The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a "valuable partner" in strengthening the community, a governor in Angola said following a recent meeting with world church President Ted N.C. Wilson.
"Whenever we are together with ... men of God, we learn how to walk in a world of adversity," said Luanda province Governor Jose Maria Ferraz dos Santos, citing the church's faith in God in response to challenges currently faced by Angolans. The nation is striving for stability and development after a 27-year civil war ended in 2002.
Both leaders signed a document formalizing "mutual cooperation" in continued efforts to benefit Angolan society, church leaders said. The church has gained national recognition for providing health ministries, community outreach and education in a country that saw much of its infrastructure -- including most schools -- demolished during war.
"When you are known to be reliable, peaceful people, people who are active participants in society and the community, then you are appreciated. Everybody's rebuilding the country right now. It's a mammoth task, and we are happy to be a part of it," said Paul Ratsara, who accompanied Wilson during his tour of the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division.
Ratsara leads the church in the region, which includes Angola.
Wilson arrived in Angola last month to survey Adventist Church operations in the country and encourage growing membership there. During his tour, Wilson attended the opening of the newly formed Northeast Angola Union Mission headquarters in Luanda, the nation's capital and largest city. He also visited the offices of the Southern Angola Union Mission in Huambo province.
There, Wilson dedicated newly rebuilt classrooms and a cafeteria on the campus of Bongo Adventist Institute, a church-run school, seminary and hospital complex destroyed during war. He also unveiled a monument on the site where American Adventist missionary W. H. Anderson led the first Sabbath School class in Angola under a tree, Ratsara said.
Church officials voted last year to split the then Angolan Union Mission into two administrative structures. The move recognized sweeping infrastructure needs in Angola and the "marked" financial improvement of the church there since the end of civil war.
While in Luanda, Wilson spoke to some 67,000 church members -- among them thousands of young people -- who crowded the city's Cidadela Stadium during Sabbath worship services, many more listening from outside.
"You had to be there to feel the joy and enthusiasm of the members and leaders. They feel connected to and united with the world church," Ratsara said. "This is a spiritual feast for them."
Wilson urged the audience to embrace their identity as Adventists. "When you say you are a Seventh-day Adventist, you are already preaching a sermon -- where we come from and where we are going," he said.
Coverage of Wilson's visit to Angola -- including a portion of his sermon -- was later broadcast on prime time national news, Ratsara said.
More than 380,000 Adventists worship in nearly 1,000 congregations in Angola. In recent years, the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division has experienced significant growth, now counting some 2.5 million members.
Following his visit to Angola, Wilson continued his tour of the region, with stops in Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion Island and the Seychelles.
While in Madagascar, Wilson was accompanied by a security detail led by two high-level government security officials, Ratsara said. Impressed by what they observed, both have requested Bible studies. "God willing -- and please pray for this -- we will come back and baptize them," he said.
"You know, they are body guards, so they are both tall and huge, like basketball players. I told one of them, 'I will need to practice how to baptize you.' He laughed. We've become very close friends," Ratsara added.