Delegates turned down a motion that would have allowed each division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to decide for itself whether to ordain women to the gospel ministry in its territory.
Delegates vote “No” on Women’s Ordination
Church president appeals to members to unite in the church’s mission.
By Andrew McChesney and Marcos Paseggi
Delegates turned down a motion that would have allowed each division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to decide for itself whether to ordain women to the gospel ministry in its territory.
By a margin of 1,381-977, with five abstentions, delegates by secret ballot ended a five-year process characterized by vigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate.
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson appealed to church members to unite in the mission of the church after the vote at the 2015 General Conference session.
“Now is the time to unify under the bloodstained banner of Jesus Christ and His power, not our power,” Wilson said after the ballots were counted on tables at the front of the Alamodome. “Now is the time to unify in our mission as Christ’s church.” Wilson thanked delegates for the “careful and prayerful manner in which they carried themselves and addressed the subject” during six hours of discussion.
PRO AND CON: Those who wished to speak to the motion line up to make their points.
A secret ballot system was used that General Conference officers said offered the most fair and secure voting process possible. “We have tried to be transparent, honest, and thoughtful, and to ensure the privacy of the vote to the best of our ability,” said Nancy Lamoreaux, chief information officer for the General Conference and organizer of the logistics for Wednesday’s vote.
The ballots were printed on paper, cut to the size of a half sheet of letter paper, and divided in half. One half contained the word “Yes,” printed in five languages, and the other the word “No,” also in five languages. The languages are English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese.
The secret balloting system was prepared well in advance of the General Conference session as a backup in case an electronic voting system didn’t work, said undersecretary Myron Iseminger, whose sector oversees voting at GC Sessions. The e-voting system, which debuted at the GC session, proved problematic, and delegates voted on Sunday to no longer use it. “From the beginning we had a backup plan in case the electronic ballots didn’t work,” Iseminger said.
Wilson, who opened the morning session with an appeal for church members to abide by the vote’s outcome, underscored both then and after the vote that decisions made by the General Conference in session carry the highest authority in the Adventist Church.
The daylong discussions, which began at 9:30 a.m. and broke for a two-hour lunch at noon, stopped nearly a dozen times for prayer. Participants engaged in silent prayer, one-on-one prayer, and group prayer. Scores more Session attendees packed special prayer rooms organized by the
General Conference’s Ministerial Association and Women’s Ministries departments.
Both Wilson and Michael L. Ryan, a retiring general vice president of the General Conference who chaired Wednesday’s discussions, voiced delight at the “sweet spirit” that permeated the proceedings.
Ryan made sure proper meeting decorum was followed, chiding attendees several times for applauding during the discussions. Delegates had earlier agreed to refrain from applause in an effort to keep emotions under control.
PRAYERFUL CONSIDERATION: Planned and impromptu periods of prayer punctuated the afternoon’s debate.
Ryan, who announced the final vote results, admonished a group of Alamodome attendees who broke into applause at the outcome. “There is nothing triumphal about this,” he said. “There are no winners or losers.”
Erton Kohler, South American Division president, echoed Ryan’s sentiment that this was not a political contest. “My expectation for the church is not to have winners or losers, but that each one may feel the decision as God’s and may make it his or her own,” he told the Adventist Review. “May everyone have the humility to acknowledge that God can manifest His will in a way that differs from personal opinion.”
Jerry Page, Ministerial Association director, also spoke of humility. “If we take time in prayer, humble confession, repentance, and service for others, we can move forward instead of spinning around and going backward because of the conflicts,” he said.
Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, education department director, said she hoped delegates would show respect toward each other. “My hope and wish is for forbearance on behalf of our brothers and sisters who face ministry challenges in ministry that differ from ours around the world,” she said. “Forbearance is a grace that can only come from God, not to hold one another hostage or abandon the body when something offends us.”
A total of 2,363 ballots were cast in the vote on a motion prepared by senior General Conference officers and division presidents and approved at the 2014 Annual Council, a business meeting of world church leaders. The motion read in full: “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”
A total of 40 delegates—20 who supported and 20 who opposed the motion — took to microphones to express their positions on the motion. Discussion was stopped 35 times by delegates who wished to make “points of order,” objections to how some aspect of the proceedings was being carried out.
Partway through the afternoon proceedings, Ryan invited Jan Paulsen, a former president of the General Conference, to make a statement. Paulsen urged delegates to vote “yes,” saying it was a matter of trust. He said church members had to trust that their counterparts in other divisions knew better what their local churches needed.
Ryan also invited Wilson to make a statement. Wilson did not recommend a “yes” or “no” vote, saying only, “My views are rather well known and I believe them to be biblically based.”
Wednesday’s proceedings began with an agreement from the delegates to end discussion for a vote at 4:30 p.m. to begin the voting process. As the time approached, a number of delegates urged Ryan to extend the discussions, but Ryan declared the requests out of order.
General Conference executive secretary G. T. Ng indicated during Wednesday’s discussions that the General Conference hoped for full compliance from all church entities.
“We are one church,” Ng said.
Sandra Blackmar and Michael Campbell contributed to this report.
Editor Bill Knott talks with Reelected president Ted N. C. Wilson about the burdens of his role, getting more sleep, handling disappointments, and what he will focus on in the next five years.
“It’s A Very Humbling Experience”
Editor Bill Knott talks with Reelected president Ted N. C. Wilson about the burdens of his role, getting more sleep, handling disappointments, and what he will focus on in the next five years.
Knott: You’ve just accepted your election by the delegates to serve as president of the General Conference for another five years. I know you well enough to know that a moment like this isn’t just a professional event: it’s also a deeply spiritual moment. What does it feel like when the church in which you’ve grown up asks you to lead it for another five years?
Wilson: It’s an exceedingly challenging invitation, and one for which any person feels unprepared. No one can handle this position except by the direct leading and guidance of the Lord. So it’s a very humbling experience. And you realize, especially as you look out into the eyes and faces of delegates and church members, that this is something much larger than anything you can handle on your own. You become exceedingly sobered by the whole thought. There are three things you can do at a moment like this: you can shrink from it and feel so totally inadequate that you become immobilized, and the Lord doesn’t want that. You could become so emboldened that you have been asked to lead out that you become overconfident, and the Lord doesn’t want that either. He wants to use the talents He’s given you, but He wants you to depend wholly on Him. So in this instance I feel the weight of the office and I take it to the foot of the cross. What else could you do?
PASTOR-In-CHIEF: Ted N. C. Wilson, with his wife, Nancy, greet delegates and guests the last Sabbath of the session.
There’s a little plaque I keep in my office that I was given a long time ago. It carries a line from Prophets and Kings, page 31. “When a burden bearer desires wisdom more than he desires wealth, power, or fame, he will not be disappointed. Such a one will learn from the Great Teacher not only what to do, but how to do it in a way that will meet the divine approval.”
