Every year of our Nomad Quest, we would start and finish from our little 1960s beach house on the Oregon coast, and after six months of travel, we’d catch our breath while wintering in Florida. The winter when we had finished circling around the entire country two and a half times, we ordered a huge, black-and-white wall map of the United States and spread it out on our dining room table. Using our photos and other records as a reference, we drew a gold metallic line tracing the route of the first year of our journey, a silver line for our second year, and for the first half of the third year we’d just completed, we drew in copper. Mark pushed little silver bb-sized pins in the places we’d slept, and I glued a small, sparkling white rhinestone in the dozens of places every year where my heart had been most moved to awe and wonder. When the project was completed, we stepped back to admire what we’d together created, and the conspicuous empty donut hole in the middle. We’d inadvertently overlooked Kansas and Nebraska, having gone past them so often it felt inexcusable and almost discourteous, so I put them both on my wish list for our last leg that would conclude this Odyssey we’ll always refer to as The Nomad Quest.
So Mr. Logistics altered plan A to fit this new goal in, even though it would mean about five 10-hour days in a row, traveling on some days through four states to be where we’d told others we’d be in the Northwest. When the 10-hour day came to visit Kansas and Nebraska, we rounded Kansas tagging it like second base in a triple hit, and while Mr. Logistics put the pedal to the metal to make it through Kansas to Nebraska in time for Bible class, I said short-sighted things like “I bet there’s a cool Wizard of Oz museum around here”, and wrestled with frustrated thoughts about all the cool Kansas things I was sure we were passing.
We arrived early enough in Nebraska to grab some Korean food for dinner before Bible class until a very large, friendly man in the parking lot of the restaurant really wanted to tour our van, delaying our arrival for Bible class at the LaVista church of Christ just after it had started. Little did our brethren know, it wasn’t that we just happened to be in town --- the truth was we’d gone hours out of our way and couldn’t wait to meet them!
The La Vista Church of Christ was established in September of 1971 when just a few families decided to meet together in a local school gymnasium for worship. By the end of 1975, they were worshipping in their newly built church building and grew to eighty members by 1994. Their numbers of course fluctuated depending mostly on the economy and military assignments of the members, but over the course of their first decades over five hundred people have been members of this congregation that you’ll find about 15 minutes southwest of Omaha.
On the evening of our visit, the class was studying together a Bible lesson called “Discipleship Brings New Relationships” that covered timely topics ranging from the challenge of self-denial to how to thoughtfully navigate spiritually dangerous relationships, especially with unbelieving family during and after conversion who may try to pull one back into the world, and the difference our new spiritual family can make in championing us to overcome such temptations.
The lesson noted that as elevated as the family unit is in the scriptures (1 Timothy 5:8), when Jesus talks about discipleship, He points to the one thing that is even more sacred when He says “If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples." (Luke 14:26-27). It’s one thing to have to leave an unscrupulous place of employment or a powerful, yet unethical position on a board or committee, or a circle of familiar but immoral friends, but what Christ demands is even more radical than this! He calls us to nothing less than a lifelong commitment to put God's kingdom first in our lives, even before the relationships we’ve cherished since childhood. Some will claim His demands are too extreme, and they would be absolutely right if Jesus Christ were not God, but Jesus Christ is in fact God and has given up much more for us than we could ever give up for Him. And the truth is, no matter how difficult a sacrifice may appear to us if God requires it, then it must ultimately be good for us and others.
The secret about self-denial that the enemy of our souls would move heaven and earth to hide from us, is that self-denial can actually be one of the most liberating experiences of one's life! In fact, so much goodness can spring from self-denial that Thomas Carlyle has called it “the parent of all virtue” because its the one thing that can finally free us from the biggest problem in our lives: ourselves, and our willing enslavement to the sin of self-worship. There’s no surer way to miss the marvels around us than to be absorbed by self, thus self-denial means that instead of being a narcissist staring at one’s own reflection, divine possibilities can now open up because I can love Someone more important than myself. Of course, as Thomas Merton has noted, “Our self-denial must, first of all, be humble. Otherwise, it is a contradiction in terms. If we deny ourselves in order to think ourselves better than other men, our self-denial is only self-gratification”. True that!
