Prophecy Fulfilled

Sdnchez, Arizona, Cradle of Hispanic Adventism

The Gila River Valley in Sanchez, Arizona, which is close to the border of New Mexico, formed the cradle of Hispanic Adventism in North America. In the summer of 1899, a young student from Healdsburg College (later Pacific Union College) in California, traveled to Tucson, Arizona to work as what was known in those days as a "colportor"

When this young man set out to sell Spirit of Prophecy books to earn a scholarship for college, he had no idea how far-reaching his work would be, nor did he know that he would become instrumental in the conversion of some of the first Hispanic Adventists and the first Hispanic pastor in North America.

The first Adventist converts were members of a Methodist family named Sanchez, who had settled in the Gila River basin near San Jose, Arizona. Much credit should be given to the faithful literature evangelists who, in many cases, were the first Seventh-day Adventists to bring the Advent message to the Hispanic people in the North American Division. These are the "unsung heroes" of God's army, the Adventist "marines," who on many occasions were the first to penetrate the unentered territories or, in this case, a people group.

Ellen G. White Prophesies About Hispanic Work in the NAD.

In 1913, Jose Abel Sanchez, one of the converted sons of the patriarch Lorenzo Sanchez, was working at the academy in Angwin, California, to support his son Ismael, who was a Abel Sanchez (left), who spoke with Ellen White, pictured with his son Ismael (right).

student there. One day Abel decided to visit Mrs. White in Elmshaven and was given a message of encouragement concerning the Hispanic work.

When Abel arrived at the two-story house in the country, Mrs. White graciously

invited him in. While getting acquainted, she noticed his Spanish accent and asked where he attended church. "I'm a member of the Spanish-speaking Adventist church in Sanchez, Arizona," Abel told her.

She then related to him the only known inspired words regarding the Spanish-speaking work in the North American Division.

It has been shown me that the Spanish work will be placed at the 'vanguard,' and march at the head of the cause of God in the United States.'

In the last three decades the Hispanic work has been among the fastest, if not the fastest, growing segment of the Adventist Church in North America. One factor that has contributed to this phenomenal growth is the fact that Hispanics have been given leadership opportunities. With dedicated leaders who understand and share the same Hispanic language and culture, successful plans can be made for the advancement of the Hispanic work. Since the '70's, Hispanics have served as administrators and departmental leaders at conference, union and division levels.



God Is First

The Sanchez Family

On August 10, 1856, Lorenzo married Juana Maria Sedillos Baca, whose mother had come from Spain. From this union 14 children were born." They established their home in Limitar, New Mexico, about six miles from Socorro. Although Lorenzo and Juana Maria both came from Catholic backgrounds, Lorenzo accepted the Baptist faith and raised his children first as Baptists and later as Methodists.'

About the time their son Adiel was born, the Sanchezes moved south to a place called El Pajarito (the little bird), which had been a fort for the Union army during the Civil War.

Since Lorenzo had been there as a soldier, he was familiar with the area and decided it was a good place to settle. Staking out several acres of land, he began clearing it to build a house and plant crops. But in the second year of their stay, disaster hit! Excessive snow melt and unusually heavy rains caused the river to overflow, flooding the entire valley and ruining crops.

An Invitation to Arizona Lorenzo had a friend, I. E. Solomon, who lived in Arizona and with whom he had served in the Civil War. One day Lorenzo received a letter from Solomon who had heard of Sanchez's misfortune. "Why don't you come to Arizona and try your luck here?" he suggested. "I have a flock of sheep your boys could herd to earn some money while you're

getting settled."

With apparently nothing to lose, Sanchez decided to accept the offer. In July 1878, he and his family packed their covered wagon with a few belongings, hitched up their team of horses, and traveled West to the Gila River valley in southeast Arizona.

Arizona—Still Part of the Frontier

When they arrived in Arizona, they found land just waiting to be homesteaded.

Lorenzo chose 136 acres in the upper Safford valley, in the lowlands of the Gila River.

This frontier area was full of mesquites, chaparral, cacti, ocotillos, and rocks. But what really made it a frontier was the fact that the Sanchez family and the other settlers shared that vast territory with the Apaches, who had occupied and roamed the land even before the Spanish settlers arrived.



Geronimo on his horse. (left)  Nachez, the son of Cochise on - horse back (right).

Geronimo's son is standing on the right.1888.



The Apaches of the

Southwest were divided into six subtribes. The most dreaded subtribe of all was the "Be-don-ko-he," whose chief was the much-feared "Gerdnimo." His tribe occupied the mountainous country west of the eastern border of Arizona and south of the headwaters of the Gila River."

