S U M M E R • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 2
I was born almost accidentally in Haiti on a small island known in French as Ile de La Tortue, and in Spanish as Tortuga Island. My mom and dad, Elce and Ermana Lauriston, were originally from Haiti, but they had moved to the Bahamas. In mid-September, 1986, they returned to Haiti for a vacation, unaware that Ermana was pregnant. When they realized her condition, they decided to stay in Haiti until she delivered. Months later, I arrived.
After I was born, my parents returned to the Bahamas, leaving me in Haiti to be raised by my grandmother and other relatives. Not surprisingly, given the details of my unplanned arrival, my childhood days were not a bed of roses. Poverty, malnourishment, nakedness (literally), neglect, and other hardships were my common lot. My father died when I was about four years old. I never knew him, though, because he lived in the Bahamas, and I lived in Haiti. About five years later, however, my mother came for me, and I migrated to the Bahamas with her.
Life in the Bahamas was awesome as far as material needs were concerned, but socially, morally, and spiritually, it was chaos. My mom worked from morning until evening to make ends meet, but her busyness left my four siblings and me unattended. As a result of my chronic lack of parental oversight, I learned about life from the bad influences on television and in our neighborhood. I was drawn to the “thug life”, to gangsterism and the “bad boy” mentality and lifestyle that pervaded my world.
I ran into trouble often in school. I skipped classes—even whole days of school—at will to hang out with “the big boys”. The older I grew, the more rebellious I became, and the more I got involved in destructive activities. By the time I was 13 years old, I would sneak out late at night to attend parties, and I ran away a few times. I was bent on living my own life and adamant about being a “big man” before my time. In my mid-teens I started smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, and partying like never before. School did not interest me; I decided it was the obstacle to my living a life of indulgence and endless pleasure.
At the same time, I battled with depression and anger and was very suicidal. No matter what I did, I could not feel contented or find happiness in the life I was living. I was expelled from several of the public schools where I lived, nearly shutting the door permanently on my ever being able to graduate. One of my big sisters, however, worked hard and long and managed to get one school to agree to accept me—on the condition that I would behave myself because education was “important”, and I was nearly 18 years old and running out of time. With the help of some good friends, though, I did manage to stay out of trouble for two long years and graduated from high school.
Graduation was my ticket to freedom, or so I thought. I had no obligations standing between me and an uninhibited life of self-indulgence and immorality until I died. Since life appeared to have no meaning or purpose, I was intent on “going out in style” and did not care how that would happen.
Adventism to the rescue
It was amidst this orgy of self-destruction that I came into the Seventh-day Adventist Church through a good friend. He was a role model and an upright young man, and I admired his Christian mores and character very much. Amazingly, he really convinced me that the Christian life was the best way to live. I had believed that I could never become a Christian, but at the age of 19, I “accepted the Advent message” and became a changed young man. I stopped using profanities—something I had never been able to do before. I quit smoking, partying, and stopped all the immoral behaviors that I loved so much. I no longer felt any urge to visit the clubs, bars, and other amusement places in which I had reveled so recently. In fact, sometimes I would sit on the back porch and read my Bible while songs that I had loved were booming through the neighborhood, but I was no longer moved by them.
My mind was made up; I was a changed man, and nothing could change my mind. Moreover, the change felt good. My family, especially my mother, was thrilled with my transformation. I was discovering there was purpose and meaning to life—not just life in general but to my life in particular—and that God had a plan for me.
I began reading the Bible as if there were no tomorrow. This new life was very exciting! Meanwhile, as I learned that the Adventist Church was “God’s remnant church of Bible prophecy” and that we alone have the right doctrines, teachings, prophetess, and diet, in addition to keeping the Sabbath, I was overwhelmed with the privilege of being a part of such a wonderful church. Because of my privilege, I immersed myself into Adventism. I was more than willing to do whatever was asked of me. I sang in the youth choir. I joined a passionate youth ministry that visited hospitals, children’s homes, and infirmaries where we performed plays and concerts. It was such a wonderful experience as I threw myself, heart and soul, into my new religion. I was living the life. We were “taking the gospel to all the world in our generation”.
In August, 2007, our choir was invited to come to Jamaica to sing at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), Adventism’s flagship tertiary educational institution in the West Indies. We came, spent one week, and had a wonderful experience. Then, two days before we returned home to the Bahamas, I had a surprise: the choir director and his wife had made arrangements for me to be accepted into NCU. I was to remain there and study to become an Adventist minister.
I was overwhelmed and flabbergasted; I could have never afforded tertiary education on my own. I believed their kindness and generosity were heaven-born, as they initially covered the expenses of my studies.
In February, 2009, however, my dream of becoming an outstanding Adventist minister abruptly ended: I was expelled for having a theological disagreement and confrontation with the church pastor. Immediately I lost the financial assistance I had been receiving, and my future ministry in the Adventist Church in the Bahamas seemed bleak.
