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Sickle Cell Patient Cured Through LLU Children's Hospital's First Stem Cell Transplant

Sickle Cell Patient Cured Through LLU Children's Hospital's First Stem Cell Transplant
Valeria Vargas-Olmedo, 11, from Crestline, received her stem cell donation from her father.

Valeria Vargas-Olmedo (center), 11, from Crestline, California, received her stem cell donation from her father. Photo provided by Loma Linda University Health

Doctors at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital recently conducted the institution’s first stem cell transplant in a sickle cell disease patient, effectively curing her of the inherited blood disease. The successful procedure offers hope and accessible treatment to those suffering from the disease in the Inland Empire and surrounding regions.

Children’s Hospital doctors had worked for nearly a year to build a program focused on helping hematology patients, specifically hemophilia and sickle cell disease.

Akshat Jain, M.D., pediatric physician specializing in hematologic disorders at Children’s Hospital, said he is pleased with the outcome of the transplant and what it means for future patients suffering from sickle cell disease.

“We created a successful program so children and their families suffering from this disease don’t need to look elsewhere for treatment — it’s available to them right here,” Jain said.

The procedure was also Children’s Hospital’s first haploidentical transplant, meaning the stem cells donated — by the patient’s father — were only half a genomic match to the patient’s own stem cells. The transplant team infused the father's cells directly into the patient after conditioning chemotherapy to replace the unhealthy blood-forming cells.

The patient, 11-year-old Valeria Vargas-Olmedo, had lived with sickle cell disease since birth. Her family began seeking treatment last year after she became incapacitated, unable to continue daily activities such as attend school, get in a car, or even walk. Doctors said she had debilitating chronic pain, bone loss, and bone necrosis.

“She is now disease free and can go back out into the world to do what an 11-year-old should be doing,” Jain said.

Sickle cell disease causes a shortage of red blood cells and thus an oxygen deficiency in one’s body. This can cause chronic pain and other serious complications, such as infection, acute chest syndrome, and stroke. Without oxygen, any organ has a high likelihood of dying off.

Jain said the disease is generally found in populations like those in the Inland Empire, such as Hispanic and African-American populations.

Jain said he and his team treat approximately 250 to 300 sickle cell patients in Children’s Hospital’s comprehensive sickle cell program — more patients than in some of the largest programs on the west coast.

Clara Olmedo, Valerie’s mother, said, “First, we want to thank God. We also want to thank Dr. Jain and his entire transplant team. Finally, thanks to Valerie’s father — he did everything he could in order to save her life and give her health through being a donor. My daughter is much more animated now — she’s begun walking, she’s eating and gaining weight, she’s happy. Little by little she is living a normal life like before.”

The Vargas-Olmedo family wants to encourage others families who are struggling with sickle cell disease. “For the parents who see the news of this transplant and deal with this sickness, I hope they are encouraged and know that Children’s Hospital is a great hospital,” Olmedo said. “There are many good doctors, professionals, and excellent nurses. I encourage them to ask more questions about this procedure and our experience. They’ve helped us tremendously, and we have our trust in them.”

— Sheann Brandon writes for Loma Linda University Health News; this article originally appeared on the LLUH website.

kmaran Wed, 04/17/2019 - 17:11

Escrito Está Speaker/Director Meets Guatemalan President, Prays with Him

Escrito Está Speaker/Director Meets Guatemalan President, Prays with Him
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, center, poses for a photo with Pastor Robert Costa, right, and his butler, left. During his March 13 visit, Pastor Costa gave President Morales an Ambassador of Peace medal.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (center) poses for a photo with Robert Costa (right), Escrito Está spaker/director, and the presidential butler (left). During his March 13, 2019, visit, Costa gave Morales an Ambassador of Peace medal. Photo provided by Escrito Está/It Is Written

On March 13, 2019, Pastor Robert Costa, speaker/director of Escrito Está, It Is Written’s Spanish-speaking ministry, visited President Jimmy Morales, president of Guatemala, to both express Escrito Está’s commitment to sharing Jesus and to pray for him in his role as the country’s leader.