I find myself in the same posture as Solomon early in his administration. Only the Lord is sufficient to carry the burdens of this role. During the last five years, I’ve seen how the Lord has intervened on many occasions, how He has orchestrated things far beyond anything I would have imagined or could have done personally. There’s a supernatural Hand in this church, and the Lord’s not going to leave it. So that’s what gives me encouragement. All of us, in whatever capacity we are asked to serve—administrator, pastor, or layperson—ought to be humbling ourselves before the Lord, pleading with Him for the latter rain, for the Holy Spirit.
When I look at the schedule you’ve kept—the amazing travel schedule you’ve kept in the last five years— I’m wondering where you’re going to find the stamina to do that for another term.
Well, I don’t think I’ll travel quite as much. If my wife has anything to do with it, we won’t! Reality and reason impose certain limits. I think it will be vitally important to spend additional time in spiritual reflection to understand how the Lord wants this church to proceed. Dashing here and there may seem like progress, but with today’s technology, it’s far easier to make the needed connections electronically than it was even 10 or 15 years ago. Technology has advanced to the point where it’s possible to be in constant contact on a moment’s notice just about anywhere in the world, and I’ve learned to make full use of e-mail and texting. But you’re right: there’s a limit to what a body can handle!
Trust me, many of us will be praying that you get more sleep in the next five years! I’m joining you in that prayer!
Given the important decisions that are going to be taken at this GC session—in a very few days—on better language for the Fundamental Beliefs, on whether or not to allow divisions to make a decision to ordain women to ministry—there are likely to be persons or groups who might be disappointed with one of the decisions made here. You’ve been elected to lead the entire Seventh-day Adventist Church. What would you say to those who might be disappointed by some decision that’s made here in San Antonio?
Well, I’d point them to the fact that regardless of what decision the church makes on any number of subjects, this church is still the apple of His eye. Whatever decisions are taken, even though they may not be to your liking, there is no other place to go. This is God’s remnant church. If you don’t believe that, then you have, in your own mind, another recourse. But I don’t read anywhere in Scripture or in the Spirit of Prophecy that there will be another remnant of the remnant.
So I would appeal to anyone who is disappointed, even those who may feel dejected, that there is a much larger picture. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is going to go through, but not simply as a human organization. It’s a movement, a movement with a biblical message. That understanding helps all of us find stability for our own lives and the mission of the church. There may be times when you will continue to disagree with a decision for a long period of time, but the Spirit of Prophecy urges us that when the General Conference in session makes a decision, we need to humble ourselves before that and not persist in our own thinking and agitate.
I recognize that some people may not see that as a valid response, but dejection or disappointment can turn into bitterness if we’re not careful. We have to put the matter before the Lord and say, “Lord, help me work my way through this and see the big picture, because the mission and the ultimate salvation of people at Your soon coming are most important.”
My own experience of periodically preaching evangelistic meetings such as I recently did in Zimbabwe—preaching these incredible biblical truths—reminds me that God’s purposes for His church are always bigger than any single decision. My viewpoint on any matter, however strongly I hold it, must ultimately be yielded to the greater purposes God has for His end-time people.
I’m guessing that you’ve often had to lead committee processes that ended with decisions other than what you might have wished.
Various times. And I’ve learned how important it is to look at the big picture, to remember that the Lord is in charge of the outcome.
You’ve been known in these last five years for launching a series of major initiatives—“Revival and Reformation,” “The Great Controversy Project,” “Comprehensive Health Ministry,” and “Mission to the Cities.” Should we expect more major initiatives of this kind in the next five years, or are you chiefly hoping to build momentum for those already launched?
The broad-based initiatives which have given us a strong foundation for this last quinquennium—and I take no credit because they are all from Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy—those will remain the foundation. But there are three areas of focus that I hope will characterize all we do in the next five years.
The first is an emphasis on Christ and His righteousness: that’s the core of the Three Angels Messages. This message turns people back to the true worship of God, to realizing the beauty of His righteousness and the grace that covers us, and to the experience of sanctification, which is also His work, too.
All of the initiatives that have been launched point to the restoration that the Three Angels Messages intend—restoring people back to a complete relationship with the Lord. We’ll feature Christ and His righteousness in every program and process we begin or continue.
The second area of focus is faithfulness. We live in a very existential culture that suggests that no loyalty can be permanent. But God calls us to increasing faithfulness to Him and to His Word. We’ll be talking about faithfulness in personal relationships, faithfulness in biblical truth, faithfulness in the study of the Word. We’ll underline faithfulness in prayer, in studying the Spirit of Prophecy, in family relationships, and in areas that I personally have a special burden for, such as Sabbath school attendance. Faithfulness is only possible when we realize our complete dependence on Christ and His righteousness.
The third thing is really critical, and that is total membership involvement—total empowerment of lay people for evangelism and witnessing, so that we don’t have only a paid professional group that does the outreach, but that the church members around the world recognize that this is our work. Ellen White makes this wonderful statement in Testimonies, volume 9, page 117: “The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their efforts with those ministers and church officers.” This is going to be one of the largest areas of emphasis in the new quinquennium—getting everybody involved. Not everyone one needs to preach an evangelistic series—though many could do that who haven’t even imagined it yet! But understanding the gift of salvation means that everyone needs to find an area in which they can become part of God’s plan for reaching the world. I saw how energizing involvement can be recently in Zimbabwe, where 20 young people from the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference came and held evangelistic meetings with ShareHim. It just changed their lives!
If you’re sharing your faith—whether by preaching, teaching, or simply talking with a neighbor—the Lord will do something dramatic for you as well. That’s why Jesus in His mercy has asked us, as a people, to get involved in outreach—because we need the new life and revival it brings as well.
You just named ShareHim, an organization that works with church members and supporting ministries for international outreach. Tell me about the role supporting ministries will play in “every member mobilization.”
Over the last five years we’ve tried to broaden the understanding as to what a supporting ministry really is, and it’s an understanding completely endorsed by the Spirit of Prophecy. I’m not talking about organizations that feed off of the church, but ones that give—to use a phrase that some people like—“added value.” True supporting ministries are exactly what they claim to be—supporting. And if they’re not supporting, then of course they are not really part of the ongoing mission of the church. Supporting ministries are made up of people who, for whatever reason, aren’t paid by the church. They find other ways in which to support themselves, but they are intently focused on the mission of the church to share with people the Three Angels Messages and that Christ is coming soon. So supporting ministries will play a vital role in all of this.
Every church, every pastor, every church member can be part of some ministry organized to reach out, not as spectators, but as highly involved participants. I’m not interested in putting guilt trips on people. I don’t want members dreading involvement as though, “Oh no, we’ve got to go hand out literature.” Just let the Lord lead you to something uniquely suited to you and still productive for His kingdom. It can be creative—it can be different from what others feel called to do—but if the Lord is in it, it will help to build up His kingdom.