Ger6nimo was revered for his fearless bravery in battle, not only by his own tribe but also by the five other Apache subtribes. He was eventually made "War Chief" of all the Apaches.'

His Indian name was "Go kla yeh." but after a battle with the Mexicans

in which he avenged the death of his mother, young wife and children, the Mexicans called him "Ger6nimo." This was because the day the Mexicans had attacked his nomadic encampment, massacring his family, was the Catholic St. Geronimo's day. The name stuck among both the Indians and the white men."

Geronimo once told S. M. Barrett, who helped him write his autobiography,

"During my many wars with the Mexicans, I received eight wounds, as follows: shot in the right leg above the knee, and still carry the bullet; shot through the left forearm; wounded in the right leg below the knee with a saber; wounded on top of the head with the butt of a musket; shot just below the outer corner of the left eye; shot in left side, shot in the back."

The adobe Sanchez church, built in 1896, which became the first Spanish Adventist Church in North America on December 23, 1899.


Apaches Befriend the Sanchez Boys

In the spring, Don (Sir) Lorenzo and his sons planted main (corn) and calabazas

(pumpkins) on the river bottom of their property. The boys tended sheep for I. E. Solomon in the hills north of the Gila River to earn a little income until their crops could be harvested. While working in the hills herding the sheep, the older sons had a couple of encounters with the Apaches, both of which fortunately ended on a friendly note. They soon developed a friendship with the Apaches, who would bring their children to play with the Sanchez children. Wrestling was their favorite game. Eventually the Sanchez boys came to know the invincible and much-dreaded GerOnimo, as well as some of his warriors and other Apaches, like Nachez the son of Cochise, who roamed that area of the Southwest.

Abel and Adiel developed such a level of trust and friendly coexistence with the

Apaches that whenever the Apaches planned a raid on the town of Safford, 14 miles west of the Sanchez rancherfa (ranch), one of Geronimo's young sons would see to it that the Sanchez family was forewarned. "Tomorrow we are going to raid the town of Safford. So don't go into town," was the usual warning.

When Lorenzo's oldest son Ricardo married in 1886, Lorenzo gave him the farm

and returned with his family to New Mexico the following year. There he and his younger sons worked for two years in the Santa Rita mines. In the spring of 1889, he retraced his footsteps to Arizona, where for the second time he claimed land, in the upper Safford valley in a place, which later became known as Sanchez. Lorenzo lived there with his family until his death in 1899.'

Church, the Center of

Their Lives The Sanchezes were Baptists, but since there was no Baptist Church in the area, Lorenzo and his family joined

the local Methodist Church.'


When Don Lorenzo returned to Sanchez, Arizona, in 1889, he was visited by Pastor Marcial Serna, a Methodist minister from Tucson who was also in charge of the Spanish Methodist work in five states (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California).

Marcial Serna was born in

El Paso, Texas in 1860. No one seems to know the exact location. He was a short, small-framed mestizo

(Spanish and Indian mix), whose ancestors were from Mexico. He was a

noble, patient, gentle Christian man, with no higher desire than to be a tireless, consecrated worker for the Lord.

In 1896, the Sanchez boys built a church of adobe on the land of their brother Ricardo.



This iglesia (church) became the center of their lives. From time to time the sight of a blushing bride dressed in a white gown and a nervous groom were seen within its thick, sacred walls. And there were times when, almost on the same spot, a rough pine coffin was placed, holding the body of one of their loved ones, as one day one would hold Lorenzo Sanchez. Every Sunday morning the Word of God was preached. Every Christmas Eve, a nativity scene was portrayed on the rostrum. And during the week, this little meeting house doubled as the Sanchez school house.

Abel and Adiel Discover the Sabbath

The Sanchez family raised vegetables and cultivated an apple and pear orchard, the produce of which they sold in the mining towns, including Morenci and Clifton. It was late summer, 1899. Adiel, who was now 25, and his brother Abel, 27, were designated to do the selling. Of all the sons, Abel and Adiel were the most mild-mannered and obedient, as well as the most spiritually inclined.

Their selling trips to the mining towns usually took an entire week. On Sundays, Abel and Adiel would camp for the day, to keep holy the "sabbath" as they knew it. And what better activity could they have on that day than to study the Bible?