During this special visit, Costa was able to give the president a brief report of what the local Seventh-day Adventist Church has been doing in the areas of education, health, spirituality, communications, and social work to relieve the needs of its citizens. He also shared an overview of the activities of the church around the world.

Morales, in return, mentioned that he is well-acquainted with the Adventist church, since an Adventist school is located right across the street from the Baptist seminary where he attended. Morales and other members of the government received a copy of the Ellen G. White's book The Desire of Ages and a devotional book. In gratitude for his service, Costa also gave Morales an Ambassador of Peace medal after reading from the Bible about Christian leadership. Toward the end of the meeting, Costa prayed for God to lead and bless Morales and Guatemala.

This meeting, in part, was made possible by the president's butler, who is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is the second meeting Costa has had with local government officials in Guatemala, as the local Adventist church seeks to reach people in all levels of society with a message of hope in the second coming of Jesus.

Costa was in Guatemala to celebrate Escrito Está's 25th Anniversary, holding a series of meetings entitled "Un Futuro con Esperanza" (A Future with Hope). The meetings concluded with 210 baptisms.

— Cassie Matchim Hernandez is development assistant for It Is Written; click here to read a blog on the first meeting with Guatemalan government officials.


CLICK HERE for more NAD news.

kmaran Wed, 04/17/2019 - 14:38

U.S. Supreme Court Asks Government to Express View on Church Member's Case

U.S. Supreme Court Asks Government to Express View on Church Member's Case
current issues Patterson case


Seventh-day Adventist church member Darrell Patterson’s religious discrimination case against Walgreens continues to gain interest and support. Patterson asked the United States Supreme Court to hear his religious discrimination case (see the September 2018 edition of Adventist Journey for more detail). He was fired by Walgreens in 2011 because he refused to work at a call center on the Sabbath.

Since Patterson’s petition was filed last fall, several encouraging developments have occurred. First, other religious denominations and religious liberty groups filed friend of the court briefs in support. This wide-ranging collation included Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. Second, Walgreens was ordered by the court to respond to Patterson’s request, something it had declined to do on its own.

More good news came in January when four of the justices filed a “statement” concerning a different religious discrimination case dealing with a football coach fired for praying after games. In declining to hear his case, Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh strongly signaled interest in reexamining TWA v. Hardison.

This 1977 case set an extremely harmful legal precedent that religious employees have been fighting ever since. Patterson asked the court to revisit this decision, and the reference to Hardison by the justices was seen as interest in Patterson’s case.

In March the court reinforced its interest by asking the U.S. government to file a brief. This relatively rare request is made when the justices think the government, which has responsibility for enforcing the law, can help inform their decision. This was such a strong indication of interest by the court that it sparked an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (Mar. 22, 2019) by Pepperdine law professor Michael Helfand urging the government to support Patterson.

Darrell Patterson

Darrell Patterson’s religious discrimination case against Walgreens continues to gain interest and support. He was fired by Walgreens in 2011 because he refused to work at a call center on the Sabbath. Photo by Dan Weber

The government is likely to file its recommendation sometime during the summer. The justices will then decide, probably sometime in October or November, whether to take the case. If the Supreme Court does decide to take the case, it likely will be argued in early 2020, with a decision handed down before the end of June 2020.

Of course, none of this guarantees that the court will take Patterson’s case, let alone that he will win if it does. However, for the first time in over 40 years there is a very real opportunity to undo the mistake made in Hardison.

This opportunity did not come about by accident. It is the result of a faithful church member who stood up for the Sabbath eight years ago and a church that invests the resources to defend its members.

— Todd McFarland is associate general counsel for the Office of General Counsel of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; click here for background article and copy of "Cert Petition."

kmaran Wed, 04/17/2019 - 10:12

Union College Faculty and Students Manage Flood Donation Warehouse

Union College Faculty and Students Manage Flood Donation Warehouse
union college students in front of red cross truck

Union College Red Cross Club members help manage multi-agency warehouse of donations for Nebraska flood victims. Photo provided by Union College

The Union College Red Cross Club was called into action to manage a multi-agency warehouse in Omaha for donations coming in from around the country for victim's of the March 2018 flooding across Nebraska.