At moments like this, an interviewer typically asks a newly elected leader, “What’s the biggest issue facing the Adventist church today?” What do you think that biggest issue is?
Well, I think there are two issues, actually. One is the enormous attempt by society—and I believe, by the devil—to neutralize Scripture, and even the knowledge of Scripture. Even in an Adventist context, many Adventists may know about the Bible, but they don’t really know the Bible very well. That’s why we’ve launched the “Believe His Prophets” and “United in Prayer” initiatives for this new quinquennium—as an encouragement to really know the Word and the Spirit of Prophecy and find great strength and humility in prayer leading us to the latter rain of the Holy Spirit. As members immerse themselves in Bible truth and the inspired counsel of Ellen White, they’re going to find a depth of spiritual experience they may not have previously known.
The second major issue has been a concern of mine for a long time. Many Seventh-day Adventists may not understand the prophetic role of this movement in society—that the Seventh-day Adventist church is a unique organization, a prophetic people. As I’ve said before—we’re a prophetic movement, with a prophetic message, on a prophetic mission. And if members don’t understand all of that—and you, Bill, as a historian will resonate with this—they don’t understand the story of God’s miraculous leading of this movement and how He will continue leading it in the tumultuous days ahead.
Almost every week, the Adventist Review and Adventist World team gets news of church members who are being persecuted for following Bible truth. What would you say to Adventists who are in difficult places right now, where they can’t openly practice their faith or share the truths to which God has led them?
God calls us in whatever situation we’re in to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Those beautiful characteristics will automatically make you a witness, even if you can’t openly speak about God’s last-day message. The Lord will help you to know best how to impact people’s lives—and people will notice the difference. They’ll come and ask you why you are kind, gentle, and patient. The Lord can help each us find creative ways to bring out His truth, even if we can’t always speak openly about it.
The church is moving quickly into areas where there’s potential for great opposition from other religions and some governments. I find myself often thinking and praying for believers who are sometimes just struggling to hold on to their faith.
I hope they will know that there are a lot of people—millions, in fact—who are remembering them in their prayers. Everywhere I go, I try to remind our members that if you feel like you’re in a small little corner somewhere and not very connected, don’t forget that you are an integral part of the world family of Seventh-day Adventists. Faithful people are lifting you up in prayer every day to heaven, and heaven is listening, acting, and protecting. Whether you’re in the most liberty-loving country in the world or one of the most restrictive, that connection with heaven will help you when you feel discouraged or isolated. You’re part of a universal family, for all God’s angels are also right there with you.
I know God is working on the hearts of many around the world for the last, great, final cry. As I view what is happening in so many situations around the globe, I see that the end of time is upon us. The Lord is coming soon! God is working in an unusual way, and the latter rain is about to fall. What a privilege to be part of His Advent movement at this time in history.
So look to the Lord at every moment. Lift up Christ, His Word, His righteousness, His sanctuary service, His saving power in the great controversy, His Three Angels’ Messages, His health message, His last-day mission to the world, and His soon second coming. Be of good courage, for as our 2015 General Conference Session theme so beautifully proclaimed, “Arise! Shine! Jesus Is Coming!”
ANOTHER FIVE YEARS: General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson, assumes leadership of the church.
As members immerse themselves in Bible truth and the inspired counsel of Ellen White, they’re going to find a depth of spiritual experience they may not have previously known.
Delegates overwhelmingly elected incumbent General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson to another five years in office. An estimated 85 percent of the some 2,400 delegates voted in favor of keeping Wilson in his position as leader of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference after a 37-minute discussion at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, United States.
Ted N. C. Wilson Reelected GC President in Resounding Vote
By Andrew McChesney
Delegates overwhelmingly elected incumbent General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson to another five years in office.
An estimated 85 percent of the some 2,400 delegates voted in favor of keeping Wilson in his position as leader of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference after a 37-minute discussion at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, United States.
Wilson and his wife, Nancy, entered the stage to sustained applause from standing delegates and thousands of other church members in the Alamodome stadium.
“It is with very quiet respect and humility that both of us stand before you, before God,” Wilson said. “And we do accept this responsibility.” Wilson reiterated his commitment to God and the Adventist Church and briefly outlined three goals that he would pursue in his second term: a greater emphasis on Christ and His righteousness, faithfulness, and the involvement of every church member in evangelism and witnessing. “God intends for His people to stand faithfully, but we have to do it together,” he said.
Wilson’s election was briefly delayed after two delegates proposed returning his name to the Nominating Committee for further discussion and several other delegates called for a secret ballot on Wilson’s election. Both motions failed to receive approval.
Leaders of the Nominating Committee met separately with the two delegates to discuss their questions, which were not disclosed. Leaders of the Nominating Committee reported back to the General Conference session both times that they stood by Wilson’s nomination.
Delegates raised bright-green cards to vote. Technical issues postponed plans to debut an electronic voting system at the session. Wilson’s reelection had strong support from many quarters. Members of the Nominating Committee, which was chosen the day before and worked both Thursday night and Friday morning to nominate a president, overwhelmingly backed Wilson, according to a person familiar with the closed-door talks.
Wilson, speaking at a 15-minute news conference immediately after his reelection, said he would seek unity in the church by emphasizing spiritual aspects of prayer and how God brings people together through mission. This focus, he said, would help fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (verses 20, 21, NKJV).
Asked by the Adventist Review to identify his top priority going forward, Wilson pointed to the three goals that he had mentioned from the platform, but said that he anticipated putting the greatest energy into the third goal: getting every church member involved in evangelism and witnessing.
“We will emphasize the very core of who we are as Seventh-day Adventists,” he said. Chad Stuart, a United States pastor blogging for Adventist Review, asked Wilson to describe his mood after his re-election. Wilson replied that he felt “humbled and overwhelmed,” adding that the election process had been “interesting.” His wife, Nancy, was praying in the General Conference’s prayer room when she learned that her husband had been nominated for a new term.
“I kind of feel the same way I felt five years ago. It’s overwhelming,” she said in an interview. Her voice wavered and tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke backstage in the Alamodome. “I’m glad we have the Lord to lean on,” she said. “It’s His power. It’s His strength. It’s His church.” Ted Wilson, both at the news conference and on the session platform, thanked church members for praying for him and said he believed those prayers sustained him day to day.
Delegates, speaking about their hopes for the church during Wilson’s new term, voiced a similar desire to see Jesus’ return. “I want to see the Lord come in the next five years,” said Homer Trecartin, chair of the Nominating Committee and president of the church’s Middle East and North African Union Mission.
