ANN stories in 1999 reflected the diverse make-up of the 11 million-strong Seventh-day Adventist Church. With members in some 207 countries, the Adventist Church is a vibrant community encompassing an extraordinary range of cultures, languages, and environments, but held together with strong bonds of faith and compassion. From this global community of faith came stories that highlighted the Church and its members in action; organizing religious liberty campaigns, spearheading humanitarian efforts, and developing new evangelistic initiatives. Here are just a few of ANN’s 1999 headline stories.
Religious Liberty Initiatives:
The Adventist Church sponsored a number of major religious liberty conferences around the world in 1999. The first Angolan human rights conference, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Adventist Mission in Angola, convened in January. A meeting of the International Religious Liberty Association (ILRA) met in Madrid, Spain, during May. Co-sponsored by the Adventist Church, it opened a high-level dialogue on the issue of proselytism.
“Religious freedom means choice,” said John Graz, IRLA secretary general, “and free choice requires pluralism and free expression. Our meeting has encouraged a definition of proselytism which avoids a partisan point of view.”
In September, government officials, Adventist leaders and religious liberty experts attended an international religious liberty congress in New Delhi, India, which was co-sponsored by the Adventist Church and the IRLA
The Church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) department released a dossier in March on religious freedom around the world. Tracking levels of persecution of minority religions in different countries, the report highlighted specific religious persecution trouble
Throughout the year ANN followed the mixed fortunes of the United States Religious Liberty Protection Act, which Adventists helped draft and have supported. This bill to protect religious freedom passed through the House of Representatives in July, but by December had still not been voted on by the Senate.
Religious Liberty Challenges:
ANN reported in January on two Adventist families in Luxembourg who were asking that local school authorities accommodate children who observe the seventh-day Sabbath. In June, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, rejected the families’ appeal, upholding an earlier ruling that “the right to education is part of the fundamental rights in a state, and may restrain the liberty to manifest one’s belief.” Maurice Verfaillie, religious liberty director for the Church in the region, reacted to the decision, saying “We are strong supporters of education, but cannot accept a legal prohibition on the right to worship.”
Government hostility toward religious minorities intensified in Turkmenistan, a former Soviet state, during November. National security agents destroyed an Adventist church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat and many other Christian and religious groups are continuing targets of state-sponsored attacks.
Adventist Christians strive to be active participants in their communities, working to find compassionate solutions to society’s problems. From tobacco and alcohol addiction to family relationships and the social costs of gambling, many ANN stories in 1999 highlighted the proactive role the Church and its members are taking in dealing with these important issues.
In a February ANN story, youth behavioral expert Gary Hopkins shared his findings on the importance of cultivating close family relationships. Hopkins, an Adventist, reported that close relationships between parent and child protects against risks such as drug use, suicidal thoughts, emotional distress, violent behavior and early sexual activity.
That same month, ANN also featured a special report on the fight against female genital mutilation-a quasi-religious ritual carried out on adolescent girls in many parts of western and southern Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and in some immigrant communities in western countries.
In April, prompted by increasing reports of the desperate situation in Kosovo and the growing numbers of refugees in the Balkans, the Adventist Church called on international leaders to find a peaceful resolution to the Balkans war.
The Church released a statement in November declaring that the Bible “makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships.” The statement also cautioned that Christians must endeavor to “follow the instruction and example of Jesus” who “affirmed the dignity of all human beings and reached out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin.”
A North American Race Summit, held at the Adventist Church world headquarters in October, brought together a broad representation of lay members, pastors, educators and leaders to discuss race relations in all areas of Church activities.
ANN continued to follow breaking stories in health and health research in 1999. As longtime proponents of a vegetarian, alcohol-free and tobacco-free lifestyle, Adventists promote the concept of holistic health-emphasizing not only the body, but emotional and spiritual health as well.
In April, ANN reported scientific findings reaffirming earlier studies that suggest an Adventist lifestyle leads to a longer, healthier life. Adventists “who eat a plant-based diet, exhibit a more favorable blood lipid profile, lower blood pressure and a lower risk for Type 2 diabetes…,” the study concluded.
Adventist health professionals applauded the United States ban on billboard cigarette advertising that came into effect April 23. Noting that Adventists have promoted a smoke-free lifestyle for more than 130 years, Tom Neslund, associate health director for the Adventist Church in North America, said “If as much money was spent on advertising smoking dangers as in promoting it, we would have a much healthier society.”
A May edition of the U.N. Special, a publication of the United Nations, singled out Adventists and other religious groups as a “strong moral force” in helping prevent the tobacco habit and in helping those already addicted to quit.
People and Events of 1999:
Jan Paulsen was elected on March 1 as president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A native of Norway, Paulsen has lived in Europe, Africa, and the United States and brings to the position his experiences as teacher, pastor, administrator and college president. Paulsen replaced Robert S. Folkenberg, General Conference president since 1990, who resigned on February 8 citing the controversy over allegations arising from his relationship with a California businessman. Paulsen was elected as president of the Adventist Church by a special sitting of the General Conference Executive Committee, a group of 244 lay members, pastors, educators, and church administrators from 90 countries who met in March at the Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Reflecting on the opportunities and challenges facing the Adventist Church, Paulsen said that “We all need to allow the Church to find the differences that are compatible within the oneness of the family.” He acknowledged that “internationality and diversity is not only a great blessing to the church, but also a formidable challenge,” adding that “there has to be specific recognition and guidelines which recognizes the Church in every culture and every international setting as being the forum which can best express its identity, its power and its loyalty to God?.”