Union College Red Cross Club members, mostly international rescue and relief students and faculty, used their disaster management training to get the warehouse up and running, and will continue to manage volunteers and accept, organize and distribute donations over the coming weeks.

Rick Young, director of Union's IRR program and Disaster Relief Coordinator for Kansas-Nebraska Adventist Community Services, wanted to give his students the opportunity to put their classroom learning to work in a large-scale disaster situation.

"Our students help out with Red Cross calls on a regular basis, but those are usually structure fires that involve a single family or a few families," said Young. "The floods are impacting many hundreds of people across the state and managing a donations warehouse is something that our students learn how to do in the classroom, but don't always get to experience first-hand."

As donations began to pour in from local sources and around the country, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) asked the Nebraska Volunteers Organizations Active in Disasters (NEVOAD) to manage donations. Per an agreement with both NEMA and NEVOAD, Kansas-Nebraska Adventist Community Services is responsible for managing donated goods for a warehouse used jointly by many other agencies, including the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

To support the work of the Adventist Community Services warehouse in Nebraska, you can donate funds at Designate "disaster response" and enter "Nebraska flooding" in the comments.

About the Union College international rescue and relief program

The Union College international rescue and relief program prepares students for careers in public safety, community development, and the medical field. The program combines rigorous coursework and a variety of emergency and disaster management certifications with hands-on training such as wilderness survival and rescue in Colorado, and an overseas semester learning about global health in a developing nation. Learn more at

— Ryan Teller is the director of Public Relations for Union College; This article originally appeared on the Union College website on March 18, 2019 and was updated with a needs list on March 25.

kmaran Thu, 04/11/2019 - 13:54

Adventist Community Services Forms Historic Partnership with FEMA for Saipan Recovery Efforts

Adventist Community Services Forms Historic Partnership with FEMA for Saipan Recovery Efforts
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency speak with volunteers of Adventist Community Services.

Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency speak with volunteers of Adventist Community Services. Photo: W. Derrick Lea/ACS

Adventist Community Services Disaster Response (ACS DR) recently entered into a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help restore livelihood to residents still recovering from Super Typhoon Yutu, which struck the Northern Mariana Islands and the Philippines late October 2018. Super Typhoon Yutu was the worst storm on record to hit the Northern Mariana Islands. The islands are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America’s (NAD) Guam-Micronesia Mission.

ACS indirectly worked with FEMA in Saipan and Tinian immediately after the Category 5 storm struck seven months ago. However, 30 ACS volunteers from the Greater New York Conference and Northeastern Conference are now officially linked with the agency’s efforts in Saipan throughout the month of April.

ACS volunteers walk through a damaged building in Saipan.

ACS volunteers walk through a damaged building in Saipan. Photo: W. Derrick Lea

FEMA expressed interest in ACS after learning about its recovery work in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Florida and Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.

“We began speaking with FEMA late last year as they discussed issues they’d experienced in rebuilding Saipan and getting people back in their homes," said W. Derrick Lea, director of the NAD’s ACS DR. "Families are still living in crowded and uncomfortable tents because their homes are severely damaged."

“These conversations created an official partnership that brought teams from two conferences to help assist in Saipan,” continued Lea. “Our teams are excited about this opportunity and many have arranged to be able to travel and spend a minimum of two weeks assisting.”

ACS volunteers work to replace a damaged roof.

ACS volunteers work to replace a damaged roof. Photo: W. Derrick Lea

The first team conducted assessments, the second team began replacing roofs, windows, doors and other needed items, and the third team will help finish those replacements.

