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Johnsson: First of all, who is Don Schneider? How do you see yourself?
Schneider: Well, I’m a person who loves Jesus, has a great time with life, enjoys every day.

Marti, how would you answer the question?
He is a guy who loves Jesus and loves every day. Really he is.

Don, have you always been like this?
No. I was in academy, and it dawned on me one day that I could be what I wanted to be. I could be sad or whatever I wanted to be. I thought about that, and I said, “I better enjoy life. I am going to be happy.”

Did your life change significantly from that time?
It was about the same time that I accepted Jesus personally, and so probably all of that went pretty much together.

Which academy was that?
Wisconsin Academy. My parents were in Wisconsin. I was born in Merrill, Wisconsin.

And your dad, what did he do?`
My father was a farmer when I was born—a dairy farmer. Then we moved into the town of Merrill, and he began a business installing furnaces. We were not a very religious family, although we did go to church, some.

No. I didn’t go to church because at the church that we went to, the children didn’t go into the sanctuary.

They were not permitted in the sanctuary?
Right, at that time. The sanctuary was a very solemn place. My parents would go some. My memories of that church are going with my father to the tavern to get the wine for the Communion service and being a part of the cleanup afterward, when I would drink all the remaining wine.

You were only a child?
Yes. And when the preacher would come my father would say, “Maybe don’t drink while he’s watching.” But then my father put a furnace in the Adventist church. We didn’t know there was an Adventist church, even though it was just a little town. It was during the winter, and when he put that furnace in the church the job was not going to be anywhere near completed by Sabbath. But he told his workers, “You come on Friday morning prepared, and we’ll work through the night, and then on Saturday morning when they come to church it’ll be warm even though we are not completed.” About noon the head elder came and told my father, “You and your men must leave.” My father said, “These guys are crazy.” The members went to an extremely cold church that Sabbath morning, but they worshiped there. That greatly impressed my father.

He later went to the house of the head elder to bid on a furnace for him. He didn’t get the job, but our life changed because of that visit. The elder’s two kids were getting ready to go back to Wisconsin Academy, and they were drinking orange juice. My father was shocked. We had never had orange juice in our home, and he had never imagined that young people would consider drinking orange juice. We drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of pretzels, but never orange juice. So he started asking questions. The head elder tuned pianos for a business, but he did that only to find people that he could talk to about Jesus. So he said to my father, “I can’t answer all of that today. I must come to your house.” And that’s of course how the studies started.

For a year the elder came. My father was not there much of the time; he would be at the tavern gambling. My mother was falling asleep and begged my father to have that man stop coming. But at the end of the year the pastor came and said, “Would you like to be baptized?” My father said, “I have no idea what this man’s been talking about. I haven’t paid a bit of attention. But here lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I ought to pay more attention to spiritual things. So if you leave those Bible studies, I’ll read them.” And the elder said, “No, I don’t do it like that. I will come back.”

As they left, the pastor said to the elder, “These people are not worth your time. They are not worth studying with.”

But the elder came, and at the end of that series of Bible studies my father went to the church by himself. He walked in the alleys so nobody would see him, and after three attempts like that, our family went. My sister and I were not allowed to go to Sabbath school, because we didn’t know what the Adventists did to the children in the basement. We sat with our parents. But after a few weeks we went to the Sabbath school and before long were baptized. When our family was baptized, my father quit drinking that day; he quit smoking that day; that day we became vegetarians; and that day he quit his gambling.

You were baptized at that time with the family?
No, I wasn’t baptized then, but my life changed drastically. When we would visit my mother’s people, I was the one who was asked to pray. However, we were asked not to visit them. They said, “We’re no longer related to you. Don’t come back here.” And my father’s people said, “If the man who’s been giving those Bible studies comes here we’ll shoot him.”

When I went to the academy I made up my mind after a while that I needed to be popular. I had lost sight of Jesus. One day a student who was cutting my hair said, “How long are you going to live like this? You’re a hypocrite. If you don’t want to be a Christian, don’t be one.”

