The following interview was conducted by Hope Channel Romania almost ten years ago when the guest, Pastor Don Schneider, was the president of the Adventist Church in North America. Last year, on May 23, he passed away at the age of 76. Those who follow Hope Channel remember that, for a few seasons, they were able to watch his show, Really Living. Every show and every sermon invariably began with a confession: Jesus is my Friend, my Saviour, my Lord, my Friend. And often, looking someone in the eye, he would add: He wants to be your Friend, too!
What was the most significant moment of your childhood?
Our family was not very religious. My father was in the business of putting furnaces in houses and businesses. That’s how he got to a church. Those there took faith very seriously. My father said to his workers: “Tomorrow, when you come to work, you bring your noon meal, you bring an evening meal, you bring something to eat at midnight, and you bring breakfast for the next day, as we’re gonna work right through the night. Because it’s very cold and I want to start the furnace so that people can come to church.”
But on Friday, someone from the church came and said, “After lunch, pack your tools and go home.” It was a Seventh-day Adventist church. My father became friends with the people there, and we began to study the Bible together, and in time, it ignited our faith and gave a new meaning to our lives.
Our extended family sometimes gathers at a hotel and we spend time together. We talked to our family members about how our forerunners came from Europe. I went to a library and found pictures of the ship they came in, which I showed them. And I discovered something else. From my mother’s side, a larger group had come all together. And they came with only one piece of luggage. Those on my father’s side had nothing with them. They came with what they had. When they arrived, they settled in Wisconsin and began a new life there. But they did not embrace a new religion. Then we went on to tell them that our family had adopted a new way of believing when we took God’s service seriously.
How old were you when your family made this change?
I was eight, up to ten years old, but it was a very important decision for me.
So you took part in all those discussions?
Oh yes! Because of that time of studying the Bible, I began to know Jesus personally. But during adolescence, I didn’t keep those things in mind. I went to a boarding school and forgot quite a bit. I regret that. But one Friday night, my roommate was not with me. I went and locked the door to be alone. I knelt by the bed and said to God, “I want you to take my life! I want to serve you! I will be yours. Come into my life!” Since then I have wanted to serve Him. I don’t mean to say that I was perfect, but I have served Him ever since I was about 17 years old.
Do you remember what drove you to make that decision?
A friend of mine had told me, “I want to become a true Christian.” Christians call this a personal testimony and I believe in its power. When you talk to me and tell me that you are serving Jesus, it has an influence on me. I hope that today, when we remind them of Jesus’ ministry, people will say, “I want to serve Jesus, too!”
So the day the boy told me about Jesus, I knelt by the bed and entrusted my life to Jesus.
When did you consider becoming a pastor?
The next day! I would walk from the boys’ dormitory to the cafeteria and sing. You should know that I don’t have a good voice. But I kept singing, and the words were, “I wondered far away from God / But now I’m coming home.” That’s when I started thinking about becoming a pastor. And this is what I have done all my life: I have been a pastor for over 40 years, and I praise God for this opportunity.
How did you come up with the idea of the “Really Living” show?
When I worked in California, I had a radio show and I really liked it. Then someone asked me if I could do the same for Hope Channel. That’s how I started. I choose people who have a special life story and can talk about it.
I have interviewed a lot of people. In one show, a lady told how she set up a church. I called her and said:
– I want to come see the church.
– No, I don’t want you to come.
– Why not? What is the problem?
– You don’t know how to dress in my church.
– I’ve been to church my whole life.
– I know, but you don’t know how to dress here.
– Where am I wrong?
– You’re going to scare my people. You will probably wear a suit and tie. My people will be afraid. People who come to my church don’t have a house, they live under a bridge, and they’ll think you have come to arrest them. That’s why I don’t want you to come. However, if you do not come in a suit, you can come.
That’s what I did. I left my suit in the car and went into the church. It wasn’t really a church building, it was a pizza place. I was helping with the cleaning, and when a man came in, I asked him:
– How are you doing?
