From Youth Rusher to Ex-Adventist - Pt. 2

Bonus Episode
March 31, 2024
Episode Tags
No items found.
Episode Notes

Support the Show • Santiago interviews Andres Pichinte (They/Them), a Gen Z ex-Adventist who went from fundamentalist Adventism and going door to door for Youth Rush (for two summers), to exploring esotericism and now Orthodox Christianity. We talk about growing up Adventist, being surrounded by conspiracy theories, and moments that made them question their Adventist faith.

Resources / Topics Mentioned:

Andres' Website & Bio
Youth Rush Article - Spectrum Magazine

Full Transcripts, resources and more:

Have a story to share? Write to us, send a DM or voice message on Instagram, or leave a voicemail at (301) 750-8648‬. We take your privacy seriously: Privacy Policy


Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod ( • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Episode Transcript

Haystacks & Hell Intro

[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.

[00:00:17] Hey everyone, I'm your host Santiago and today, we're playing part two of my conversation with Andres Pichinte. If you haven't already heard part one, pause this episode and go back to season two, episode nine. Thanks for listening and enjoy the show!

Youth Rush Canvassing Sales Tactics

[00:00:34] Santiago: So in Youth Rush, you shared with me that you had been canvassing in West Covina, Whittier, Norwalk, and more like suburban areas around LA, specifically because the leaders were picking places with wealthier people. And just to give listeners an idea, the median annual household income in West Covina is about $90,000 a year. It is about 30% higher than the median household income in the US. What was your impression of these neighborhoods as you went around them?

[00:01:10] Andres: Most of the people I came across were Caucasian people. I mean, there was a mix of, I guess you could say Latino and Caucasian and I would see some African American households in there, too. And I remember hearing like, from our leaders, you know, like these are "juicy areas" because they have a lot of wealthy people, I guess you can say.

[00:01:31] Because they could juice the money right out of those areas if they, if you get their interests. They also brought up like the whole like how to tackle like tactics and stuff like that. They would have these things like "canvas cuss words." You know, like you're not supposed to say "Maybe" or "I think," because like it's going to bring up like you don't know your stuff. Or you can just say like you "You're going to really like this," or "You'll like this." And they have stuff like, um you have like "Ask, Listen, Relate, Respond, Reply."

[00:01:57] So you're supposed to, like, ask them first like several questions of, like, their background. If you catch their attention, and then listen to them, and they say too, like, while you're listening to them, look for things in their household that looks Christian and you can get their attention and be like, "Hey, we're Christians, too."

[00:02:14] And then you hand them one book and then like, snap, just make the sale from there. Because we have a script. During practices and meetings, they would always have, they would have us read the script. And it would have to be like, they would time us too, reading those scripts. "Hi, we're students." "We're working for our scholarship," or something like that.

[00:02:32] I forgot what it was, I had to look for that old folder, but it was, "Hi, we're in the neighborhood." "I'm a student working for my donation on my scholarship." And then, you hand them like the opening book, which is supposed to be like, um, the health books. 'Cause you have, you have the specific books in there. You have the health books, the cooking books. Then you have, um, the more, I guess, devotional books, you know, like Steps to Christ, which they named it something else. I forgot the name. Or, you know, if you're, like, if you catch, like, an Adventist or, like, something like conspiracy theorists out there, then you might want to close with them on like Great Controversy or something like that.

[00:03:08] Yeah, it was just a lot of tactics. They would just have you like a lot of sales pitch, pretty much. It was just going around doing a sales, being a salesperson, pretty much. And, um, like if you were supposed to like catch anyone who's a Christian, you know, like they say, like, look at, like, look at the outside home. Because I remember seeing several crosses in like yards. I remember seeing a lot of like American flags and you know, they say, like, "If you see an American flag, why not try to opening them with like Great Controversy or something like that?"

[00:03:34] And yeah no, it was a lot of, there's a lot of tactics that you would try to like do that, like tell you how to like get that pitch in. And you know, like, the basic five is like, you're supposed to have like the book in hand, you're supposed to "Accelerate," which is pretty much like kind of like get to the point of the purpose of the book.

[00:03:52] You're supposed to have a smile to like always smile and it was like even if you're like having a really drowsy like tired day, you're continuously have to be smiling so it's kind of like fake it till you make it kind of attitude. And then, it would say "Intercession, prayer, or canvas." If people don't have cash, you were supposed to say like, "Oh, but we take card, too," and you like, you have to call up the leader from radio and they come in with like a card reader and stuff like that. It was, it was just a bunch of like different tactics. You know, when some people say like, "I'm not religious," you can open them up with like the cookbook or something like that, too.

[00:04:25] Santiago: So basically there was something for everyone.

[00:04:27] Andres: There's something for everyone out there that you have to, like, open them up with. Like, I came across a lot of Catholic homes, too. I came across a lot of Catholic homes and they say like if it's a Catholic home like don't open them with like Great Controversy unless you started like getting into debates with them. But you know they want you to open up with like if you find like religious people, open up with the devotionals. Like Steps to Christ, or I think it was like Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, too.

[00:04:51] I forgot the other book, but I remember we had some devotional books in there, too. Yeah, and if you're, and if no one was ever interested, they have like a smaller version of Steps to Christ and say like, "We're leaving this for a donation of whatever." But the thing that really bothered me was having the leaders literally be up next to you, like next to you when you're canvassing to a person.