On one Sunday as they were reading Exodus 20:8-11, they were surprised to discover that they were keeping the wrong day holy. The Scriptures taught that sabado (Saturday), the seventh day, was the Sabbath, not Sunday. What a revelation! The two young men were so excited that, upon returning to the rancheria, they immediately sat down and wrote to Pastor Marcial Serna. "Why do we keep Sunday?" they asked. "The Bible tells us to keep the seventh-day Sabbath."

Marcial wrote back, "I am dealing with two book salesmen on this very subject. We are going to have a debate. I will show them from the New Testament that the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday in commemoration of the resurrection of our Lord. . .As soon as I get through with these young men, I will come and teach you the truth about Sunday sacredness.""

Meanwhile in Tucson, other things were taking place that would change the lives of Pastor Serna and the Sanchez family forever.

Who despises the day of small things?"

Zechariah 4:10


Literature Evangelists Call on

Methodist Minister

IN THE summer of 1899 two Seventh-day

Adventists knocked on the door of Marcial Serna, the pastor of the Tucson Mexican Methodist-Episcopal Church.

Walter Lawrence Black, a literature evangelist, was selling Ellen G. White books in the Tucson area. Charles D. M. Williams, who had been sent to help develop the interests in Adventism that Brother Black found, accompanied him. When Serna answered the door, both Black and Williams were delighted to discover that he was  bilingual. Enthusiastically, Black proceeded to give him his canvass. However, after listening politely to Black, Pastor Serna told them, "I'm sorry, but I already have lots of books. I'm not interested in purchasing any more."

The two men left somewhat disappointed. Sensing, however, that this pastor was sincere and, if given the opportunity, might accept the Sabbath truth, they decided to try another approach. Returning the next day, Black and Williams knocked again on Serna's door. "Pastor Serna," Black began, "We're at a real disadvantage since there are so many Mexican families living here who do not speak English. We were wondering if you would be willing to teach us some Spanish so we could communicate with the people when we visit their homes."

Black and Williams Learning Spanish Serna was a sincere man and he truly wanted to help them.

"Con gusto (with pleasure)," Pastor Serna told them. "Come back tomorrow morning and we will start your lessons." Early the next morning, Black and Williams were at Serna's house learning to roll their "r's" and twist their tongues in imitation of their Spanish teacher.

"I think it would be good if we had something to look at, to be able to see the words we're trying to say," Williams suggested. "Why don't you show us some of these words in the Bible?"

"That's a very good idea," Serna agreed. Placing the Spanish and English Bibles side by side, they opened them to the first chapter of Genesis and continued their study. Everything seemed to go very well. They learned many new words such as

Dios (God), hombre (man), dia (day), noche (night), and the names for the numbers up to seis (six). The next day, however, when they started studying in Genesis, chapter two, things changed. They had only read verses two and three when the lesson ended in a disagreement over the phrase septimo dia

(seventh day) and which day was the right day to observe as the day of worship.

"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed

the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work

which God created and made." Genesis 2:2, 3 (KJV).

Serna was so confident that Sunday was the right day to observe that he challenged the two young men to a public debate on the Sunday-Saturday question.' "I know Sunday is the Sabbath. I can prove it from the New Testament. If we can't agree here, perhaps we should have a public debate and let the people decide who is right."

The Debate

On the day of the debate, many interested Christians and curious on-lookers were

present. In those days, debates were a type of entertainment. Both of the young Adventists had prepared diligently, but Walter Black would lead out. Walter had a list of more than 40 Bible verses to use in his presentation, but just before he got up to speak, the Lord impressed him to make a very simple presentation. He cut his list down to twelve.

As Walter made his presentation, Marcial Serna began to take notes for his planned rebuttal. At first his notes were detailed. But the more he listened, the fewer notes he took.

Finally, he stopped taking notes and only listened. The Holy Spirit was planting the truth in Serna's heart where it found rich and fertile ground. By the time his turn came to speak, he was convinced. Standing before the people, with a few expressive words, he confessed, "I now see that my supposed opponents have brought out the truth from God's book. I was to show them where they were wrong, but I see the truth of the Bible. It is clear from God's word that the seventh day is the Sabbath, and I promise you and God that next Saturday I will rest on that day. With God's help, I will keep His Sabbath."

After this surprising testimony, Serna invited Black and Williams to his home to discuss the matter further. He told them about the letter he had received from Abel and Adiel. "The hand of the Lord," he said, "has been working. At the right time He sent you to me. My eyes have been opened to understand His word on this particular subject. I plan to go see the young Sanchez boys in answer to their letter about the Sabbath. Will you go with me?"


