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G. T. Ng, the Adventist world church's executive secretary, is always good for a laugh during his reports to Annual Council. This year he told a long, drawn-out joke about a donkey that understood "biblical" commands. [photo: Ansel Oliver]
October 16, 2013 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ansel Oliver/ANN
Halfway through his Secretariat report on Sunday, Executive Secretary G. T. Ng felt attentions wane throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters auditorium. The light was dim as he showed his 30th slide featuring statistics, graphs and charts. He stopped and said, “Everyone turn to your neighbor and tell them they look marvelous.”
Delegates laughed, and for a moment the room burst with chatter. Even some of the intense personalities lightened for an instant to call out to a colleague. “Dale, marvelous!” someone shouted out across an aisle to Pacific Press Publishing Association President Dale Galusha. A day later, Ng, told glazed-over delegates to tell their neighbor they “smell great.”
Ng, a native of Singapore and former seminary dean, is often the in-house chief comedian during Executive Committee meetings, effectively using humor at the beginning of a presentation to make points on matters business or spiritual. But his humor often serves a more basic purpose: keeping jet-lagged delegates awake.
“You can see the energy level change. People come back to life again,” Undersecretary Myron Iseminger told ANN.
Each second weekend of October brings 350 Adventist leaders from around the world to headquarters for seven straight days of sitting through Annual Council. While many meetings feature worship services and updates on evangelism projects, delegates are often subjected to hours of financial PowerPoint slides, statistical reports and long readings of policy. Most world division officers have been living in nearby hotels for nearly a month to participate in pre-meetings and institutional boards. For many, the chance for a chuckle is a welcome respite.
Some attendees use humor to diffuse an otherwise awkward situation or gently rib a longtime friend.
In announcing the comprehensive health ministry outreach focus on Monday, Mark Finley, the assistant to the president, accidentally introduced Health Ministries director Dr. Peter Landless as “Dr. Handysides” before quickly correcting himself (Landless became director this month following Dr. Allan Handysides’ retirement).
Landless didn’t miss a beat while taking the microphone from Finley. “Thanks so much, Elder Vandeman,” he said, referring to the late George Vandeman, who founded the Adventist television ministry It Is Written (Finley followed Vandeman as the ministry’s speaker/director in 1991). The room exploded with laughter that sustained and drew some hoots and applause.
“Frankly, I was flattered,” Landless later said. “Allan [Handysides] and I have worked so much together for a long time.”
Though he has long since retired, a union president from Central Africa still had several delegates remembering his wisecracks invoking African proverbs. Delegate Gerry Karst, a retired vice president, remembered the delegate getting restless with how long a policy item was taking compared to how it might have been handled in his own culture. He went to the microphone and said, “Mr. Chairman, you don’t need a long fire to fry a long snake.”
“That one brought the house down,” recalled Vice President Mike Ryan.
Ng, the secretary, usually opens his reports with a drawn-out joke, often told with a serious and intense face. “As soon as he stands up I start chuckling,” said Education Director Lisa Beardsley-Hardy.
Ng’s opening tale this year featured a donkey trained to understand biblical commands. “Amen” would cause the donkey to stop, while “hallelujah” would command the donkey to walk. One day a rider forgot the commands as the donkey walked toward the edge of a cliff. In scrambling desperation, the rider prayed for safety and ended his prayer with “Amen,” which brought the donkey to a standstill inches from the cliff. The rider was so excited his life had been spared that he shouted, “Hallelujah!”
Ng’s audience went bananas.
“That one was my favorite,” said East-Central Africa Division President Blasious Ruguri, “because it shows we sometimes make comments and remarks before we think clearly.”
On Wednesday, the final day of Annual Council, Undersecretary Iseminger played off the joke when introducing a smattering of suggested editorial changes to several policies. “I don’t want to gallop through all these final policy items, but why don’t you say “halleluiah” when you want me to go on and “amen” when you want to stop for discussion. Is that fair?”
“Hear, hear!” a delegate called out.
—additional reporting by Elizabeth Lechleitner