“Our volunteers are incredibly dedicated. While I find myself stating this fact after each disaster response, they never cease to amaze me,” said Lea. “One of the FEMA emergency managers asked me last week, ‘Who are these people?’  To which I replied, ‘just people who want to help their community.’”

mylonmedley Thu, 04/11/2019 - 11:32

Record Attendance, Film Submissions at 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival

Record Attendance, Film Submissions at 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival
a few Sonscreen 2019 award winning filmmakers

Best Art/Experimential Short winners (left) and Best in Festival winners (tie, on right) enjoy a moment together after the 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival award ceremony on April 6. Photo by Dan Weber

The Sonscreen Film Festival broke records this year as 265 student filmmakers, professors, professionals, and enthusiasts screened 57 official selections during the event held at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, on April 4-6, 2019. The official selections came from a pool of 95 submissions. 

The three-day festival, run by the NAD, screened the official selections from student filmmakers, and gave the young adults the opportunity to ask their peers questions about their films. The event culminated with an awards ceremony and closing reception, with 12 student films garnering awards. 

“Sonscreen continues to grow each year, both in film submissions and attendance,” said says Julio Muñoz, director of the Sonscreen Film Festival and associate director of the NAD Office of Communication. “Last year we broke records with 61 student film submissions. This year we jumped to 95. It’s exciting to see the numbers increase as well as the caliber of films continue to rise. We have a limited number of films we can accept into the festival — we’re glad we could extend from 47 last year to 57 this year.”

First time attendee, Andrew Cathlin, working on his master’s degree in Television and Cinema Production at Regent University learned of Sonscreen through an article. He submitted a Christian-themed film based on a true story. “I’m really blown away by the talented filmmakers within the faith, the Seventh-day Adventist schools,” he said. “Media is a very powerful outlet to reach people and tell stories. It’s great that the Adventist Church hosts something like this that allows people who want tell stories through film.”

Sonscreen 2019 high school filmmakers answer audience questions after a film block screening.

Several Sonscreen 2019 high school filmmakers (left to right: Alina Weber, Lindsey Gispert, and Brandon Cheddar) answer audience questions after a film block screening on April 5. Photo by Dan Weber

Six short professional films were also shown, and the Plantation Seventh-day Adventist Church Film Ministry discussed clips of their feature length film during Sabbath programming. On Sunday morning, attendees were treated to a bonus screening — the premier of the Web series Arnion (“The Lamb”), a collaborative effort withthe NAD, the Walla Walla University Center for Media Ministry, and Rachel Scribner, a Walla Walla graduate student who adapted the script and produced the NAD’s version. Arnion was originally produced by Stimme der Hoffnung, the European Adventist Media Center of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The NAD purchased the rights to adapt this series on Revelation geared for a postmodern and Adventist audience.

Throughout seven student film blocks and after professional film screenings, Q&A sessions were conducted. Special guests to the festival included Jay Stern, film producer; Jordi Ros, screenwriter; Chris and Tatia Cibelli, film editors; Nick Livanos, writer and director of The Belly of the Whale; Paul Kim, director and producer of The Book of Joshua; Timothy Standish, Geoscience Research Institute senior scientist; and Klaus Popa, CEO of Hope Media Europe (Stimme’s new name), and Adrian Dure, producer at Hope Media Europe and director/producer of the original Arnion.

Rodney Vance interviews Jay Stern

Rodney Vance, director of the La Sierra University film program, interviews film producer Jay Stern, who received the Sonscreen Vision Award, during the April 4, 2019, Sonscreen keynote session. Photo by Dan Weber

Livanos, film production professor at Southern Adventist University, said, “Sonscreen as a film festival is great. It’s part of our Adventist community as filmmakers and I love getting together with the other schools and working on being allies and realizing that we are all part of the same team. I love the moments where we come together and people are cheering really loud for another school and another filmmaker because they love what they did and it becomes about how all of us really are a big family.”

“We continue to strive for Sonscreen to be an inclusive community where the young filmmakers are affirmed as artists and feel safe to use their craft to truthfully reflect on the world they live in,” said Muñoz.

