An epic story in seven acts that gives us the chance to reach others in a powerful way...
A Story to Tell
By Ty Gibson
The Bible is not a textbook of systematic theology, nor is it a proof-text manual; it is not even a book of good moral advice.
The Bible is, rather, a story.
It’s a grand narrative rich with intersecting characters in an unfolding saga of infinite love, horrific loss, and glorious restoration at last.
At the center of the story is a singular, towering figure. Every prophecy and parable, every song and symbol, every wailing prayer for justice and weeping plea for mercy, every cry for help and longing for love, every episode and act of the story, whispers His name.
The entire Old Testament basically says, He is coming. The entire New Testament says, He has come. A promise made and a promise kept! That’s the whole Bible, the whole story, in a nutshell.
In the Old Testament we hear God saying, I will faithfully love you at any and all cost to Me. No matter your posture toward Me, I will never stop loving you. I will come to your world and enter into your pain. I will bear your shame. I will absorb your sin into My love and overcome its power to destroy you.
In the New Testament we hear God saying, See, I am here, and I will fulfill every aspect of My promise to you. I will love you to the utter end of Myself. All the rage and hatred you can heap upon Me will not conquer, nor even weaken, My love for you. And when I am lifted up on the cross in self-sacrificing love for you, I will draw you back to Me.
Summing up the relation of the two testaments, Paul brilliantly observed, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). In Christ, God has shown His love to be faithful and true by fulfilling every promise He made through the prophets.
The story unfolds in seven epic acts:
1 Pre-Creation: Once upon an eternity, God was all there was. Before all of creation, for eternal ages past, God existed as an expression of other-centered love: Father, Son, and Spirit, the eternal Three as One. The God of the biblical story is not a solitary self, but rather a self-giving friendship, a social unit of nonstop outgoingness. Selflessness defines God and is the foundation of reality.
2 Creation: The physical universe, with all of its rational, thinking, choosing beings, was born from divine love as an expression of God’s character. Creation is simply the demonstration of God’s love in material form. We exist because God is love, and in order to love as God does. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually human beings were engineered to reflect God’s self-giving love back to Him and to one another.
3 Fall: Sin entered the picture as the desire to live for self above and before others, thus generating mistrust, which led to isolation, which led to death. The fall of humankind was basically a falling out of love with God and one another. Sin is not the breaking of arbitrary rules imposed by a controlling God, but rather is anti-love, resulting in breakdown of relationships.
4 Covenant: In response to the Fall, God remained true to His character. The key concept of the biblical story is God’s faithfulness. The story in Genesis reveals how God’s relationship with His people is summed up in the word covenant. In its various forms, the covenant is God’s pledge to continue loving fallen humanity in spite of our rebellion. He will follow through with His plan to save us at any cost to Himself. To accomplish the covenant plan, God establishes in Israel the biological and theological lineage through which His plan will be fulfilled. The prophets of Israel become the channel through which a series of covenant promises and prophecies are proclaimed, all of them pointing to Jesus.
5 Messiah: The Christ event—His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension—constitute the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant promise. Jesus is God’s love embodied in human form. In Him, covenant is kept from both the divine side of the relationship and from the human side. As God, Jesus was faithful to humanity. As human, He was faithful to God. Salvation is historically, objectively accomplished in Christ as the complete fulfillment of the covenant.
6 Church: The body of Christ is His covenant community. Its mission is to bear witness, through words and actions, to the transforming reality of God’s love. As the good news of God’s faithfulness is communicated to the world, salvation, liberation, and healing happen for every person who says “yes” to the message. Saying “yes” is what the Bible calls “faith,” which is exercised when individuals identify with Christ and live for Him. This is the subjective experience of redemption in Christ Jesus.
7 Re-Creation: As the Bible story reaches its climax, everything contrary to God’s love will be eradicated. Only that which is good and beautiful will remain for all eternity. The story promises the final removal of evil and the restoration of all things to God’s ideal. Redeemed humanity will finally enter into the eternal bliss of other-centered, social integration God had planned from the beginning. God’s love will reign supreme in every heart as the only motive behind every thought, feeling, and deed.
This is the whole Bible at a glance, and this is the message God raised up the Advent movement to proclaim to the world. Our understanding of the Bible serves its true purpose only when we tell this story. It is the most enchanting and moving and mind-blowing story that can be told, because it tells of a God who loves each of us more than His own existence; one who would rather die forever than live without us.
If we tell this story, our own people, as well as those we try to reach, will spontaneously jump into the narrative to play their part.
Ty Gibson is lead pastor of the Storyline Adventist Church in Eugene, Oregon, United States. He has authored eight books and codirects Light Bearers, an international publishing, teaching, and media ministry.