– Wonderful, he said. I’m clean. I haven’t taken any drugs in a week.
That’s when I realised what the problem was with my clothes. Everyone in that church was like that. Everyone said, “I just quit drugs,” or “I just got out of jail.” Her church was for such people. And I thank God for what she does.
I also had a doctor on the show who, in his spare time, removes tattoos. I asked him why it is so important, and he explained to me: “Tattoos have a meaning, they tell a story. Tears tattoos mean you killed someone. Nobody wants to deal with you. Without tattoos, one can start a new life.”
I also interviewed my doctor, a lady. I was sick and she helped me get well. Did you know I had a brain tumor—more of a brain cyst? One day I told my wife, “I can’t see very well. I have to go get other glasses.” But it wasn’t better. From doctor to doctor, I came across one who found that peripheral vision was affected and said, “An MRI is needed,” and made an appointment. That’s how I found out I had a brain tumor. I was sent to a neurosurgeon.
When did this happen?
Four years ago. I made an appointment and when I arrived, the waiting room was full. But the nurse came and told us: “The doctor has carried out an emergency operation and will not come in today. We will need to reschedule in two weeks.” I was the last one called and the nurse told me: “I know, you are very ill and you can’t wait two weeks. Come back tomorrow and you will be consulted.”
The next day, the doctor told me, “You need surgery.” I said, “But I have a lot of important things to do and I’d like to wait a few weeks.” “No problem,” he replied. “It simply came to our notice then. That tumor presses on a nerve. In three weeks, the nerve will be dead and you won’t be able to see for the rest of your life.”
I said to myself: This man really knows how to be convincing! “In that case,” I told him, “let’s schedule the operation.” And he operated on me, cutting through my mouth, nose, sinuses, made a hole in the skull and punctured that cyst to allow the fluid to drain. When I woke up after the operation, I could see. He had told me that I might be able to see again, but only after three or even six months. But I could see the day after the operation. I was very happy. I was excited. In fact, I woke up during the night and looked at the door and I could see the wood fibre, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Then I looked around and enjoyed what I saw. Then I said: I want to look at my wife for a long time, because I want to know exactly what she looks like.
I had to do another MRI. In two years, the cyst has grown again. The doctor told me, “This time, it pushes a little in another direction. I need to operate on you again.” Then he looked at me and asked me:
– But how did you get to my office?
– What do you mean? I came and went.
– You mean you can walk?
– Of course!
– The cyst is so big that I’m surprised you can walk. But, because you don’t look like you have a problem, I want you to go to another doctor, to get a second opinion.
I went to that doctor and I said, “I have to travel. I’m going to the Philippines for a conference.” But he told me, “No, you can’t. You may not be able to walk at all. If you want to wait, go back to the office and wait until you are paralyzed, then ask someone to call us and then maybe we can help you with something. Although we are not sure.”
The two doctors talked to each other and, after four days, I underwent a new surgery. They extracted the liquid through a hole they made in the skull. And then I had another operation. I told the doctor: “I see that the problem is not solved. I can’t come every few months for surgery. Can anything else be done? Couldn’t I be treated with a proton beam?”
“Okay,” he told me, “I’ll call a hospital where I know such treatment is being done.” I told him, “Call the hospital in Loma Linda. I know it very well.” But he said, “No, I’ll call a Boston hospital.” Two weeks later, my doctor confessed to me: “I don’t know what’s going on. They should have replied by now, it’s been too long.” Then I asked him, “Don’t you want me to give you the phone number at Loma Linda University Hospital?”
The next day he said to me, amazed: “I left them a message, and these people called me in two minutes! You have to go there.” I went. I can’t explain exactly what these proton radiations are. It’s something very special. This beam of protons has a long journey, through the hospital basement, through a tube, goes in circles and, in the end, is projected to the patient. This treatment has been used for over two decades for prostate treatments. What makes it so efficient is its accuracy, it reaches its target with great precision. For each patient a mold is prepared, in my case a kind of mask, fixed with screws, to keep absolutely the same position during the radiation treatment. I had 30 treatments, five times a week. Now that tumor is no longer growing.