Summer Medina, La Sierra University senior film major has been attending Sonscreen since she was in high school. “It’s a really great place that Adventist filmmakers can express themselves,” she said. “This isn’t really common in our [Adventist] culture; I think it’s cool to see everyone supporting each other from all the different schools, meeting new people and watching films. [At Sonscreen] you meet new people who you might collaborate with in the future.”

Medina added, “It’s a great place to find encouragement.” 

Tatia and Chris Cibelli, professional film editors, talk to student filmmakers during a meal break at the 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival.

Tatia and Chris Cibelli (left), professional film editors, talk to student filmmakers during a meal break at the 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival.

For 19 years, Sonscreen has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. The 57 official selections were divided into six categories: animated short, art/experimental short, dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, and high school short.

The festival concluded with the presentation of 10 Sonny Awards: Best Art/Experimental Short, Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short, Best High School Short, Best Comedy Short, Best Dramatic Short, Jury Selection, Audience Choice, and Best in Festival (tie). Honorable Mention awards were also given for Art/Experimental, Comedy, Dramatic, Documentary, and Animated short films.

Schools and student groups represented at the festival included Andrews University (Michigan); Burton Adventist Academy and Southwestern Adventist University (Texas);Hawaiian Mission Academy (Hawaii); La Sierra Academy, La Sierra University, Loma Linda Academy, Pacific Union College, and Redlands Adventist Academy (California); Plantation Seventh-day Adventist Church (Florida); Regent University (Virginia); Spencerville Adventist Academy (Maryland); Southern Adventist University (Tennessee); and Walla Walla University (Washington).

“I think it’s pretty huge to have the Seventh-day Adventist Church sponsoring something like this, a film festival,” said Livanos. “Our church doesn’t have a long reputation of being a fan of the movies, so it’s remarkable [that] all these people see that film can be this meaningful tool for self-expression or sharing the message of Christ, or sharing a humanitarian story that just has weight and importance.”

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of Communication for the North American Division; CLICK HERE for more photos from the festival.

The 2019 Sonscreen Official Selections and Award Winners

Best in Festival (tie) 

Charlie | Sarah Martinez

Beep Bop Symphony | Christin Smolinski

Audience Choice Award

Beep Bop Symphony | Christin Smolinski

Jury Selection

Car Treble | Noah Dauncey

2019 Sonscreen Vision Award

Jay Stern

Dramatic Short

• Charlie | Sarah Martinez (Best Dramatic Short)

• Car Treble | Noah Dauncey (Honorable Mention, Dramatic Short)

• Movie Night | Tommy Moen

• Heavy | Javi Hernandez

• 6 Feet Under | Hann Shawn, Ilene Koeppen

• Mental Drive | Taylor Walker

• Touch | Brandon Walker

• Pacman | Wesley Jin

• Polarized | Michael Moyer

• Origami Bull | Summer Medina

• Distant Light | Brendon Wilson

• Hear Me Out | Clayton Kruse

• Stand Strong | Andrew Cathlin

• Whisper | Rachel Ermshar

Documentary Short

• Passing Through | Erik Harty (Best Documentary Short)

• A Child of Apartheid | Stephen Allcock (Honorable Mention, Documentary Short)

• Black Barber’s A Lifetime Thing | Madai Villa-Coppiano

• A Song About You | Justin McLaughlin

• Alone | Madelyn Rogers

• Alexis Howard Profile | Dillon Siok

• An SM Is Many Things | Joel Wagness

• The Voices We Don’t Have | Joel Wagness

• The Land Bleeds Still | Anthony Matos

• Vow of Silence | Brittany Danese 

Comedy Short

• Missing Sock | Joshua Trevilcock (Best Comedy Short)

• Writer’s Journey | Brittany Danese (Honorable Mention, Comedy Short)

• Old People Vs VR | Sarah Martinez

• Intramurals | Barbara Chavez

• The Unhireables | Hailey Ausmus

• How to Solve the World in 5 Easy Steps | Hailey Ausmus

• Lumaberry Farmer | Andrew Hansen 

Animation Short

• Beep Bop Symphony | Christin Smolinski (Best Animated Short)