During my first visit to Europe many years ago, I tried to give a brochure to a person in the subway. She rejected it. That shocked me. In my home country this would rarely happen. People here, it seemed, were not as receptive to the gospel. So I wondered, How can I break the cultural barriers and reach people’s hearts?
Soon after, while traveling on a train, my 2-year-old-daughter was “reading” a book about the Flood and the creation of the world. A couple beside her were enchanted with her enthusiasm and listened to her attentively while she showed them the pictures and explained to them their meanings. When we arrived at our stop, we said farewell to the couple with affective and spontaneous smiles, which in other circumstances we would likely not have experienced. That event helped me understand that we can reach the hearts of those who apparently seem “closed” to the gospel message if we use the right “key.”
A Church Is Born In 2011 I went to Madrid, Spain, to continue my postgraduate studies. I began meeting with a small group of Portuguese-speaking Adventists, most of whom were Brazilians. The group organized initially in 2008, was growing slowing, and dreamed of building a church. I offered to help.
We began our campaign with prayer, and God answered our prayers. The European Portuguese Advisory (EPA) (in Portuguese, Conselho Europeu de Língua Portuguesa), a supporting ministry that helps coordinate and foster the creation of Portuguese immigrant churches in Europe, began dialoguing with leaders and pastors of the Spanish Union of Churches Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SUCC), and meetings were held to discuss the possibilities.
The Euro-Africa Division (now the Inter-European Division) released resources of the project His Hands* to facilitate the foundation of the new church, the first Portuguese Adventist church in Spain.
A Church and a Mission The Lord blessed our efforts. We were able to obtain—free of charge—a small facility in which to meet and worship on Sabbaths. This strengthened our faith in God’s leading, and we continued to move forward in faith. The official inauguration of the small group was held on March 23, 2012. EPA representatives from London and Switzerland, as well as church leaders from SUCC, attended.
At first weekly attendance hovered around 30, but the members enthusiastically embraced their mission to reach as many as possible of the more than 20,000 Brazilians and others living in Madrid who spoke Portuguese. They happily greeted Sabbath visitors and welcomed them into their group.
The Key to Success Every human being has spiritual needs, as well as a need for fellowship and companionship with others. A genuine and vibrant Christian group that is biblically oriented can help satisfy these needs. A community of immigrants such as ours can also offer practical assistance, such as providing food to those in need and helping them find jobs or places to pursue their education or learn a second language.
A support network was developed through small-group meetings in church members’ homes. Four small groups prayed with one another and shared sorrows, joys, and dreams. They developed friendships with one another and shared their faith with neighbors, relatives, and others. Sharing Sabbath meals also provided fellowship.
The spontaneity and joy in our social meetings and religious services in the church created an attractive environment for visitors.
A Dream Realized The small groups, visits to members, frequent phone calls, Bible studies, and daily church life fostered friendship and confidence. When I visited other community churches, I shared the story of the fledgling congregation. Eventually the news spread throughout the region, resulting in many prayers and messages of encouragement.
Adventists from other churches soon began to migrate to our congregation. Former Adventists and people interested in learning about the gospel started attending as well. Before long we outgrew our meeting facility and began looking for something larger.
One day, while talking to a church brother at his automobile repair shop, I mentioned that we were praying and looking for a new meeting site. He showed me a place for rent in front of his shop. It was the size we needed and in a good location, close to a subway station and in a Brazilian immigrant neighborhood. It seemed God was leading. We signed the lease in October 2012.
The new meeting place needed much work and renovation. Church members volunteered both time and resources. Refurbishing the place included constructing a second bathroom, acquiring new chairs, organizing a children’s room, updating the heating system, and, of course, cleaning and painting. The SUCC approved the opening of the new church on November 13, and its official dedication was held January 19, 2013.
All those initial months of hard work, sweat, and tears were finally crowned with the slow but sustainable development of the first Portuguese Adventist church in Spain.
Lessons Learned Here are 10 things I learned from helping to plant this new congregation: 1. Success depends on both the heavenly rain and the sweat of those who work in it. 2. Negotiations and administrative formalities can sometimes be dry, slow, and challenging, but they are the inevitable way to plant a new church. 3. Pleasing everyone should not be the goal. But respecting different opinions is a sign of maturity and wisdom, and helps avoid a lot of problems. 4. Words of encouragement can lighten the exhausted soul and strengthen a person’s faith. 5. God often uses humble, weak, and unskilled people to teach us to depend on Him. 6. If we use lack of money as an excuse to do nothing, we don’t understand that God is truly in control. 7. Unless we spend time with people, strive to be close them, and love them, it’s impossible to share our knowledge and experience of God with them. 8. Every pastoral ministry is beyond human capacity, but with God all things are possible. 9. God’s mercy and love toward lost souls allow us be instruments of salvation, independent of our personal strengths and weaknesses. 10. We sometimes need to unlearn things in order to be able to understand other lessons God wants to teach us.
