Some 14.3 million people are now baptized members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide, with a total of 25 million people believed to attend weekly worship services. Such growth was a highlight of the Adventist Church’s year in 2005, a 12-month period which began with the heartbreaking news of a massive tsunami in Asia and was crowned by the church’s 58th General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri, United States.
During the 10-day Session, attended by as many as 50,000 people on its peak days, Pastor Jan Paulsen was re-elected world church president; secretary Pastor Matthew Bediako and treasurer Pastor Robert E. Lemon were also re-elected. Dr. Ella Louise Simmons became the first woman elected to a world church vice presidency, while Rosa Banks was elevated to a world church elective office from her position in the North American church region. Daisy Orion, formerly Program Director in the Office of Global Mission, was elected as associate treasurer of the world church.
The Session also adopted, on July 4, a new fundamental belief statement declaring God’s power to help believers live a sanctified life. “Growing in Christ,” as the new statement is called, links Jesus’ victory over demonic spirits with the struggles Christians face today.
Church Responds to Disaster, Need
Responding to tragedy, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) provided relief to those suffering the aftereffects of the South Asia tsunami. By July more than U.S. $39 million in relief and development aid had been given, and aid is expected to continue until at least 2010. ADRA has opened clinics, provided food, clothing, and helped restore ways for people to earn an income.
In Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, ADRA responded quickly to survivors of a major earthquake that hit in October which caused tremendous destruction and left tens of thousands feared dead. ADRA has established an emergency team to assist with the implementation of emergency relief projects in Kashmir, such as the distribution of tents, blankets and food.
At the General Conference Session in St. Louis, ADRA protested the hunger that grips 840 million people daily and gave checks for U.S. $10,000 each to three local poverty-fighting organizations in the St. Louis area.
ADRA also donated funds to help victims of Hurricane Katrina through Adventist Community Services, which coordinated a huge network of aid for the Gulf Coast area. And, a three-minute Sound of Silence on Dec. 25 at 7:58 p.m. (EST) was designed to commemorate the first anniversary of the Southeast Asia tsunami.
With some 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, the Adventist church is reaching out particularly to those in ground zero areas of the disease—Subsaharan Africa with education seminars, home care, support groups and providing ways for those infected to earn an income.
And with nearly 1 billion people suffering from hunger the Adventist church joined with other faith groups agreeing that churches and governments must pursue partnerships to eradicate extreme poverty.
World Church Session Handles Church Business
The first major item of business conducted at the 58th Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Thursday afternoon June 30 was the formal voting acceptance of three new divisions, or world church regions, all of which are in Africa, into the Adventist Church. The East-Central Africa, Southern-Africa Indian Ocean, and the West African church regions have been operating since Jan.1, 2003, when a major reorganization was carried out. However, this move needed to be ratified by a formal business session of the church for the regions to be officially recognized.
Speaking at the second Sabbath service in St. Louis, Paulsen pleaded for the church to become more inclusive. He pleaded for church members to open the church’s doors to youth and women especially: “Let’s walk into His future as one family of God’s people,” he added.
Delegates to the Church’s quinquennial business Session voted to accept a summary of the multi-session “Profiling Seventh-day Adventist Leadership” presentations which called for integrity, diversity, a commitment to mission, being Christ-like in relationships and loyalty to the church among other traits.
Young people were out in full force in the St. Louis community doing street evangelism that included graffiti that spoke of God’s love and creative community service. Film was another important part of community outreach and evangelism and the SONscreen film festival showcased a series of small, short films shown over two nights in connection with the Adventist world church’s meetings.
The church, which had a significant number of British members attending the Session, condemned bombings in London via a public statement made during the meetings. At the same time the church released/re-released three statements reaffirming tolerance and respect for all peoples. One in particular, “Religious Extremism - A Danger to Religious Liberty,” condemned religious extremism.
The Adventist church’s largest administrative region, Inter-America, predicted that it would have more than 3 million members by 2010. Also Church membership grew from 10,939,182 at the beginning of 2000 to 13,936,932 at the end of 2004, church statistician Bert Haloviak, reported.. However, he added, nearly 1.5 million left membership during the time period 2000 to 2005. One afternoon session discussed ways to prevent this kind of loss in the future.