“We need to focus on mission,” he said. There are “very unentered areas of the world that need to hear the gospel.” Richard Hart, vice chair of the Nominating Committee, said his main hope for the church was that it would “stay unified with continued diversification both with gender and race around the world.”
“My prayer for the church is one for unity of purpose rather than uniformity of action,” said Cheryl Doss, assistant secretary of the Nominating Committee and director of the church’s Institute of World Mission.
Priscilla Christo, a delegate from the Southern Asia Division, said she would like to see young people receive more recognition and church leaders put more emphasis on helping the youth.
Joel Ubani, president of the Aba East Conference in Nigeria and a delegate with the West-Central Africa Division, said Wilson had visited many young people and churches in his region during his first term and helped achieve much progress.
“We believe that with God the church will experience tremendous growth in the next five years,” he said. Judith Fisher, a General Conference delegate, said she hoped that “as a church we become a lot more intentional.” “Meeting God where He is, where He wants us to be, and to be able to hasten His second coming, this is what we’re all here about,” she said.
Ronald Oliver, a North American Division delegate, said he was keeping his eyes fixed upward. “My hope and dream is that the gospel will be spread farther and wider, and then the Lord will come,” he said. “With the gospel being spread more widely and in different places, and with what’s happening in the political and natural world, it seems His coming will be soon. It’s not far-fetched.”
Guam is the largest of the Mariana Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, surrounded by beautiful beaches and blue sky.
Witnessing With Relationships
Everyone can share their faith
By Nozomi Miyagi
Author Nozomi, seated extreme left, with families from her “Mommy and Me” class. Her husband, Dr. Shishin Miyagi, is seated next to her.
In the summer of 2013 we arrived in Guam, where my husband would serve as missionary physician at the Guam Seventh-day Adventist Clinic. Guam is the largest of the Mariana Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, surrounded by beautiful beaches and blue sky. I wondered what I could do to minister to people here as a stay-at-home mother.
Finding My Witness
As I observed the island’s history and culture and the needs of the people, praying and asking God for help, I was convinced that I should use my Japanese background to reach people around me. Of the more than 1 million tourists who come to Guam every year, approximately 70 percent are Japanese. Besides this, many Japanese live here, and work for the tourist industry.
I found that mothers of younger kids are particularly easy to reach, since I also have three small children. I decided to open my house every Tuesday morning and hold a Mommy and Me class. The format is almost like a little toddlers Sabbath school, consisting of singing traditional Japanese songs, sharing a story, and learning letters and colors. Then we eat lunch together.
At first I did not mention that I was a Christian, but soon participants started to realize that my family is different. They asked: “Why doesn’t your family eat meat?” “Why do you go to church on Saturday?” “Why do your kids pray before they eat?” Each time they asked, I had an opportunity to tell them about my faith and beliefs.
One day I read them a book about the true meaning of Christmas. One mother came to me and said, “This was the first time I’ve understood the true meaning of Christmas!” Christmas in Japan is quite different from Christmas celebrated in countries with a Christian heritage or a large percentage of Christians. Only 0.5 percent of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian, with the majority of Japanese being tolerant of all faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Shinto, etc. But Japanese are great lovers of festivals and celebrations, including Christmas. Christmas Eve has been hyped by the media as a time for romantic miracles. It is seen as a time to spend with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend in a romantic setting.
As I became more comfortable sharing my faith, I invited my group to my church’s cradle roll Sabbath school class. To my surprise, they accepted my invitation. Though it was their first time coming, they felt comfortable and enjoyed the class. After all, it was just like their regular Mommy and Me class. Most of the mothers ended up staying for the church service and the potluck. Since then many of them have been coming to church on a regular basis.
I thank God for giving me this opportunity to share my faith. I pray that my friends will continue attending church and eventually accept Jesus as their Savior. Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). Every one of us has been appointed to do something for God: full-time workers, students, people between jobs, retired, or even stay-at-home mothers like me. God has chosen us to go and bear good fruit, and reach people around us for Christ.
Nozomi Miyagi earned her religion degree from Andrews University in 2005. She serves with her missionary doctor husband, Shishin, in Guam, Micronesia, and is involved in women’s ministries.
Increasingly secularism, political agendas, and competing spiritualties seem to silence the voice of God calling people to “come, and follow me.”
Real World Gospel
Christ’s incarnational mission
By Rick Mc'Edward
When I see the world around me, I often wonder how people will be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus or make a decision to follow God. Increasingly secularism, political agendas, and competing spiritualties seem to silence the voice of God calling people to “come, and follow me.” Those around us need to know God and His love, and need to understand Jesus’ sacrifice and message. How can we be more like Jesus in order to reveal Him to others in our neighborhoods, or to the billions from other religions who don’t yet know Him?
Jesus’ life is an example of beauty and simplicity that has power to guide our mission today. Lessons from the incarnational ministry of Jesus are an antidote for busy and often distracted disciples.
Incarnation and Mission
Two names stick out in the angel’s message to Joseph: Jesus was to be His name (and a fact, for Yahweh would save); Immanuel was His mission, for Immanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
The mystery of the Incarnation cannot be underestimated. There was a tremendous sense of expectancy at the time of Christ’s birth. Messianic expectation was the buzzword of the time. Daniel’s prophecies were highly regarded in Judaism, affirming the arrival time of the new king. Jews expected a deliverer who would free them from the hated Romans. Messiah would be a liberator. But first century A.D. Jews did not get what they expected.
What they actually saw was a picture of God completely different from anything they expected. Consequently, they did not recognize the Messiah when He came. Even today it’s important to pay attention to Christ’s incarnation. In fact, six essential characteristics of the Incarnation provide a solid foundation for mission.
1. God came down: God condescended to be with us; He became human. In so doing, Jesus presents a different picture of God, a God who is interested in us and whose love for His creation drives Him to be with us. In Eden, before the Fall, God had fellowshipped personally with His creation. After the Fall, while direct interaction of God with humanity happened at key moments, God interacted primarily through providence and revelation, but rarely face to face. The sanctuary was provided as a picture of God’s love and plan of salvation; but even that was an inadequate substitute. The Incarnation demonstrates what “God with us” truly means.
2. God made Himself nothing: I never got this one. Remember Paul speaking about Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6, 7)? God not only stepped down to be human, He chose to be born in poverty, to take the role of a servant. He made Himself nothing for us. Jesus later clarified that He had not come to be served, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). That caught many by surprise. People expected a conqueror; instead they got a servant. This led to His summary rejection by many.
3. He identified with us: Jesus lived everyday life as a real person, and experienced the same limitations we feel today. He felt grief and joy, knew hunger and sleeplessness, experienced friendship and rejection. Christ had to get dressed, take baths, and deal with cuts and bruises. First century A.D. Palestine had mosquitoes, flies, and roaches; Jesus had to deal with them and other unsavory realities of life.