Practical Love The central gospel message is practical love. After breaking through the numerous artificial and cultural barriers that people use to protect themselves, we find hearts in need of love and understanding. Sincere Christians can provide genuine friendships through which others can experience a true encounter with God.
* His Hands is an initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For more information, go to www.adventistvolunteers.org/HisHands/
It’s always rewarding to see how faithfully God has led us in the past...
Another Native Son
There are many ways to become a pioneer.
By Gibson Caesar (with Lael Caesar)
For the first 10 years of my life I was a little boy in a little village on a big plain: the magnificent, wide-open, undulating plains of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana in South America’s northern region.
Beautiful Land My name is Gibson Caesar. I am one of the original inhabitants of my region: Taurepan, Akawaio. Pemon-speaking Amerindians inhabit a land of splendid beauty shared with Spanish-speaking Venezuelans, English-speaking Guyanese, and Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. Many of us speak all those European languages and several of our own as well.
Our land features dramatic ancient rock formations called tepuis (or tepuys) that suddenly rise from the savannah floor in awe-inspiring isolation from one another. They make for spectacular waterfalls, one of which, Ayuantepui, is the source of Angel Falls, at 979 meters (3,212 feet) the world’s tallest waterfall, with one uninterrupted plunge of 807 meters (2,648 feet). Its river, the Gauja, is but one of the area’s wild rushing currents that sweep over these falls.
The indigenous word “Guayana” (“Guyana”) goes far in explaining the lush profusion of this (at times) inaccessible interior. Its meaning, “land of many waters,” describes the fertility of hinterland earth in Guyana, Surinam, Cayenne, Venezuela, and Brazil. The deep jungles of these lands have provided exotic flora and fauna for many of the world’s zoos.
My own Taurepan-speaking relatives still freely move across the fluid international borders at the base of Mount Roraima, where Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana’s borders meet. For me, as a 10-year-old, moving from the land of my birth to Guyana would give me a new land, language, name, and life.
Paruima, Waramadong, Georgetown Paruima is an indigenous Amerindian village across the Guyanese border where the Seventh-day Adventists operated a school, with Riley Caesar as teacher. School drew me there. But within a short time teacher Riley and his wife, Lucy, drew me further in. They took me into their home and gave me their name. I could not know then how big a step this was into God’s future for me.
Two years later, in 1948, we moved to the village of Waramadong, where my dad served as teacher in the Waramadong school. But Daddy Caesar soon realized that his firstborn son needed more schooling than he could get in hinterland Akawaio villages. So after about two years in Waramadong, he sent me to Guyana’s capital city of Georgetown. By then he was not as lonely as he had been when he took me in as his first son.
Now there were four kids: me, 14 years old; Val, 4; with Theron and Lael trailing behind. And though there were no Adventist schools in Georgetown in 1950, there was an Adventist headmaster. Daddy Caesar entrusted me into Bruce Dummett’s care.
Coming of Age Georgetown was still not enough for my thirst for learning, or Daddy’s dreams for me. So after being there three months, I sailed across the Caribbean Sea to Caribbean Training College on the island of Trinidad, where my teacher-parents, Riley and Lucy Caesar, had themselves been trained.
I spent three years in that school, learning to fill Daddy’s shoes. For that was just what the Lord had destined me to do: return home to make history for my native people.
When Daddy Caesar was transferred to Guyana’s Essequibo Coast to take up pastoral duties, I took his place in Waramadong. At just 17 years old, I became the first indigenous teacher in Adventism’s history of my people in Guyana.
Back in my school days at Daddy Caesar’s Waramadong school there was a girl named Anita. She was one year my junior. Her dad, William Frederick Kenswil, traveled a bit. So for reasons of her stability, he let her spend much of her time in the care of Pastor and Mrs. Roy Brooks, missionaries living and teaching in the village of Paruima.
Mr. Kenswil paid his daughter weekly visits in Paruima, but one day when she was 13, he decided to have her come visit him instead: “You are growing up my daughter,” he said. “You need to find a good husband . . . Gibson, perhaps, or someone like him.” It was the only father-daughter conversation of that kind she would ever have with her dad. He died that same week.
Far away in Trinidad, I was doing my own thinking: “I have nobody,” I told myself. The solution would be to write to Mrs. Brooks. I did, and told her to keep Anita for me.
But life isn’t always that simple. After I came home to teach, I found myself aware of more than one charming, Christian young woman in my world. I kept thinking of Esther, who liked me a lot, and of Anita at Pastor Brooks’ home away in Georgetown.