[00:05:13] And if you say like you leave up like a small Steps to Christ booklet, it's supposed to be like a like two dollars or more as a donation, but if they give you like a few cents, they kind of get you like, they would tell you like, "Why didn't you up pitch them?" Or like say like, "Can you help me out more for a donation for my scholarship?"

[00:05:28] Santiago: Even the books that were supposed to be sort of kind of a giveaway, you were supposed to get a certain amount of money for them.

[00:05:34] Andres: Exactly, yeah. And just going through all those books, you know, like, they if you were at a door for more than like five minutes and you haven't gotten a book out and you're still there talking with them, or if they're like you're having a discussion with them, they would say like they're the "Devil's Rabbit." Because like you're, like you're like trying to catch the rabbit out in a field or something like that. And I'm just thinking like, "Who comes up with these analogies?"

[00:05:56] Santiago: Wait, what? Okay, so hold up. I want to, I want to zoom in on that. So the "Devil's Rabbit" was the nickname that you would have for people who just wanted to keep talking?

[00:06:09] Andres: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, and that was just a weird analogy, too. It — and they taught us like how to, like how to canvas like a whole area, too. Like they have this thing called F.O.R.T., which is like a lay evangelist course tip, pretty much. But they call it F.O.R.T. because you're supposed to open up with like "Family or food." Then you're supposed to talk about like their "Occupation," like what do they work in, and then ask them about their "Religious background." Whether they're Catholic, Protestant, or like any other religion out there. And then like, then it calls on them with like your "Testimony," like what this book has done for you, and what they might experience too, with it. And it's just a lot of different sales tactics they would have us do.

Books and Beliefs

[00:06:49] Santiago: I'm curious for people who would talk about testimonies and what the book did for them. Had you read all of the books you were selling or did the other people in Youth Rush actually — had they actually read through those books?

[00:07:03] Andres: Yeah, we were encouraged to read them. This is funny too, because I know Jehovah's Witnesses are very hard to talk to, pretty much. I've came across several Jehovah's Witnesses. But I remember coming across this one Jehovah's Witness woman. And we started talking about, like, you know, like, not doctrines, but like, spiritual stuff about the Bible and stuff like that.

[00:07:23] And I remember when we were encouraged, the day, the night before, we were encouraged to start reading the other books. And I remember we all had, like, a group reading of, like, Great Controversy and stuff like that. And it's always the Great Controversy, but I, read the more spiritual stuff, like, Steps to Christ, because I thought, you know, it's, for me, I like the more spiritual stuff that I read.

[00:07:44] I actually found one paragraph that actually had the name Jehovah in there. And so when I talked to the woman who was Jehovah's Witness, I asked her, like, what, "What denomination are you?" She brought up she's Jehovah's Witness, and I'm like, "Hey, why not look at this book?" It was the bigger version of Steps to Christ, and I turned to the page directly that says, it has "Jehovah" right here, like "Why not get this book," you know?

[00:08:06] And she actually made, I remember like the health books were like 15 bucks. The devotionals were like 10 bucks and I think like you know, the other books were 10 bucks, too. And if you get like two it's 20 and I remember she only gave me like $10. Once you leave you're supposed to radio it in, you know? Like "Oh, I got this book out," and they come give you another copy, you know, just to have it in hand.

[00:08:27] Santiago: So you did manage to make a sale to a Jehovah's Witness.

[00:08:30] Andres: Yeah, and what's funny too was, um, at the church we were staying in, I came across one of the members' house and he bought, like, the entire set that I had. Like, the health books, the prophecy books, the devotional books. He bought, like, the whole set, and there's, like, a specific of, like, a hundred and something books that you're supposed to have. Yeah, they call it a dump, they call it a "dump bag." Because you dumped the entire set out of your bag that you carry with you.

[00:08:54] Santiago: It sounds like there's literally a term for everything.

[00:08:56] Andres: Yeah, there's a term for everything. The more I'm looking at my notes again, the more I'm being reminded of you know, like the terms, you know? Like "Quick testimony," you're supposed to tell them like your story, kind of like how you, like how this book has helped you spiritually. Like I brought that up.

[00:09:08] They also tell you how to read, like, body movements and body language, you know, like, if someone feels, like, uninterested and they're, like, they're, like, standing with their arms crossed or they're, like, leaning against, like, their doorways and stuff like that. You just know immediately once they're not interested, you could, I just, I just leave. and, like, "Sorry for taking up your time, bye."

[00:09:24] They would always test us. They have a timer with them to see how fast we can get the canvas done. Next thing you know, like, the leaders will come up to you once you're canvassing and tell you, like, they will give you critique, like, "You're speaking way too fast," or "You're speaking way too low." Or it was like, they would give you, like, criticism of how you actually talk to people. The reason why I talk fast was because of the timing, so, I mean, every time I was at the door, I was thinking, like, "Do I have to be quick?" Or, like, they tell you, like, you have to talk slower, like, try slowing down your speech, and, like, like, "Well, I can't if you guys are testing me, like, every single day."

[00:09:54] Santiago: Sounds like an impossible task to meet all of the things at once.

[00:09:59] Andres: Yeah, and they always brought up that Myers–Briggs test, and that just, that annoyed me to death because I'm thinking like "Why is this such an important thing that we have to take this test?" Because I think, I think it's a common test that they take at SOULS West to see like what kind of person you are, like see if you're fit to be a leader.