That bothered me a lot, and I took about a year thinking about what he’d said. Then one Friday night in Room 139 in the academy dorm I gave my life to Jesus.

On your own?
Yes. I locked the door so that I would be alone. The next morning as I walked across the campus to the cafeteria I sang, “‘I’ve wandered far away from God, but now I’m coming home.’” The guy next to me was Jim Clizbe—now the educational superintendent in southern California. He and I were in the academy together in the same grade. He said, “You’ve changed keys three times since we left the dorm.” But it didn’t matter to me, because I had accepted Jesus. It was a new experience, and I tell you, it’s never been the same since then. Now, that doesn’t mean every day has to be perfect, but my life has a new direction. Before that, I had thought about being a preacher, but I knew I couldn’t be one. But after that happened I decided, Yes, I’m going to be a pastor.

Did your dad continue with the same work after he was saved?
When we became Adventists my dad said, “I’ve got to be a preacher.” We moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, so my father could go to Andrews University, then called Emmanuel Missionary College, but for a person who had been out [a long time], school was difficult. But he became a pastor through the help of a Bible worker. Our neighbors, Alfonso and Estelle Green, explained that African-Americans could not go to church in Dowagiac. We didn’t understand that, but they explained the issue of race to us. So my father said, “We’re going to fix that.” And we went to Dowagiac to start an African-American church. My father didn’t know anything about preaching, but Estelle Green was a Bible worker, and she helped him prepare a sermon, and he gave that sermon. The next night Uranius Marsh gave a sermon, and the next night my father preached, and the next night . . .

Who was Uranius Marsh?
He’s an African-American who now lives near Oakwood College. Father finished that series of meetings and there were people baptized. We rented the church from the Pentecostals, and the woman who was the pastor said, “You can get out of my church, or you can buy it. But you’ve got to do one or the other quick, because I don’t have any members anymore—you’ve baptized them.” My father didn’t know anything about church policy, so he bought the church on the spot. Then our family and the Marsh family had to figure out how to pay for it. Before long my dad found out that that wasn’t the way we were supposed to do it, so he gave the church to the Lake Region Conference. And it is the Dowagiac Adventist Church for our African-Americans now.

Still. And that’s where I had my first church office. I rang the bell on Sabbath morning, and I was so proud.

Marti, your background?
I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee; my dad was in Collegedale on the [college] staff. We moved to Texas when I was 11 years old, and I grew up there until I went to academy. I met Don at college.

A Christian Gentleman

Some seven years ago Elder Al McClure and I shared a cabin on a boat trip down the Irrawaddy in Myanmar (Burma). Our ticket cost the equivalent of 84 cents (U.S.), and we got what we paid for.

When you spend all night with someone in a narrow, humid space—along with assorted forms of “lowlife”—you get to know each other pretty well. The trip was a nightmare, as was the return to Yangon the following night, but one of its great rewards was that Al and I bonded.

I have the highest regard for Al McClure. He is a Christian gentleman, a class act. He is real; he is straight. It’s been a pleasure to know him as a brother, colleague, and friend.

Elder McClure has been only the second president of the North American Division as an entity distinct from the General Conference. Under Elder Charles E. Bradford the break was made, and “Brad’s” remarkable personal skills helped smooth the transition. The 10 years of the McClure era took the process further, bringing the NAD to full-fledged status.

Al did his job well, and he did it his way. A superb chair, he preferred to work through committees, always seeking to lead by persuasion and consensus-building.

He has been a great friend of the Adventist Review. With his encouragement the NAD Edition grew and prospered, until it now enjoys almost 100 percent conference participation.

Al, thank you! I shall miss your counsel and kind support. Happy Florida living to you and Frances.

William G. Johnsson is editor of the Adventist Review.

Which college was that?
Southwestern. I went to school there one year, went two years to Union College, and graduated from Andrews.

You obviously support Don in his ministry, but what about your ministry?
Once my children were grown, I worked in the office as a secretary. When we were in California [Northern California Conference], I worked in the ministerial area and dearly loved it. So when Don got the call to the [Lake] union, I said, “Of course, we are willing to go anywhere, but Lord, You’ll have to give me a job just as exciting, because in northern California I prayed with the pastors, managed the evangelism funds, and helped develop the evangelism newsletter.”