One day I made up my mind to go see Anita. It was enough. A week later Pastor Brooks brought Anita to Waramadong to join us in marriage, March 18, 1954—me and my old schoolmate; the girl whose father, when she was 13, had encouraged her to think of me just days before he died; the girl I had asked Sister Brooks to keep for me. Amazing, isn’t it, or at least amusing, that none of us ever thought of asking Anita what she thought of all this? Blessedly for me, Anita was in full agreement with having me as her life companion.
Life Together I taught for seven years in Waramadong, the last six of them with Anita at my side as teacher and loving wife. Later we moved to Kako, some eight hours away, to open a new school. Kako put all my capacity as a leader to the test. God helped me persuade the village community to join me in doing it all. We built everything from classroom blackboard, to school furniture, to the schoolhouse itself.
Life After Kako I did many things in life after Kako. There was mining, logging, and many years of work in agriculture. Daddy and Mommy’s preparation, and my years at Waramadong and Kako, stood me in good stead.
Beginning at the Mon Repos School of Agriculture in 1973, I served as a career educator, teaching in eight of my people’s communities, places with musical Amerindian names like Paruima, Waramadong, Kamarang, Kako, Jawalla [in the Upper Mazaruni], Imbaimadai, Chinauyen, and Philippi. Anita left teaching to become a certified midwife. From her base in Waramadong she worked from 1973 to 2001, and earned the astonishing record of never losing a baby through 28 years of midwifery in Guyana’s hinterland.
But my history-making years at Waramadong and Kako will never be forgotten. God has been good to this little boy who wandered across an international border to find his family and purpose in life. Life has had its sorrows along with its joys. But I am thankful that God let us see seven of our children, three girls and four boys, grow to adulthood and do very well.
Considering their success, the growth of Adventist education among Guyana’s historic Davis Indian community, and the way God has led throughout my life, I shall always be grateful for the privilege He granted me of being the pioneer in the Christian education of my people.
Across the next border in heaven’s promised land my children and students and I will all learn from Jesus in the school of eternity.
A quick and perceptive look at what's going on in the Seventh-day Adventist Church...
Brazil’s Player of the Year Stands for Sabbath
Soccer goalkeeper stuns the country’s sporting world.
By Carolina Félix, South American Division
An up-and-coming soccer goalkeeper has stirred up a storm in Brazil’s sporting world by announcing that he will no longer play matches scheduled from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Carlos Vítor da Costa Ressurreição, 30, who was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church last month, disclosed his decision at a news conference, sparking a wave of surprise, sympathy, even anger from fans and sports commentators who struggled to understand his rationale.
The furor is in no small part linked to the fact that Ressurreição has made a number of important saves in the past year that moved his Londrina Esporte Clube up from Serie C to Serie B in the Brazilian National Championship, the main soccer league championship in the country. Ressurreição was named player of the year, resulting in a job offer from Serie A team Chapecoense that would have doubled his salary. Ressurreição turned down the job because it wouldn’t have allowed him to observe the seventh-day Sabbath as mandated by the fourth commandment, according to the newspaper Lance!
Moreover, Ressurreição’s future is up in the air because a number of Serie B matches are held on Friday nights and Saturdays. His team has announced that it will not renew his contract when it ends in May. But Ressurreição is clinging to his convictions, telling the news conference on January 20 that he wouldn’t even be playing soccer if it weren’t for God.
A year before his baptism, he said, he spent four long months at home in Salvador, in the state of Bahia, without a signed contract with any team. During that time his wife, Gabriela, was approached by a friend at a hair salon and offered a partnership in producing handbags. The two women subsequently created their own label and formed a business that grew quickly, Ressurreição said. “In a short amount of time the profit grew larger than my salary had been in the soccer club,” he said. “That was the moment I understood that God had several possible ways to care for my family.”
After this realization, Ressurreição set aside his fears about not being able to land a soccer contract and instead began a process that he called “intimacy with God.” He started to study the Bible and pray every day. “My faith is not based on words said by a pastor or anything like that,” he said. “I studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that I needed to grow spiritually.”
As he studied, he became convinced that his mother-in-law, Tânia Rocha, a Seventh-day Adventist, had been right when she had told him about the Sabbath 12 years earlier. He was baptized on December 27. The uncertainties that Ressurreição now faces may be as daunting as those that he had when he didn’t have a soccer contract a year ago. But he expressed calmness about the future when a reporter asked him at the news conference whether he was prepared to choose between his faith and his career. “Without any doubt, I choose my faith,” he said. “Many others came before me, giving me this opportunity to choose.”
But he isn’t sitting around. As the clock ticks down on his current contract, he has started a Bible study group with his teammates.
“I’m at peace because my life is in the hands of God,” he said. “As long as there are teams that respect my beliefs, sports will always be an option. If not, the Lord has already shown me in the past that He will take care of me.” Ressurreição’s stand is winning admiration from some sports commentators. “I’m not religious, but I’m touched by Vítor’s choice,” said Ayrton Baptista, Jr., a sports blogger with Globo Esporte, one of the best-known sports Web sites in Brazil. “His faith speaks loudly.”