It’s incredibly challenging when one is a newborn Christian motivated by having found the Pearl of Great Price, to run home to share the Good News with the physical family he or she loves most in this world, only to be met with rejection of the gospel, and what’s worse in some cases, a full-on assault to try to pull one away from everything that is good for one’s soul. With humility, prayer, gentleness, and patience sometimes the defensive attitudes of a new Christian’s family will begin to soften and curiosity can sometimes lead to a willingness to look at the facts long enough to see the logic behind the new convert sticking with his or her new way of living. No matter their response, one thing is for sure, Jesus promises every sacrifice and act of self-denial will be worth it. "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions and in the age to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
Orlando would agree. He was one of quite a few members who after Bible class were interested in touring our van and hanging out for a good, long talk in the parking lot to share ideas --- engaging us outside their meeting house with sincere interest longer than any other congregation we had visited. While Mark exchanged ideas with the others, I mostly talked to Orlando Baldwin Gonzalez, an articulate, personable 23-year-old brother-in-Christ who had been converted out of Catholicism. With honest unguardedness, he shared with me some intense private details about his life that led to his conversion and what he now does to spread truth for the Kingdom of God. He has kindly given me permission to share the details of his good work so that other confident youth whose hearts also burn to make a difference for good in the world can also be inspired to do something to help their congregation’s website have more views than even the local Chamber of Commerce! Here’s Orlando’s secret sauce that caused his congregation’s website to receive 32,272 visitors and 85,901 page views in about one month’s time.
Hey Cindy, this is Orlando Gonzalez. It was a great pleasure to meet you and your husband. You asked for a summary of what I do online in an effort to spread the Gospel, and so here I am! To give you the rundown, I share a large amount of Christian material on Reddit, one of the largest discussion and content-sharing platforms in the world. The material I share ranges from articles, Q&As, and sermons, to podcast videos, studies, and even art pieces made by fellow Christians… lavistachurchofchrist.org has been my main source of where I've been getting this content, as well as Jefferson David Tant's email newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org), https://thepreachersword.com, … and sermon videos from multiple Churches of Christ on Youtube.
Now, I would like to say that the main reason why I chose to do this is because no one else seemed to have been doing it. You see, I was initially part of a Discord [chat app] group called "Teens for Christ", which was mainly filled with young adults, teens, and pre-teens from Churches of Christ all over the country. I made myself known to others fairly quickly, and one of the things I did was bring up content from my congregation's website that touched directly on subjects that were either interesting for other members to take a look at, or to directly answer against those who had differing worldviews. I was starting to see that the group was, unfortunately, becoming less and less active with members either becoming too busy or not liking the state that the group was in now because we ended up inviting liberal Christians and non-Christians into the mix, which inevitably sparked drama. That was when I suddenly had the idea of sharing this content on Reddit. I knew there were huge communities like r/Christianity (364K members), r/TrueChristian (89K members), r/Christian (83k members), and r/Christians (60k members) that were made primarily to discuss Christianity, but from what I saw, barely anyone in these subreddits were actually Christians, nor even knew basic knowledge of what the Bible talked about. Worse yet, there were (and still are) people in these groups who go out of their way to slander, malign, mock, and insult people who have contrary views to them, and they are rarely punished for their actions. On the flip side, those who do make controversial (and take on the right stance on certain hot topics) will get their posts taken down and will either become temporarily or permanently banned. The worst offender is r/Christianity, because not only is it an extremely liberal subreddit, but the moderators in that community aren't even Christians at all. One of them is even an atheist, and another claims themselves to be a "Methodist trans lesbian". It's absolutely ludicrous! You could probably tell the atmosphere that these kinds of people would help develop in a community like this, and it's disappointing to see how it's the largest "Christian" community on the site. Many who want to learn more about Christianity would want to go into a subreddit like this one because it is so easily accessible and known, but it'll likely just cause them to come out feeling frustrated and saddened by not finding any real answers and having witnessed the absolute chaos and confusion that exists in there. All the other subreddits also have corrupt leadership and contrived rules. Some are better than others by being technically conservative and tolerating (sometimes even agreeing) to the material I present, but others have shown little to no leeway, or even mercy on me standing firm to what the Bible says.