That was more than a secretary’s job?
I was a secretary by title, but I organized camp meetings and raised funds for evangelism. I was also sponsor of the Shepherdess organization, which was dear to me. So when we moved to the Lake Union it was a problem for me to be out of that ministry. But I told the Lord, “You’ll have to find me a job.” And He really did, a job that was perfect. I went to work for the North American Division Evangelism Institute as a receptionist and secretary, and soon after that they started the church planting conference SEEDS. The first year I did the layout for the brochure and just answered the phone, things like that. The next year I was a producer, coordinator, and the year after that, I became the coordinator for the SEEDS program.

There is something wonderful about this church, and working for the Lord.
Don: I want to give you two testimonies. I told you how my father became a pastor. Every night when we had family worship he prayed, “Thank You, Lord,” and the walls echoed because of the way he prayed it. He said, “Thank You for letting me be a preacher.” Later there was the possibility of me moving outside the U.S., but my mother had just died, and my father was about to die and he knew it. I told him that we might move out of the U.S. He said, “God has done so much for us. This church has done so much for our family. You do whatever the church asks you to do. You drive out of the yard and don’t look back at me. You just wave as you leave, and you will do what you’re supposed to do.”

Do you have siblings, Don?
I have one sister. She is a nurse at Huguley Memorial Medical Center in Texas.

And children? Marti, the children?
We have two, Don and Carol. He is a doctor in California and has just begun his second-year residency in family practice. Our daughter, Carol, is younger, and she is the principal at Green Bay Junior Academy.

Let’s talk about the North American Division and start with a SWOT analysis—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Strengths of this division?

Don: When we became Adventists, this church offered me a chance at education. I didn’t understand that. Our family didn’t understand that. But the Adventist Church, and the North American Division gave me the opportunity to go to school. And it’s a wonderful thing that we have. We have an educational system that is so special, and along with that, of course, is all the talent that is enhanced by that.

North America is a pretty special place. That’s why we have so many people who have gone all around the world to start all these divisions, and we really excelled in having missionaries. We have a talent pool that is pretty fantastic. Along with that, God had blessed us with the money to support that talent pool. It’s pretty humbling when you think of what God has used this division to do.

But your strength is sometimes your weakness, too. One of the weaknesses we may have is a dependence on that talent pool and dependence on that money, and we may be getting a little lax sometimes in our dependence on the Lord. I worry about us maybe becoming pretty laid-back with our relationship with the Lord. When things are so wonderful, freedom and all, it’s a little easier to be relaxed. I’ve watched some of these delegates who’ve come over here [to the General Conference session]. They talk about the possibility of going back to prison. Your faith is going to grow if you think about that.

And opportunities?
There are a lot of people who live here, and millions of them have no concept of the gospel. One special opportunity to grow fast is the new people who come to this country. But there are a lot of other people here too, and we need to bring the gospel to them.

Weren’t you involved in the development of the NET programs?
One day I got a call from the division office asking if I would consider chairing a committee to talk about what we could do for evangelism, particularly at that time Anglo evangelism. Out of that discussion, out of that committee, was born the idea of possibly having an evangelistic meeting of some kind that would go all across the country. Out of that came NET ’95. At the time we had in mind, “Let’s spread this opportunity across the U.S.” But as we got more into it we said, “Well, maybe that will go across the border into Canada.” We weren’t sure at first. “And maybe it’ll go across the border into a little bit of Mexico.” We weren’t sure of that. And then we said, “Could we have another language?” So we thought about it a lot, and finally we figured out that we could have Spanish at the same time we had English. Well, obviously, it went to many languages even that first time, and a lot of people accepted the Lord through those meetings.

There were a lot of skeptics, and I was one of them.

You were? Shame on you.

Well, I didn’t think people would come out. I was wrong.

To watch TV in a church?

I did not. And I was dead wrong.