Willing to Die for Their Faith
Two married couples tell why they moved to the Middle East.
By Andrew McChesney
Large tears welled up in Juanita’s eyes. She drew her young daughter close in her arms. But her voice remained resolute as she spoke about the possibility that she might die for her faith in the Middle East.
“When you are sure of the call of God and the call of the church, it is easier to go to dangerous places because you know that God will be with you,” Juanita said. “He will help us.”
Her husband, Carlos, nodded his head solemnly. He said he had been thinking about Arabs who made international headlines giving their lives for a cause they believed in, no matter how wrong the cause might be. “Why can’t we believe in our cause and be willing to give our lives, too?” he said. “This is the true cause; it is the cause of Jesus.”
Carlos, Juanita, and their daughter are among 17 Seventh-day Adventist families who arrived in the Middle East from South America in February 2015. The highly-trained professionals gave up comfortable jobs in their home countries to spend the next five years working in one of parts of the world where it is most difficult to share the gospel. The past year has been filled with Arabic lessons, intensive planning, and complicated paperwork as the couples inch closer to securing jobs in restricted-access countries. Their goal is to serve as tentmakers: front-line, self-supporting Adventists who share their faith in the workplace. Juanita and Carlos spoke about their efforts in a candid interview. Adventist World is not using the couples’ real names nor disclosing their location because of the sensitivity of their work.
Tears formed in Juanita’s eyes when she was asked how she had weighed the risks as a mother. Before leaving South America, she said, she and Carlos signed a document granting custody of their daughter to her maternal grandparents in the event something happened to them. Juanita said she had no doubt that God had called not just her and Carlos but also their daughter to serve in the Middle East. “God has called us as a team, the three of us,” she said, holding her cooing daughter on her lap. “The call is for her as well, even though she doesn’t know it.”
The girl has already helped her parents make inroads in a culture where it’s difficult for foreigners to make friends with Arabs. Not only are men and women strictly segregated, but Arabs and foreigners often live in their own worlds as well. The other day, Carlos was playing with his daughter at an outdoor playground when her antics caught the attention of an Arab father who had a child of the same age. The two men started conversing and ended up exchanging phone numbers. Soon Carlos’ new friend invited him to a one-on-one game of ball.
“My daughter is making a lot of connections,” Carlos said. Personal relationships are especially important in the Arab world, where literature evangelism, public meetings, and other outreach efforts common elsewhere are banned, church leaders said.
No Adventist believers have been killed for their faith in the Middle East in recent memory, said Homer Trecartin, president of the Adventist Church’s Middle East and North Africa Union. “We have had some close calls, but I am not aware of any who have died,” he said. But Trecartin openly tells potential volunteers that they must be willing to die if they accept a call to serve in the Middle East. “I don’t want people to come and help us for the adventure and thrill,” he said. “I want them to come because they really believe that God has called them and they are willing to go, even if it means they never return home.” All the self-supporting families who arrived in the Middle East last year were selected in a process that involved being screened by the church’s South American Division and approved by the Middle East and North African Union. The South American Division is covering many of the families’ expenses as they settle down to work.
Meanwhile, Carlos said he didn’t know whether God would call him and his wife to make the ultimate sacrifice. He said he didn’t know whether they were ready to die. But he said he believed that God would prepare them if that time came. “We know God will give us the strength to face any difficulty,” he said as his daughter, now off her mother’s lap, joyfully toddled around the room. “If He calls us to make that sacrifice, it would be an honor, of course. We are at peace. If we are within the will of God and serving Him, we are happy.”
Dialogue helps us to understand the different perspectives from others and also gives the wonderful opportunity to be understood effectively...
Talking Faith, Protecting Freedom
Dialogue + religious liberty = unique witness
By Ganoune Diop
Seventh-day Adventists shower me with questions when they learn that I represent the Adventist Church at meetings of Christian ecumenical organizations. “How exactly do Adventists view Christian unity, interfaith relations, and ecumenism?” they ask. “Why do Adventists choose to accept and maintain only observer status and not membership among Christian ecumenical organizations?” My answer is simple: It is legitimate for all people of goodwill to unite to save lives, to protect lives, and to affirm the importance and sacredness of life. It is even urgent for all people to partner to make this world a better place for all human beings, contributing to better health, education, and humanitarian work in all dignity, freedom, justice, peace, and fraternity.