[00:10:19] And so they have you take like the Myers–Briggs test because every single leader that went through to Youth Rush that I know, they always brought that up how saying they've done it over there at SOULS West and they talked about SOULS West. And this was the first time I ever heard about SOULS West. And I took it myself, so I'm, I still know it to this day, I am INTJ. So I'm very introverted, and I forgot the other ones, but I, know I'm like INTJ, so I know they're more supposed to be like very quiet, introverted, but they're also thinkers at the same time, too.

[00:10:50] Santiago: I remember learning about Myers–Briggs and then later learning that it's not all that scientific. I think it is directionally helpful for you to kind of get a vague understanding of how you are. And I think as you're coming of age, it's maybe a helpful tool, but it's not something that should be taken literally and important decisions, like whether someone's going to be a leader or not.

[00:11:18] Andres: Yeah, I remember too, they would always talk about like how they had like these students who would always like stop in the middle of their walk of their canvassing, and they would get down on their knees and start praying. I stopped one time and prayed, and then my leader came up to me like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, I, "I was praying," and they're like, "Stop." you "Just continue walking and go to the next door." And I'm like, "Wow, then why are you guys talking about the stories of like people praying, then?"

[00:11:40] I was looking up again on my notes and, um, I came across where they talk about like rich, they call it "rich turf" and "poor turf." So there was kind of going back to like how the areas kind of were and like how they would select their areas, you know, like, or like the certain like houses. For rich turf, they would say like, you have to look up for, you have to look for interest. And they said like the most rich people find no, need, no need in God. "They feel they are satisfied." "They need to find their own spiritual background."

[00:12:09] And for poor turf, you know, they say like, "They are interested in everything" and they want to buy it, but they don't have enough money. And they say you have, "You will find religious objects." They kind of generalize how rich people would be or how kind of how poor people would be. Because I remember meeting several poor areas, like, like smaller households, like Latino households that were either Catholic or atheist. Yeah, I remember coming up this one woman who actually had like this Virgin Mary postcard in front of her door and I asked her like, "Are you Catholic?" She's like, "No, I'm atheist." She's like, "I just have that in my door just to get rid of the Jehovah's Witnesses away."

[00:12:44] Santiago: That's hilarious.

[00:12:45] Andres: That was hilarious. That's one thing that really, I had to process a lot, too. And that was, I believe that was my second year of Youth Rush when I kind of realized that, you know, like not every single rich person out there is going to be a complete atheist. I mean some of them are individuals, maybe very reserved about their religious backgrounds, and may not want to talk about it.

[00:13:03] Or like poor people who are not completely religious and they, they want to kind of hide their atheist background or agnostic background, you know? Because I came across several other religions too, like I came across like Muslim people, too. In Islam, they say like Jesus was seen as a prophet. And so they would kind of tell you like, you know, like "This has the words of Christ in there." And they would tell you like, "I know you guys see like Jesus as a prophet, so why not buy the book?" So they would just do whatever way just to get a book out.

[00:13:32] Santiago: Yeah, did you ever manage to sell a book to a Muslim person?

[00:13:37] Andres: I think I only sold a Steps to Christ. I remember coming across like Baptists and other people of other denominations and how we would like... I know some of them would criticize, like, Catholicism, and so they would tell you, like, if you hear anything like that, introduce them to, like, Great Controversy, and talk to them about that.

[00:13:56] Santiago: Bonding over anti-Catholicism.

[00:13:57] Andres: Yeah.

[00:13:58] Santiago: I guess that is something that a lot of Protestant churches still have to some degree. So you mentioned second year in Youth Rush. How many years in total did you do that program?

[00:14:08] Andres: I did two years. It's only in the summers when they have Youth Rush, so it was summer of 2016 and the summer of 2017.

[00:14:18] Santiago: What made you decide to do it again?

[00:14:20] Andres: To be honest, it was just to get away from my mother. Yeah, and that's why I kind of felt like I just wanted to get away from like the family drama, 'cause I noticed while I was gone, family drama was getting worse. And so I kind of felt like I need to get away from all this. And so I did Youth Rush 2017 just to kind of like do that, or kind of see like, you know, meeting the people again that I used to work with in my first summer. And I actually did.

[00:14:43] But my first summer was kind of bad, because I had this one leader who was just kind of condescending. He was pretty condescending, yeah. He, I remember one time I made a joke, you know, like we would always talk about like, how the people were on fire for God, you know, like, I told him like, we're leaving, I'm leaving a trailblaze on the grass, because he's like, "Why are you walking on the grass?"

[00:15:04] Because I'm like, "I'm just trying to get to the next house, man." "Like, I like maybe leave a fire blaze for God or something like that." He's like, "Stop acting stupid," and I kinda, that kinda really made me feel bad, like being like just a jokester kind of person. And so I'm like, I'm always like up about everything and so I kind of told him, another leader about that and then he had to come up and like apologize for it.

[00:15:27] I kind of talked to the other leader at like once we got back and I kind of like told him like, you know, it's like "If I'm going to be treated this way, I'm not going to be continuing in this program no more," you know? Eventually I kind of snapped at that same leader that kind of called me stupid and I snapped at him and then he told me, like, "Don't talk to me right now." My first summer was kind of dramatic in a way, but um, my second summer was actually a little bit better. I guess it was just like the vibes of the people I was with.

[00:15:55] Santiago: Yeah, well, I got to imagine if you're doing something as intense because you're working what, eight hour days in what I imagine is warm, if not hot weather, carrying all of these books around? Like, that is physical labor.

[00:16:10] Andres: It's physical labor, yeah. And uh, I remember one leader would always be like once we got in the van, they would tell us like what are the five like, "What are five good things that are happening today?" And I'm like, "It's hot, I don't want to be here." And they would say like, "Not good enough!" "You gotta give me more than that!"