Jesus was fully human. His incarnation demonstrated to the universe a God who so identified with creation that He became one with us.
Jesus also identified with His own culture. He was born in a Jewish home; He went through Jewish rites of passage. In growing up, He learned the ways of life and practiced the culture of His Jewish ancestry. He extended Himself to learn an earthly culture in order to reveal God’s love to those whom God had chosen to receive His revelation.
4. Jesus came as a baby: He came to earth as a learner, not an expert. Christ was the God-man. If ever there was a rationale for someone to present himself as having all of life’s pieces figured out, Jesus could have done it. Jesus chose to come as an infant and experience childhood, and grow into adulthood. He did not have to be a learner, but He humbled Himself from the standpoint of heaven in order to be relevant to a world that, unfortunately, was not ready to receive Him.
5. Jesus touched the physical needs of people before their spiritual ones: An incarnational presence would not be complete without meeting the real needs of people. Jesus understood their hunger and thirst. He healed their diseases. He touched them, cast out demons, and performed miracles. Jesus displayed compassion for people at the level of their physical and emotional pain.
You remember Ellen White’s famous quote: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ . . . The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled.”*
6. When He spoke, Jesus talked in ways that could be understood: He told stories, parables, and proverbs. He related to people in ways of familiarity. He used images from agriculture and other walks of life that were familiar to people living in the first century A.D. He told stories about shepherds, stewards, and bosses. In each of the stories Jesus communicated important truth in ways His audience could grasp.
Jesus met people where they were. He practiced the discipline of communicating eternal truths based on His hearers’ readiness to receive. Jesus wanted His message to be heard, so He used everyday experiences familiar to those listening.
His Mission and Ours
With a great passion for humanity, Jesus gave it all up. Consider what Jesus lost in coming to this earth. Think about the heavenly courts, the peace of dwelling in the divine throne room, the magnificent angel choruses, the beauty and splendor and majesty of the Father’s presence. This was all part of His routine. He was protected from privations, disease, and consequences of living on a fallen planet. He had perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit; millions of angels stood ready to serve His every needs. Could Christ, the Son of God, have accomplished this phase of the plan of salvation from heaven?
No He could not. His Incarnation could not be a celestial pose. The road to our salvation involved poverty, danger, and the earthy smells of an animal shelter full of dung and flies. The sights, sounds, and smells of real life were all around Him. What an uncomfortable entrance this must have been for the King of the universe.
I wonder if Jesus ever hit His thumb with a hammer while working in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop. I wonder about His boyhood and the hustle and bustle of His neighborhood in Nazareth.
As an adult He had no job; He never married; and He was homeless. He wandered with His followers from place to place, at times all night outside under the starlit countryside of Palestine.
Yet all these disadvantages could not dampen His love for us. He literally gave up everything in order to save us. Jesus relinquished Himself to a criminal’s death for the twofold purpose of revealing, on a grand scale, His love for us in order to stand in our place and consummate the plan of salvation that had been under way already for thousands of years.
His mission was selfless. He suffered as a human, He was tempted as a human, and He lived without sin or compromise. How would our mission change if we took this incarnational approach?
Rick McEdward is director of the Global Mission Centers at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and lives with his wife, Marcia, in Laurel, Maryland, United States.
*?Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.
Reported about the plans of the church in Zimbabwe to baptize more than 30,000 people into the Seventh-day Adventist Church on one Sabbath.
What’s happening in Africa?
By Pardon K. Mwansa
On May 18, 2015, I read an article on the Web site of the Adventist Review entitled, “Zimbabwe: 30,000 Baptisms Expected in One Sabbath.” It reported about the plans of the church in Zimbabwe to baptize more than 30,000 people into the Seventh-day Adventist Church on one Sabbath.
In 2014, while attending Annual Council meetings at the Seventh-day Adventist Church headquarters, I listened to reports of baptisms from different parts of the world. One African division leader reported that concurrent evangelistic meetings had resulted in 50,000 people being baptized in Uganda in one month. When we heard a report about Japan, the leader told us that Japan struggled with negative growth, meaning that not only did they not baptize, but that they lost some members. Reports from Europe reported baptisms in the tens, not tens of thousands. Anthony Kent takes up their challenge on page 22 of this issue.
When one reads about the impressive numerical growth in Africa, then hears about very low growth in other parts of the world, one is compelled to raise questions. Why is Africa responding in such powerful ways to the gospel? Are there cultural, sociological, historical, or even theological factors that could explain such a phenomenon? What does this kind of growth mean? What are the challenges that come with such rapid growth? And how can church leaders in Africa deal with these challenges? In this article I hope to respond to some of these questions.
Reasons for Rapid Growth
Leading people to Christ is undoubtedly God’s work through the Holy Spirit. Yet there are factors that enhance the work of the Holy Spirit and make it easy for people to turn to God. The following are some of those factors, particularly in Africa:
First, there are fewer pastors on the payroll in Africa, resulting in laypeople being active in ministry and church leadership. Many of these laypeople are passionate about soul winning and baptisms. My first pastoral assignment involved five congregations. I know of some who pastor as many as 35 congregations, with each congregation having as many as 300 people, or even more. This means that instead of having salaried pastors do ministry, ministry is done by laypeople.
Second, public evangelistic meetings are big in Africa. It’s a continent where people still have time to attend meetings. This is not the case in Western countries, where time is money. One does not have to struggle to find an audience ready to listen in Africa. Many come to public meetings in droves, many are convicted by God’s Spirit, and many are baptized.
Third, poverty and suffering are key factors that contribute to people in Africa turning to God for help. Many parts of Africa suffer from war, hardship, and poverty. There seems to be a direct link between being in need, experiencing suffering, and turning to God. In some parts of Africa, with less poverty and booming economies, growth is not reported in thousands of people, as in those parts of Africa that are less developed.
Fourth, new converts in Africa identify strongly with the mission of the church and want to witness to others about Adventism. When I became an Adventist, the first thing I wanted to do was to share with others the truths I had discovered. I remember conducting my first evangelistic meeting as soon as I became an Adventist. I was only 18 years old, and we baptized 35 people.
Challenges of Rapid Growth
While rapid growth is great, it has its own challenges. Often new members are not adequately prepared to live and uphold the values that the Bible upholds. As a result, many of them leave the church within a short period of time, or just live a very nominal life that does not reflect true Adventism.
Second, many times the rapid church growth is hindered because of lack of sufficient human resources, materials, and means to nurture and adequately establish the faith of those who have come in. In some instances there are not even church buildings in which people can gather every Sabbath for worship. Often divisions reporting high numbers in baptisms also report high numbers of church dropouts.
