The second day of Year-End Meetings for the North American Division began and ended with a message for young people, and they were listening.
During the morning worship service, NAD Associate Communication Director Julio Munoz interviewed the delightful Elder Charles and Mrs. Ethel Bradford about their lifelong service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elder Bradford delivered a few fiery mini-sermons during the hour-long interview, causing Mrs. Bradford to mutter, “oh boy” under her breath at least once when he got too worked up.
They first met during their studies at Oakwood College (now University) but went their separate ways after graduation. Elder Bradford shared that during their two-year post-college courtship, he would drive to visit Ethel whenever he could afford gas for his car. “He only got [over to see me] twice,” Ethel clarified.
“He must have been charming,” Munoz said. “Oh yes,” Ethel replied.
The audience learned that the couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary next year. “May 28!” Elder Bradford told the audience. “May 23,” Ethel corrected with a smile.
The conversation soon turned to issues of race that affect the church and to young people’s frustration and anger at the injustices they see. “There seems to be a growing sense of fear and hate in this country and, frankly, in the church,” Munoz said. “What advice would you give to [young people]?”
Bradford told the story of being bullied at a young age when he attended a primarily caucasian school and his mother’s advice to stand proud and say, “Yes, I’m black and my daddy’s black, and he’s a good man.”
“And I’ve been telling them that ever since,” Bradford added. “And now that daddy’s gone, I look in the mirror and say ‘by the grace of God, I’m a good man!’ Civil rights didn’t make me a good man; God did.”
The Bradfords said they had no clue he was going to be asked to be the first NAD president. They were told he might have a chance at being a vice president for the General Conference but never NAD president, so it came as a shock when the decision was made.
Munoz asked about the challenges Bradford faced in the early days as president of a newly formed division. “We lived on challenges. We had to walk softly,” Bradford replied.
He continued, saying he didn’t waste time or energy taking umbrage with ignorant people and their snide remarks. He focused on the work and the mission. “Let nothing separate you from your work! God put you there to do that work, and you can’t stop to argue with somebody. . . . Go on with your work. Don’t carry those things in your heart. Don’t let anything keep you away from your God.”
Watch the full interview on the North American Division Facebook page here.
With worship concluded, it was time to get down to business. First on the agenda was making sure the electronic voting devices were working. A handful of delegates experienced problems, but once their devices were swapped out for different ones, everything proceeded smoothly.
Paul Brantley, NAD vice president, presented the Strategic Visioning Report on the subject of NAD Mission DNA. He discussed the importance of Mission Awareness, Mission Alignment, and Mission Accountability.
The NAD’s Mission Statement is "To reach everyone in the NAD with the Christ-centered message of Hope and Wholeness."
"Every organization, sacred or secular, that has ever done anything extraordinary has always been driven by a single, compelling mission and a strategy to accomplish it,” Brantley shared.
The delegates took part in a group “DNA Activity” to explore the three A’s of Mission. Energetic conversation ensued. Afterward, the concrete ideas the delegates had discussed together and written on brightly colored sheets of paper were collected. These ideas will be brought back on Monday as a one-page written commitment from NAD officials on how they will support conferences and local churches in an effort to be more mission-driven.
The mood turned somber when Tim Northrop, president of Adventist Risk Management, took the stage to discuss insurance and healthcare. NAD President Jackson shared that the NAD has experienced huge losses over the years due to settlements in death and injury suits. He reminded the delegates that a previous action voted by the body forbids the use of 15-passenger vans by conferences and churches in the NAD. There have been too many injuries and deaths as a result of using these vehicles during church outings. “They are not safe. We have killed a lot of people in 15-passenger vans,” Jackson said.
He reported that over the past four- or five-year period, the NAD has paid out claims in excess of $80 million related to various injuries and deaths, including those from van accidents.
Northrop continued with a discussion on the health care plan for church employees and the church’s commitment to encouraging a healthy lifestyle, as well as specific initiatives the church is undertaking to address the types of claims the church is seeing.