Other ANN reports in 1999 highlighted the broad range of activities of Church members and workers around the world. In April, the world’s largest gathering of Adventist lay people-75,000 people-convened in the Philippines. The General Conference hosted ConneXions 99 in April, which brought together hundreds of young adults to discuss strengthening existing ministries and to form new ones. Church president Jan Paulsen praised the initiative of the young people, saying “The Church is yours. The Church needs you and the Church is going to use you, your dreams, your talents, your enthusiasm.”
ANN reported in September that 4,500 Romanian youth from Adventist congregations throughout the country, meeting in the capital city of Bucharest, wrote out the entire Bible from memory.
“Our youth wanted to demonstrate that the Bible means very much to them, ” said Adrian Bocaneanu, president of the Adventist Church in Romania.
In October, more than 3,700 Adventist young people in Florianópolis, Brazil, repeated the feat. It took participants just 25 minutes to write out the Bible, from memory, on a three-kilometer (almost two-mile) piece of paper. Udolcy Zukowski, communication director for the Adventist Church in the South Brazilian region, explained that the city, known for its distinctively-designed bridge, was especially chosen for the event.
“We all came to build a human ‘bridge of hope’ in the community,” he said. “It’s symbolic about what we were interested in doing-reaching out to those among whom we live.”
Among other Adventists to make the news in 1999 was Neil Watts, Adventist leader in the Western Pacific, who survived when the plane he was travelling in ditched into the sea near Vanuatu in May. One of eight passengers to survive, Watts spent six hours in the water and led prayers with the other survivors before finally reaching land.
ANN reported in July that jailed Adventist pastor Anthony Alexander, held in a Sri Lankan prison “on suspicion of terrorism,” had started over 50 Bible studies with other inmates and was holding Sabbath services for other prisoners. He was arrested in 1998, tortured and apparently forced to sign a confession written in a language he does not understand. Anthony is still in prison awaiting his trial which is scheduled for January 2000.
The Adventist Review celebrated its 150th anniversary in July. As the oldest continuously published Adventist paper, and one of the oldest religious magazines in the United States, Church president Jan Paulsen praised the Review as “a major contributor and expression of Adventism.”
In August, three Seventh-day Adventists in the Cape Verde Islands were cleared of charges of vandalizing several Catholic churches and were freed after being held in prison for over a year.
In 1999, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) provided emergency relief to thousands around the world-from victims of earthquakes in Columbia and Turkey to Congolese refugees in Zambia and to people affected by the Balkans conflict. ANN also reported on the aid agency’s ongoing development programs, which included a system of rural health care clinics in Naxcivan, a mountainous enclave of Azerbaijan, and major AIDS education programs in Thailand and Africa.
ADRA suffered some setbacks in 1999; in January a compound in Chukudum, south Sudan, was burnt and looted during fighting between two local military factions. Tragedy struck in February when Enks St. Fleur, an Adventist aid agency worker specializing in maternal/child health, was shot in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after bandits attacked a public transport vehicle.
Global Mission launched a major new initiative called “Finish 14K” in February, a goal to plant 1,000 new churches around the world in the 500 days between February 1999 and the Toronto General Conference session in July 2000.
A new era in the Church’s evangelism strategy came into being on October 4 when Church leaders voted to set up an Advisory Council on Evangelism and Witness. The new body was described by Church president Jan Paulsen as a “creative forum” with a “broad mandate and a sharp focus on the things we value highly.”
A strong theme in ANN’s reporting on global outreach in 1999 was the increasing use of the Internet and satellite technology.
“As a Church we are dedicated to sharing our faith in every land and in every language. And the Internet is a truly effective means of doing that,” said Jonathan Gallagher, associate director in the Church’s communication department in a February report. In June, ANN reported that the official Adventist website at www.adventist.org was receiving approximately 20,000 hits per day, adding up to an estimated one-third of a million individual hits annually. ANN also launched a new e-mail system in for distributing the Church’s world news, and in November began releasing its on-line news bulletins in Spanish. The Adventist Review went on-line in October, signaling what its editor William Johnsson called a “new day” in the paper’s contribution to the mission of the Adventist Church.
Major satellite evangelism initiatives in 1999 included ACTS 2000, a series of eight evangelistic programs featuring speaker Mark Finley, which kicked-off in January in the Philippines. Net New York 99, fronted by Doug Batchelor, ran from October 15 to November 13. Both series drew thousands of people to live satellite uplink venues and reached hundreds of thousands more in downlink links around the world.
A Word From the Adventist News Network Staff -
The staff of the Adventist News Network and the General Conference Communication Department wish you a very happy and prosperous 2000! Thank you for your support as we communicate important news about the progress and challenges of the Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world.