[00:16:27] Yeah, even if it's like kind of like toxic positivity, I'm like, I just kind of like had to suck it up and just deal with it. Because I'm like, I just wanted to get paid. Even though like the majority of that money kind of goes to like straight to the, um, to the ministry. To the corporate, to the literature evangelist ministry. You only get like a very small amount from what you make. Because everything's paid by commission.

[00:16:50] Santiago: What percentage was your commission and how much money did you actually end up making in total?

[00:16:55] Andres: To be honest, it was like, I don't even remember. I would remember like every single check that would come in, it was within the range of like $100 to $200.

[00:17:07] Santiago: Those came in like every two weeks or how often did they come in?

[00:17:11] Andres: I think it was about like, wow, that was so long ago I can't remember. I think it was about, um, once a month. Like every one month during the summer. Like, yeah, I think it was like that. It was very little. It wasn't that much I made.

[00:17:25] Santiago: So at the end of the summer, is it fair to say that you made less than a thousand dollars after that entire summer?

[00:17:32] Andres: Yeah probably, I think the, I think the guys made a lot less than what girls made because I know girls, from what I would hear on the radio, always calling out like "I got this book out," or "I got a dump bag out," or like "I sold this many books out." And I never heard that much from the guys. Maybe like a few here and there, but not that much. Unless you're like, unless you're just a very charismatic guy.

[00:17:55] Santiago: Sure, yeah. Well, I got to imagine like you have to have kind of a certain level of extrovertedness and just like you said, charisma to be able to convince somebody, first of all, to open their door to some random person walking up on their house. And then have a conversation with them. And then have cash and give them money for a book that you didn't want or, you know, weren't looking up in the first place. And if you don't have cash, you got to wait for somebody to come drive by with a card reader.

[00:18:30] Andres: It's a lot. And eventually I kind of started relating to it, like I remember whenever the leader would always come up, as soon as I would get to the next door, I would always say like, "This is my brother," or like "This is my sister." And then they would tell me like, "Don't call me brother." "Don't call me sister, because people are going to think we're Jehovah's Witnesses, and we're not Jehovah's Witnesses."

[00:18:51] Santiago: Interesting.

[00:18:51] Andres: I remember getting that lecture one time.

[00:18:54] Santiago: So speaking of that, you've talked about trying to identify Christians and talking — you know, emphasizing Jesus. I imagine Ellen White was never mentioned directly?

[00:19:06] Andres: Yeah, they would tell us like "Never mention Ellen White, because people don't know who she is." "And don't call her a prophet, call her just one of the most published authors." They would say like, "Don't mention so much of Ellen White because people don't know who she is and so they're going to, they're going to be uninterested once you start mentioning." "Just say you're normal Christians just trying to get a scholarship."

[00:19:26] Santiago: When we went door to door for evangelistic series at my church, I also remember specifically downplaying the fact that we were Seventh-day Adventist and emphasizing the fact that we were Christian, first and foremost.

[00:19:41] Andres: Exactly, yeah. They want you to downplay Adventism to an extent.

[00:19:45] Santiago: Did anybody ever ask you what denomination you belong to? And did you ever have a conversation about that?

[00:19:51] Andres: From what I remember, what our leaders told us, if someone did ask what our denomination is, "Just say you're a Christian." But I, was just honest and I just told them, "I'm just a Seventh-day Adventist." And then I would just like have a discussion with them. And then sometimes I would just have like the door slammed in my face because of that. My experience in Youth Rush, I would say it was more enlightening because I came across people of so many denominations and it kind of opened my mind up a little bit more to like different faiths.

[00:20:19] Because I met I met someone who was a Bahá'í and I mentioned to them like about the history of Adventism and how it started with William Miller. And they told me, you know, like, "Oh, we consider William Miller as one of the prophets in history because of the Great Disappointment in 1844." Yeah and, and that really brought up my interest in who the Bahá'í are. And that's when I came to know they accept a lot of religious texts. 'Cause it's, it's kind of like, like I guess like non-denominational religion. Not Christian, but they accept every religion like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and so they consider William Miller as like a prophet to them.

[00:20:54] Santiago: Interesting.

[00:20:55] Andres: It really brought out my interest on who they were.

Misadventures in Door-to-Door Evangelism

[00:20:58] Santiago: I got to imagine you met people from a bunch of different backgrounds. You had messaged me over Instagram a couple of interesting stories, one of them being that you got bit by a dog.

[00:21:09] Andres: I remember that one. That one was because they normally say like once you see a "Beware of Dog" sign, like be sure you have to shake the gate or like make as much noise to kind of bring the dogs out. And if it seems dangerous, then don't go in. I did all that and I went and I just opened the gate. They say, "If you don't see a dog, just kind of like slide the door open quietly and just like get to the house."

[00:21:33] And I remember that happened to me one time. I got to the house and I knocked on their door and I kind of canvassed the lady that was at the door. And she was uninterested, of course. And I heard something come out right behind me on another gate, and it was a dog trying to like open the gate. And I was so scared of walking back out from the house area.

[00:21:57] I tried going as calmly as possible and the other gate that the dog was right behind, I guess the paw, like, pushed up the latch and they opened the gate and they came right at me and they bit me on my right leg. And I tried running to the gate, and I remember it did break skin, yeah, their bite did break through my skin.