Northrop said that for every $1 the NAD paid its insurance company last year, the insurance company had to pay out $6.50 in claims. Because of this, the provider needs to see that specific steps are being taken to reduce risk. Many of the claims were due to lack of proper supervision and improperly maintained equipment and, therefore, could have been avoided, Northrop told the delegates.
When the floor was opened for questions, newly appointed Lake Union President Maurice Valentine shared that he has been encouraged by the steps his conferences have taken to lower risk, and he knows other conferences have made similar strides. He expressed desire that time be given for a forum dialogue so conference officials could share the ways they’re working to meet safety challenges.
Next, the NAD Ministerial Department Director Ivan Williams and his team came up front to give a presentation on the many continuing-education resources available at its website, nadministerial.com.
Though it was nearing the scheduled end-time of 1:00 p.m., Jackson asked the delegates if they would be willing to stay through one last presentation by the Sabbath School, Children’s Ministries, and Youth Ministries teams. The delegates agreed, though a fair number slipped out the door during the discussion.
Throughout the presentation, the importance of Sabbath School as the foundation for a strong connection with the church was emphasized. Tracy Wood, associate director of the Youth Ministries Department, shared that the earliteen and youth demographics have been an “orphan” with little-to-no Sabbath School resources available for leaders of this age group, but his team is seeking to change that.
The importance of engaging young people by giving them leadership opportunities was stressed both from the platform and from delegates and guests during the question section. First to the mic was Peter Flores, Adventist Intercollegiate Association (AIA) president from Walla Walla University.
Flores shared that this topic is very important to him and his fellow student leaders. “We’ve been discussing this electronically between ourselves,” he said, waving his arm behind him to where the student leaders from the Adventist colleges and universities in North America were sitting.
Rick Remmers, president of the Chesapeake Conference in the Columbia Union, was next up. He said he appreciated the emphasis and concern given to earliteen and youth Sabbath School but wanted to know what the plan is for a youth resource to replace the discontinued Insight.
In response, Armando Miranda, Jr., director for Junior Youth Ministries, shared that there is an imminent plan in the works. Starting on November 1, a digital platform will be launcheed, utilizing the current Facebook page for Insight, as well as new Snapchat and Instagram accounts. Miranda said the content will be produced by young adults for young adults. “Hopefully that will lead to some more material that we can print and hand out to teachers and people that can use it in their Sabbath School for teens,” he added.
He continued saying, “To be honest, we’re testing this. This is not ‘it’ specifically. If it works, and we hope it does, it will take us to a different level of ministry. We have not done Snapchat or Instagram stories that way. We have not reached this generation. If you don’t know what Snapchat is, talk to your grandkids and your children that are on it and they will tell you.”
Jackson added that when the decision was made to shutter Insight, less than 6,000 copies were being printed per issue. There are over 6,000 churches in North America, so that averages out to less than one copy per congregation.
Samson Sembeba, student association president for Southwestern Adventist University, affirmed what his colleague, Peter Flores, had said earlier about continuing this discussion. “We just felt as though with time [constraints] and everything happening, people were leaving the room as they were beginning the presentation, and I just want to thank everybody that stayed, but I think this is an important topic, we all believe this is an important topic, and it almost seemed like the . . . way people were leaving the room is the same way youth are leaving the church.”
This elicited applause from the audience, and Jackson acknowledged that it may have been a mistake to extend the time today, but it’s an important discussion, and he had wanted to make time for it.
Peter Flores came back to the mic to propose a way forward: “Let us—people my age—help to develop the material. Ask us questions. We’re the ones that have been through the Sabbath School system as it is now. I think about my Sabbath School days as I grew into an adolescent; the person that I looked up to wasn’t the Sabbath School teacher. It was the kids in my classroom. That’s why I went. I wanted fellowship with them. That was the biggest part of it. I wasn’t looking to my Sabbath School teacher for advice. . . . I was looking at the older kids in the room, where are they going. Personally, in my church, some of them are gone. But I’m still here. And we’re still here. Ask us questions. Let us help.”
Jackson ended the business session by saying this important discussion would be continued on Sunday.
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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