Throughout the centuries challenges of rapid growth have been similar. The book of Acts reports in several places rapid growth, thousands joining the church, at times daily (Acts 2:41; 4:4). But with this report came challenges that the church faced. For example, in Acts 6 the leaders start to experience administrative problems that arise as a result of rapid growth. Acts 15 records a controversy that arose as a result of the church growing beyond the Jewish people into the Gentile community. Some believed and taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation, while others did not think so.
The apostles responded to these threats in many ways. We can note three responses: First, they established a governance system that included appointing local church elders as the shepherds of local congregations (Acts 6 and 14). Second, they wrote letters and highlighted God’s Word as the only foundation of truth, thus combating erroneous teachings. Finally, they trained young leaders who could help in teaching the truth by traveling from one region to another (e.g., Timothy and Titus).
The challenges of rapid growth show up in the early Christian church in the fourth century. Prior to the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christianity was illegal and unpopular. But following this edict, the state proclaimed that all religions should be tolerated. This made being a Christian easy and in some cases even attractive and fashionable. Historians have noted this: “The fourth century was a glorious period in Christian history. Great numbers of converts were made from all levels of society, Christian leaders advanced to prominent positions in society.”1
Sullivan, Harrison, and Sherman also report the consequences of such growth: “The avalanche (flood) of converts, no longer faced with the terrible possibility that baptism might spell martyrdom, diluted the spiritual fervor that had characterized the pre-Constantine Christian Community. Discipline within the growing Christian ranks became more difficult. Christian practices of worship and Christian doctrine were threatened with obliteration before the flood of Greco-Roman religious practices and ideas still held by many of the inadequately trained and spiritually lax converts.” They further state: “The influx of pagan ideas and practices generated numerous heresies that set Christian against Christian in battles in which no quarter was given.”2
Possible Solutions to Challenges of Rapid Growth
There is nothing wrong with rapid growth. As a matter of fact, many of us would rather manage the challenges of rapid growth than little or no growth. The following are some suggested ways drawn from the Bible and experience in ministerial practice that have helped deal with challenges of rapid growth:
1. Focus on lay training: This would include training laypeople in areas such as church leadership and governance, church heritage and doctrines, and church growth.
2. Supply sufficient materials for nurturing of members: Reading of the Bible and other Christian literature has always helped nurture members. 3. Establish educational institutions in which young people are trained in divine things and nurtured in Christian faith. 4. Mobilize and engage all believers in ministry.
Asymmetric growth is nothing new. Paul’s preaching at Athens was met with little success (Acts 17:16-34); yet in Berea, people listened and studied God’s Word eagerly (verses 10-12). When we preach the everlasting gospel faithfully, we can leave God to organize the harvest, whether plentiful or scarce.
Pardon K. Mwansa, originally from Zambia, serves as a general vice president for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He lives with his wife, Judith, in Laurel, Maryland, United States.
1 This and the following comments are based on R. E. Sullivan, J. Harrison, and D. Sherman, Short History of Western Civilization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), p. 237. 2 Ibid., p. 238.
As soon as the appeal began, responders came running down the slopes of the hill. Their faces were smiling, eager and alert; they were excited!
Their response continued, a steady stream of people moving down the hill into the open area in front of the stage. These candidates had received Bible studies from a team of pastors, elders, and other qualified instructors. They had just heard the last sermon of an evangelistic series. They had come prepared, dressed and ready for their baptism: women in white robes or dresses, men in white shirts and dark trousers. This was one altar call that was difficult to conclude. People simply kept on coming, until 2,495 of them had come forward for baptism.
We baptized them in a nearby Olympic-sized swimming pool, 36 pastors officiating at one end of the pool and another 20 pastors at the other. Two long, patient lines of candidates—one of women, the other of men—streamed into the pool in careful order, for 56 pastors baptizing in unison.
Twenty years later Oscar Osindo, my interpreter for these evangelistic meetings, still beamed with joy as we allowed these wonderful memories to wash over us.
The Difficult Places
But Uhuru Park, central Nairobi, Kenya, is not evangelism’s only locale, or its only kind of result. In many regions of the world, sharing the gospel is a formidable challenge. In rural, secular Australia, where I ministered for years as a pastor and evangelist, where the population is sparse and where people are not easily persuaded, leading a person to Jesus and into the Seventh-day Adventist Church is no walk in the park. Large numbers being baptized remains an illusive dream rather than a fond memory.
And Australia is not unique. Vast areas of Europe, North Africa, West Africa, Asia, and the United Kingdom are difficult to evangelize. Mere mention of the much-cited 10/40 window evokes mental imagery of evangelistic hardship. And while the United States has its God-centered “Bible Belt,” not all of North America fits that characterization. Indeed, difficult is the norm in many places on our planet.
Difficult Is Not New
This is neither new, nor peculiar to our era.
Even Jesus, who was lovely in every way, dramatically anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, dedicated to prayer, free of all spiritual, personality, and character defects and disorders, faced rejection during His evangelistic efforts. Luke 9:52, 53 provides us with a glimpse of some of the resistance He endured:
“And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him” (NIV).
Opposition wasn’t confined to Samaritans. The people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth gave Him a memorably toxic send-off: “And they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29, NASB).1 This is hardly hometown hero adulation.
True, Jerusalem was at times responsive: at Jesus’ triumphal entry, when Peter and others preached on the day of Pentecost, following the healing of a crippled beggar at the Temple’s Gate Beautiful. Crowds raced to see the healed man and to listen to Peter proclaim the message of Jesus (Acts 3). But these exceptional instances contrast with Jesus’ lament “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling” (Luke 13:34, NAB)2 Jerusalem is the city where He was crucified. Stephen had his evangelistic meeting in Jerusalem conclude in less-than-ideal circumstances. For this man described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) there was no parade of baptismal candidates. Instead there was an evangelist’s funeral.
Then there was Saul, later called Paul, specifically selected and identified by the ascended Jesus as “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Yet Paul encountered enormous opposition during his evangelistic ministry, especially in Jerusalem. Not all of his evangelistic endeavors were stellar numerical successes.
What then of those today who attempt to evangelize less-receptive hearts and regions—how should we regard them, their efforts, and their ministry?
How easy it is to conclude that some evangelists simply don’t pray earnestly enough; or that God, for some reason, is not with their effort! How easy to question the motives or character of speakers or leaders when the baptismal numbers are unimpressive. Some may blame a poor work ethic or substandard technique, or even some hidden, scandalous, secret sin inhibiting the work of the Holy Spirit.
From my observations these seldom have their basis in reality. So many people who positively share the good news about Jesus are inspirational, loving, and lovable Christians. They are faithfully living and sharing the Word. And the size of their harvest is not much different from that of the perfect Jesus and the amazing apostle Paul in many places.