All the services and activities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church seek to promote life, and life in abundance. In the fulfillment of the church’s mission, Adventists mingle with other Christian organizations. In reference to its position in global Christian organizations, the Adventist Church has held observer status at meetings and been open to cooperation with other churches in areas that do not compromise its identity, mission, and message. The rule of thumb is not to hold membership in any ecumenical body that eradicates or erases the distinctive Adventist voice in reference to the sovereignty of God the Creator, the Sabbath, and the Second Coming. In principle, Adventists choose not to be involved in doctrinal alliances with other churches because of the Adventist adherence to a wholistic and integrated approach to biblical doctrines and because of that seeks to uphold doctrines that Adventists consider to have been sidelined, changed, or forgotten in the course of church history.
That said, “unity” is not a bad word. Adventists value unity just as God does. Unity is grounded in the existence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Adventists promote unity for the sake of mission, to make Christ known to all people groups, languages, tribes, and nations. Christians can also unite to make the world a better place through the promotion of health, education, humanitarian work, and the promotion and protection of human rights.
But Christians must keep in mind that they will miss their primary calling if they do not unite to uphold and model spiritual values grounded on the everlasting gospel. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are paramount in the Christian mandate and gift to the world. These virtues can best flourish when religious liberty is a reality.
Religious liberty for Adventists is the antidote to syncretistic ecumenism. It is a call to embrace truth with the inalienable freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or belief, freedom to express publicly one’s beliefs, freedom to invite others to share one’s convictions or to join one’s community of faith.
Ecumenism Up Close A subtle cluster of interrelated topics in the arena of interchurch and interfaith relations that needs much clarity is the issue of unity, visible unity, and ecumenism. Other words are sometimes brought into the conversation as if they mean the same thing. They are “collaboration,” “partnership,” and “interchurch (or interfaith) dialogue.”
The word “ecumenism” is used differently in various contexts. The word can refer to unity among the world’s Christian churches, but people usually use it to describe a general sense of cordial relations, dialogue, or partnership for a project. Historically, the first church councils were called ecumenical in the sense that many churches interacted to define orthodoxy. This is not the sense it is given today. Some denominations, such as Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, use it in this sense because they believe they are the guarantors of orthodoxy. But to label any partnership among Christians as doctrinal ecumenism may be uninformed, uneducated, and far-fetched. Spiritual honesty is also needed in identifying and evaluating the real content of interchurch relations.
Defining Unity The concept of unity has a solid biblical and theological foundation. The blessing God intended to spread through Abraham and through his descendants was destined to all the families of the earth. God wants all His people to experience doctrinal unity. This never materialized among His covenant people, Israel. The belief in the resurrection of the dead, for example, was not shared by all Israelites. The New Testament mentions that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Today unity is understood differently among various Christian churches. For Roman Catholics, for example, unity includes the concept of the communion of saints, meaning both those who are alive and those who are dead.
In the Catholic Encyclopedia the communion of saints is described as “the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head. . . . The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination [heaven] and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption.” With this example in mind, global church unity could be a reality only if all Christians adopted the Roman Catholic worldview or understanding of reality or if all Catholics gave up their deeply held beliefs.
Nevertheless, there is much that unites Christians, beginning with the foundation of unity itself. Unity is dear to the heart of God. The whole plan of salvation demonstrates God’s determination to unite His divided and dispersed family, which He created in His image. Unity is grounded in the being of God who is Trinity: a unity in Trinity.
Jesus’ death was purposed to gather people into one. In John 17 Jesus prayed for unity for the sake of mission so that the world might believe. The Holy Spirit was given to seal the unity in mission.
Adventists and Unity Adventists join God in all that God is doing in the world for its salvation. God evangelizes (Gal. 3:8); so do we. God is committed to unite the whole world under the lordship of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We join God to fulfill His purposes to lift up God the Son so that the world might be saved. Adventists are committed to call all peoples to fix their eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1, 2). They remind all Christians of what constitutes a core belief since apostolic times and is also present in the earliest Christian statement of faith: the second coming of Jesus.
The principle that informs Adventists’ relations to other Christians has two inseparable aspects: truth and religious freedom. Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White underscored this in The Acts of the Apostles, writing: “The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God’s witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed to our hands.
The responsibility for this great gift rests with those whom God has blessed with a knowledge of His Word. We are to receive this Word as a supreme authority. We are to recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment, and teach obedience to it as a sacred duty, within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, we must obey God rather than men.”1
More fundamentally, Adventists understand their mission as their name intimates—highlighting the truth of the Second Coming as the hope of the world to finally embrace freedom from death and from evil, bringing with it justice and peace. These convictions are the reasons that Adventists emphasize the Second Coming and a message of healing. Adventists understand that the words of Jesus calling His disciples “salt” and “light” (Matt. 5:13-17) apply also to them.
Every aspect of Adventist engagement with any institution, agency, or organization, whether ecclesiastical or political, built primarily upon the reason for the existence of the church: bringing hope to humankind entangled in all kinds of evil. To fulfill this mission, Adventists participate in Jesus’ method as articulated by Ellen White: “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.’?”2
Jesus served people, healed them, and fed them with no strings attached. He made them know and feel they were free to choose their future with or without Him. Freedom of conscience matters to Him. Without this freedom, no covenant is genuine. This is because love cannot be forced.