The Sabbath Brings Division

to Sanchez

Meanwhile, on the Sanchez rancher-La it was harvest time. Abel and Adiel went quite often to the mining camps with their peaches, apples, and dried vegetables. One day, when they returned from one of their trips, they found a letter from Pastor Serna waiting for them. "Hey, Abel, here's a response from Pastor Serna," Adiel said as he opened the letter. "He says he'll be here in the middle of this week. The two men he was having the debate with will be here too. I wonder if he proved to them that Sunday is the Lord's day of rest? Whatever the truth is, if it is proved by the Bible, I'll accept it, Abel. Won't you?"

"Yes, Adiel," Abel agreed.

"For the last few weeks," said Adiel, "my search has been to find out about the change of the day, to see if the seventh-day Sabbath was replaced by Sunday. If it is somewhere in the Bible, I won't have any more questions in my mind. If it can't be proven by the word of God, I've made up my mind to follow His word—even if I'm the only Sabbath keeper."

That Wednesday evening, Marcial Serna came, as he had promised, and brought

with him the two literature evangelists. Pastor Serna called for a meeting and the little church filled to capacity. As Black and Williams stood to address the crowd, they were struck by the way that God was using them to bring His truth to these people.

"Here we are," they thought, "two Anglos who cannot speak Spanish, addressing an audience, most of whom cannot speak English. God, You have to help us!" But God had already taken care of the problem, as He promised in His word, "Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking will I hear." (Isaiah 65:24). Pastor Serna and Adiel were His chosen translators, and they helped deliver the message of the Sabbath to those people that evening.

Lorenzo Vows to Kill

The message, however, divided the church—and the Sanchez family! The Adventist young men decided to stay in the area and continue studying with those interested, which included Adiel and Abel. This division in the Sanchez family over which day to keep continued for several months with the tension growing to the point that the patriarch Lorenzo could stand it no longer. Intending to settle the matter once and for all, he called his entire family together.

In those days, in accordance with the Hispanic culture and tradition, the father or

patriarch of the family, did all the talking. The sons were not allowed to answer back since that would have been considered disrespectful. So the Saturday-keeping Sanchezes asked Black, Williams and Serna to be present to defend them.

After a stern lecture, Don Lorenzo had his Saturday-keeping sons and daughters

stand before him. Sitting in his chair, with his rifle across his legs, he looked each one in the eye and warned them, "This division in the family, with some worshiping on Saturday and the others worshiping on Sunday, is not good. You must give up these crazy Adventist ideas about Saturday being the Lord's Sabbath and worship the Methodist way, the way I brought you up." When he saw that he could not convince them, he was outraged and threatened, "If you do not obey me, I will kill every one of you!"

Abel and Adiel respected their father, but could not turn their backs on the truth.

Their loyalty to their Heavenly Father and His commandments took precedence over all else. Even the threat of death could not persuade them to renounce their faith.

Unfortunately for them, at the time, they were all living in their father's house.

One evening when the sons came home from work, Don Lorenzo was waiting for

them at the door. "Abel, Adiel. Have you decided to give up this foolishness about the Sabado yet?"

"Papa, we cannot do other than what the Bible tells us," they answered respectfully.

"Well, since you will not renounce your faith, I have no choice but to disown you.

You are no longer my sons. You are no longer Sanchezes. Take your belongings, your family, your Sabbath and get out of my house immediately!" Sadly and with heavy hearts, the two young men, their wives and little ones packed their few belongings and moved outside—into the yard, for there was nowhere else to go. For a time they were forced to live under the alamo (cottonwood) trees near the house, sleeping outdoors, eating outdoors, and cooking on an open stove. But their faith never waivered. They had promised to follow God's Word, even if they were the only ones. Eventually, a relative had pity on them and took them in. They had passed the test, and God provided for them.

First Hispanic Baptism in Arizona

In December, 1899, Black and Williams had a group of 15 people ready for baptism.

Among them were Marcial Serna and Abel and Adiel Sanchez, along with other members of the Sanchez family. Black and Williams contacted the Arizona Mission in Phoenix, requesting that someone be sent to baptize the group. Elder R. M. Kilgore, who was in charge of District number five of the General Conference, responded to the call and boarded the train.

When Elder Kilgore arrived, he met with the baptismal candidates, went over the

doctrines with them and found them all firmly grounded in the truth. Arrangements were made for a baptismal service and on the cold but sunny afternoon of December 9, 1899, he led them to the bank of the Gila River, where one by one he immersed them in the chilly waters of the river. Pastor Marcial Serna was the first convert into the Gila River for his spiritual burial and resurrection to a new life as a Seventh-day Adventist.'

