The Global Adventist Internet Network (GAiN) officially kicked off on Monday, February 25, 2019, in Jordan with approximately 500 Adventist communicators here to learn best practices for using technology, media, and the internet to spread the mission of the Church.
Day 1 of GAiN was all about the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which just wrapped up its annual council the week before.
Jonathan Duffy, president of ADRA, began the day with worship, but it was ADRA employees from around the world who took center stage throughout the morning, sharing through video, skit, and presentations about ADRA’s many projects.
The refugee crisis that’s affecting several countries is one area ADRA is actively involved with. Pastor Charles Aguilar, country director for ADRA Uganda, shared about the work they’re doing in the Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda. ADRA has installed bathing facilities, solar lights in public spaces, home gardens for 16,000 households, play centers for kids, a savings and loan program, and a training program so youth can learn how to use energy-saving stoves.
One of the biggest impacts ADRA has had is in its partnership with AFRIpads. These reusable sanitary pads provide women with a sustainable solution for their periods, and the pads have been distributed to 15,000 women so far. Aguilar told attendees that before these pads were made available to the refugees, the women in the camp had to prostitute themselves to several men per month, just to earn enough money to purchase the monthly supply of sanitary pads they needed. Now, with this reusable solution, they can live with dignity. ADRA estimates that over 74,00 total people will benefit from their various efforts in this region.
Duffy wrapped up the presentations by telling the audience that ADRA isn’t an agency of the church or for the church — rather, it is an agency that equips and inspires Adventists to make a difference in the world. “I don’t want to see 22 million Adventists cheering ADRA,” he continued. “I want to see 22 million Adventists bringing hope and healing to the world.” He then encouraged everyone to turn to their neighbor and proclaim, “I am ADRA.”
After a short break for tea and Jordanian pastries (which were a big hit), Duffy expanded on how attendees could take a more proactive approach to making a difference in the world. “Being a Christian and an advocate are the same thing,” he said, and we need to speak up.
Specifically, we need to speak up for the right of all children around the world to have access to primary and secondary education, Duffy said, unveiling ADRA’s newest initiative: "Every Child. Everywhere. In School” (#EveryChildEverywhere).
Today, 262 million children are not in school, and children who aren’t in school are “more vulnerable to human traffickers and recruitment by militias, and at an increased risk of early marriage, teen pregnancy, and child labor,” stated the postcards passed out to each attendee. In addition, Duffy said, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school, and around 90% of children with disabilities in the developing world are not in school. Children of ethnic minorities around the world are also less likely to be in school. For female children, the rates of childhood marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) drastically decrease when girls have access to education.
In addition to advocacy videos like the one below (which was shown to attendees), Duffy encouraged everyone to go online and sign ADRA’s petition, advocating for world leaders to make education a priority. ADRA hopes to reach 1 million signatures. Once someone signs, they can share social media graphics with their friends and followers.
After encouraging everyone to sign the petition and share this information on social media, the attendees were dismissed for a decadent lunch buffet. Afterwards, several workshops were available to choose from: Equipment and Beyond, ADRA and Advocacy, and Hope Channel.
I attended the ADRA and Advocacy session, hosted by James Standish, former communications director for the South Pacific Division. Standish woke everyone from whatever after-lunch stupor they may have been inclined to fall into with unmatched energy.
He began by discussing John Byington, the first president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Byington was an abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad. Standish explained that Byington was only one of many early Adventists who were active in such advocacy work as ending slavery, petitioning for religious liberty, standing up for the poor, and fighting against a corrupt alcohol industry. “It’s gotten a little quietly lately, huh?” he added.
He reminded the audience that the history of the Bible is based on advocacy itself. Early Adventists understood this. In fact, in 1889, when the church was little more than a handful of members, Adventists gathered over 500,000 signatures for a petition speaking out against the establishment of Sunday laws in the United States.
Sometimes we need systemic change, not just symptom change, said Standish. Bringing the conversation around to ADRA’s latest campaign, he remarked that as Adventists we say there’s not enough schools, so we build another school, but that doesn’t encompass the scope of the problem when you have 262 million children (1 in 5) around the world who are not in school. This is a systemic problem, and means changing the paradigm of how children are treated.
According to UNESCO, it will cost $39 billion to provide all of these children with high quality education. To put that number in perspective, Standish said the Adventist Church collects $3.5 billion in tithe and offerings every year, so even if the Church gave all of that, it would make only a dent. However, the alcohol industry brings in $1.3 trillion every year, and just 3% of that could cover education for all of the children in the world. Global military spending stands at $1.7 trillion, so just 2.3% of that could solve this challenge. And then there’s Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, with a networth of $130 billion, where a quarter of his money could fund childhood education for the entire world. “If you’re not at least a little bit outraged, you don’t have your eyes open,” concluded Standish.
The statistics were sobering, but what can Adventists do? If we used our voices for education advocacy, we could change the trajectory, said Standish. Look at what just a handful of Adventists did in 1889, gathering 500,000 signatures to combat Sunday laws. We have over 22 million Adventists worldwide now, he added, and are looking for 1 million signatures that can be taken to political leaders and state entities to petition them to seek change for children.
Standish said there are “Three Big Questions” we should ask ourselves, and the answer to each is “yes”:
1. Is it right for Adventists to advocate for children’s education?
2. Can Adventists make a difference?
3. Can petitions work?
There’s benefits for the Church in this as well, Standish added, reminding the crowd that humans tend to be a self-interested bunch. The benefits include fulfilling our mission to be a light to the world, energizing church members — both young and old — who don’t want a gospel that is just theory, but rather one that interacts with reality, and it puts the Adventist Church in a positive story, which unfortunately doesn’t happen as often as it should.
For attendees who hadn’t signed the petition already during the morning session, Standish had them pull out their phones and laptops and do so immediately and then spread the world via social media. Afterward, small group discussions ensued about more ways that the word could spread, and what each of us could do in our own sphere of influence.
After the supper break, where another elegant spread of Middle Eastern dishes awaited, attendees made their way back to the main hall for what has been labeled the “Convergence Festival.” Each evening during GAiN, films will be shown that have been produced by the various divisions around the world.
The North American Division was up the first evening, with a presentation on its annual Sonscreen Film Festival, which allows up-and-coming Christian filmmakers, primarily high school and college students, to share their work and have it critiqued by experts. Julio Muñoz, NAD associate communication director and director of Sonscreen, spoke about how the Church used to be at the forefront of media with programs like Faith for Today, Westbrook Hospital, and more. In today’s world, how do we capitalize on media in a way that benefits the church?
Sonscreen began in 2002 with both this goal and a determination to engage young people who have a passion for film. It’s a place to learn and experiment in a safe space, said Muñoz. For some of these young people, he continued, Sonscreen is their only connection to the church. “Sonscreen is a film festival, yes, but it’s also a community.”
The audience then viewed a montage of clips from various films that have won at the festival in recent years, before discussing the future of Sonscreen which includes making all of the films available in a dedicated space online through TheHaystack.TV starting in the next few months, creating original media and programming, and expanding Sonscreen beyond the NAD to Europe.
With that, Day 1 of GAiN concluded and attendees made their way back to their various hotels to catch a few hours’ sleep before an early start for Day 2.
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Image courtesy of ADRA / video still.
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