The Seventh-day Adventist community lost some of its giants this last year.
Thomas Geraty had just celebrated his 99th birthday when he died at the end of December. Geraty was an early missionary to China, president of the Middle East College in Beirut, editor of the Journal of Adventist Education, and dean of Andrews University’s School of Education during his long career working for the church. Well into his 90s he painted, wrote poetry, and did his daily devotions in Mandarin. A large crowd attended his memorial service on December 28 at Loma Linda Campus Hill Church.
Thomas Geraty’s son Larry presented a life sketch of his father. He described Thomas Geraty’s years in China like this:
Shortly after their first child, Lawrence Thomas, was born in 1940, [Thomas and his wife Hazel] accepted a mission appointment to China, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on the Asama Maru to Shanghai, via Hawaii and Japan. With the advent of World War II, and the occupation of the China coast by the Japanese, they were transferred to Burma along with several other missionaries where they spent their time learning Chinese. When Rangoon was bombed, they flew over the Hump into Central China where Thomas served behind Japanese lines at the Adventist college at Sung Pao near Chungking. The only way to reach the school was by sampan on the river or walking through rice paddies. There were no roads and no vehicular traffic. As business manager for awhile, Thomas accepted tuition payment in rice because there was such rampant inflation. In 1940 the exchange rate for a U.S. $ was 20 Chinese dollars; during the war it went down to 56,000 Chinese dollars for $1 U.S. Both Thomas and Hazel taught their classes in Chinese, and learned to love the students they taught. Thomas was ordained in Chungking along with Carl Currie, James Wang, and Herbert Liu.
Their second child, Edwin McVicker, was born there but without adequate medical attention during the war, passed away as a baby, buried in Shanghai.
Their third son, Ronald Douglas, was born after the war, in 1946, while they were on furlough in California. The Geraty family of four returned to China, this time Thomas getting the assignment of building up the Adventist college at Chiou-Tou-Tseng near Nanking. No sooner had he built several new buildings and gotten things going strongly, then Mao Tse Tung’s Communist armies began moving south so the family had to be evacuated down the Yang-tse River to Shanghai and then to HongKong where Thomas was asked to lead out at the Adventist college there at Clear Water Bay.
Joe Melashenko died on June 21. His son Lonnie shared these words, as part of his tribute: “For millions of radio/TV listeners Dad was a special ‘basso profundo in excelsis’ as HMS Richards used to call him. With his big bass voice and giant bear hugs he came into our lives; he left footprints on our hearts. . . His incredible gift communicating Jesus through sermons in song together with his wife and five sons—Lonnie, Joedy, Dallas, Eugene and Rudy—the ‘Singing Joe Melashenko family.’ His ministry as ‘The Gospel Singer’ bridged culture, age, gender, ethnicity and reached across to audiences spiritual and pagan alike. Hard working. Honest. He loved his family. He loved his wife Anne. He loved his church.”
On March 8, Arthur Patrick died in Sydney Adventist Hospital in Australia. Patrick’s contribution over more than 17 years at Avondale included serving as the first curator of the Ellen G White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, as lecturer in what is now the School of Ministry and Theology, as registrar, as the first president of the Avondale Alumni Association and, in retirement, as an honorary senior research fellow. “His keen insight into the academic issues facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church included developing an understanding of the ministry of Ellen White, contextualising the theological positions of the church’s past and exploring the interface between Christianity and science.”
Morris Venden passed away on February 10, at the age of 80. Venden pastored several large churches including the La Sierra University Church and Pacific Union College Church in California and the Union College Church in Nebraska. Later he pastored the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church near Loma Linda, California, from which he retired in August 1998. Venden then joined the Voice of Prophecy team as an associate speaker.
In addition to writing more than 40 books, Venden was a widely sought-after speaker who loved to share the good news about righteousness by faith.
Norma Sahlin, manager of Agora Community Center in Mason, Ohio, and wife of Monte Sahlin (noted Adventist commentator and author), died on October 9, at age 61, after a struggle with cancer.
On October 10, Denise Ratsara, wife of Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division President Paul Ratsara, and his partner in ministry, died – also after a struggle with cancer.
The church also lost some younger workers in tragic circumstances.
Andrew Kuntaraf, an advocate of using technology to empower better and more effective ministry, died on April 6 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near Charles Town, West Virginia. He was just 33. Kuntaraf was director of the Seventh-day Adventist world church’s office of Adventist Church Membership Software, where he oversaw the development of standardized membership accounting software for church use worldwide.
On July 6, Rob Lloyd, pastor of the Kailua Church for 21 years, as well as the Executive Secretary and Ministerial Director of the Hawaii Conference, passed away at a hospital in Hong Kong. He was on his way to Rwanda. He began feeling ill in Korea and when his flight landed in Hong Kong he was taken to the hospital.
Also in July, Jeff Brown, 57, pastor of the Apison Church, close to Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, collapsed and died unexpectedly while on a mission trip to Panama.
And on Christmas, Canadian missionary to Belize Brian Townsend was abducted and killed.