives of the church I learned that women were receiving permission to preach as early as 1870. Mrs. White’s authority was never questioned in the church I grew up in, but her example was never taken in consideration when considering women in leadership roles.
In October 2013, many walls were brought down when Sandy Roberts became the first woman president of the Southeastern California Conference. But to my knowledge this kind of progress is being made in very few conferences. Today, I’m comfortable to be a Seventh-day Adventist in California, because I know that my capabilities as an individual and as a woman will never be questioned by my faith community. I hope to someday say the same in the world-wide spectrum of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Brenda Delfino is a senior majoring in English with a writing emphasis and minoring in Spanish at La Sierra University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6085