Delegates also voted that world presidency of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be held only by an “ordained minister of experience,” in a change to the church’s constitution and bylaws on July 5.
Two 20-year-olds, Mark Howard from the United States and Aira Arina from Latvia joined 33 other young people as delegates to the world session.
Delegates at the Session voted July 3 to approve a resolution acknowledging the writings of Ellen G. White, a founder of the church, as something that has “richly blessed” the movement and that continues to have an important role in nurturing the life of the church. At the same time, a July 1 resolution on the Bible affirms the Scriptures “constitute our supreme rule of faith and practice and [are] the standard by which all teaching and experience is to be tested.”
While the Seventh-day Adventist Church has an official presence in 207 countries it has traditionally seen great growth in rural areas and on islands; the church is making a special effort to reach out to those living in large cities. It has allocated funds to meet the specialized needs of those living in the world’s cities.
The treasurer’s report also stated that the 14.3 million-member church averaged U.S. $1.87 billion in tithe contributions for each of the past five years. While this number stays consistent, the church treasurer expressed concerns that for the last 25 years giving to missions has remained around U.S. $50 million each year with no distinct increases.
The meetings were preceded by an extensive, sophisticated advertising campaign of billboards, newspapers, television and radio spots inviting those in the community to learn more about the church.
Church Matters Show Varied, Vital Adventist Worldwide Work
In a tour of East Africa, Pastor Paulsen visited with country leaders and church members. While there he remembered those lost in the genocide in Rwanda, celebrated the church’s 100th anniversary in Zambia and saw the opening of a new administrative building in Kenya.
A flood of requests for Bible lessons in Africa has prompted a plan to print 14 million individual Bible lessons in five languages to help meet the demand. The massive print project was driven by an overwhelming response in Africa to Sow 1 Billion—a Seventh-day Adventist Church global effort to distribute 1,000 million invitations to study the Bible. So far under the plan, there have been 1 million requests for Bible studies and 80,000 baptisms.
Romania witnessed the dedication of a new Adventist Church media center in Bucharest while a unique floating church was built in Peru some 12,500 feet above sea level on the Los Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca.
For the first time, a Bible correspondence course, “Native New Day Bible Correspondence Course” has been created for Native people in North America, a group that numbers at least 5.5 million.
Seventh-day Adventists in the Philippines—numbering more than 1.3 million people—celebrated the centennial of the church in the 7,100-island republic on March 2 to 5.
For the fourth time in two years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in central Baghdad was damaged as a result of bomb blasts. The Oct. 24 explosions were aimed at the Palestine Hotel, located 802 feet (250 meters) from the church building.
Noting the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Seventh-day Adventist church leaders in Germany and Austria have released a declaration saying they “deeply regret” any participation in or support of Nazi activities during the war.
At Annual Council, the Church’s autumn business meeting, a new commission, made up of 100 people was appointed to study church structures and ministries at the world church headquarters. The commission aims to study and outline a strategy for organizational change to better serve the church from its world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Following an inclusion of young people to the church’s delegation in St. Louis, about 8 young people have been added to the General Conference’s Executive Committee, one of the Church’s most influential committees at Annual Council.
Also at the autumn meeting, church leaders discussed how to implement a new outreach strategy, called “Tell the World” which outlined a vision for how the Gospel of Jesus will be shared by the church over the next five years. Tell the World includes a mix of traditional and innovative outreach methods such as increased Bible study, personal witness, community involvement and media outreach.
“Adventist World,” an international paper for Seventh-day Adventists was voted into existence at the Church’s Spring meeting. The paper was launched in September, Dr. William G. Johnsson, Adventist World editor, said in an interview. The initial print run is for at least 1 million copies in English, with additional copies expected in Spanish and French.
Going into a new five-year period, the church has designated “Journey of Hope” as the theme for the next quinquennium.