• Drawn In | Kacey Lason (Honorable Mention, Animated Short)

• The Button Fly | Richard Roberts

• Thanks, Obama | Laura Garcia

• Just My Luck | Chris Cartwright

 Art/Experimental Short

• Bridge the Gap | Joy Ngugi (Best Art/Experimental Short)

• Halo | Leonardo Leoni (Honorable Mention, Art/Experimental Short)

• Roads | Morgan Sanker

• Skate | Cameron Gustman

• KYUSS | Arik Amodeo

• Agirlsitsaloneatadesk | Julian Ybarra

• But Fellas… | Jordan Barnett

• Perspective | Skylar Jacobs

• Red Towel | Sarah Cabral

• Fish Tank | Hann Shawn

• Redemption | Piang Piang

• You Are Loved | Brandon Cheddar

• DACA and the Death of Dream | Daniel Martinez

High School Short

• Why Do You Make? | Ethan Gueck (Best High School Short)

• Fear | Brandon Cheddar (Honorable Mention, High School Short)

• Discover Driving Pleasure | Alex Zheng

• Recipe | Fiona Lin

• There’s No Money in Flipping Cards | Hudson Struck

• Suicide PSA | Abby Inostroza

• Dear Big Brother | Kayli Pascal-Martinez

• For King & Country - Joy | Lindsey Gispert


kmaran Thu, 04/11/2019 - 08:22

More Screentime Needed

More Screentime Needed
peoples choice

The 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival People's Choice award winners (students, center) accept their honor during the closing ceremony of the festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

The Sonscreen Film Festival began somewhat inauspiciously in 2002.

Stacia Wright (then Dulan) was finishing up her postgraduate internship in the North American Division’s Vervent office when Director Jere Wallack (who passed away in 2018) said to her, “I have a project specifically for you. I sat down with Ray Tetz and we came up with a name—it’s called SONscreen. But we have not defined what SONscreen is. That’s up to you.”

Wallack explained that the division wanted a project for young creatives across North America to help keep them engaged with the church, and mentor and help develop their creativity through TV or movies, shows or series.

Wright worked with Wallack to define and develop SONscreen, with the support of Kermit Netteburg, NAD assistant to the president for communication, and Debra Brill, NAD vice president.

“It was Jere’s strong desire to create a safe space for young Christian artists and filmmakers to express themselves and his complete faith in Stacia that led to the creation of Sonscreen,” said Julio Muñoz, current director of Sonscreen.

For 18 years the festival has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. Past directors include Wright, Paul Kim, George Johnson, and Dan Weber. The official film selections are divided into six categories: animated short, art/experimental short, dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, and high school short. The festival also includes Sonny Awards given to the best films in several categories.

Muñoz, who is also an associate director for the NAD’s Office of Communication, is wrapping up preparations for the next festival on April 4-6 at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. I sat down with him early in 2019 to talk about film, what’s currently happening with the festival, and what the future might hold.

Julio Munoz and Bill Mechanic during Q&A

At Loma Linda University in California, current festival director Julio Muñoz asks Bill Mechanic, chairman/CEO of Pandemonium Films, former chairman/CEO of 20th Century Fox Studios, and producer of "Hacksaw Ridge,"  questions during a Q&A segment at the 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Do you remember when Sonscreen started?

Yes, back in 2002, the North American Division started something that the church had never done before, and has not to this point attempted again: a film festival sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

It had meager beginnings, and some of the organizers told me that they were prepared to take on pretty much any films that were submitted by young adults.

During that time, while I was a young adult working as a video producer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the festival grew. Slowly and steadily it continued to grow. Years later we now average more than 200 attendees each year, with more than 60 film submissions from across the division.

At each festival we have this multigenerational collaboration between what we call Sonscreen alumni and current film students. We showcase a few professional films, we have a lot of time for interaction, and there is, of course, the jury process. It’s a competition, and the filmmakers get feedback through the process. The festival is a learning opportunity for those who attend.

What’s the draw? Why the continued growth?

