The concept of God's will was not foreign to me as an Adventist child, at least in the habit of memorising the "Lord's Prayer"; for this was an integral part of my early education at home and in the church. But what do the words of Jesus about doing the will of God really mean? It meant a number of things for me.
As the son of an Adventist pastor and missionary growing up in the islands of Samoa and Tuvalu (Ellice Islands) in the early 1960s, I learned to value the few things I claimed to be my personal property: my shirt, shorts, sandals, bath towel, pencil, and writing books. I was made a steward of what was given to me by my parents. And I was also reminded that at any time I might be asked to share these things with other family members, friends or strangers. Sharing and being satisfied with what I had was a principle of living in the Puni household.
My baptism was the consequence of knowing and experiencing Jesus personally through family worship, the study of the Bible in Sabbath school, the learning in Pre-JMVs (now Adventurers), the Pathfinder club, and in youth and other church activities. But my moment of decision came during a major evangelistic program in Apia, Samoa, when I decided to let Jesus be the Lord of my life. I was 13 years old. At this age I understood baptism as the commencement of a new partnership to walk with God. This act of surrendering to Christ was a public confession of what was happening in my heart, a desire to let Jesus take control of me. I thank God for my parents, family, friends and colleagues, who were then and still are a significant part of God's support team for my faith development.
As a high school student in the Adventist school at Lalovaea, Samoa, I made friends with students from other Christian denominations. The school environment was an ideal situation to share Jesus, and I praise God for my teachers (Australian and New Zealand missionaries and locals), who taught and modelled the Christian lifestyle for my friends and me. My role in that situation was to be an Adventist friend to my classmates, and to invite them home for weekends. With God's grace, this simple approach of friendship and acceptance of my non-Adventist friends resulted in a number of them accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour of their lives, and becoming followers of Christ in the Seventhday Adventist Church. Today, for example, Tavita Lole is a schoolteacher at the Iakina Adventist School, in American Samoa, while Faavale Amataga is a faithful lay leader in his church at the village of Alofau.
At the age of seven, I told my father I wanted to be a minister when I was older. This expression of simple faith and commitment to the call of God was followed through when I attended Fulton College, Fiji, as a ministerial student at the age of 21. I finally began denominational employment three years later.
But this transition came with sadness when my father went to his rest on the week of my final exams and graduation in November 1979. The very person whom I counted on to be my mentor and help at the start of my ministry had now been taken away from me. And for a little while I was heartbroken, but God's peace sustained me during those times of doubt and disappointment. In retrospect, however, I have accepted the thought that God wanted me to trust in Him more and not in a person.
Thus, in my personal journey and ministry, I now understand the biblical emphasis on God's will as a faith statement of saying yes to Him, even when I don't fully comprehend what is happening around me.
May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10.
Erika Puni is director of stewardship for the South Pacific Division, based in Wahroonga, New South Wales.