Interchurch Relations Adventists recognize other sincere Christians who confess the truth of Jesus as members of the body of Christ. But Adventists do not hold formal structural membership in ecumenical organizations primarily for freedom of religion purposes. Membership in an ecumenical body would limit the freedom to share one’s convictions with everyone else and thereby jeopardize a universal end-time mission as Adventists understand it.
Adventists are not part of the ecumenical organizations that require membership, but they do enjoy guest or observer status at meetings. Cooperation with other Christian denominations is in accordance with the Adventist Church’s view of other Christians. Ellen White, writing about temperance, said this about leaders in other denominations: “In other churches there are Christians who are standing in defense of the principles of temperance. We should seek to come near to these workers and make a way for them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. We should call upon great and good men to second our efforts to save that which is lost.”3
In reference to prayer, White said: “Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.”4
In accordance with the above counsel, the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, has inscribed in the General Conference’s Working Policy that church leaders “recognize every agency that lifts up Christ before men as a part of the divine plan for the evangelization of the world, and . . . hold in high esteem the Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ.”
Rejecting Ecumenism Unity, though clearly willed by God, is not the supreme value. Loyalty to God’s truth takes precedence.
The Adventist Church and several other denominations that have not joined organized ecumenical bodies object to ecumenism as doctrine or as an objective to fuse Christian churches into one world church, leading to loss of distinctive denominational identity. Also, Adventists and other believers do not adhere to syncretistic alliances that would diminish the importance and weight of truth, especially when beliefs in some churches may not be in harmony with revealed biblical truth.
The main concern of Adventists is that they will be restricted from sharing their convictions with every person regardless of religious or philosophical persuasion. This is fundamentally an issue of religious freedom. How could Christians question the right to freedom of religion or belief while even the secular world has accepted this fundamental human right and value?
The Bottom Line While considering other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ, the principle that prevents the Adventist world church from being a member of an organized union of churches such as the World Council of Churches is that of religious freedom. Religious freedom implies the unrestricted right to share one’s religious convictions and the right to invite others to join one’s own Christian tradition without being accused or labeled as a proselytizer.
Seventh-day Adventists support Christian unity as they join the triune God, who is determined to gather people He created in His image. The purpose of the whole plan of salvation is the restoration of God’s image and the gathering of those He saves. Unity is grounded in God. It was for this purpose Jesus Christ came to earth to unite all the families of the earth.
Doctrinal unity among Christian churches is elusive and unreachable unless churches lose their distinctive beliefs and join one of the church traditions, be it Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.
Freedom of religion or belief is a nonnegotiable gift of God that should characterize the freedom of every Christian person or community to share his or her convictions with others, to invite others to join his or her Christian tradition. Obviously, for the sake of mission Christians can join to witness to Christ to a world that needs Him most urgently.
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 68, 69. 2 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143. 3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, p. 110. 4 Ibid., p. 78.
If we can find creative, engaging, and practical ways to offer Sabbath to people in our communities, we will likely find people who will want to share it with us. And we might well rediscover our calling to “speak of [the Sabbath] with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isa. 58:13, NLT).
In the November, 2015 issue of The Victorian Writer, author Andrea Goldsmith describes the challenges as a writer of trying to concentrate and focus in a world of too much information, “too much of everything all of the time.” She expresses her longing “for an off-switch or a safety overload-switch.”
Complaining about this to a Jewish friend, she was reminded of their shared childhood practice of Sabbath. Her article narrates her experimentation with turning off her phone and other devices and deciding not to check her e-mail on Saturdays, choosing instead to live a day each week disconnected and at a slower pace. Her conclusion? “To anyone who wants to reclaim an interior life, who wants quiet and extended periods of creative reflection, I would recommend you take a digital-free day each week. Those of you born into the digital world won’t know yourself, while older people will recognize a self from long ago, one you’ll welcome back—with relief.”
Probably both Goldsmith’s feelings of being overloaded—at least some of the time—and the Sabbath practice she rediscovered are familiar to us. But often our “busy-ness” is not something we give up easily.
A series of psychological experiments conducted at the United States’ University of Virginia in 2014 tested participants with periods of six to 15 minutes sitting alone in an unadorned room without distractions. They didn’t like it. Rather than sit in silence, two-thirds of the male participants, aged between 18 and 77, chose to self-administer electric shocks. They preferred experiencing something unpleasant to being left alone with their own thoughts.
Interestingly, the lead researcher did not necessarily blame modern phones and gadgets for this uneasiness, instead seeing the ubiquity and dominance of such devices as filling the human need to keep ourselves—and particularly our minds—perpetually busy.
