Adventist Journal Online | Adventist leaders reflect on how to lead mission during crises
The 2021 Annual Council opens with testimonials, a discussion on how to adapt and thrive.
“We face unusual situations, ”General Conference President Ted NC Wilson said in his devotional message at the opening of the 2021 Seventh-day Adventist Church Annual Council. “How do we carry out our mission in times of crisis?
Wilson’s brief message opened discussions and reflections from the week-long event, which this year takes place in person in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, and simultaneously online for most of the delegates who cannot not travel.
Wilson acknowledged that during this pandemic many have “lost heart” – they have become discouraged. “How can we continue? ” He asked. According to Wilson, the only answer is to rely completely on Jesus. “He is the leader of the Adventist movement,” he said.
Annual Board meetings include business sessions in which members of the General Conference Executive Committee (GCEXCOM) from around the world vote on projects, reports and initiatives and discuss other financial and religious matters. The opening meetings on October 7 and 8, however, include the annual Education and Leadership Development (LEAD) conference. LEAD Conferences focus on a specific topic that seeks to inspire and support the professional and spiritual development of church leaders, lay members and guests who are members of GCEXCOM.
This year’s LEAD conference was produced by the Adventist Mission Office, and the theme chosen was “Through Storms: Mission During Crises”. Organizers have found this appropriate as the Adventist Church learns to navigate and adapt to the new realities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hope we can learn better ways to move the mission forward,” said Tiffany Brown, pastor and teacher who moderated the opening session and coordinated a panel discussion.
Trusting God After a Major Crisis
The two-hour opening session included testimonials from missionaries who experienced major crises, as well as case studies from Adventist Church history and Christianity. Among the first, LEAD conference attendees watched a video testimony from Bryan and Penny Gallant, from Missouri, USA, where Bryan is currently the pastor of three churches and coordinates refugee ministries in the region.
The Gallants shared how they learned to trust and follow God after a serious car accident many years ago in which they lost their two young children. This tragedy sparked a spiritual and service journey, said Bryan. “In my own life, faith was the ability to explain God; now, it’s just trusting Him, whatever He does.
This life-changing event ultimately led them to a life of service as missionaries in far-off places, including Cambodia, where they used the experience of their loss to comfort others who were suffering. “We were able to come into contact with people who had lost many loved ones to political violence,” Bryan said. They have continued to serve in other countries and capacities and continue to serve others in need also in the United States.
“The message we bring to the world is not information; it’s an experience, ”he said.
In Soviet times
Opening the case studies section of the program, Artur Stele, general vice president of the General Conference, reflected on the lessons the church has learned during decades of restraint and persecution in the former Soviet Union. “The government set out to free society from religion,” Stele said. “Many faithful Christians have been incarcerated.
Stele reported that although the Adventist Church had to go through challenges and hardships, including the loss of pastors and church members, the church not only survived but also grew during this time. Among the lessons Stele said we can learn, he mentioned complete trust and total trust in the Word of God in the midst of hardship. “Believers not only read but followed Bible truth,” he said. “Believers saw things from the point of view of eternity; paradise was real. There was an urgent need to share the message.
He also mentioned the flexibility and creativity of the church. The church has adapted. “When worship was prohibited, they worshiped early in the morning or late at night, in small groups or even in pairs. Since birthday parties were allowed, every Sabbath [Saturday], the members threw a birthday party. Church councils have sometimes taken place during a funeral.
Another lesson, Stele said, is that every member was, in one way or another, involved in the mission of the church. “Most of the pastors were in prison, so lay people had to do the work,” he said. “The musical groups practiced at night and continued to sing even when it was forbidden. When the pastors were arrested, they knew their congregations would survive.
It’s a lesson for all of us, Stele said. He underlined: “Let us work so as not to be ashamed. Let’s focus on eternity. Let’s make sure everyone is involved in the Lord’s work.
Lessons from Adventist and Christian History
Other presentations focused on the Adventist Church during a crisis in 1919, which included ministry during the Spanish flu pandemic. “How was the church able to share the gospel of eternal life with people who had temporal needs? Jenifer Daley, administrative pastor at Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, asked. Daley mentioned responsible engagement, which is tied to people’s urgent needs while sharing an everlasting message. “As a result, the mission flourished,” Daley said. The key is to “persevere in crises with a unified message that people need”.
Adam Ramdin, Youth Director of the North England Conference, reflected on the example of the Vaudois. For centuries they have kept the flame of God’s truth alive in the mountain valleys of the Alps. Among other wise decisions, the Vaudois took special care in the education of their children, Ramdin reminded participants of the LEAD conference. “They knew what they believed, why they believed it, and they were very clear that this was a message they couldn’t keep to themselves.”
Ramdin explained how the Vaudois would study the Word of God, train themselves, and then travel to major cities in Europe to share the message. “Their goal was the conversion of hearts,” he said.
The mission, Ramdin pointed out, was expensive. Many have lost their lives far from family and friends. However, “they knew they had served a greater mission than themselves,” he said.
Beyond the difficulties
Daniel Jiao, China Union Mission Secretary, agreed that embracing innovation and enduring hardship is part of what believers should expect when faced with crises. He shared the story of his father, a faithful church member who survived labor camps and harassment to lead a growing Adventist congregation in China. Crises must be faced with great patience and careful instruction, Jiao said. “Be innovative. Think about the best way to do God’s work ”under the circumstances, he advised. And be prepared to endure hardship. “You will have to go through hardships and you will have to rely on God to do His job,” Jiao said.
Across the world, church members in Venezuela spoke about how they kept the mission alive after all churches were closed and meetings banned during the still ongoing pandemic. The church launched the “Every Home, One Church” initiative, which has seen pastors and church members develop innovative ways to maintain fellowship and awareness. The results speak for themselves. In Venezuela, “the church continues to grow and, by the grace of God, does not stop,” they reported.
No matter when or where a crisis strikes, the key, Wilson told GCEXCOM members, is to remember who is more powerful than our most pressing problems. “Leaders, never take the eyes of our leader, Jesus Christ,” Wilson said. “Through every storm, God will carry out the mission because he is the master of the storm. “