It grew, and continues to grow, because filmmaking is a collaborative art form. It’s very difficult, unless you’re making a short film, to do something all by yourself. Creatives and filmmakers seek each other and want to collaborate, want to work together, want to find community—and that’s really what Sonscreen is.

Many of the young filmmakers there at the beginning are now professionals in their own right, and they’re still collaborating. Perhaps the best example of that is Old Fashioned, a feature film released theatrically a few years ago that was produced by various filmmakers who met at Sonscreen in the early days.

Sonscreen is still a community of young Christian filmmakers who, for the most part, attend the Adventist colleges and universities in North America that have film programs. Attendees have that in common, although in the almost five years that I’ve been the director of the festival, the high school segment of filmmakers is growing rapidly with the quality of their films improving. But still, the majority of films are submitted by college- and university-age students.

That bodes well for having the sense of community you mentioned. You have seasoned professionals and university and college and high school students helping each other and working together.

As the festival has grown we have more films submitted than we can possibly show during the festival. But we still plan to include as many high school films as possible because it’s good experience.

We see that kind of mentoring relationship developing between college/university students and high school students. And likewise, many of the young filmmakers involved with Sonscreen from the beginning, now working professionals, continue to come back to the festival. They have good relationships with the colleges and universities, and continue to mentor the younger generations.

How has the film festival transformed in the past few years?

I can think of three things that have changed since I’ve been director. First, the growth of the high school films—in quantity and quality. Second, in general, an increase in the number of quality submissions. Our submission numbers have climbed, but not by a large amount. What has changed is that the majority of films submitted are of a higher quality, so it’s more difficult to pick. They’re good films.

A lot of kids are turning in a lot of good films, and there’s also been an increase in professional submissions as well. We’ve had to become more selective in choosing the official selections for the festival.

The third thing is that the subject matter presented in the films is more representative of the lives of the filmmakers. The real issues that they deal with—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are in these films.

We try to give the filmmakers the creative freedom to express themselves in real and honest ways. These young people have real problems. We all do. We live in the real world with real people who have real troubles, real joys. So we want to encourage the filmmakers to express themselves as honestly as possible.

This has made some of the films challenging for some to watch. But nevertheless, that’s something I have seen in the past four years. The filmmaking has become more honest. Young people are telling their stories, and therefore are able to connect with other young people who are also living those stories.

That’s what film does. It connects people together through storytelling.

The lives of the filmmakers are the content of the films. They’re their stories. And one of the most powerful ways to communicate, to connect, is through story. Expanding on this idea, how important do you see the use of film for the church? And how can Sonscreen be part of a future in which the church uses this tool more effectively?

Historically, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was always at the forefront of using media to engage society, to carry out evangelism. In terms of radio it was through the Voice of Prophecy. H.M.S. Richards was really a visionary. The Adventist Church was one of the first Christian denominations to broadcast nationally on radio. Then the Fagals with Faith for Today became one of the first Christian television broadcasts.

In the 1970s Faith for Today developed its first scripted drama series, a regular TV series about the fictional Westbrook Hospital. This series was broadcast on the networks, through syndication, available to a mass audience.

More important, it was scripted storytelling. It was a drama. It wasn’t a pastor in a studio giving a sermon or giving a talk, or a documentary. It was using storytelling, which, if we look at Jesus as our example, He was the master storyteller. He used parables to make a point. Storytelling has a rich tradition in Christian communication, but our church stopped after Westbrook Hospital in the early 1980s.

We’ve found ourselves in the back of the line—other denominations have used scripted storytelling, dramatic storytelling, as a means to connect with a broader audience. We have not. We’ve fallen behind. A lot of young Adventist filmmakers are very eager to use their talents and abilities in this medium, using dramatic storytelling through film and television to connect with a broader audience.

Many people enjoy the current, traditional church programming. There’s no question that it works with certain groups. But there are also many secular and postmodern people, including Adventists, who will not watch that. They won’t. We have to compete now with the programming on Netflix, on Hulu, HBO, and the like. Many call this the second golden age of television.

