Top leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted yesterday to transfer administrative oversight of church operations in the Middle East from the church's Trans-European and Euro-Africa divisions to church headquarters.
The newly formed Greater Middle East Union Mission is home to 21 countries and more than 500 million people, and has 2,900 Adventists worshipping in 70 churches and companies.
Under the new organization, South Sudan becomes part of the church's East-Central Africa Division and the church's Southern-Asia Pacific Division will oversee the Pakistan Union. Culturally, Pakistan can better be served by the division that also serves Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, leaders said.
The church's Euro-Asia Division will absorb Afghanistan. The world church headquarters will directly oversee the Israel Field and the new Greater Middle East Union Mission. That union mission will also include the Trans-Mediterranean territories. South Cyprus will remain in the Trans-European Division.
Despite more than 100 years of outreach to the region, data indicates that the mission of the church is moving with challenges in the region, members of the church's Greater Middle East and Mediterranean Survey Commission said in an October 9 report to Annual Council delegates.
Attaching the "high priority" Middle East region directly to world church headquarters will enable quicker implementation of projects, commission members said in the proposal. "It would make movement of personnel, funding and ideas easier across what used to be different division boundaries," they said. The realignment would also group countries together that have similar cultures.
Commission members also said the Middle East "should be the focus of the entire church," citing another advantage for moving regional leadership to oversight by world church headquarters.
In 2010, the church tasked the commission with studying Adventist work in the Middle East, with the intent that a territorial realignment might be necessary. A study of historical, demographic and statistical evidence seems to indicate that the church grows best when overseen by a unified and geographically contiguous body, commission members said.
The Middle East is part of a region called the 10/40 Window, where two-thirds of the world's population lives, only one percent of which is Christian.
"I want you to think of the incredible challenges in the Middle East," world church President Ted N. C. Wilson told delegates. "We want to give full credit to the workers already there," he added.
Bertil Wiklander, president of the Trans-European Division said he and his team had some reservations about parts of the proposal but would fully support it if approved by the world body.
"We have personal ties to our people in this area, and we have spent much time in prayer with and for them. We have thoroughly enjoyed working in our attached fields and have poured our best time, talents and resources into it," Wiklander said.
Euro-African Division President Bruno Vertallier said that in recent years, the region has redoubled its work in the Middle East and that the administrative shift would be considered difficult for some people.
"Our recommendation is to strongly emphasize the training of local people," Vertallier said. "We have some wonderful people working there right now and we must add to them. The great challenge will be to train more people in local fields and give them the best tools possible to meet the needs of Adventists and community members."
Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson said the move would signal that the region is a world priorty for the denomination.
"The Middle East is a unique place," Wilson said. "We have to take this area of world field as a special burden. We're also grateful for what the Euro-Africa and Trans-Europe have done to foster and nurture Adventist mission in those areas of Middle East."