Week of Prayer Pastor Addresses Difficult Topics with Empathy and Encouragement

By Laura Gang on May 4, 2023

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When pastors address a difficult subject in their messages, they must do so with great care and preparation, especially if there are no easy answers. It’s not often that a pastor addresses five complex topics in a week. But Pastor Josie Ascencio did precisely that. 

Pacific Union College held its annual spring Week of Prayer from April 17-21. Students led out in praise and worship songs and icebreaker activities each day. Ascencio, head pastor of the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke on the year’s theme of “Revival.” Her topics included brokenness, isolation, and despair—and the importance of building community and connection by reaching out. Each message centered on a biblical story of physical and emotional healing.

Ascencio began with the story of Jacob, who was far from perfect and so concerned with himself that he even swindled his father out of his brother’s birthright.

But then, Ascencio said, came the struggle in the desert and the dream revealing angels descending and ascending a ladder from heaven to earth. God showed Jacob he was still with him.

“You’re a stealer? I’ll make you a giver! All the world will be blessed,” Ascencio said. In Jacob, she continued, we learn that God continues to be with us no matter how far from Him we think we are.

“I really enjoyed her message today, emphasizing that God isn’t looking for us to be perfect, to act a certain way,” said senior Keren Castro. “He just wants to be with us. Even though Jacob was a broken man, God still loved him.”

In Tuesday’s message, Aim Low, Ascencio contrasted the humility of the woman who reached for the tassels of Jesus’ robe in faith with the proud stance of the disciples who considered her an outcast.

“God loves people even when society has given us permission to ignore them,” Ascencio said. “So let’s not hold up societal standards. Let’s hold up God’s standards and how we live on this campus.”

Ascencio also preached on the power of community and connection at a time when there is so much loneliness and isolation. She encouraged students to reach out to one another, seek support from counseling services on campus, and reminded them that they are not alone—many people are hurt and lonely.

Senior Alex Chuquimi said, “This service was an important call to action to look out for family and friends who are in a season of distress. And it was a reminder that God is always there in the broken places, and He hears you when you call.”

At the end of the week, Ascencio focused on the story from John 9, when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. She noted that the Pharisees weren’t upset because he was healed; instead, they were jealous and upset that they didn’t get the credit.

Instead of being happy for the blind man—the outcast—who could now see, they were angry and wanted him to leave.  Ascencio said that sometimes the church doesn’t treat people as it should. She talked about the pain that the church has sometimes caused people. She reminded them that the church is not God or Jesus—the ones who can truly understand, heal and change lives.

What gave the blind man hope and healing was that “Jesus entered the scene,” Ascencio said. When people fail us, even well-meaning people, it’s important to remember that there is one who never will.  “It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, that gives life and life in abundance,” she said.

In Jesus, there is true revival.