Raafat Kamal, who was elected on Thursday as the next president of the church’s Trans-European Division, acknowledged that Seventh-day Adventists face an enormous challenge in 21st-century Europe but said he believed new ways would be found to share the message of Jesus’ second coming.
Kamal was elected by the General Conference Executive Committee, the top governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to replace Bertil Wiklander as president of the 22-nation region that includes Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and a swath of countries stretching from Finland to Cyprus.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a unique prophetic message for the people of Europe at the end of time,” said Kamal, referring to the three angels’ message about Jesus’ coming in Revelation 14.
“I am excited about the opportunities that we have within our reach and humbled by the fact that God is using us to accomplish His mission,” he said in an interview. “The question before us is how God will transform our minority church from being a fortress influenced by secular society into a force to transform local communities.”
Kamal, who has served as the division’s field secretary and Wiklander’s assistant for the past seven years, said a spiritual decline accompanied by growing materialism presented a challenge for the Adventist Church.
“Europe, possibly for the first time in 1,000 years, is now a mission field,” he said.
The reality that the continent that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation in 1517 is now a mission field has major implications for Adventists, he said.
Complicating matters, Adventists account for only about 0.01 percent of the 200 million people living in the division’s territory, or one in every 2,385 people, he said.
World church President Ted N. C. Wilson said new methods were needed to sensitize people to religion and to find approaches that reached their hearts.
“We will be praying that the new president will help to increase the focus on these very important eternal objectives that are very precious to the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” he said in an interview at a health conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Wilson and other members of the General Conference’s Executive Committee voted on Kamal’s candidacy at a closed meeting on the sidelines of the health conference.
Wilson noted that a sculpture of the three angels decorates an outdoor wall of the Trans-European Division’s headquarters in St. Albans, England.
“Those three angels have been there for decades, but they are not outdated, they are not passé. They are more relevant than ever,” he said.
Kamal was nominated at a June 27 meeting of the Trans-European Division’s Executive Committee at the St. Albans headquarters. Wilson, who attended the meeting, said committee members made a list of all the desired characteristics for the new division president and compiled a list with a number of candidates’ names.
“We took time to pray a lot during the proceedings,” he said. “We had different people praying. We had silent prayer. … Then we nominated Raafat Kamal on the first vote and prayed for him.”
Wiklander, who will turn 68 in September, said he was retiring for personal reasons and had reached the decision with his wife.
“I have had the privilege and joy of serving the church as division president for 19 years, which is a long time considering the amount of travel required,” he said. “In my Swedish culture, one retires at 65 years of age, and I have passed that.”
He said he looked forward spending more time with family, serving the church through biblical scholarship, and seeking God through music, art, and poetry.
“I will remain open to continue serving the church as much as I can and as needed,” he said.
Raafat (pronounced: Rah-afat) Kamal, 50, was born in Lebanon and holds two undergraduate degrees, in business and theology, as well as four master’s degrees, in systematic theology; educational administration and curriculum; Islamic philosophy and theology; and business administration.
Before joining the Trans-European Division in 2007, he worked for seven years as executive director of ADRA UK (2000-2005) and ADRA Trans Europe (2005-2007).
He married Heidi Kamal Kendel, a native of Norway and registered nurse, in 1987, and together they have two daughters.
Asked what inspires him, Kamal pointed to Lamentations 3:22, 23, which reads: “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.”
“I’m inspired to know and experience God’s faithfulness, love, mercies and compassions new every morning,” he said.
Q&A: Bertil Wiklander, outgoing president of the Trans-European Division
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced as president, and how did you resolve them?
A: The biggest challenges were to lead the church as a whole in very diverse cultural settings, to take seriously our calling as an agent of God's mission, and to develop leaders.
I sought to address these challenges with a deep personal devotional life, being accessible to the people who needed me, having a presence in the field, and placing a relentless emphasis on mission and leadership in sermons, devotionals, lectures, and other communications. I sought to set a valid personal example in Christian leadership, focusing on teamwork, written strategic plans that integrated the work of the unions with the division services, a leadership newsletter, and countless seminars and consultations.
God has blessed us more than we deserve. I have particularly enjoyed working with outstanding officers and departmental teams. I will miss the wonderful staff at the TED office.
Q: What advice would you offer to your successor?
A: I don't think my successor needs my advice. But if he asked for it, I would say: trust in God, focus on His end-time mission, be yourself, be approachable and meet the people, and be a model of Christ-like service.
Q&A: Raafat Kamal, incoming president of the Trans-European Division
Q: What will be your main priorities as Trans-European Division president?
A: My first priority is to build on the good work of my predecessor, Elder Bertil Wiklander, by implementing the goals and actions of his strategic 2012-2015 plan titled “Making God Known in Europe. “
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will endeavor to work with our division’s 1,170 churches and congregations, comprising 84,000 members, to become local expressions of the body of Christ, both worshiping and witnessing, called and sent to make God known to more than 200 million people.
Q: What is the division’s biggest challenge, and how do you intend to tackle it?
A: Europe is a challenging continent for everyone who desires to spread the gospel. It is a continent in spiritual decline.
In addressing this, we need to remember that all of our church’s activities should be biblically based, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-driven, community focused, to the glory of God, and for the good of His creation. Based on these principles, it is my intention for the next few months to pray, listen, consult, and dream with fellow Adventists as we seek to realize God’s will for our church in 21st-century Europe.