Larry R. Evans, Undersecretary at the General Conference, shares some personal reflections on this year’s Annual Council meetings.
A Few Highlights of Annual Council
Annual Council this year was held in Manila, Philippines. This was my first time in the Philippines where we found the hospitality of the people superb. Manila, the second most populous city in the Philippines, has more than 1.6 million inhabitants. Only nearby Quezon City, the country’s former capital, is more populous. The metropolitan area is the second most populous in Southeast Asia. We found the city with a smog overcast much of the time. While the convention center where we met was very modern and there are many skyscrapers, poverty abounded nearby. Many of our group took left-over catered food to the children in the area who craved for these food gifts. Some question the expense of meeting outside the General Conference building. Such venues, however, make it clear that we are a worldwide Church and not just a North American Church. The response was overwhelming and sent a positive message throughout Southeast Asia.
Such meetings are always much more than the sum total of actions taken. Today it was refreshing to hear delegates reminding other delegates that we are a world Church and that we need to try to understand the perspectives of cultures other than our own. The visitation in the hallways and around the dinner table is vital. Getting to know one another on a personal basis makes for more efficient and effective actions during the business meeting. I’m sure some of you expect me to say this, but I am pleased to see the diversity of skills invested in the Church’s leadership. I find it amazing. Singularly good but taken together as a whole it is impressive. The Lord is still guiding this Church. Don’t doubt it for a moment. Mistakes will be made but these are still controlled and eventually God’s will still comes through.
Dominant in our thinking was the financial crisis. Frank talks were given as we considered the world budget, but provision for contingency plans were provided should things continue to deteriorate. I watched the TV news in the evenings in amazement as countries across the board came together in a crisis to meet an international emergency. Signs of things to come. I’m encouraged to see how your financial leaders are taking conservative and cautious steps during a time that is unparalleled in history. The impact of the crisis will no doubt be felt by the Church. The extent of impact is not known at this time. Elder Paulsen reminded us of the words of Christ not to worry (Mat. 6) and Paul’s counsel “Do not be anxious about anything.” That, of course, doesn’t mean we bury our heads in the sand but it does mean we need to know where our real confidence lies.
Elder Bediako, Secretary, reported that from July 1, 2007 to June 30,2008 there were 1,051,601 accessions. Our midyear membership is 15.8 million. That means that on the average 2,879 souls joined the Church every day. The ratio of Church membership to world population is 425. The percentage of net increase was 2.24 as compared to the previous year of 4.82 partially due to some significant church audits.
- One of the significant reports came from the small committee which visited all thirteen divisions and GC institutions and did an assessment of the GC appropriations received. It was as huge task. Their findings will implement changes beginning in 2010.
- The commission on ministries and structures presented its report. An action was taken giving the Executive Committee the authority to make necessary adjustments as needs dictate. No immediate changes will be taken. A constitutional change will be presented at the next GC Session which would place the selection of associate departmental directors at the first Annual Council rather than at the GC Session. This would relieve some of the responsibilities and pressure of the nominating committee at a GC session.
- A report was given of the tragedies in Orissa, India where: 15 SDA churches were destroyed; 775 homes were burned or destroyed; 207 injured and 15 killed. The story of the pastor who refused to renounce his faith and was killed was told. What a challenge to each of us to consider our own faith commitment.
- During one of the business sessions we stopped to hear a report of renewed violence directed towards Adventists in Iraq. Thirteen have been killed. Many are in hiding. Damage to property/homes has been reported. Special prayer was offered for our believers there.
- A concept was approved which would support research and scholarly studies in the SDA Church.
- Some recommended union missions and unions of churches were voted (Euro-Asia Division and Inter-America Division).
- Several Church Manual items were voted to be taken to the next and final step which is the 2010 GC Session to be held in Atlanta, GA (USA). Perhaps the most discussed issue was the ordaining of deaconesses which was referred to the GC Session—the next step in the process.
I had better close this report. I will be heading to the Southern Asia-Pacific Yearend Meetings on Friday where I will present a Sabbath evening vespers and the morning devotionals and, of course, participate in the various pre-meeting interviews and committee meetings. Home is looking good but that is two weeks away.
All the best.
Larry R Evans
[Photo: Reger Smith/ANN]