Vernon Raber moved to Florida at the age of 20, in an effort to get as far away from his Amish upbringing as possible. Being overweight as a child, Raber had been ruthlessly mocked by his Amish schoolmates and church peers and wanted to escape as soon as he could.
Florida brought its own share of challenges, however, and Raber found himself embroiled in drugs and alcohol. He moved back to Ohio, but decided to attend a Mennonite church instead.
Several years later, Raber’s mother passed away. Having been taught all his life that when someone died, they went straight to heaven or hell, he couldn’t help but wonder if his mother had made it to heaven. The mental picture of his mother screaming and writhing in the eternal fires of hell almost drove him out of his mind. With subsequent deaths in his family, the mystery of death kept gnawing at Raber and led him to begin searching for answers.
Around this time, his brother Abe discovered Adventist sermons on YouTube and began sharing them with Vernon. When Vernon discovered that the Bible did not teach an eternally-burning hell, but a swift, just punishment after the close of time, his sense of relief was indescribable.
Then after learning on YouTube about West Salem Mission, Abe asked Vernon to drive him there. Vernon was happy to oblige. The moment Vernon walked into the worship service, he was awash with a strong sense that this was where he was supposed to be.
As a devoted steak-eater, the only thing he did not like was the after-church potluck. “Man, that vegetarian food is awful,” he complained to Abe after their first visit. Now, one year later, not only is the potluck fellowship one of his favorite things about the church, he has lost more than 50 pounds by following the Adventist health message.
“I used to dread going to church,” shares Vernon. “Even when I was attending the Mennonite church, it was always a toss-up between going to church or Bob Evans [restaurant], and often Bob Evans would win out. Now going to West Salem, I can’t wait for Sabbath to come so I can go! It’s been an education like I’ve never had in my life.”
Abe agrees. Growing up, “I was taught it was keeping church rules that saved me, and if I sinned, I would just have to confess it to my bishop. Since becoming acquainted with Adventists and studying the Bible for myself, the best thing I’ve learned is to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, and that is what really saves,” he says.