Instead of returning to school the following September, I returned to Jamaica and married my fiancé Kahmal Williams, whom I had met during my first year at NCU, and made Jamaica my home. Despite the huge setback, however, I still had high hopes of becoming an Adventist minister, so I reapplied to NCU in 2010 but was denied. I reapplied again in 2011, and that time I was reaccepted. I thought I would be able to work and study, but that dual load was too heavy for me to carry. Reluctantly I dropped out and gave up hope of becoming a trained Adventist minister.
I determined, however, not to give in to discouragement nor let my talents die out, so I rechanneled my energy into helping and building my local church. I became very active in various ways, availing myself of every opportunity to do anything that the Church would want me to do. Among other things, I sang, preached, taught lesson reviews, and was a Bible counsellor, and before long, my abilities and passion for Adventism got the attention of many Adventists, some of whom were in powerful positions.
A retired teacher in the church soon encouraged me to go back to school and finish my degree, but after I shared my financial woes with her, she understood and suggested a Plan “B”. She knew the Personal Ministries and Sabbath School Director of the conference and arranged a meeting with him so that I might share my hopes with him. Since the door was closed to my becoming a trained Adventist pastor, I settled with being an evangelist—a position which did not require a degree in the West Jamaica Conference.
After my meeting with the conference director, I was hired immediately, and the director began giving me appointments. Everywhere I went, I was loved and admired by old and young alike. I was a sought-after evangelist in the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. In less than two years I became one of the leading evangelists in the Conference. I conducted numerous evangelistic campaigns and seminars, revivals, weeks of prayer, funerals, special day programs, and served as chaplain for Easter camps. I even acquired the nickname “Thunder” because of my preaching style, my zeal and passion for the Adventist Church, and my fearlessness in preaching the “Advent Message”. The Church saw me as the next “big name” coming up in Adventism in Jamaica.
In July, 2013, I was invited to do a three-day weekend program in the Cayman Islands. When they heard me preach, the leaders and members of the church loved my knowledge, passion, and abilities. In fact, the three days extended to two months during which I went from church to church doing revivals and seminars. The Cayman Island Conference wanted to employ my wife and me right away to minister in the church there, but since I did not have my degree, they could not hire me as a pastor.
Members from many of the churches where I had preached, however, were convinced that I was called to the Adventist ministry and that my labors were already bearing fruit. These people decided to pool their resources to send me back to school to finish my ministerial training. This provision, I believed, was a miracle from God; nevertheless, I was reluctant to go at first because I did not want to become “corrupted by academia and scholarship and lose my zeal”. The Cayman Island members insisted, however, and I took the offer.
In January, 2014, I resumed my studies at NCU. I am a voracious reader and committed to excelling, so I maintained a high grade point average. I wanted to be the best Adventist minister that I could possibly be, and I was “the” Ellen G. White defender and Adventist apologist in my classes. Everyone knew where I stood and that I knew and could defend the doctrines and teachings of the organization. I believed and preached, on various occasions, that the Adventist Church is the only true church and that it is the only church in the universe that can defend its doctrines, teachings, and beliefs on any public platform. I was a proud, staunch, fanatical, and knowledgeable Adventist evangelist and budding minister. My future was secure, and I was utterly confident in my ability to succeed professionally within the Adventist organization.
I was completely unprepared for the shock I would receive in September, 2015—just two semesters later—a shock that would dismantle the life I expected to live.
Greek revealed errors
In the fall semester of 2014, I began studying New Testament Greek. Before long, I was the top Greek student in the School of Religion and Theology. As I became increasingly fluent in the language, however, I began to see more and more inconsistencies between the Greek Scriptures and the teachings of Adventism. I did not pay much attention to this problem at first; I rationalized that I was getting smarter in Greek than I was in other theological areas, and as my knowledge of the bigger picture increased, the apparent inconsistencies would certainly resolve. On the contrary, however, the more I studied, the wider the chasm between the Bible and Adventism seemed to get.
In the fall of 2015, I was in my second year of Greek and had also started hermeneutics (the science of Bible interpretation). As I read and learned more about how Scripture should be correctly interpreted, I encountered more and more problems. I realized with growing horror that I could no longer use certain texts I had been taught to use to uphold certain Adventist teachings and doctrines. In fact, the more I learned, the worse the problem became! Before long I realized that the core doctrines of Adventism were concocted by means of wild proof-texting and preconceived, unscriptural assumptions. My foundation began to undergo a great shaking.
This disorienting process of discovery intensified when a former Adventist pastor friend of mine, Damian Skeen, with whom I had worked with in the past, sent me a document entitled, Lying for God: What Adventists Knew and When They Knew It,1 for my honest critique and perusal. As I went through the document, my Adventist world and future collided with biblical facts. I was utterly devastated. I wanted to know what else was being deliberately hidden from me and from the vast majority of seminary students and church members.