Dying Words of Lorenzo Sanchez

Meanwhile, Don Lorenzo was determined to make good on his threat and had acquired a revolver and plenty of bullets. He planned to kill all the newly baptized Adventists when they came back to the church from the baptismal service. But what happened next is a mystery to this day. After the baptisms, the members returned to the church for the three o'clock service. Toward the end of the meeting someone came running from the Sanchez house, which was only about 1000 yards from the church. Excited and out of breath, he called to the Sanchez boys, "Your father is dying." All the sons and daughters hurried to their father's bedside, and immediately had him taken to the hospital in Solomonville. He had apparently suffered a stroke and the doctors did all they could, but to no avail. Eleven days later, on December 20, he passed away.

However, before Don Lorenzo breathed his last, he gathered his family close to his bedside and pronounced a blessing on each one. When he came to Adiel, he said, "Son,

you have been a kind and obedient son.

I was always pleased with you. But lately you have chosen to obey your heavenly Father according to your conscience. May God give you the courage and strength to do what you have determined."

Organization of the First Spanish Church

On December 23, the Sanchez Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized, becoming the first Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.

Elder R. M. Kilgore and C. D. M. Williams officiated. When the church elected officers, it was no surprise that Adiel Sanchez became the elder of the church.'°

The little adobe church now became even more central in the lives of the Sanchez family, not only for their spiritual well-being, but also for the Christian education of their children. They were no longer satisfied to have just any teacher because they wanted their children to have an education that included God. They knew that an education without God would not be sufficient for this world, much less for the one to come.


"And all thy chil-dren shall be taught of the Lord," (Isaiah 54:13) they had read in the Bible. "Send us an Adventist teacher,"

the people asked the leaders at the Arizona Mission.

In response to their request, Augusta de Angeles, who also served as a Bible worker, was sent, becoming the first Adventist teacher to serve in Sanchez.

Subsequent Adventist teachers were F. M. Owen, H. F. Courter, Lorenzo Stump

and Harold Ward."

The Church That Was Never Completed

The Methodist members of the Sanchez family decided to hand over the little adobe church to the new Adventist believers. "We will give you this church," the Methodists said, "with the condition that you help us build a new church for our members." The Adventists agreed and both groups promptly laid the foundation and put up the walls and the doors. However, before they could get the roof on, it began to rain. It was a heavy rainstorm. The water continued to pour down, day after day, without stopping, causing the project to come to a complete halt. When the rain finally stopped several days later, the Sanchez family ventured out to inspect what was supposed to have been the new church. What they found was that the building was flooded. The unprotected adobe walls had become water-logged and two of them had collapsed. There was no way to salvage it and it remained that way, never to be completed.

In 1927 the Sanchez Adventist congregation built another church building in the same general area. The shell of that little church still stands. Angel Tarin, one of the family members, relates an interesting note in connection with that church: "If baptismal candidates were still wearing some jewelry when they got up to take their vows on the platform of the church, the pastor would ask them to remove their jewelry and drop the rings, earrings and bracelets through the cracks of the platform floor so no one would ever get them. Stella Lopez remembers that her mother, Reyes, dropped her jewelry through the cracks in the platform on the day of her baptism. Many years later, when the building was no longer in use, treasure hunters who knew about this custom went into the building and tore up the planks, searching for the discarded 'worldly' jewelry."

As the years passed, the children of the charter members moved away. Some went to Adventist colleges and became nurses and teachers. Many served in other church institutions. Augustine, son of Adiel, and Ismael, son of Abel, prepared for the ministry and served several years as missionaries in Mexico. Adiel's grandson, Albert Sanchez, with a doctorate in science, taught at the University of Montemorelos. Because of the gradual exodus of young people, in 1946 it was decided to merge the Sanchez Spanish church with the Safford English church, leaving the Tucson Spanish Church as the oldest Adventist Spanish congregation still worshiping in North America today.



The Untold Story   27-38





Marcial Serna was a Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas in 1860.

For 17 years he served as a Methodist pastor before being converted to the Adventist faith in 1899. He was one of the first Hispanic converts to be baptized in the Gila River that same year and became the first Hispanic Seventh-day Adventist minister in North America. In 1900 the General Conference issued him a ministerial license and in 1901 he became a member of the Arizona Mission Executive Committee. Serna was responsible for raising up several Hispanic Adventist congregations in the Southwest. His 36 years of dedicated denominational service touched and blessed the lives of countless Hispanic families. He passed to his rest in 1935 in Sanchez, Arizona.