[00:22:15] I had to get one of the, well, it was one of the leaders that's not, that wasn't always around, but she was there just in case of any help. They kind of took me to a clinic to get a rabies shot. And then, I lost a good pair of pants that day too, because they were my comfortable pants. When they went back, the lady actually said, you know, like, "I feel bad." "Give him like this 40 bucks for his donation." Yeah, I got 40 bucks out of that.

[00:22:39] Santiago: Oh man.

[00:22:40] Andres: To be honest, for the 40 bucks, I mean, like, I could get bitten again. But I mean, I remember another time when I went up to this guy's house, and it was a much more suburbanized area, I guess you could say. And I remember that guy had, like, three dogs. And they came up right behind me, and I remember running to the gate. Yeah, I know, sometimes, like, people will just not care about their dogs. And, like, and that guy said, "You better run." I ran to the gate.

[00:23:09] Another story was, I knocked on this door and this little, I don't know, she was like a three, four-year-old girl that just came up and answered the door. In Youth Rush, they say, like, if you see a kid answering the door, ask them where their parents are, because it's like, it's awkward to talk to a child about, you know, what we're doing.

[00:23:28] And she said, "My parents aren't home." And I guess they were out somewhere or something. And I remember just leaving them a Steps to Christ because I mean, it was out of like compassion, I guess you could say. And I left them a Steps to Christ book and they just took it, they just took it in and then I was only like three or four houses down and I heard someone yelling like, "Hey!" Coming right behind me, and I looked back, and it was actually the dad of the small girl.

[00:23:53] And he came out like, "What are you doing with this book, giving it to my daughter?" And he threw it at me. And he slammed all the books that I had on my arm, because when you're out canvassing, you have a bag with you, that's filled with books and then you have to carry four or five books in your arm to kind of go around carrying and just like... You have to have them in a specific order like as the opener, or as the one that you get their interest in. And he just slammed the books right out of my hand.

[00:24:18] Santiago: Wow.

[00:24:19] Andres: Because of that, I couldn't get the radio because I felt like this guy's gonna grab my radio and probably like throw it or something. I just kept clicking on the radio like in my back and I kept holding the button until like one of the leaders was hearing the guy yell over me and everything and they they came and picked me up.

[00:24:35] Santiago: Was the guy still there when they came to pick you up?

[00:24:38] Andres: Yeah he was right in my face. Like he wanted me to fight him. I remember, too, a former friend that I used to talk with so much about Youth Rush, who did Youth Rush for a lot of time, he told me, like, yeah, he had someone kind of, like, grab him by the shirt and kind of, like, be intimidating to him. So I guess it's very common for people to come across, like, problems like that in Youth Rush.

[00:24:59] Santiago: Wow, you could not pay me to go out and do that.

[00:25:03] Andres: I would say it's a blessing and a curse because, um, I was very enlightened to meet someone who was agnostic and they gave me a book of The Great Courses and it was about the Old Testament. And then we talked about, um, a lot, just pretty much just going into like history of the church and stuff like that. And they brought up like how their wife had dementia.

[00:25:25] And then one of my leaders had to come by, because it was a very interesting conversation I had with him. And then my leader came by and just did the whole canvassing for me like, "Oh, are you interested in this book?" "And are you interested in this book?" And then they had to close it down for me. I'm like, "I was having an interesting conversation with this individual."

From Fast Food to Film School

[00:25:38] Santiago: So, right after high school graduation was the first year you did it. Then you went back for another summer. So, in 2017, by that point, had you started going to film school?

[00:25:50] Andres: No, I was working in fast food at that time. The year between my first Youth Rush year and my second Youth Rush year, I was working at the Adventist Book Center in Glendale. And I mean, that retail was actually a good experience because it's very, it's, it's a small bookstore, so it's not, it's not bustling with like people or anything like that. So it's very small, very quiet.

[00:26:10] I had my own like time just listening to like my music and, just reading whenever it was my lunch. And then after my second year, I tried going back again. I wasn't, I wasn't hired again. I started working in fast food at Del Taco back in LA with my dad. And, eventually, we started going to the theaters again around that time.

[00:26:32] I never accepted the whole doctrine that it's bad to go to the theaters, you know? Like how it is in Adventist homes where you say, like, "Your guardian angel is gonna be weeping for you outside your theater" once you're watching, like, some action flick or even a drama or whatever.

[00:26:46] And then, because me and my dad, we always got there early, and I like being the early ones to get to our seats and because there's like no lines at the concession stands. And they had this ad for the Los Angeles Film School. And that really brought up my interest because I'm like, I should get a degree in something.

[00:27:03] Because I mean, I studied, I studied a lot to be a pastor, but eventually I kind of lost interest in being a pastor because it's of how... Kind of, gets up like how rigorous they want you to study like Daniel and Revelation and kind of go into Ellen White. Because at that time too, by my first Youth Rush year, I was taking a lay evangelist course. They do a lot of memorizations of like Daniel, Revelation, and Ellen White, and I just had no, I had no interest in doing so much hardcore memorizations.

[00:27:34] And so I decided, you know, maybe I should just change my interest of degree into like something in art, you know? And then from there I started, I applied to the LA Film School in late 2018. I applied again the beginning of 2019 and I started going February 4th of 2019. And that, I would say, was one of the biggest impacts in my deconversion from Adventism.

[00:27:58] Santiago: Really?

