Strong Families = Strong Churches
How are family ministries programs helping the world?
By Willie and Elaine Oliver
Families form the core of society and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
And when strong and healthy marriages abound, the likelihood of multiplying strong and healthy families is greater. In solid families, children are discipled in the life of Christ, taught Bible principles of stewardship, and learn how to be positive witnesses in their environments. All these things bode well for making even stronger and healthier churches.
Family Camp in Mongolia.Scripture teaches us that marriage was the first institution established by God at Creation, and ever since the beginning of time the evil one has worked to destroy it. God’s plan for marriage was for it to be a permanent union between a man and a woman. It was to be the place where children are nurtured to love and serve God, where God-given gifts are developed and refinished, and where all members learn how to share the good news of salvation with neighbors and friends.
For more than 35 years the vision of the General Conference Family Ministries Department has been to boost families spiritually and relationally so that the church as a whole is strengthened. Thus, a number of initiatives have been put in place to help family ministries leaders and church members around the world accomplish specific goals.
Each year a family ministries curriculum called a Planbook is produced and made available through AdventSource for use in the local church during Christian Home and Marriage Week in February and Family Togetherness Week in September. This resource includes sermons, workshops, children’s stories, reprinted articles, and book reviews, among many other resources, to aid churches around the world in their marriage and family strengthening initiatives.
The themes for the Family Ministries Planbook for 2010-2015 are consciously designed to integrate with the strategic plans of the worldwide church: 2012—Revival and Reformation: Families Reaching Up; 2013—Revival and Reformation: Families Reaching Out; 2014—Revival and Reformation: Families Reaching Across; 2015—Revival and Reformation: Families Reaching In.
Marriage strengthening, training, and evangelism are among the most important initiatives that the Family Ministries Department will be pursuing in the immediate future. Marriage conferences have been conducted in several areas of the world. Most of the union conference directors of family ministries have been certified for conducting marriage conferences, and hundreds of local pastors and church leaders have learned the skills of PREPARE/ENRICH, a leading resource for premarital education and marriage intervention.
Of special note is the family-to-family evangelism concept now implemented in all 13 divisions of the world church. Family Ministries Department directors Willie and Elaine Oliver are making their commitment to this new kind of evangelism tangible by scheduling themselves for four family evangelism series in four world divisions during the next four years.
PREPARE/ENRICH trainees with Simon Yin
(center) at event in Hong Kong.In September a new television series produced in conjunction with Hope TV—Family Talk—will begin airing on the church’s largest international television network.
In this special feature the unique work of the Family Ministries Department in five of the 13 divisions of the world church is highlighted with the prayer that something here will move you and your congregation to make a clear commitment to building and maintaining the most essential unit of the church—the family.
Initiatives That Make a Difference
In Spain, where 16,000 Adventist believers worship in a population of more than 46 million, the Adventist Association of Psychology Professionals (AAPP) unites psychologists, family counselors, psychiatric nurses, and others in helping professions to dedicate their expertise to the service of the church. This organization offers seminars for building parenting skills, among other services, and works to prevent domestic violence.
Because preventing domestic abuse requires collaboration with other specialized ministries of the church, AAPP works in partnership with the Education, Children’s, and Youth Ministries departments, as well as the Ministerial Association. One of its major programs offers education on communication, healthy relationships, sexuality, and intimacy in the four secondary schools the Seventh-day Adventist Church operates in Spain.* Recognizing the special needs of Adventist teens and young adults in a society increasingly shaped by the promiscuous media-driven lifestyle, the professionals of AAPP partner with parents, teachers, and pastors to offer education and provide guidance on interpersonal and family relationships, based on biblical principles of love and sexuality.
Another objective of this initiative is to provide reliable resources for members and leaders by creating a platform accessible to all family professionals where they can share materials, bibliography, and information.
No family can stand undefended, and AAPP exists to strengthen Adventist families in coping with both the everyday and the extraordinary challenges that all families encounter.
Ellen White said it best: “The circle of family and neighborhood duties is the very first field of effort for those who would work for the uplifting of their fellow men. . . . No work entrusted to human beings involves greater or more far-reaching results than does the work of fathers and mothers” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 351).
—Barna Magyarosi, Euro-Africa Division director of family ministries
March 2012 Bangkok, Thailand Southern Asia-Pacific Division Journey Toward Intimacy marriage conference ercommitment ceremony: L-R Willie and Elaine Oliver (GC FM); Albert and Helen Gulfan (SSD president and director WM); Pastor and Miriam Andres (SSD FM); Pamela and Claudio Consuegra (NAD FM).
Fortifying Our Children
KID (Kids in Discipleship), a grassroots movement based in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, has sent many positive ripples across the unorganized territories of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD), where training has been made available in several locations in the past three years.
Making disciples has been a priority in the NSD for a number of years, and this emphasis is increasingly focused on the children who are both the hope and future of Adventism in this sprawling region of the world church.
The children’s and family ministries leaders in most of the NSD territories have been trained in KID, resulting in focused follow-through with both children and youth. In the unorganized territories Don MacLafferty, the founder of KID, has trained more than 220 children’s ministries leaders. As a result, leaders are employing this discipleship skill-building in multiple ways to reach children and youth. Children’s Sabbath schools, mothers’ groups, Pathfinder clubs, and other family-related ministries are using the resources and approach of KID, bringing both skills and joy to children, youth, parents, and leaders.
