More than 100 exhibitors, 400 seminars, multiple languages, and people from every time zone will be part of the church's first Adventist Virtual Global Campmeeting, says Tim Aka, Associate Treasurer at the General Conference and coordinator of the upcoming event.
Question: You are helping to organize the first Adventist Virtual Global Campmeeting to be held online from May 19 to 23. How many people do you expect to log on? How many attendees can you handle? What platform will you use?
Answer: We are using a commercial platform by a company called vFairs. They have considerable experience in the virtual conference business, so we have selected them for this event. The platform has been stress tested to handle 15,000 attendees logged in at one time. We expect up to 200,000 people to visit over the course of the Global Campmeeting.
As of now, a week before the campmeeting is scheduled to begin, we have about 60,000 people registered to attend, and the number is growing daily. About 60% of those registered are Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.
How will you overcome the obstacle of multiple languages?
This year we will have primarily English language programs, though we do have quite a few in Spanish. Several of the main keynote presentations will be translated using live simultaneous translations.
Is this event meant to mimic an online version of a General Conference Session in some ways? What do you see as the primary purpose and major goal of this event?
This is something entirely new. We want to reach out to the average member who does not have the opportunity to attend a GC Session. Also, we want to show the world church our many mission and service organizations — both within the church and independent ministries. Our primary purpose is to help inspire and equip our members to be involved in the mission of the church, share the gospel and the love of Jesus.
Can you tell us about some of the speakers who will be presenting?
We have over 350 seminars featuring distinguished speakers from around the world. Our keynote speakers are representative of the wealth of talent that God has given to this church, both in ministry and other service areas. (Please see the advert below for the keynote speakers.) There are speakers from our educational institutions, hospital systems, businesses, and from our various church organizations.
We have six subject matter tracks: health, missions, education, media, theology, and discipleship. We also have a Main Stage where we will have notable speakers. Our special health-focused program for Thursday afternoon is a good example of the thematic programming that we are putting together.
On Thursday, we will first hear from David Williams, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard University's School of Public Health, who will share a presentation titled "Vaccines: Sound in Science and Doctrine."
Following Dr. Williams’ presentation, we will hear a series of further presentations by medical experts about COVID-19, the immune system, vaccines, and addictions.
Will there be some way for attendees to interact with each other?
There are features on the platform for Global Campmeeting that will allow interaction between attendees, with exhibitors and with presenters. There are chat functions and video chat capabilities that will facilitate interaction. We are also encouraging our speakers to build in 15 to 20 minutes for Live Q&A at the end of their seminars.
Will there be any programming for children?
The event is geared for adults. There are some children’s ministry related topics, but they are more for adults learning how to do children’s ministries rather than children-oriented programs.
How are you getting out the word and marketing the campmeeting?
We are using the various communication channels that each of the levels of the church has, as well as the contacts of the organizations who will be in the exhibit hall. We are also using social media as a tool for reaching out directly to our members.
What are some of the logistical or technological challenges you have to figure out to make this event work?
There are a few elements that create challenges for preparing this event:
1. The size of the event: We are working with over 110 organizations to set up their virtual presences (“booths”) in the exhibition hall. Also, we are organizing over 400 seminars, presentations, and programs.
2. Global audience: We want to make this accessible to our members around the world, so the programming must be accessible in every time zone. Working in multiple time zones creates challenges.
3. Creativity: Everyone is tired of online meetings, but they will binge-watch programs on TV or the internet if they are interesting. So, we want to ensure that the program offers interesting, inspiring, and practical content that will interest our members.
Where did the idea for the virtual campmeeting come from?
As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Due to the pandemic we had to cancel the exhibition hall for the GC Session, so we wanted to have a virtual exhibition hall and conference with the 2021 GC Session. When the GC Session was postponed again, we decided to change the virtual conference to a campmeeting — a familiar event for many Adventists — so that we can come together as a world church.
Who is helping to organize the event?
We have a team of people at the General Conference working on this program from a number of different departments. We are also working closely with division personnel to coordinate this event.
What is the biggest virtual event the church has hosted so far?
I’m not aware of this.
Have you organized anything similar before?
In a previous job, I was involved in quite a few large-scale events as well as rolling out technology to customers. I worked for the first bank in Canada to roll out internet business banking on a Windows platform around 1996 in the early days of the internet. We learned a lot. Events and technology adaptation was a regular part of our business in the 20 years I worked at the bank. I thought those were transferable skills that could be applied to this event.
What are you enjoying about this project?
Meeting and working with a lot of great people. Doing something innovative for the mission of the church.
How will you measure the success of the virtual campmeeting?
• We are planning a Global Hour of Prayer each day. If we can get thousands of people from around the world praying together that would be a success.
• If we can inspire our young people in particular to get excited about doing their part to share God’s love to their communities. Our registration is predominantly a younger audience — getting them to tune in would be a success.
• If the organizations who are partnering with us at the exhibition hall can connect with many new people.
• Maybe the ultimate test will be if people want to do this again in 2022 during the GC Session.
What do you do in your regular job, when you are not organizing what must be the church’s largest virtual event ever?
I am Associate Treasurer, Director of Investments in the Treasury Department. I look after the investments for our global church. I guess the Global Campmeeting is an investment of a different kind, but an investment, nonetheless.
Photos courtesy of the General Conference and Tim Aka.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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