As of now, I've been shunned away from r/Christian and r/Christians, mainly because I either stand with Church of Christ doctrine … Surprisingly, I haven't been banned from r/Christianity yet. I say this because several of my posts that have been directed towards the flaws behind homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, LGBTQ+, and the such having been taken down for reasons such as "supporting bigotry and hate speech", but I'm still able to share content on that subreddit. While my post still gets lots of downvotes and negative comments (as well as on other subreddits), my focus isn't really on changing the minds of those who have big mouths and have nothing constructive, productive, or respectful to say. My real focus is on those users who mainly just keep quiet and lurk around the subreddits in search of posts that might catch their interest. If they have been wondering about something for quite some time and aren't pleased with the other answers that people have been making up, but come across my posts, they would be quick to notice that the way the authors, presenters, or commentators announce their stances and arguments with the support of correctly-used Biblical text, they would hopefully start to notice that these people act very differently compared to others. Maybe it would start their journey in diving into places like my church's website to discover more Biblical information and figure out what they need to do in their lives.
Currently, I usually make five to six posts per day on the following subreddits:
r/Christianity (Left-leaning, 364k members)
r/TrueChristian (centrist and right-leaning, 89.2k members)
r/Christendom (right-leaning, 682 members)
r/LearningGod (unknown general stance, 252 members)
r/churchofchrist (left-leaning, 1.5k members)
r/4Christ4real (unknown general stance, 234 members)
My efforts have gained quite a bit of attention, with many, of course, throwing insults and crazy accusations … They really do get worked up for what I have to share and say, but it isn't all that bad. I have gotten comments from people who have appreciated my posts at least. I have even ended up helping people stop their tracks from walking down the path of sin, recognizing the danger of Hell, and I've even helped someone find a Church of Christ in their area! Even though those types of things don't happen often, they still DO happen, and it's why I still go and share this content. I know it's helping people out there in this country, if not the world. As long as I have a computer, and have access to Reddit, I'll still continue doing what I need to do. People need to stop being truth-seekers and become truth-knowers because these Christian subreddits mainly consist of people constantly complaining and arguing against each other about the state of the country, societal issues, the flaws of the Left and the Right, the government either beginning to persecute Christians or being too "nationalistic" for Christianity, how Christianity is dwindling and how they could stop it, and more. It's a constant pattern I see and I'm tired of it. Someone has to step up to sound the horn and promote what God REALLY says about something. Whether these people agree or not with what I have to say or share, it's up to them at the end of the day. I'm just hoping this will promote much-needed positive change in our country by getting the lost to finally open their eyes and submit to God.
Orlando B. Gonzalez
Orlando Baldwin Gonzalez is truly a Joshua of his generation, standing firm for truth and making a difference for good beyond what he can ever know. He lives out the self-denial of a warrior as he willingly takes on the chin the personal insults he receives online when he shares God’s truths on these sites so that this wisdom can be made available to good and honest hearts. Thank Heaven God has not given him a spirit of timidity but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). I’m certain there are many such young soldiers of Christ that would be just as cool with the “downvotes and negative comments” of the deceived and also quite willing to, in this way, return God’s love for their hate.
But here’s the thing: La Vista has a killer website, so Orlando knows when he’s sharing these eye-opening links from his congregation’s website, visitors will likely find information on whatever they are seeking, and hopefully stumble on things in the process they didn’t even realize they needed.
I love the casual, well-worded, conversational tone of how they’ve described themselves in their “who we are”, “what to expect when you get here” and “what we believe” sections of the website, but what makes their site brilliant is the fact that the preacher, Jeffrey W. Hamilton, routinely posts 1 or 2 pages to the site daily of all the best, most accurate external resources he can find. Because of this discipline and Orlando’s knowing where to share these truths, this site that was started twenty years ago is now visited by 31,000 unique visitors per month who are viewing about 518,000 posts and pages EACH MONTH. These pages include around 3K biblical graphic illustrations, 2,420 articles, 1,027 audio lessons, 51 complete studies and workbooks, 97 pulled quotes on moral issues, 812 sermon outlines, 112 notes to provide a starter for sermons, short talks, or articles, and get this: 8,367 answers to questions. That’s right! Visitors are welcome to send in their questions via email to email@example.com, and whatever question has not already been answered, is added to this invaluable collection along with a biblically sound answer. The La Vista church is meeting people all over the world where they are, and where they are is on the internet.
How’s your congregation’s website doing in terms of outreach? I hope Jeffrey and Orlando have inspired you to make it all it can be. It’s so worth the investment.
La Vista Church of Christ
8920 Granville Parkway
La Vista, Nebraska 68128