So I praise God for my doctor, for the high-performance equipment. The doctor confessed to me: “I like working here. In this hospital I can talk to people and pray with them. And I pray that God will heal you.” I was healed because of the good treatments, and because of God’s blessings.
For several years you lived anxiously, in a state of intense waiting. How has this influenced your walk with God?
At first, when I discovered that I could no longer read, I could no longer drive, I asked myself: Will I have to stay at home for the rest of my life and, at most, watch TV? But I praise God for helping me see and read again. Every day when I wake up, I look around and say: Thank you, Jesus! Today I can see, I can walk. I did it today: Thank you for giving me this day! I don’t know what tomorrow will be like, but I know I can see today, I can see what tie you’re wearing, and it’s amazing! There are many other things I can do and see. I probably never thought I would thank God for everything that happens in my body, but now I always remember to thank Him for my eyes, for being able to walk. After the operations I always wondered: Will I still be able to walk? But praise be to God that I can walk, see and do all sorts of things. It’s great!
This is what it means to be really living in difficult conditions and without the security of tomorrow.
That’s right, this is what it means to truly live. For a while I lived in insecurity, but now I believe that God has healed me and I praise Him for taking care of me.
I had told the office: “I may not come back because I don’t know what can happen. I prayed and I know that God will answer my prayers. But I don’t know how. So, if I do not return to this office, know that my faith in Him is strong. I believe in Him and I believe that He takes care of me. One day, I will be able to see again. If not, when Jesus comes, I will surely see.” But I was able to go back to the office and that’s great.
Do you think your preaching has been changed in any way by this experience?
Yes, for sure. Even before that I took my preaching seriously. But now I think I know Jesus better than before. He is a very special friend. He spent time with me in hospitals. I talk to Him a lot every day. I have done this before, but now I say to Him, “I want to give you my life today to use as you wish.” One day I said to Him, “If Your name will be glorified more by the fact that I cannot see, help me to accept this. But I think you have the strength to heal me.” And He healed me and I praise His name.
I told my children, “I don’t know what will happen. I have served God, and you must serve God.” It is great to have the assurance that you are in God’s hands, no matter what the future holds, no matter what life is like, and no matter what your health status is.
Both during your life and in the “Really Living” program, you have discovered that you can live to the fullest, even if a tumor appears, even if your son has run away from home, and so on. I have a question: What if you are healthy, if you have a good job, the children are fine, the relationship with the wife is good, nothing out of the ordinary happens. Maybe you just feel a little tired…
I think I’ve lived most of my life this way. I think that even when everything goes well, I can’t rely on myself. I don’t know how to lead my life. I believe that only God can keep my life safe. He says to me, “I have a plan for you, which is revealed in the Gospel of John: ‘I have come that My followers may have life, and have it abundantly.'”
I do not know anyone who has given his life to Jesus and who concludes that this was a mistake. But I have seen many who got to the end of their lives and said, “I did all sorts of things and I thought I would be happy. I was wrong. I should have surrendered my life to Jesus sooner.” He has a special life for you and me. If you want to feel that you are really living, give your life to Jesus!
How do you view the second coming of Jesus?
It will be soon—I don’t know how soon. I want everyone to know that they can have a place in the new world He is preparing. I want to live in the house he makes for me as soon as possible.
If life in heaven began tomorrow, what would you like to do on your first day?
I definitely want to see Jesus, I want to talk to Him and ask Him why I had this brain tumor. Then I want to start my education. He will explain to me about the universe, about the stars. He will tell me why he created one animal or another, he will talk to me about food and all sorts of things. It will be very good there, there will be a lot of joy. That will be eternity—always with Jesus!