Southwestern Adventist University Alumni Geraldo Alonso II (’09) presented a dynamic Week of Prayer on the theme of praise. He shared what praise to God looks like in real life, for example, after his family lost everything in a flood. In his sermons, he says he likes to use real-life examples so listeners can realize, I’m not the only one going through this. “Growing up, I wish someone would have done that—modeled that—for me,” Pastor Alonso explained.
Pastor Alonso set the tone for the week on Monday by explaining that praising God is really about understanding who God is and how we relate to Him. He opened with the creation story, how the earth was in primordial chaos and disorder, or tohu va-vohu, a Hebrew term meaning chaos and disorder. In the creation story God brought order to creation, but the message was, He does not stop there. “Whenever there’s chaos and disorder in our lives, God works to recreate the disorder into order, and it manifests itself as good news, as hope, which often brings us reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, because God brings us the things we need, and He puts all the pieces back together. That’s why we praise God,” he preached.
On Tuesday, Pastor Alonso brought out another facet of creation from Psalm 139—how God knew us even before we were born. Knowing that, as we go through life and experience moments of chaos and disorder and fear and frustration that God knew what we would face, Pastor Alonso encouraged students, “He shows up the way we need Him to, giving us the comfort and peace we need, and that’s why we praise God.”
Pastor Alonso's topic on Wednesday was what happens when we sin and how it often results in shame and isolation from God. He described the kind of praise called lament, crying out to God when our world falls apart. He then explained that at the same time, “God also calls out to us, asking us where we are spiritually at those times, inviting us to Him,” and this is another reason to praise God.
On Thursday Pastor Alonso spoke from Psalm 88, one of two Psalms that does not end with praise. He boldly talked about real moments of depression, anxiety, even suicidal ideations that can pull us away from God. During the presentation he pointed out, “God sits with us during dark times, He will heal us and provide us with the care we need, guiding us back to His light, for which we can praise Him.”
Pastor Alonso gave two presentations on Friday, one in the morning during Week of Prayer, and one at vespers. During the Week of Prayer session, he preached on the story of Mary, whom Jesus had forgiven, and how she desired to worship Jesus and give Him the gift of perfume. Pastor Alonso brought out from the story that worshippers who give are giving praise to God. At vespers, Pastor Alonso shared the story of the demoniac, who wanted to follow Jesus. Yet Jesus told him to stay in his hometown and share his story. The demoniac did that, and when Jesus returned to that town, people were ready to listen to Him. “Today, we praise God by telling our story, about what Jesus has done for us,” is how Pastor Alonso ended a powerful week of prayer about praise.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Pastor Alonso first earned a bachelor’s degree in political science “while trying to escape God’s calling to pastoral ministry,” he admitted. “After deciding that I loved Jesus, I made peace with this call to study theology and become a pastor.” He pastors the Lynchburg Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. His wife, Suzy, is also a SWAU alum who graduated in 2008. They have two daughters, Adelynn, age 10, and Ellanor, age 8. As a family, they love exploring nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If you could not attend this year’s Fall Week of Prayer, you can still experience a blessing by watching and listening to Pastor Alonso’s presentations on Southwestern Adventist University’s channel, SouthwesternAU, on YouTube. “I hope students will find that praising God is a natural expression that takes many shapes. God meets us where we are, and praise is a way of reacting to who God is,” is the message Pastor Alonso hopes listeners take away from this year’s Fall Week of Prayer.