With a small, curated audience of Division leaders gathered at the General Conference building in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the rest of the Executive Committee watching on Zoom, the Annual Council meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee began Thursday evening, Oct. 7. As usual, it began with the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Conference, this year hosted and produced by Adventist Mission.
“Through the Storms: Mission During Crisis” was the theme. Bryan and Penny Gallant started things off by sharing the story of their personal tragedy losing two children in a car accident. The pastoral couple was paralyzed with grief, unable to function. Months later, when Penny declared that only two people died in the accident, and that they were meant to live, things began to turn around. They volunteered to go as missionaries to Cambodia. There they met people who had experienced similar tragedies of losing family members through war. They learned that hearts speak to hearts, that the Gospel is not information but an experience. Christ came to the world to show what love looks like. “He doesn’t take us away from problems, but through them,” Bryan said. Today Bryan coordinates Adventist Refugee Ministries, standing by people going through the experience of displacement.
Artur Stele, vice president of the General Conference and a native of Russia, presented the first case study of the conference. He described the seventeen years in the Soviet Union when the government decided to “liberate” people from God. Churches were destroyed and millions imprisoned. But, the church’s membership numbers actually grew during that time. Stele suggested four reasons why. The believers had total trust in the Bible and followed it, he said. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for it. They viewed things from the perspective of heaven. They were flexible and creative. Birthday parties were an activity allowed by the government, so every Sabbath was someone’s birthday party. Church committee meetings took place at funerals and weddings. One pastor decided to work as a taxi driver. He would pick up leaders of small groups and meetings would take place in the car. He told the story of another pastor who was imprisoned and whom the prison guards made fun of for believing the stories in the Bible. If you believe that Jesus walked on water, let’s see you walk on the water in the river in front of the camp. If you do, you will be released. If you can’t, you will suffer even more, the pastor was told. He asked for three days in which he fasted and prayed. The whole camp turned out to watch him as he was taken to the river to prove his faith. He prayed again before stepping forward on what he envisioned to be a bridge. His walk on water converted many among the guards and prisoners that day.
In her presentation about the crisis the church suffered during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919, Jenifer Daley, administrative pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church, noted that church membership numbers also increased during that time. She suggested that it was because the Church focused on a single practical message and then presented it in multiple ways. The story of the Waldensians was told in video form by Adam Ramdin. He encouraged the audience to adapt like the Waldensians and to live for a cause that is bigger than our lives.
On Friday, the presentations moved from past crisis to current ones. Rick McEdwards, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union Mission, described Aug. 4, 2020, when a blast destroyed a major portion of Beirut where the Mission headquarters is located. He said the blast left 300,000 people homeless overnight. At the Mission, they collected their members and asked what they could do to help. They began by helping with the cleanup. Then they began serving food. He said when the World Church realized what had happened, they responded to the needs in Beirut. McEdwards thanked the World Church for its support during their time of crisis.
Host Tiffany Brown asked what does it mean to be a church during a crisis like COVID when the buildings are closed. Her answer, the real church never closes because the church is people, people who serve. Videos from the Philippines, China, India, Madagascar, Uganda and South Africa then showed church members serving in many creative ways—sanitizing public spaces, planting gardens, providing food not only for people but for the livestock of farmers. There were partnerships with ADRA, such as the one in India where an oxygen generating plant was provided for the hospitals there. The creativity and work were truly inspirational.
As was the poetry of Justin Kim, associate secretary of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department. He presented three dramatic poems during the conference.
Added to the inspirational stories and poetry were presentations about the opportunities that crisis creates, opportunities online and on social media in the case of COVID.
With the subject of COVID, another inspirational moment came during the presentation by the General Conference Health Department when the names of the Adventist health care personnel who lost their lives fighting the pandemic were shown during a period of silence in their honor. Later another listing of names of church workers who have died of COVID was shown. The tragedy of this crisis was acknowledged with prayers by the three officers of the General Conference, President Ted Wilson, Secretary Erton Kohler, and Treasurer Paul Douglas.
The resilience, creativity, and dependence on God that are required for mission through crisis were well illustrated in sermon, song, poetry, and story for the Executive Committee. After Sabbath worship, the business of the committee will commence on Sunday.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image: From LEAD video via GC website.
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