I searched and found the 1919 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Conference Minutes,2 laboriously read them, and was left in shock with the content which showed that four years after Ellen White’s death, the Adventist leaders doubted her veracity but decided to hide this fact from the members at large in order not to destroy their faith. I then found out about Desmond Ford and his 1980 Glacier View presentation which showed without doubt that the investigative judgment cannot be proven from Scripture. I went on to discover the work of Dale Ratzlaff,3 of Robert Brinsmead,4 Greg Taylor,5 and of J. Mark Martin.6 I devoured the online videos of the Former Adventist Fellowship conferences,7 Proclamation! magazine, other resources of Life Assurance Ministries,8 and more. I was reading and watching presentations until I was turning blue!
At the same time I was devastated and frustrated. I felt betrayed, lied to, and used. I had been deliberately made a pawn for the Adventist organization! Sometimes I wished this discovery I was experiencing was only a nightmare from which I would soon wake up so I could continue in my “perfect Adventist world”. Sadly, I never woke up; the reality I was uncovering only became worse.
When I would pose questions to the Dean of the School of Religion and Theology and to my lecturers, their answers to me were, “Preach what the church teaches; that’s what you’ll be paid to do.” “If I wanted a good career in the church”, they said, I should “ignore these things and preach what the church teaches”. On a few occasions I was even told not to share the things I was learning with my wife!
The cognitive dissonance, the betrayal, the cover ups, the corruptions, the perfidy, the “prophetess”, the reality—what should I do? To whom should I talk? Should I “ignore everything” and continue with my successful career in Adventism? What else were they hiding?
So many questions plagued my mind! Oh, how I prayed that it was all a bad dream! But my studies kept proving to me that the massive deception was a reality—a reality that brought pain, heartache, headaches, disillusionment, nervous breakdowns, lack of interest in my studies, a decline in class and grade performance, and difficult decisions that came with dire, irreversible consequences.
Since I was half way through my studies, I thought I would try to suppress everything the best I could until I graduated, and then leave the church, but that privilege was denied me. As I uttered certain things in classes, as I asked certain questions, feathers started to be ruffled. Some classmates secretly complained about me to the lecturers; some made calls to their various pastors and church elders, and my conference soon started an investigation about my “new theology”.
Thunder in a storm
News began spreading through the local churches like wild fire. Accusations were laid against me; rumors were spreading; character defamation ensued, and suspicions began to breed: “Thunder” is in a storm!
Some classmates were demanding my immediate dismissal lest I “contaminate the department”. Calls from across Jamaica and the Cayman Islands began to bombard my phone mercilessly on a daily basis. My world was crumbling quicker than I could regain my composure or pick up any of the pieces.
In the midst of this deconstruction of my life as I knew it, reality became crystal clear: the best decisions would be the most costly ones. I would have to drop out of school or fail the semester. I would have to leave Adventism and forfeit my only means of education, giving up all hopes of becoming an Adventist minister. I would have to appear on Religious Hardtalk (a local TV program) and explain to Adventists why I was leaving, and in doing so, I would open myself to an endless barrage of defamation, accusations, attacks, malicious words, and bitter criticism.
Openly leaving Adventism would be the hardest thing to do, but it would be the most honorable. I would have to leave and explain my decision if I were to be true to God, to my conscience, to my theological training, and to the people.
I had no other choice. I mustered up my courage and left the Adventist church and did what I knew was right. It has cost me everything—education, job, social status, family and friends, a promising future, and my identity—but I would do it all over again for the joy, peace, and assurance of salvation that I now experience in Jesus my Lord.
It has not been easy in these months since I’ve left Adventism, but God has been my strength. He has placed some wonderful new friends in my life. My decision has strengthened many others to take a similar stance for the Gospel, sooner or later, and I am now free to preach and teach the Word of God as it is, when God brings the opportunity.
Even as I have lost everything familiar including people I loved, I realize how God is providing for me. I am thankful for my wife Kahmal Williams-Lauriston for standing by my side after she came to understand and embrace these truths. I am grateful for the ministry of Dale Ratzlaff and his team and for the Former Adventist Fellowship conferences. They have been significant in re-educating me to a biblical worldview and have strengthened my Christian convictions. I am ineffably thankful for my good friends Damian and Kemisha Skeen, for their commitment to the gospel and for their desire to have sincere but deceived individuals like me come to its realization. I thank God for my new-found friends in Christ, Joan Hutcheson, Samuel Brown, Delroy Reid, and a host of others, for their prayers, support, kind words, Christian benevolence, and sheer goodwill. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my story in Proclamation! magazine.
As I see how God is providing support, teachers, and opportunities as my wife and I walk through the dissolution of everything we knew, I know that we can trust Him for the future. I am learning that His word is sure, and His promises cannot fail. Knowing Jesus is worth whatever it costs to follow Him.
Copyright 2016 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 23, 2016. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org