In a city in the south of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division a mother who has caught the vision of KID has been teaching it to other mothers so they too can have meaningful worship experiences with their children. Some parents who use this tool are not baptized members, so KID has become an outreach instrument as well. As the Word of God pierces the heart with its light, parents and children are being drawn to Jesus.
In one region where doing well in school is an important cultural focus, one mother reported that her children were upset with her constant nagging to study hard. During the first training session of KID this mother was impressed by the Holy Spirit to change her approach. She was captivated by the importance of developing the spirituality of her home, and brought her children to experience firsthand the lessons taught by KID in a second round of training. Starting regular family worship in her home significantly improved relationships with her children.
The bigger miracle, however, was the answer to prayer regarding the Sabbath problems the children were facing in school. When the parents approached the school to exempt their children from Sabbath classes, the teachers not only agreed, but kindly offered extra lessons to the children. As a result, other members of this church were inspired to learn more about KID and to join the training sessions as well.
—Sally Lam-Phoon, Ph.D., Northern Asia-Pacific Division director of family ministries
The past two years have been exciting years for family ministries in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID). Organizing under themes of “families reaching up” and “families reaching out,” some of the first-ever large-scale efforts to strengthen and nurture Adventist families have been launched. Of particular note have been the Journey Toward Intimacy (JTI) marriage conferences, facilitated by General Conference Family Ministries Department directors Willie and Elaine Oliver.
Pearl Ndumo, Elaine Oliver, and Patricia Blose at the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division Journey Toward Intimacy event.The first JTI program was conducted in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, in July 2011. More than 250 couples braved the cold weather and participated in the daylong Sabbath event.
SID president Paul Ratsara was so impressed by the JTI event that he decided to include it as part of the division’s leadership summit taking place in Pretoria, South Africa, in February 2012. More than six hours were set aside for this special skill-building summit during the seminar, with all union officers and conference presidents, as well as division officers and directors. Spouses of the leaders were invited for the first time to be part of the summit because of the JTI marriage conference. The program made such a powerful impact on these couples that a decision was made to include marriage-strengthening segments in future leadership summits, beginning with the 2013 event.
Immediately after the SID leadership summit, the Ministerial Association of the Southern Africa Union Conference in partnership with the union’s department of family ministries hosted a similar program for more than 250 pastoral couples in their territory. Pastoral marriages are challenged by the special stresses and pressures of public ministry and time demands, and union and division leaders have made a clear commitment to investing in building stronger ministry families.
—Jongimpi Papu, D.Min., Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division director of family ministries
Real Results in Real Families
To encourage wider involvement in family ministries and to partner with other ministry leaders in the nurture and strengthening of families, a division-wide family ministries certification event was conducted at the Indra Regent Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2012. Nearly 500 individuals from every union in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division—including the division president, union presidents, several conference presidents, departmental directors from every level, and many lay leaders—participated. Attendees ex-pressed deep appreciation for the training and the well-developed manuals that guided the discussions, as well as the Bible-based principles and high spiritual tone of the presentations.
Almost 40 percent of the event participants were administrators and departmental directors and their spouses from some level of church leadership. Members thus come to understand that marriage enrichment events are both credible and encouraged, and their own willingness to attend to build marriage skills increases as a result.
Recently a mother from the Philippines who attended the Bangkok certification event received the devastating news that her teenage daughter had attempted to commit suicide. The information shocked her. She and her physician husband are active members in the church, and she had not imagined that this kind of crisis could ever happen in her family. She testified that the information she learned at the family ministries certification conference gave her a perspective that prepared her to better handle this painful discovery of her daughter’s fear and depression.
Marriage Enrichment retreat weekend in the Netherlands.Today this family enjoys a more fulfilled and meaningful life because of the training received, and they are using that blessing to reach other families with the good news of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
—Miriam Andres, Ed.D., C.F.L.E., Southern Asia-Pacific Division director of family ministries
We Are People Who Can Help
Few world regions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church face the pervasive cultural secularity and postmodern mind-set as much as the Trans-European Division (TED). Ranging across 23 nations from the Arctic Circle to the sunny Mediterranean, the TED’s percentage of Adventists to population is less than half of 1 percent (81,934 out of 202,879,000). The nonreligious worldview of most of the region’s inhabitants make it all the more crucial that Adventist families bear a quiet but effective witness to the values of the gospel.
Within this context the Department of Family Ministries has employed a number of key initiatives to advance the cause of Jesus on earth and help usher in the kingdom of grace.
When marriages are devitalized, family life is fraught with unhappiness, emotional pain, and diminished spiritual health. But when there is revival in a person’s spiritual life, they are more likely to experience healthier relationships across the board, making them more viable disciples and witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Gabor Mihalec, a pastor and family therapist, is director of family ministries for the Hungarian Union. Mihalec’s work with communities in and out of the Adventist Church has built bridges within Hungarian society, raising awareness about who Seventh-day Adventists are.
In 2011 Mihalec created a weeklong camp for married couples. Sixty percent of those attending were not Adventists. Out of this effort emerged the Connect Club, a group that meets once a quarter in Adventist churches. Various topics on marriage dynamics are presented by a number of speakers. Because it is a one-day event, it is easier for individuals to participate, and often upwards of 30 percent of attendees are nonmembers.
Because marriage can be challenging to people everywhere, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is gaining notoriety in Hungary as a place where men and women can receive meaningful help for the struggles they face.
—Clair Sanches-Schutte, Trans-European Division director of family ministries
* Colegio Timon, Madrid; Colegio Urgell, in Barcelona; Colegio Sagunto; and Colegio Rigel, in Saragossa.