[00:27:59] Andres: It was one of the biggest deconversions from Adventism because I discovered so many great filmmakers and so much about art. And not listening to Little Light Studios, because I remember once I, once I brought up the subject that I was going to go to film school, I remember someone in my Facebook said like, "Oh, you're going to be the next Little Light Studios." And I'm like, "I'm not, I'm not, I swear, I'm not gonna be the next Little Light Studios." I always, I always make the joke it's like, I'm not Scott Mayer, who's like a failed actor who tried to chase his dreams, but I let my religion get over me, you know? No.

[00:28:36] Both: [Laughing]

[00:28:37] Santiago: When I first found out about Little Light Studios, I did not know that about him. At least, I don't remember hearing that. But it is interesting to know that that's part of his background. Apparently, Ben Shapiro was a failed screenwriter. And before he became this huge, right-wing commentator and having his own show, he wanted to be a screenwriter. So I don't know, there's, it's, it's a small sample size, so you can't draw any real conclusions from this. But at least we have two examples here of people who wanted to go into the entertainment industry, didn't make it, presumably bitter, and now they have gone quite the opposite direction.

[00:29:23] Andres: I remember watching in Battlefield Hollywood, Scott would always say like, "I breathed Adventism." "I believed in Adventism." He would like quote like everything, like, oh, everything in his whole life was just Adventism. So I'm like, there's no, there's no wonder why you failed at being a good actor, once you went to Hollywood. 'Cause it just like, he got into like the whole conspiracy, like they made him wear like a Jesus shirt apparently. And he's like, "That's just blasphemy" and stuff like that.

[00:29:49] But, for me it was, it was a great experience 'cause I got to know about so much of Kenneth Anger. He's one one of the earliest pioneers in experimental filmmaking in Hollywood. And he was actually, he's actually an occultist. Same thing, too, with another filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who did The Holy Mountain, who did, uh, Santa Sangre. He actually was the first director, supposedly, to do Dune before Denis Villeneuve. That was like his biggest project that he had cause he had like people like Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

[00:30:23] And all these other filmmakers that I eventually started looking into like Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, a lot more of David Lynch, uh, David Cronenberg, Andrei Tarkovsky, one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I, I got into so much of how they viewed art in film. And I remember too, in, in church, I was given this book called like, Movies Are Prayers, kind of like the spiritual aspect of films.

[00:30:49] And that just made it more interesting for me to like study film. And so I'm kind of, I've, ever since then, I've been like, trying to write my, I've, I've wrote several short films. I wrote maybe a few for projects and stuff like that. I've directed a few, too. My first short film I ever directed in film school was actually a zombie horror flick because I was, I was very much into George A Romero's like Night of the Living Dead, his original Dawn of the Dead of 1970, 1978, I believe? '78, and then Day of the Dead and all his other zombie flicks.

[00:31:21] And I've always loved the horror genre, even though like we were raised up to not like accept the horror genre in general, but horror has always been one of my favorite genres. And I did a documentary of this punk store that I used to go to every single time when I was like 14, and it, my experience in film school was great.

[00:31:43] I recently graduated too, and I got to meet like several producers, other people who had been in other positions in their industry, and it was just great. I mean, from there I was encouraged to do my own work. The producer of the film Coraline, he actually encouraged me to kind of do my own graphic novel. Michael Zoumas, he's an amazing guy.

Embracing Diversity and Finding Acceptance

[00:32:04] Andres: From there, I just, I was more accepting of everyone, no matter who they were, no matter what background they were, you know? It was just out of respect that I have for people and just the friendship I made, because I made friendship with people who practice witchcraft, I've made friends with people who are practicing Christians, I've made friends with people who are atheists, I've met people from, like, various different backgrounds there.

[00:32:27] Santiago: Yeah, well, I got to imagine being in LA, being in a film school, being in kind of a creative space. I got to imagine you meet all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life.

[00:32:37] Andres: Yeah, I've met like, I've met people who do like adult, who are in the adult business, I guess you could say. Yeah, I've met some of them and like OnlyFans creators and stuff like that. I've, I've met them all and you know what, I mean, I think they're just great people. I have no judgment, I have never held judgment against anyone for who they were, you know?

[00:32:58] Santiago: Kudos to you for going from deep fundamentalist faith — yeah, your family, you know, they kind of went to different churches here and there, but it sounds like for the most part, these were fundamentalist churches, whether they were Adventist or not. To go from growing up in that to then being able to be at this place where you're accepting of people who, for the most part, have not been accepted by society, whether secular or not. I think that says a lot about the personal growth and transformation you've been on.

[00:33:29] I know for me, when I was doing some work in college and hearing a conversation with some of the people that I was working with, they were congratulating a woman on getting married to her partner, and they were lesbians. And I remember feeling uncomfortable in that moment. And I could see that they were, they looked like perfectly lovely people, perfectly normal people, but because of the theological beliefs that I had, I was like, "That's wrong." And I couldn't feel happy for them in that moment when there were these people next to me, celebrating and congratulating them.

[00:34:12] And looking back on that memory, I wasn't a bad person, but my theology made me bigoted and had me othering these people. And so, whenever I hear stories about people being able to move past that, it makes me just so thankful that people are able to do that. Because I've talked about this with other folks I've interviewed, this idea of "us versus them," this idea of othering people. That is partly why we have so many of the problems we do in the United States and just globally.

[00:34:47] Andres: And especially like the persecution complex too, and they're thrown in there, too. It's just, it just really makes you have that "us versus them" mentality. I've met a lot of gay, lesbian friends, you know, I've made a lot of them, and I've made several friends with like trans people and stuff like that. I accept them for who they are, you know? Like, we can't really judge anyone for what their background is or for what their orientation is. Because it's like everyone's just a normal human being. And to me, it was like just like, it's just to be more accepting of others.

