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Robert Folkenberg, former president of Adventist Church, passes at 74

Will be remembered for his passion to mission in the US and abroad, leaders say.

Robert Folkenberg, former president of Adventist Church, passes at 74

[Official Portrait]

Pastor Robert S. Folkenberg, an innovative church worker and mission advocate who served as president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, passed to his rest this week at the age of 74, according to the Folkenberg family. 

Service as the denomination’s president

During his time as president, Folkenberg pushed the Church forward with the use of technology and brought CompuServe, a precursor to the world wide web, into use in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, making it the first denomination to use such technology. He wanted the church to be up-to-date in the latest technology and use all tools available to spread the gospel. 

Folkenberg felt that Adventists had an exciting message to share and the Internet was a great way to expand the Church’s reach. The Adventist Church, he believed, could use the Internet to provide information, training and experiences that better demonstrate the global aspect of the Church’s operation. 

“Elder Folkenberg was filled with creative and innovative ideas regarding church work and evangelism.  As president of the General Conference, he strongly nurtured the media aspect of outreach for church activities and evangelism as well as pioneered the use of Internet for communication within the church structure,” Ted Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said in a statement to ANN.

Folkenberg also had a great passion for mission. It was the driving force of his ministry. During his time as Seventh-day Adventist world church president, he helped launch the Global Mission initiative, which has been responsible for establishing thousands of new congregations around the world.

“We could not have asked for a greater support than Folkenberg for Global Mission,” said Mike Ryan, former world church general vice president and the first director of Global Mission. “Elder Robert Folkenberg was visible, involved and passionate about proclaiming the hope of the gospel in places where Jesus’ name was not known. It mattered to him personally that the Church was organized and focused on mission and that every member made being Christ's Ambassador their top priority,” Ryan added.

Ryan said he remembers Folkenberg often saying, “Participation in Global Mission is not optional.” 

In 1999, Folkenberg stepped down from his post at the General Conference and Jan Paulsen replaced him as president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ministry after the General Conference

Folkenberg’s passion for mission and evangelism did not end after he left his position as president. Folkenberg developed the “Share Him” initiative—a mission and evangelism effort that trains individuals and local churches to hold evangelistic series in their communities and abroad. 

“Elder Folkenberg spent part of his early ministry in frontline evangelistic activity and the last part of his ministry in direct evangelistic outreach through “ShareHim.”  Evangelism and the proclamation of the three angels’ messages were the passion of his life,” Wilson said.  “Whether he was in frontline or administrative work, his heart was in helping people know Christ and then become an active participant in the mission of the Church.  His early ministry as part of an evangelistic team gave him the foundation for the rest of his life,” he added. 

Folkenberg did not believe being an Adventist was a spectator sport and spoke often about what the Bible said regarding salvation—“if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (NKJV Romans 10:9) Throughout his career in the Adventist Church Folkenberg put an emphasis on “confessing” Christ—through technology, through mission and through the local churches with which he worked. 

Recently, Frederick Seventh-day Adventist Church in the U.S. state of Maryland decided to participate in ShareHim. Church administrator Gail Boyer said of his passion, "Bob Folkenberg's 'raison d'etre' is that every person should hear the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. He lived for evangelism.” Folkenberg even visited the church, even though he had just been told his cancer had recurred.  He felt the Frederick Church was committed to evangelism and bringing people to Christ, Boyer said. “We had members that responded not only to doing a church-held campaign,” Boyer continued, “but also to doing a 'ShareHim' series in their homes. His love for the Lord was contagious!" 

Jan Paulsen, who followed Bob Folkenberg as General Conference president, said this about his colleague: “Bob was a man of ideas, high energy and a congenial spirit. He assigned responsibilities to his colleagues, and then allowed them space and time to carry out their task. Micro-management was not his style. I found him easy to relate to, both as a colleague and a leader. Since he left office he continued to let his energies and creative ideas develop and flow into the life and mission of the Church, as seen particularly in the 'Share Him' program, which has been a blessing to our Church widely and for which he will be long remembered.”

 A life dedicated to service

Robert S. Folkenberg was born on January 1, 1941 in Santurcee, Puerto Rico to missionary parents. He went to school in Puerto Rico until the fourth grade before finishing elementary school in Cuba. He entered high school in California and ultimately graduated from Milo Adventist Academy in 1958. 

Folkenberg first attended Atlantic Union College then Newbold College and graduated from Andrews University with a degree in Ministry in 1962. In 1963 he completed a master’s degree in New Testament Theology at Andrews University.

Folkenberg was an avid pilot. He secured a single and multi-engine airline transport pilot rating, commercial helicopter and sea rating and flew more than 2,000 hours, the majority of which were in Central America and the Caribbean.

Folkenberg dedicated much of his service to the Inter-America division. Serving first as a pastor in Panama (1966-68) he later became stewardship director of the Panama Conference (1968), president of the Honduras Mission (1970), secretary (1974) and later president of the Central American Union (1975). In 1980 he became assistant to the president for the Inter-American Division. He served in North America as president of the Carolina Conference in the United States (1985-1990) before being elected General Conference President in 1990.

“On behalf of the world church family of Seventh-day Adventists, we offer our deep sympathy, condolences and Christian love to Mrs. Folkenberg and the children, Bob Jr. and his family and Kathi and her family,” Wilson said in his statement. “What a privilege to be part of God’s great Advent movement looking forward to the time when there will be no more pain or death because of Christ’s final victory.  What a marvelous reason to share HIM!"   

Pastor Robert Folkenberg is survived by his wife Anita Emmerson along with their two children Robert Jr. and Kathi and five grandchildren. Robert Folkenberg Jr. serves the church as president of the Chinese Union of Seventh-day Adventists, and Kathi Folkenberg Jensen is a registered nurse.

A memorial service is planned for January 10, at 4pm at the Avon Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Florida, United States.  In lieu of flowers, the family would welcome a donation to Share Him.  Donations can be made online at www.sharehim.org