He started with the word ‘amazed’ on day 1 and concluded with ‘encouraged’ on day 5 -- the final day of Trans-European Division Year End meetings in Bečići, Montenegro, 21 – 25 November 21-25.
Artur Stele, joined the annual gathering of TED Executive Committee members as a representative of the General Conference. He expressed amazement that, in a context where thousands of young people are leaving some of the struggling economies in eastern and central Europe, where the church is aging in other areas, and where all religious groups are daunted by growth in Europe’s increasingly secularized society, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church can grow at all.
“You are not big in numbers but big in challenges,” he stated – and that is what encouraged him. Listening to the mission reports, the challenges, even the requests in special times of prayer, he also emphasized that you are “big in providing the key for the future of mission.”
This was equally emphasized by GC Associate Treasurer, George Egwakhe. Growing up in Nigeria, he was strongly influenced by missionaries from Europe who sacrificed to give him both an education and faith. He was surprised to find some of their descendants sitting in the room!
“I appreciate that missionary heritage,” he stated, then went on to note that, within the context of Jesus important last words in the Gospel of Matthew, we still have a ‘raison d'etre’ for our work as church employees: the Gospel commission to “go and make disciples of all nations…” along with that sure promise that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Disciple-making was a strong emphasis throughout the five days. Testimonies and reports from the 14 Unions and attached fields showed how the tide was turning in some areas. The establishment of more Centers of Influence, an emphasis on Children’s and family ministries, and the development of discipleship tracks at local church level, improvements in media output, and the intergenerational Church of Refuge program are all playing a part.
Significant time was given to discipleship with Simon Martin, Discipleship Coach for Scandinavia joining with Gavin Anthony, Iceland Conference president, to stimulate discussion and ideas that take new contacts not just to the baptismal pool, but through into a committed, growing life of service in church and community.
Time was also spent on Emotional Health, both with church members and with pastors. Gábor Mihalec, a pastor and qualified family therapist in Hungary, captivated attendees as he shared principles that can make church and community a safer place, and help develop balanced leaders. Plans are already being made to develop more resources in this area.
There are areas of serious challenge. In some places the church is dysfunctional individuals have pushed unbiblical views on the Trinity and other areas. Bible Conferences, continuing education for our pastors and elders, and other program are being developed to help address these issues.
There is also concern that, while not a major mission focus, the discordant notes on the role of women in ministry and leadership are causing some youth and older members to find church a difficult place to be.
Hilde Huru, a lay-representative from Norway, verged on tears as she shared the way that young people, both in the church and outside, are looking at us. “Our young people are embarrassed to admit they are Adventists due to the way we force issues,” she said. “Let’s not focus so much on these lesser essentials – but commit fully to mission. For this we need a flexible approach.”
Branislav Mirilov, President of the Cyprus section, noted that “we’ve been chewing this for 20 years. It is an Issue of justice, an issue of conscience.” Along with many other speakers he emphasized the need to deal with these issues in a positive manner while keeping our main focus on reaching the lost millions.
Others spoke of abuse in the church where women leaders are badly treated due to a misinterpretation of the 2015 vote in San Antonio, despite Pastor Wilson’s statement following the vote that ‘Nothing has changed,’ i.e. Women local elders, deacons and pastors can continue to serve.
The debate resolved itself into four, forward looking resolutions that members unanimously saw as a positive way to encourage our female pastors and leaders while maintaining appropriate dialogue with the GC. [See: TED Year End Meetings votes statement to support women in ministry and leadership]
Many side committees take place during Year End meetings including Secretariat and Treasury training, lay-representatives consultation, a nominating committee that filled two vacanciescaused by staff being called elsewhere, the Newbold College board, and MinTac – the ministerial training committee.
There were also significant presentations from ASI Europe, Adventist World Radio, and ADRA Europe. Of particular interest in the ADRA Europe report was that while Europe only makes up 2% of Adventist membership across the world, it provides 36% of funding for ADRA projects. It was also noted the very significant lead that the combined EUD/TED communication team took in generating programming and responses for World Refugee Sabbath, highlighting the needs of the world’s most vulnerable.
The budget for 2019 was voted, roughly at the same levels as 2018, particularly with the uncertainties of Brexit necessitating some caution.
However, aside from the networking and planning that took place between meetings and late into the evening, the highlight for many was Sabbath worship. This was balanced between scientist and lay-representative, Christian Burt, speaking from her heart of Friday evening about ‘going the distance’, then theologian Artur Stele explaining the Greek of Revelation 21 to demonstrate how the whole of the Apocalypse is a story of hope, and that the promise of the New Jerusalem in a reality in our lives right now. His Sabbath evening vespers explained similar subliminal messages in the story of the prodigal son, and was reinforced by three church leaders miming the story as the words of Luke 15 were read.
With the uncertain weather in Europe over the past week some members had difficult journeys making it to Montenegro. Others are equally struggling to get back home. One thing that all are certain of is that ‘this world is not my home’, we are looking for something better, and as leaders return to their fields of service, and to their own year-end meetings, the prayer is that the lessons of discipleship, Emotional Health, youth involvement, and active listening, will further empower the important work of mission in the Trans-European Division, and that when the 2019 statistics get published this time next year, Dr Stele can leap to his feet with even more joy and encouragement as lives in Europe are changed for the glory of God.
SEERS OF ALTERNATIVES: Pastor Raafat Kamal at Trans-European Division Year End Meetings
New Health, Stewardship directors for TED
Gábor Mihalec in an EPC interview talks about how to keep your marriage together and recommends a good book.