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Jan Paulsen’s Valedictory Vision

For his presidential report to the General Conference delegates on Thursday Jan Paulsen avoided the numbers that often dominate such presentations. Those will come to you from the Divisions, he said. Instead, he focused on the three values that he has talked about for the past ten years: growth, unity, and quality of life. How have these values impacted the life of the church, he asked before presenting a moving video with stories of Adventists whose experiences illustrated the values.

The first was a woman pastor: Zu Xia Hua, who pastors the largest Adventist Church in China. How has she done this he asked? Not with massive evangelistic campaigns, he said, but with zeal for the Lord. People see and respond to that zeal. “What a combination, zeal and the Holy Spirit!” There are now 20,000 Adventists as a result of her zeal.

To look at unity, Paulsen turned to the Netherlands where refugees have created a huge challenge to the culture and the church. Max Peroti, a lay pastor from Suriname, struggled to integrate into a Dutch church family. And the video showed both sides of the struggle.

To examine quality of life, there were stories of how church members were working to be healing agents in their communities: an HIV/AIDS activist from South Africa, Sibu Sibaca, followed by Anthony Borrero who works with the homeless in Oakland, California.

“It doesn’t matter what has happened to you,” said Sibaca, whose parents died of AIDS. “It is how you react to what has happened.”

The stories made clear that becoming community agents of healing and change was our spiritual duty.

As the video closed Paulsen echoed another theme of his presidency, the significance of youth to the church, as he credited the creativity of Paul Kim, the producer of the video.

The video, however, was just the beginning of his remarks, which while not long were significant in their candor about what Adventism has become and the challenges that it faces.

Where do we go from here, he asked?

We will go into the future without fear, he said, with the companionship of the Holy Spirit and the values that define us as a people.

Whenever changes are made, “I want to make sure that the whole global church can identify and can say this is what we want.” What was relatively easy to do when the church was a community of half a million has become more difficult. When the church was small, it was influenced by the culture of the western world; however, now 90% of church members now no longer live in the western world.

“All of us are children of the culture where we live,” he said. “Our cultures shape and develop us. What you do in our country I may not do in mine. And we do not deal with cultural issues by making negative statements about other cultures. It is neither good or bad, it is just there. We cannot step out of it. We can have understanding and tolerance that it is different elsewhere–that in some places the church will function differently around the world,” he said.

We speak all kinds of languages. But we are bonded together by the Holy Spirit. We may be children of different cultures and races. But we are one family. We all carry the love of Christ in our hearts.

He turned to Paul for Biblical advice for the church family, which he noted, that should Christ not return, ten years from now will be a community of 40 million. Paul tells us to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.

“We have to make every effort to keep this global family together,” he said noting one challenge in having global representation in the leadership team. We must be very proactive in doing this, he said. The unity of church is implicated. Only in togetherness will we be able to understand our differences and see them as elements of strength.

From the challenges of the church family, he turned to society and the church’s role there. He noted that he has met with leaders of state and government who want to know what our agenda looks like. How can we help them in building a better future for our children? How can we be a voice for freedom? Our readiness is something we owe to God.”

Paulsen becomes particularly eloquent when he talks about women and youth. That was part of his remarks as he reminded the delegates that 75% of membership fall into these categories and yet, too often and in too many places their involvement is limited. “We have to change this,” he said. “They care about this church. They have so much to offer.”

Finally, he spoke candidly about attending to our spirituality, noting that

over 50% of members do not read the Bible in any regular way.

“If we do not spend more time with the Bible. . . how can we expect God to speak to us? My closing appeal to you who are present here is that you make a commitment to reacquaint yourself with the word of God, now so that you will have the energy to finish the journey.”

The energetic commitment to the future echoed his openness to the wishes of the Nomination Committee as he called his wife to the platform and talked of his personal future.

Was that a resignation speech, some asked as he closed with the Irish blessing, “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You?”

The people around me said, “no,” he left the door open to serve again. Given the vote of the nominating committee, Elder Paulsen went out with one of the best speeches of his presidency.

Photo courtesy of Gerry Chudleigh.

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