News reports in National Geographic, ABC News and CNN has found that due to their faith and health habits Adventists will be on that journey of hope for quite some time: they are one of the longest-living people in the world.
Pastor Mark Finley, formerly speaker/director of “It Is Written,” an Adventist Church television ministry, joined his former organization to lead a monthlong series of evangelistic meetings in Kiev, Ukraine in March. The Kiev meetings, held in the International Center of Culture and Arts, the city’s most prestigious public venue, saw nightly crowds that exceed 7,000.
Three workers for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) were found four months after they were abducted at gunpoint along with ADRA project vehicles while traveling through the then rebel-controlled area of Labado on their way from Khartoum to West Darfur, Sudan in December.
Also for the first time the Adventist world headquarters hosted satellite evangelism meetings in March. With satellite beaming the meetings all over the world, the event is being called one of the Seventh-day Adventist church’s largest evangelistic outreaches. Pastor Doug Batchelor, director/speaker of the Amazing Facts, conducted the meetings. The meetings are part of the NET 2005 outreach of the church.
Religious Liberty Remains Global Adventist Concern
It has been an eventful year for religious freedom, including victories and setbacks. In Canada the Church questioned new bills that redefine marriage as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others,” and how it affects the church’s right to believe in marriage as a union specifically between a man and a woman. The church was also there to support and advocate religious freedom in the Republic of Georgia and worked with International Religious Liberty Association, when governments sought to restrict religious symbols in state schools in Turkey and France, and in the United States the church lobbies for the passage of a bill that would protect believers in the workplace and in Peru a new bill would guarantee all religions equal treatment.
Joel David Klimkewicz is a United States Marine whose decision not to pick up a weapon, led to a court-martial, conviction and a seven-month jail sentence, which was suspended, looks forward to going to school to become a chaplain.
And five years and four months after it demolished a Seventh-day Adventist church building, the government of Turkmenistan has allowed the local congregation to hold a weekly Sabbath, or Saturday, worship service.
Demonstrating the power of print to mold opinions and promote human rights, Liberty magazine, the Seventh-day Adventist voice of religious freedom, marked 100 years of continuous publication in 2005.
Also In The News ...
A 3:30 a.m. fire in a women’s residence hall at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, United States on April 26 claimed the life of a 20-year-old Kelly Weimer. In Guatemala, a lethal mudslide buried hundreds of people, including 22 Adventist church members. In Cameroon a bus crash killed 44-year-old Seventh-day Adventist Church Pastor Celestin Rakotoarisoa Herimanana, on May 4.
Three Seventh-day Adventist church leaders in east Tanzania were killed Dec. 21 as they were en route to the funeral of another church leader. Killed were Pastor Geoffrey Simon, local church president; Pastor Loitopuak Lebabu, secretary; Mzuma Wikahi, Treasurer; and Pastor Joshua Kulwa, a theology lecturer at the Seventh-day Adventist University in Arusha, and his son William Kulwa, who was driving.
Pastor Shawn Boonstra, a Canadian who joined the Adventist church after watching the “It Is Written” television ministry, is now its speaker/director, succeeding Pastor Mark Finley.
At a June 16 dinner, friends and leaders inside the Church and outside paid tribute to decades of interfaith effort by Dr. Bert B. Beach, director of inter-church relations for the movement. He was presented with “Building Bridges of Faith and Freedom,” a Festschrift, or celebratory publication, honoring Dr. Beach filled with writings from ambassadors, statesmen and other leaders.
Poland’s only Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher education, the Polish College of Theology and Humanities (PCTH), will now be allowed to offer government recognized university-level degrees.
Looking to increase awareness about the potential of the Internet to further enhance evangelism and ministry, world church leaders and lay people met in Bangkok, Thailand for its third Global Internet Evangelism Forum Sept. 1 to 4.
A new weekly Adventist News Network (ANN) “podcast,” one of the latest methods of disseminating digital information from the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters, is now available every Thursday at www.news.adventist.org.
And Oakwood College professor Bobby Harrison, made history this year for helping to discover a bird long believed to be extinct, the ivory-billed woodpecker.