[00:35:19] Santiago: So speaking of that, do you remember when you first started using they/them pronouns? Or is that something that you kind of grew up with?

[00:35:27] Andres: Uh, that's when I discovered, I'm gonna say like I was always bisexual, 'cause I always was. I did have a relationship with this one boy in high school, and that, I mean, it was failed, it was a failed relationship. Because they started making, like, started talking to their other friends about it and stuff like that, and so, I was also bullied in high school for it, too.

[00:35:48] Because, I mean, even by the one gay kid in, uh, high school, kind of, like, had, they all had some stigma towards bisexualism. It's also, too, with my indigenous history, and so I kind of consider myself, you know, like, two-spirited. I never considered myself as just male because, you know, I always viewed, we have certain female aspects, too. I guess you could say like, I've never thought of myself as just one male, you know, like as a male or female.

[00:36:18] I never talked about it with my family because I know they won't be accepting of it. But I remember bringing this up with my sister one time, so long ago, and she kind of like started using it as blackmail towards me. Yeah, she was like, "I'm gonna tell mom that you're bi, and that you like men," and stuff like that. And I'm like, "Why?"

[00:36:38] And it's just so much stigma against around that, you know? It was just like, it's just, I, I don't know. I, I guess you can say like, that kind of made me hide who I am from my family, but I was never afraid to kind of tell who I was to my friends and stuff like that. Because with my friends, I felt like that was more of a catharsis, you can say, to kind of like talk and just really just relate to people.

[00:37:05] Santiago: Yeah, definitely. So, today, now that you're an adult, I know you're not speaking with your mom, but have you spoken about that at all more with your sisters or with your dad, or anyone else?

[00:37:19] Andres: Not really, no. Other than just my friends from, from like work and high school. Yeah, they are the only ones I talk to the most.

[00:37:27] Santiago: Got it.

Exploring Orthodoxy

[00:37:27] Santiago: I'm wondering if you can tell me a little bit about going from Adventism and fundamentalist Christianity, to then looking into esotericism and now kind of moving toward Orthodox Christianity.

[00:37:42] Andres: I know it's very, it's very weird too, when you look at it, but with Orthodoxy, it's... I've been to, I was, I recently started going to an Orthodox church. And what it is, I don't know, it's, it's, I can't explain it how it is, but you know, they always say, like, just love people for who they are.

[00:38:04] The one thing they always try to get out is, you know, they, we look at, like, they look at the saints. And, like, the character that they've built up, and it's not about, like, getting into conspiracy theories. And not, it's not getting into, like, all that other aspects that, like, we grew up as fundamentalists.

[00:38:20] And there's, like, practices that they do that I really enjoy, but it's also, they leave up answers to, as a mystery, you know? And, they always tell people, you know, just to love people for no matter what they are, pretty much.

[00:38:34] Santiago: So it sounds like you just recently started attending this Orthodox church. Is this something that you strongly identify with? Or is this just kind of something that is the current step in your ongoing journey of faith?

[00:38:47] Andres: It's, I, I guess I would say both because I mean, I've always looked into Orthodoxy and I know there's like a huge, like, thing about like, anti-Catholicism pretty much. And I mean, I remember, too, like, um, looking up Orthodoxy so long ago, too. I would always ask about, like, what it is, and they were just vague with their answers. Like, "Don't go to it because it's Catholic." Or, I mean, I looked into the history, too, like, why they kind of keep Sundays, too.

[00:39:15] They kind of go back to like the early history and like the whole thing about like Constantine like changing the Sabbath to Sunday, that's just, that's just bastardized history that Ellen White had, pretty much. It was, I don't know what is it because I guess they just hate Catholicism, everyone hates Catholicism for some reason, Protestants. And I mean, this is just another step in my spiritual life, you could say.

[00:39:37] Santiago: I saw you posted, uh, I think a podcast from this Orthodox church, so I was just curious, I did some digging into them. So, apparently this is an autonomous branch of the Greek Antiochian Orthodox Church. And so this is like the North American, I guess you could say, section of that. And it was interesting to me to see that they do state on their website that they quote, "do not believe the Bible to be a scientific textbook on creation, as some mistakenly maintain." So it sounds like you could be an Antiochian Orthodox Christian without necessarily believing in Young Earth Creationism or things like that.

[00:40:22] Andres: Yeah, and it's funny because there's a YouTube channel I would always watch, um, when I was Adventist. And I thought that they were kind of heretical at first, but the more I look at it, I mean, they kind of pretty much made up the point, like, yeah, you could have faith in God and be an evolutionist, or be Christian and believe in whatever science is out there.

[00:40:41] And another thing too is that I've met up with some people from the church I've been going to, the parish I've been going to, and they actually brought up this article that the priest actually wrote about, like, LGBTQ people. And they brought up the subject, you know, like we can never really judge them for who they are, you know? The only thing that you can do, even if you don't like what they do too, I mean, it's just to love them.

[00:41:08] Just love them like, just love them like Christ would because, I mean, they brought up subjects like, like several saints. I'll give an example, it's like Saint Mary of Egypt, um, one I've been hearing a lot. Like she was a prostitute and eventually she became Orthodox and just kind of, the monastic life. That's one thing I've always like admired too, like living in solitude and like by yourself.

[00:41:32] They always bring up like, you know, like Jesus even ate with the prostitutes, no matter who they were. So it's kind of like, you know, there's just loving people for who they are, no matter what. It's just to like, give that love to people, from my experience.

