When Melinda Durller was first invited to an Adventist church, she agreed to go out of curiosity and reciprocity—for the Adventist friend who invited her had previously accepted Melinda’s invitation to attend her Baptist church. But Melinda found that her visit to the Adventist church in Bennington, Vermont, had awakened a vague nagging at the back of her mind.
She attended a few more times, and the nagging blossomed into a realization that the Sabbath truth had been tugging at her heart for literally decades. She engaged in Bible studies with the Bennington church pastor, Mark Atwood, and his wife, Ruth. By the time the Bible studies were over and Melinda was to be baptized in September of 2020, the ceremony itself was a bit more muted and sparsely attended than it would have been, because the pandemic was in full swing.
Right after her baptism, the Atwoods invited Melinda to a health weekend at Camp Lawroweld, and Melinda not only thoroughly enjoyed the health presentations, but fell in love with the camp. When she got an opportunity to chat with the camp director, Trevor Schlisner, she found that a renovation of the camp was going to start almost immediately with the help of a group called Maranatha. Schlisner invited her to join with Maranatha and gave her the contact information.
With the help of Mark and Ruth, Melinda looked into Maranatha and liked what she saw. It was a good organization that worked with volunteers to build churches or repair buildings at Adventist projects all over the world. She was delighted with the prospect of returning to the camp and taking up important work with good people. But her hopes were dashed when she called Maranatha and found that the project was full and new registrations were closed.
Melinda expressed her disappointment to Mark and Ruth, and when Mark heard her story, he frowned. “Let me make a call,” he told her. She’d been told registrations were closed, and the project started in only days, so she held out little hope. It wasn’t long, however, before she heard from a smiling Mark that her registration had been accepted and she was an official part of the Maranatha project at Lawroweld.
Mark never told her who he called or how he managed to pull the right strings, but Melinda now sees the whole chain of events as part of God’s plan—a plan that was only beginning to unfold. When Melinda joined the Maranatha group, she also got an immersion into Adventist culture and mission mindset. “There was worship morning and evening and amazing spiritual discussions around the campfire at night. I loved it,” she said, “And I jumped right in. I signed up to give my testimony on the third night, even though I didn’t know what a testimony was. Well, when the first testimony was given, the man who gave it went on at length. All of a sudden, I was really nervous. I was awake the whole night before I was to give my testimony, praying to God to help me know what to say. At the end of the night, I felt God telling me to use my drum—which I had for some reason taken with me. ‘Talk about finding Me and play your drum,’ He seemed to be saying. And so I did, and it helped start several conversations with people on the project that I hadn’t met yet.”
One of those people was Alan Stevenson, who had traveled with his dog and some friends to the project from North Dakota. “Apparently, he liked my drum playing,” said Melinda, “because we started spending quite a bit of time together, including taking his dog for walks most evenings. It wasn’t long before he invited me out to dinner.” Melinda confesses that she hadn’t gone to the project looking to meet someone. “My husband of 45 years passed away a couple of years previous to my becoming an Adventist, and I wasn’t looking for a relationship, but it seems God had other plans.”
That dinner led to the couple spending still more time together and, when the project was over, it was difficult to part. Melinda signed up for another Maranatha project, this time in Tennessee. Alan returned home and kept in touch with Melinda by text and phone, but found after a few weeks that he really wanted to be in Tennessee and see Melinda in person. In the end, he couldn’t make it happen because of work commitments, but he did invite Melinda out to North Dakota for an extended visit, and she accepted. A few weeks later, on December 7, 2020, on the shore of the lake at the Dakota Conference’s Northern Lights Camp, Alan asked Melinda to marry him. They were married on January 21 at her church in Bennington, Vermont.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, God works His plans out. Melinda and Alan now have a home in both North Dakota and Vermont and are trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Two things they know for sure: God and Maranatha will be in their future.