Some people and communities are more receptive to the gospel than others. Jesus had more success at the Samaritan village of Sychar (John 4) than He did at the unnamed Samaritan village described in Luke 9. Similarly, the Bereans of Acts 17 were more nobly attentive to Paul and his message than were some of his other audiences. And because we don’t dare question the spiritual qualities of Jesus and Paul when we read of their evangelistic disappointments, we need to extend the same charitable attitude to those dedicated, faithful, and gifted workers of today who labor in fields full of thorns and stony ground. Why aim our weapons of criticism and condemnation on these messengers of God, particularly at their backs!
Responding to the Challenge
So what should we do in those tough and difficult regions? Ellen White urges us to be “the most unflinching” where Jesus is most despised; “to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test.”3
There is much that we can do, especially, as this quotation points out, in terms of spirit and attitudes. We must persevere; we must continue praying; and we have to keep dreaming and believing. Knowing that Jesus’ blood was shed for the stubborn as much as for the willing; treasuring memories of God’s past miracles of conversion; harboring His promises for the future; savoring His presence with us always (Matt. 28:20)—all these will kindle warm hope within!
Moreover, let’s dare to experiment. Jesus can give us new bottles filled with new wine of wisdom. Then we can pour out its refreshment for the surprise and spiritual gratification of gospel-thirsty men and women.
Beyond this, however challenging the circumstances, nothing must dampen the eagerness of our search for opportunities to witness. We may ever be privileged to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our ear, “This is the way” (Isa. 30:21). Focus on Jesus: His life, grace, message, ministry, and faith! And know that ultimately, Jesus wins!
Anthony Kent, a General Conference associate Ministerial Association secretary, loves to witness for Jesus, regardless of the circumstances.
1 Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright ? 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 2 Scripture texts credited to NAB are from The New American Bible, copyright ? 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., and are used by permission of copyright owner. All rights reserved. 3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 136.
Mark and Teenie Finley are involved in building a church that will be open seven days a week.
By Andrew McChesney
The church will be unlike any you have ever seen.
Just steps from a fashionable shopping plaza in an affluent town near Washington, D.C., the Living Hope Seventh-day Adventist Community Church is taking shape under the curious eyes of neighbors in a gated community on one side and patrons of a country club with a golf course and bubbling fountains on the other.
Mark and Teenie Finley showing an architectural rendering of the church at the construction site, background.
“The nice thing is that everybody who comes into this community will see this building,” said Teenie Finley, a lifestyle coach who with her husband, evangelist Mark Finley, are the originators of the project. “A woman already came by and said, ‘What’s going up here?’ when we put up the construction sign.”
When Finley replied that the site would host a church and community center with healthy cooking classes, stress management courses, and Bible and archaeology seminars, the woman exclaimed, “I want to come to these classes!” But that’s not all that the church will offer. The community center on the first floor will also have a resource center where people can read books and watch DVDs about health, family, and the Bible. A prayer room will offer a quiet place for busy people to meditate on the things of eternity.
A planned walking club will meet on some Sundays for a vegan buffet breakfast that might include oatmeal pancakes, blueberry-flaxseed pancakes, blackberry cobbler, French toast made with cashews instead of eggs, scrambled tofu, and fruit—enough variety, Finley said, to show that vegans are not limited by their plant-based diet. The meal will be followed by a short, Mark Finley-led devotional and an outing on the 17 miles (27 kilometers) of walking trails near the church.
Longer-term plans envisage possibly opening a juice bar and vegetarian sandwich shop at the shopping plaza and organizing Bible land tours of archaeological sites.
“We see this as really making an impact in the community,” said Mark Finley, Teenie at his side, as he took Adventist World on a tour of the construction site and surrounding community in Haymarket, Virginia. The church also promises to serve as a model for Adventist churches of the future.
The Haymarket church also will function as an evangelism center, with the Finleys and the church’s pastor, Robert Banks, leading four- and eight-day intensive training sessions for Adventist leaders and lay members once a month.
Sabbath services will be held in a second-floor sanctuary with seating for 225 to 250 people. An on-site media center will give the church the capability to broadcast, giving it an international reach.
All About Community
The Adventist world church has placed an emphasis on making every Adventist church a community center over the past few years, with its leader, Ted N. C. Wilson, calling for comprehensive health ministry initiatives that meet people’s physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs. Some churches offer cooking classes and others have resource centers, but few have plans quite as ambitious as the Haymarket church.
“We want our pastors and laypeople to see that churches have to engage in their communities,” said Mark Finley, an editor-at-large for the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines. “The methods may be different in each community, but the principle is the same. You try to do everything you can to make an impact for Christ in that community, just as Jesus did.”
Construction started this spring on the US$4 million building, a dream come true for the Finleys, who have preached and led health seminars in nearly 100 countries over the past half century. Both are now 70 and feel a responsibility to share what they have learned with the next generation of Adventists.
“I know that 10 years from now I am not going to be able to jet all over the world, holding evangelistic meetings,” Mark Finley said. “So the question is: How do you pass on what you’ve learned in 48 years of evangelism? My desire is to pass on to others any skills, any gifts, any knowledge that God has given me.”
The church will function as their base. Slated to open in January 2016, the community center will be staffed by volunteers every day of the week.“Often churches are the least economically efficient buildings in the world because they’re open only once a week,” Teenie Finley said. “Our church will be open seven days a week.”
This is not a case of “build it and they will come.” Although the Finleys keep a busy travel schedule, they also are deeply involved in the community. Mark Finley, for example, lectures on how to improve grades at a nearby community college. His last class was attended by 100 students.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “We talk about the impact of vitamin B on the brain and the impact of a wholesome diet on the thinking process. We talk about exercise and adequate sleep and their impact on study. The students love it.”
“A Project of Faith”
Teenie Finley was impressed to start the project after praying about the lack of an Adventist church in Haymarket, the Finleys’ hometown. One day, on her morning walk, she was surprised to see a sign on a grassy knoll reading “Future Church Site: For Sale or Lease.” She felt an overwhelming need to pray, and she began to pray daily over the sign, pleading with God that this would be the site of an Adventist church.
Then one evening she told a lay-evangelism training seminar she was conducting that every church needed to be a training center. An attendee whom she had never met before pressed her for more information on the sidelines of the meeting. As she spoke with him, she mentioned that she had found the future church site and that she wished she and her husband could open an evangelism training center there.
The next day the attendee told her: “I went home last night and prayed about what you had told us about, and God impressed me to give you $50,000.”
More donations flowed in as soon as the Finleys opened a special fund at the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, to deposit the $50,000 and to seek God for further direction in the funding. One friend decided to contribute an additional $50,000, while another gave $7,000. The $107,000 was far from the required amount. But the Finleys took the unexpected seed money as an indication that they should move forward in faith.