[00:41:46] Santiago: Interesting, well, I'm glad you found what sounds to be like a more accepting church. Because I was actually going to ask you about this, looking at the institutional website for North America, they do specifically address homosexuality on their website. And they do, just like the Adventist church, call it "unnatural" and "immoral." So it sounds like the institution, like many other Christian institutions, is anti-LGBTQ. But it sounds like your particular church that you've attended, is more open-minded about that.

[00:42:23] Andres: Yeah, and also, I mean, I've also met like several Orthodox Christians on like Reddit that would also identify themselves as gay, bisexual, or even trans, too. And they're just kind of like, they're just like, yeah, I mean, but I mean, they're just very more, more or less celibate people. And so I've, I've always been kind of that kind of person too, just like celibate. And I'm like, I've never bothered with like, relationships and stuff like that, from like, just because of past histories, pretty much.

[00:42:50] I have a less desire of being with someone than I would as with like, like my personal projects and like reading, writing and all the other stuff that I do as hobbies. And going back to like that article I brought up too from like that priest that wrote it, you know, like just don't approach people with that kind of bigoted mindset. But it's just accepting everyone for who they are. It's just praying for them, pretty much.

[00:43:14] Santiago: One other question I wanted to ask you is related to hell and the beliefs that they have. So again, from their same website, they talk about believing that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment, and that's a pretty big contrast from what Adventists believe, which is that hell is temporary and people won't consciously suffer forever. So I'm curious, is that something you've ever really heard talked about at the church you're attending now? And has that changed your understanding of God at all?

[00:43:47] Andres: Um no, not really. I mean, from the, from several of the services I've been attending to, I don't hear that much about hell. It's kind of more of like, they call it theosis, where you're supposed to be more Christ-like. And the more you are Christ-like, the more you are like, enlightened pretty much. Because from what I read too in history, in their history, is like, they were also influenced by like, the Greek philosophers pretty much.

[00:44:13] I'm still learning more about Orthodoxy and kind of they're still like giving me like more reading material. And so it's more like, I look into more historical aspects of like the church and kind of accept it for what it is, you know? But I mean, we don't look at each other as like the perfect being, because, you know, it's like, everyone's a sinner. Church is actually a place for sinners, because we're all sinners. We're all just kind of like, moving through with life, just trying to emulate love to people.

[00:44:44] Santiago: I definitely remember hearing that, not very often, but I remember hearing that sometimes within my own Adventist church. So I'm curious to know if there's any Adventist beliefs or culture that still affect your life today on a day to day basis.

[00:45:01] Andres: Just my vegetarianism.

[00:45:02] Santiago: Okay, so you're still vegetarian.

[00:45:04] Andres: Yeah, just my vegetarianism. I mean, I, I still read like a load of like spiritual texts. I still read a lot of like the Bible, I still read of like the Hindu texts, I still read of like everything pretty much. But not, not to the extent where it's like, where I'm like more bigoted and more fanatical about it, you know?

[00:45:23] Santiago: Would you say there's any specific ways that your morals and ethics have changed since leaving Adventism?

[00:45:29] Andres: Not to get stuck in conspiracy theories anymore. After pretty much everything that's happened since 2016 where like Trump, and all the elections and stuff like that. And how conspiracy theories just really messed up the minds of others. Because most of my moral beliefs, I mean, I still accept people for who they are, whether, I mean, they're gay or not, or bisexual, or lesbian, or trans, or whoever they are. I have nothing against no one for who they are, even for like atheists, even, you know? I have nothing against them. For me, it's just not trying to have problems with people and just respecting others for who they are.

Closing Thoughts

[00:46:06] Santiago: That's definitely something I can get behind. If any of your old Adventist friends or the people that you did Youth Rush with happened to hear this, what would you want to say to them?

[00:46:18] Andres: I would just tell them, you know, like, really look into everything that you believe and question everything that you believe. It's not bad to question what you believe, and it's not bad neither to be challenged in what you believe. And if you're really sure of your answers and really sure of your faith, I mean, if you still want to be an Adventist, then go for it.

[00:46:39] More power to you. But it's just not for everyone. It wasn't for me, for sure, to continue being Adventist. Because I know there's a limit to what they limit you to do, and what they want you to do instead. So it's like if you, if you want to seek out like filmmaking or something in arts, which is something heavily rejected in the Adventist church, especially art, you know, I mean, then go do it. And if you still believe in some of the things that they do, then power to you. But for me, it's, I really had to intellectualize and rationalize a lot of things that the Adventist church believes.

[00:47:15] Santiago: Hmm, I can relate to that.

[00:47:17] Andres: I would tell them too, like study psychology. Study psychology too, and understand like head traumas really, really get to people sometimes, too.

[00:47:26] Santiago: Yeah, definitely. Well, Andres, it's been awesome chatting with you. Thank you for sharing your story again. And I wish you all the best with your career. And if there's ever any work that you publish that you're interested in people seeing or following, let me know. I'll include it as a link in the show notes so people can go check out your work.

[00:47:48] Andres: Thank you so much. And thank you for having me on here, too. It's really refreshing to hear like more people really see Adventism for what it is. I've met several people who either went down like the atheist way or still stuck to being spiritual. So I mean, as long as it's not eating away at your life and eating away from who you are, then go for it.

Haystacks & Hell Outro

[00:48:12] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!

© 2024 Haystacks & Hell. All right reserved.
Privacy PolicyCredits & Recognition