Twenty La Sierra students dedicate their lives to Christ
When students approach La Sierra University’s Spiritual Life office for baptismal classes, they usually arrive with many questions, particularly about how to live after baptism, said university Chaplain ‘Pastor’ Sam Leonor.
“The most common questions are, ‘how does a person who has surrendered their life to Jesus actually live day by day? What are the implications of taking my faith seriously? How do I keep growing in my faith? How can I be a good witness to the love of God if I feel so unqualified?,’” he said.
This past school year, 20 students confronted those questions as they prepared for their public declaration of their commitment to God and the Christian life. They gave their testimony during three baptismal services in December, March, and during the annual outdoor baptism on Founders’ Green at the school year’s end. This year’s final service occurred on June 6, a balmy Friday evening during which 11 students were baptized and one made a declaration of faith to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Naomi Magaoay, a resident of Barstow and native of Hawaii, had a lifelong interest in religion influenced by her father who took her to Sunday services at a Baptist church. But after her parents’ divorce, her opportunities for church attendance were intermittent. She arrived at La Sierra University two years ago to study pre-nursing and with a desire for religious connection and wholeness. She learned about the university through her high school’s college readiness class, AVID.
Naomi completed her pre-nursing program in June and has been accepted into the Loma Linda University School of Nursing. Throughout most of her two years at La Sierra she listened during university worship services to baptismal class invitations from Pastor Sam but was afraid to publicly show her interest. During one service, however, the chaplain offered students a new way to respond – just send a text message to his phone with their names and he would contact them about baptism and Bible studies. “It was kind of like a door opened for me,” Naomi said. “I felt like this was God’s way of opening up my heart to Him.”
She texted her name and eventually studied with Sam’s assistant chaplain Martin Corona for two months before her June 6 baptism along with the other students. Her mother, brother, two sisters and friends witnessed her public declaration of commitment to Christ, a complete turnaround from the shy student who was afraid to make known her heart-felt interest in God. “It felt life-changing,” Naomi said. “To be a part of it felt so good, so comfortable.”
Over the past months, Naomi says her life has changed as she has drawn closer to God, including a dedication to Sabbath observance. “You notice things God does for you,” she said.
For Jason Anthony, a recent graduate with business and music degrees, baptism represented a decision he’d made months earlier to dedicate his life to Christ. It was the culmination of a strengthening of his relationship with God that began in Thailand where he grew up, and that blossomed at La Sierra where he found a spiritual community and foundation that had previously been missing from his life. “I felt a lot of gratitude,” he said in describing the evening when he was baptized in the pool on Founder’s Green in front of family and friends. His mother, Penjit Anthony, flew from Thailand for that moment, and for her son’s graduation the following weekend. “I was very thankful to God, the university and pastoral staff and everything that led me to this decision,” Jason said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Lord, my life is yours. Take it.’”
Jason and his sister, Vanisara “Nikki” Rybkina, a 2011 La Sierra business alumna, were raised as Seventh-day Adventists. Their parents, Nathan and Penjit Anthony joined Adventism from Catholic and Buddhist backgrounds, respectively. While his relationship with God was always strong, without a substantive Adventist community to fall back on, Sabbath observance was somewhat intermittent, Jason said. Many Saturdays during high school he spent teaching English, music, taking lessons or participating in military training through his country’s reserve officers’ training corps program.
He enrolled in La Sierra in 2010 following his sister who came to La Sierra in 2007 on scholarships. While he worked long hours to earn two degrees, Jason discovered a community of faith that invigorated him. “I really, really liked the spiritual life here, and the Church @ Noon [La Sierra University Church service] was great. It really spoke to me,” Jason said. He began attending both the university’s Friday night First Service events as well as church on Sabbath regularly. And he witnessed the baptism of other students, including that of his sister. “Every time I saw someone get baptized it felt like, ‘yeah I want to do that, but I’m not sure,’” Jason said.
Finally in the summer of 2013, in response to a baptismal class invitation that spring from campus Pastor Sam during university worship, Jason began baptismal studies. “I would read the Bible, come up with questions and we would discuss them,” he said.
Jason’s baptism was the highlight of an eventful spring quarter. He graduated June 15 with dual bachelor’s degrees in business management and music and was honored for his consistently high achievements with the President’s Award for Outstanding University Undergraduate Student. Throughout his college career he made the Business Dean’s List and won second place this year in La Sierra’s annual Concerto Competition for his performance on flute. He plans to continue teaching music once the new school year starts. “I’m still trying to see what God wants me to do,” Jason said.