Do you know one of the things that convinced us? In the Northern California Conference office they were watching the [GC session] meetings from Utrecht, and one of the pastors was in charge. When they called for an offering in Utrecht, the people in our office got out their money! As this pastor saw all these people sitting there with the money he said, “I guess we’ve got to pick this up,” so he ran into the kitchen and got a bowl and passed it around. He told me, “It was weird!” We noticed that people stood up when the speaker in Utrecht said, “Stand up.” So that’s part of what helped us believe that maybe it would work.

The NETs not only brought many people into the church in this division; they gave this division a shot in the arm.

Really! What we were after, maybe even more than the people, was the change in the culture. The culture that I would want is the culture of evangelism. If you’re not bringing people to Jesus, there’s something wrong. You know what the Waldenses say: If you’re not a missionary, you’re nothing at all. We’ve got to do something to be involved both corporately and individually.

Finally, threats?
One of the concerns for me is there are thousands of things that I could become involved in. In fact, right now you and I probably don’t agree on a lot of things. If we spent all of our time talking about that, it would be fun, but at the end of the day we would not have accomplished anything. In our division we like to talk to each other like that. I used to pay people to argue with me and I loved it, but I never accomplished anything. I think that one of our problems is that we spend our time arguing about lots of points, as opposed to coming together on what we believe and really spreading this message.

Five years from now Adventists are due to meet in St. Louis, Missouri, for another General Conference session. What would you like the people to be saying about Adventists?

Let me tell you a story. The telephone rang at our house last week. It was another telemarketer, and I usually lead those people all along funny places and laugh. But I asked this woman, “How’s the weather at your place? What are you doing? Do you like your job?” She said, “No.” “So why are you doing it?” She said, “I’m a single woman. I’m 18 years old. I don’t have a husband, but I have a baby and I’ve got to feed my baby. So I get paid $7.10 an hour, and I come here.” And then she said, “Mister, you’re the only nice person I’ve talked to.” And I talked to her a little bit more about what she was doing in life, and after a little while I said, “I need to pray for you. Tell me your name.” She told me her name, and I prayed for her.

After I hung up the phone I said, “Hey, Lord, send me another one. I want another telemarketer.” And the phone rang again. I went through the same kinds of things, and I asked this woman, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” And I found the same kinds of things. I said, “Are you a Christian?” She said, “I don’t know what a Christian is.” So I told her about Jesus. I told her that I make mistakes but that Jesus forgives me. And I said, “You do the same.” And then in that process I asked her if she would like to accept Jesus. She said, “Well, yeah, I would like to try that.” You see, she didn’t have hope. Seventh-day Adventists have hope we can offer to people.

So what about St. Louis? I’d like to see that we’re really occupied bringing these kinds of people the same hope.

Don, I’ve noticed in your editorials in the Lake Union Herald that your religion is very practical. I notice that you often tell stories rather than discuss dogma.
A man asked me what I believe about the nature of Christ. And I tell you, we could argue about that subject for a long time. This is not very deep theology, but I’ll tell you what I believe: Jesus, no matter what His nature, took all these things away from my father. He took certain things out of my life, and made me into a different person. That’s what I know about His nature.

What’s your passion?
I was doing my work, and doing it successfully. But I wasn’t sure that I was growing, and I wrote an editorial about that. It was titled “I’m Moving On.” Some people read it and thought that I had accepted a call. But what the article really said was “In one year I can’t be where I am right now spiritually. I’ve got to know Jesus better.” I’d better pay attention to my relationship with Jesus. It better be a growing one. And frankly, one of the things I worry about is this job. Telling everybody else what to do.

You’ll be on lots of committees.
I have to remember that even though I sit in a committee and I’m in a different bed every night, I’ve still got to use some time to learn about Jesus. I’ve got to use some time to tell other people about Him, or I’ll dry up.

You’re going to be head of a team in the North American Division office. How do you see your job?
I want the office to be a happy place where people love to come to work and all do the one job together. I do my best not to have much difference between the bottom and the top, if you know what I mean. We’re all on the same team together; you may have a little different task than I do, but it’s the same kind of job.

William G. Johnsson is editor of the Adventist Review.

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