About the same time, Mark Finley and Tommie Thomas, an elder at the nearby Warrenton Adventist Church, approached the company that owned the church site and the surrounding community. To their surprise, the company offered them a better site. Teenie Finley had been praying at an undeveloped lot in a corner of the community, but the new site was located right in the heart of the community and boasted a parking lot and other amenities.
Through a series of miracles, God provided the finances necessary to purchase the property and begin the building process, Mark Finley said. The last funds remain to be raised, but he expressed confidence that God would see the project through to the end. “This is a project of faith,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hungary and a breakaway group of hundreds of former Adventists have agreed to put aside past grievances and work toward healing a 40-year schism.
Jamaican Gives Up His Dreadlocks—His All—for Jesus
Rastafarian runs to the barbershop before being baptized.
By Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher, IAD
Going more than 30 years without a haircut did not disqualify a 66-year-old Jamaican man from baptism.
George Johnson after his haircut. (Courtesy of George Johnson)But his decision to dart out of an evangelistic meeting and find a barbershop convinced the pastor that he was willing to sacrifice all for Jesus. George Johnson, a Rastafarian adherent who had taken a Nazirite vow not to cut his hair, told an astonished audience at a Seventh-day Adventist tent meeting in northern Jamaica that he once believed in the divinity of the former emperor of Ethiopia and had made plans to move to Africa. But now, he said, his loyalty was to the Creator God and he longed to go to heaven.
“Even if I had to cut off my hand to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I would do it,” Johnson, freshly trimmed and shaved, said at his baptism. With his voice choking with emotion, he added: “Nobody forced me to be baptized. No woman seduced me either. I hear them saying that Haile Selassie is God, but my God created the heavens and the earth.”
Because of Johnson’s testimony, several people decided to accept Jesus and get baptized during the recent four-week “Prepare to Meet Thy God” evangelistic series. A total of 15 people were baptized.
Johnson asked to be baptized after deciding that his decades-long search for a church that taught biblical truth had ended at the tent meeting. He had lived for more than three decades as a devout Rastafarian, a religious movement that emerged from Jamaica’s slums in the 1920s and 1930s. Rastafarians are united in their pride in African heritage and belief in the divinity of the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I. Their lifestyle often includes wearing their hair in dreadlocks, the ritual use of marijuana, avoidance of alcohol, and vegetarianism.
Dreadlocks Versus Jesus
Johnson said he had visited many churches before attending the evangelistic meetings in the city of Falmouth.“For 60 years I have been in the dark,” he said. “When I went to the campaign, I heard the evangelist preach. My eyes were opened. The good news filled my heart. I found my church, and I am not leaving it!”
The path toward baptism was not easy. Johnson decided to give his heart to Jesus at the start of the second week of the meetings. But the local senior pastor, Carlington Hylton, was uncertain if Johnson was ready. The two spoke before the evangelistic meeting opened on a Sunday evening. “I went to the tent early, about 6:30, to get acquainted with the candidates presented by the Bible instructors,” Hylton said. “George was shown to me as a prospect sitting in the front seat of the tent, waiting for his baptism. I asked the Bible instructor if there was any discussion with him about his hair, and I was told, ‘No.’?”
Hylton spoke with Johnson about his religious beliefs.“I asked him if he was a Rastafarian or if his locks were just a hairstyle,” the pastor said. “He told me he was a Rastafarian and was hoping to go back to Africa, where his forefathers are from. He said that he had taken a Nazirite vow, and his hair was his covenant, and it should not be cut.”
Hylton said he realized that Johnson needed more time. He assured Johnson that he was not being denied baptism, and made arrangement to meet the next day for further Bible studies.
“Who Is This Man?”
But that same night, after listening to evangelist Livingston Burgess preach, Johnson went missing. He reappeared in line with the baptismal candidates.
George Johnson before his haircut. (Courtesy of George Johnson)
“Who is this man?” asked Clavour Tucker, a local pastor who had just led the candidates in completing their baptismal vows. “I didn’t recognize him, nor did anyone else,” Tucker said. “So I asked Elder Burgess to find out who he was. To our astonishment, it was George! He had gotten a haircut, a clean shave, and was ready for baptism.”
He said the excitement grew under the tent as the audience realized what had happened, and many began to clap with joy. “We all couldn’t believe what had taken place,” Tucker said. “You see, at that time of the evening most barbershops are closed. But George found someone to cut off his dreadlocks just in time to be baptized.”
Hylton said he was amazed, and his concerns were laid to rest.“There was nothing I could do. The man wanted Jesus so badly that he went and cut off his locks,” he said. “The cutting of the hair for me was a public statement that George may not know much, but he knew that God wanted him. I could not deny him baptism.”
Evangelist Livingston Burgess speaks with George Johnson on Sabbath, April 4.
Johnson said in an interview that he had no regrets about giving up his hair.“When I listened to the sermon that Sunday night, I reflected that I had been in the dark all these years,” he said. “I couldn’t wait another day. I wanted to be baptized now. After hearing all that good news in the Bible, I realized that I needed Jesus now. That is why I cut off my hair.”
We all know the conversational quiz by which we try to clarify priorities. It typically begins, “If you could only say one thing about _______, what would it be?”
A Ministry of Healing
By Bill Knott
We all know the conversational quiz by which we try to clarify priorities. It typically begins, “If you could only say one thing about _______, what would it be?” Reducing all the possible answers down to one somehow convinces us that we are getting at the most essential thing.
But when we turn that process to the life and ministry of Jesus, we find ourselves confounded by the sheer variety of things that we must say of Him. Among so many others, we need to say of Jesus that He is “truth,” that He is “love,” that He is “judge,” that He is “Savior.”
Had you asked that question across Judea and Samaria in the first century A.D., however, the favorite answer would have undoubtedly been “healer,” for that is how the vast majority of people encountered Him. Even those who had but little idea of His teachings or His kingdom nonetheless discovered Him in hands that once again could grasp a tool, dread diseases that miraculously disappeared, and blind eyes that now could see a human face—His human face—for the first time. And they loved Him for the healing; followed Him because they had been healed; joined His cause because they glimpsed in Him a power to heal the world of more than physical afflictions.
So it is that all who intend today to build up the kingdom of Jesus must ultimately commit themselves to the work of healing that was so central to His earthly ministry. Preaching, urgent as it is, will never be enough: teaching, wise and timely as it can be, will never have the greatest impact. Truths become truly life-giving when they find a home in bodies that have been restored. This is why for 150 years, God’s remnant church for the endtime has uniquely underlined how preaching, teaching, and healing always move together. In every place where Seventh-day Adventists share the Bible truths that heal the heart they also share the ministry of health that makes the wounded whole.
As you read this month’s cover feature, “Zimbabwe Leads the Way,” pray for your neighbors and your friends who will discover Jesus as you demonstrate His kindness for their physical well-being.