"Are you really united in hope for the return of Jesus?" Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson asked some 4,000 pastors in South America yesterday during the opening of an unprecedented Ministerial Council, "United in Hope."
The meeting is a gathering of pastors from eight countries, and it is believed to be the first time any of the Adventist Church's 13 world divisions has brought all its pastors together in a single ministerial training event.
In his address to the pastors, who packed the convention center in the city of Foz do Iguacu, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, Wilson cited the recent episode in which an American religious figure predicted Jesus would return May 21. Wilson reminded his audience that Jesus will return on a day determined by God -- as the Bible plainly declares -- but that believers need to be genuinely prepared for that moment.
The president underlined his hope that the world's billions not miss the opportunity to be in heaven and that nothing diverts their focus from this great event. "The Lord Jesus is returning soon and we are looking for the blessed hope," Wilson declared.
Before the leader of nearly 17 million Adventists spoke, Erton Köhler, president of the denomination's South American Division, cited the legacy of his two predecessors, pastors Rui Nagel and John Wolff. He recounted the delivery of five million leaflets promoting the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ in a one-day evangelism outreach effort under Wolff's leadership on March 31, 1979, and the establishment of integrated evangelism when Nagel served as the Division's executive. Köhler also emphasized the need to pursue personal revival and reformation.
"Here we are citizens of heaven. Our [present] identity speaks louder than our origins," he said.
The intention to illustrate unity through diversity among the division's people and pastors was clear from the opening of the event, when representatives greeted those present in six different languages: Portuguese, Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and Roma.
A special copy of the Bible, with nearly 70 supplements, including a full set of 27 Bible studies, was delivered to each of the pastors present. The Pastor's Bible was given as a gift, but was delivered with a sense of responsibility. Pastors were challenged to prepare themselves intensely to preach to the more than 300 million people living in the division's territory. In a moving scene, thousands of pastors placed their hands on the Bible in a pledge of dedication as world church's executive secretary G. T. Ng prayed for their faithfulness to God's Word.
On the opening night, there was also a first-ever census of Adventist pastors from South America. According to sociologist Tadeu de Jesus, all the participants were to complete a questionnaire consisting of 216 questions highlighting the pastor in his personal and professional life. This research will help generate indicators to measure processes and strategic outcomes for Adventist pastors.
At the close of the evening meeting, hundreds of prayer groups that will function throughout the five-day event were formed among the thousands of pastors present. Each group will focus its prayer time on the book "True Revival," which includes selections from Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White's writings.