Both boys stood at the solemn baptismal service, excited as they contemplated the step they would soon take. But what would eventually cause Alvin, the older, to stay and Frank, the younger, to stray?
Pastor Riley S. J. Caesar, Sr., was conducting a series of evangelistic meetings in a tiny rural community in Guyana, South America. Alvin and Frank were invited. It was late 1959, and Alvin remembers vividly that it was a Wednesday evening. The young men, now aged 79 and 75, tell of the fervor with which the pastor delivered the Sabbath message that still tolls in their minds like an old resounding church bell.
Frank remembers the lucid message that distinguished Seventh-day Adventists from Christian Brethren, the congregation he’d been attending at the time. Seventh-day Adventists observed Saturday as sacred. This message intrigued him.
Why did Alvin remain a Seventh-day Adventist? “I was well prepared for the Adventist life,” he says. Alvin fondly remembers Caesar’s undying efforts to ensure that prospective members were given a thorough theological perspective of this new church. Although Alvin was now beginning his new walk, he had previously encountered the Sabbath teaching in an extremely unusual manner.
When asked where he first learned about the Sabbath, Alvin responds amid a hearty outburst, “My Sunday School teacher.” He had run home to report that a Sundaykeeper was teaching the seventh-day Sabbath during Sunday School. The response he received from his aunt confused him: “He’s right!”
Confused because his aunt was also a devoted Sundaykeeper, Alvin was left with a myriad of questions. Why would these two role models in his life encourage him to keep the seventh day as the day of rest while they faithfully continued worshipping on Sunday?
His aunt once received an invitation from “the Adventists” and decided to send all the children, but that Saturday morning Alvin deliberately tied one of the stronger cows with a rotten rope. Learning from Alvin himself that there was a “runaway” cow that could damage farmers’ crops, his aunt sent him to locate the cow.
“I knew where the cow was. Ruby was right near the house,” Alvin recounts. Alvin had spent Sabbath School time watching Ruby chew contentedly on some fresh grass. He was confused because of the mixed messages he was receiving, and that’s how his teen brain responded.
On Saturday, December 26, 1959, both Alvin, who is my father, and my uncle Frank were baptized. With no aesthetically designed church pools back then, they were immersed in a canal.
What caused my dad, Alvin, to stay? Dad remembers how he and his brother were allowed to take on important roles in the church. He became the Adventist Youth leader at 18. “Pastor was supportive and lent astute guidance to new converts,” he says.
In addition, Dad talks about having conducted Bible studies with prospective members shortly after his baptism, which promoted in him a love for the Word and reinforced the biblical doctrines he had studied during the new members’ class. Inviting persons to evangelistic series was encouraged, and Alvin collected friends from villages far away and transported them on his bicycle. Pastor Caesar had convinced him that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 was not only to be memorized but also to be lived.
One day 18-year-old Alvin tried lifting up Pastor Caesar’s small daughter in church. To Alvin’s surprise, she felt much heavier than her frame would suggest. Her family was vegetarian, and since he had been led to believe that vegetarians were weak and scrawny, he was taken aback. Learning that vegetarianism and strength were not mutually exclusive, Alvin, at 18 years old, purposed to revert to an Edenic diet. Though he was faced with many challenges to sustain it, he remained vegetarian.
Uncle Frank, too, did Bible studies with new converts and participated in the activities the church held. He drifted away, however, into a life of prodigal living and refrained from visiting some family members for fear that he would be lectured about his self-indulgent lifestyle.
What caused Frank to “stray”? While Uncle Frank drifted away from his newfound faith, he gained academic prowess and became involved in politics. He was the youngest ambassador of his native country, and the first resident ambassador to Cuba. He would also become the minister of information, representing the then-president of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, at many diplomatic gatherings. During these years he attended church only for funerals, weddings, and baby dedications. He had lost that “first love” spoken of in Revelation 2:4.
By the time I was born in 1979, Uncle Frank had reached acclaimed status, and as I grew older, my admiration for him grew equally. I fondly remember the villagers relating tales of his helicopter trip back to the village and landing in the middle of a nearby playfield. I heard the story being retold several times, but with each retelling, my pride and joy surpassed the previous one.
As I matured into a young woman, I began to understand the truths about Christianity, and my heart developed a burden for Uncle Frank. I was not alone; Dad prayed for him during family worship.
The Holy Spirit was intervening in Frank’s life, and he began to read his Bible and sing hymns from a hymnal he had received from my mom. The Spirit impressed his heart, and he started looking for a church. Strangely, he decided against a Seventh-day Adventist or Brethren congregation. His aim— find a church where he didn’t feel any pressure to live holy all week.
Uncle Frank’s job at that time as chief correspondent/United Nations bureau chief of Inter Press Service took him to live in New Jersey, and there he found a Presbyterian church. He experienced rich music, sermons, and delicious snacks, all of which enticed him to eventually become a weekly visitor. He was convinced to get baptized as a Presbyterian, but circumstances, divinely orchestrated, caused him to rejoin his family in Canada.
Though he attended many churches in Canada, he felt comfortable only at the Adventist church. As he sought counsel from God, each time he heard, “Stay where you are!” He made the bold step to rededicate his life in baptism. This news enveloped my heart with joy. After his rebaptism he received material that helped him to thoroughly comprehend the truths about the Sabbath. He speaks of having received a book from a friend on answers to difficult Bible questions.
Today, Frank, apart from writing for a number of Adventist publications, has written the words for a hymn that God had impressed upon his heart as he walked into an Ontario park one Sabbath afternoon. This hymn, “I Ask Myself,” has inspired many renowned musicians and Seventh-day Adventist congregations. The fact that he has never been known to have the gift of music is evidence that those lyrics were a gift from God. This is noteworthy to me, since Uncle Frank had been told at a young age that singing was not one of his talents.
Frank Campbell is also an elder at the Agape Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ontario, Canada, and spends time interceding for family members. Frank “the Stray” has now returned to stay.
The faith of these two fathers has enriched my faith!
*This article was first printed in Messenger, November 2021. Reprinted and photo used with permission.