That’s what church programming has to compete with. It would behoove the church to use storytelling to create parables—allegories if you will—to connect with this audience. The filmmakers who are part of Sonscreen, and Sonscreen itself, can begin to create more of this type of original programming for the church.

Soncreen 2018 panel discussion

Filmmakers answer audience questions during a panel discussion at the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival held in Columbia, Maryland. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Give some examples of how you see Sonscreen’s future in creating and sharing new content.

We have the film festival now, with film screenings, question-and-answer sessions, panels, and keynote presentations. The second part I’d like to develop more fully is the educational component, at the festival and beyond. For example, in January 2018 we sponsored our first miniworkshop for Hawaiian Mission Academy. Hawaiian Mission Academy has a program that is beginning to grow very quickly, but they don’t have the same resources as other high schools. We helped sponsor a workshop by Southern Adventist University’s film department. Some of its professors came for a two-day workshop.

We want to do more of this, connecting professionals with students, and helping give them access to resources.

The third part is to help create original content. Creating content, scripted drama, short films, feature films, TV shows, etc., takes money. We are blessed with support from the NAD, which helps us fund student attendance to the festival, and we were fortunate to receive a small grant in 2018 from the Versacare Foundation. Part of that grant helped us with the festival; we were also able to fund a short 2018 film on refugees. It was produced by Jefferson Rodrigues, who is a graduate of Southern Adventist University and a Sonscreen alumnus. For this project he worked with students at Southern Adventist University to produce this film on a shoestring budget of $10,000.

That’s one of a few original projects we’ve been developing under Sonscreen Films, the production arm of the festival. And thanks to the NAD, we were able to collaborate with the Walla Walla University Center for Media Ministry, and Rachel Scribner, a graduate student there who adapted the script and produced the NAD’s version of the Web series called Arnion, which means “The Lamb” in Greek. Arnion was originally produced by Stimme der Hoffnung, the European Adventist Media Center. The division purchased the rights to adapt this series on Revelation geared for a postmodern and Adventist audience.

The content is incredibly accessible. The grand themes of revelation, of love, of hope, of salvation are highlighted in the series. I’ve just received what I hope is the final version of the show, and it looks fantastic. It includes 10 eight-minute episodes—short and easy to digest online.

We’ve applied for another grant and we hope it works out. We are also looking to cultivate more partnerships to get additional funding to develop more original programming. And if we create original programming, we need to put it somewhere for people to watch.

We’re working with Haystack TV, which is part of the NAD’s Adventist Learning Community, to develop a platform for Sonscreen—a channel where we can stream a lot of this original content. Our goal is to put it someplace where people who want for this type of programming, the audience we want to connect with, will be looking.

What does Sonscreen look like to you in 2020; and what do you see in 2025?

In 2020 I see the quality of the films submitted continuing to improve, and the festival becoming much more competitive in terms of having a film accepted into the festival—where it is an honor just to be accepted because there are so many good film submissions. In 2025 I would like to see the festival itself not only thriving, but Sonscreen Films, the production arm, being able to produce at least a handful of short films and at least one TV series—a scripted TV drama series we’re creating that will be available for a mass audience to consume.

For several years now we’ve been developing a scripted drama in conjunction with Stimme der Hoffnung. It’s a TV series about chaplains both in a hospital and in a university setting. What makes the series unique is the premise: we want the chaplains depicted as real people, dealing with real issues and encounters in their work.

These characters aren’t perfect people. Chaplains, like any other Christians, have their share of problems, downfalls, so we would show it—make it—as real as possible. That’s a series we’re developing. Of course, creating a series of this high caliber takes a lot of money. Putting the funding together is a challenge. But we are optimistic that the right funding partner(s) will come along to support this endeavor.

Scripted drama, films, and television programs give us a platform by which we can talk about the gospel in present-day language. We can do this in ways that are real to people who are living through challenges, and seeking something, or Someone, beyond themselves.

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of Communication for the North American Division.

kmaran Thu, 04/04/2019 - 11:21