That’s why Sabbath is a spiritual discipline, and perhaps why we so quickly fill even our Sabbaths with so many other activities, whether church-focused or otherwise. Even at the same time that we resent their intrusion and recognize the damage that “too much of everything all the time” does to us and to those around us.
So here’s one idea how we might be able to help each other experience a little of Sabbath as part of our worship services and perhaps other church programs: Let’s set up a phone check-in service in our church foyers, encouraging worshippers and participants to disengage their attention—and even detach physically—from their phones or other devices for the duration of the program.
This would, of course, be voluntary, and it would respect the fact that some participants have legitimate needs to be on call. The check-in system would have to protect the security and privacy of these devices. And no, Bible use is not an excuse: simply make printed copies of Bibles available as part of the service. A growing body of research shows that people read better, closer, and deeper when reading from printed pages, rather than on screens. Such an idea would likely feel unconformable for many of us, and even be resisted by some. But that demonstrates its benefit. And with time and practice, it might be something we experience with growing appreciation.
If visiting a church in Southeast Asia, we would find a large rack at the front door, where worshippers are expected to remove their shoes and place them in a pigeonhole before entering to worship. It’s cultural, of course. When entering a temple or pagoda anywhere in these countries, one is expected to remove their shoes as a sign of respect for a holy place. But such an act is also a marker of entering into a different kind of time and experience.
The same opportunity comes with the invitation to let go of our phones and devices, if only for an hour. When we loosen our grip on them, we might realize the grip they have on us and begin to break that grasp. In a world dominated by screens, Sabbath and worship are invitations to a more human kind of interaction and pace; to a deeper kind of “delight,” something to which we might increasingly find worth in inviting others.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia.
My husband and I have difficulty managing our conflicts. We knew marriage would be difficult. Ours, however, has turned out to be much more difficult than either of us anticipated. Sometimes our anger spills out in front of the children. Can you share something to help us do a better job of dealing with our differences? —Diane, Honolulu, Hawaii
Real Family Talk
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
What should married people do if they fall in love with someone else?
Your question leads us to assume you are speaking about external qualities that reduce love to a feeling, an experience, or a moment in time. The media have led us to believe that “falling in love” is that feeling of butterflies in your stomach that makes you want to smile, skip, and sing sweet melodies. Truth be told, that’s not being “in love”; that’s infatuation. Let’s examine what true love really is.
Real love pushes past fleeting emotions, digs in its heels, rolls up its sleeves, and gets ready to hang in there “in sickness and in health, for better or worse, in good times and in sorrow.” Remember those vows?
To be sure, we are not speaking about being in an abusive relationship, but in a relatively healthy relationship where you have been taking each other for granted and things have been allowed to become mundane. This is often why people say they are no longer in love with their spouse, or that they have fallen in love with someone else.
Our culture places a high value on falling in love, but not on staying in love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, the apostle Paul reminds us about true love. All the ingredients for having a lasting, passionate, authentic relationship are found in this passage. Staying in love requires a strong commitment to working hard for the relationship and not giving up.
You may think you’re in love with someone else, because it’s easy to be “in love” with someone with whom you don’t have any “baggage,” someone with whom you haven’t experienced any challenges, or have had any hurdles or obstacles to overcome. You’re searching for those feelings you get when you first fall in love, and you think they can no longer be found in your spouse.
Here’s the good news: you can regain feelings of being in love with your spouse, and build a marriage that is stable and satisfying. First, you have to avoid contact with the person you think you’re in love with as much as possible. Then refocus your attention on your spouse. Remember how you felt when you first met. What attracted you to him or her? This should rekindle some of the emotions you initially felt for your spouse.
Feeling “in love” is nice, however, it’s most important for you to reframe your understanding of what it truly means to be in love. Love is a verb; it is an action. Start focusing on what you can do to be a better spouse, loving your spouse the way Christ loves you (see John 13:34). Examine your expectations and determine which ones are realistic, and which have to be discarded. Focus on working together as a team to fill in the gaps that inevitably appear in marriage.
Also, guard your heart, as the Bible implores us all to do. By nature, our hearts are desperately wicked; and as such they are likely lead us astray. When things are not going the way you imagined, talk to your spouse about your concern. Don’t look for someone else to make you feel better. Openly share your feelings of anger or disappointment (and joy) with your spouse. You will stay in love if your share with one another at a deeply intimate level.
So turn toward your spouse with all the energy and emotions you started to give to someone else. The feelings may not be there right away, but if you start today the feelings will follow tomorrow, or soon after. Trust God with your marriage. Ask Him to give you strength and courage to do the right thing for your marriage and your family. After all, marriage is meant to be a blessing to you, as well as to honor and glorify God. We are praying for your success.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
All Bible references are from the English Standard Version.
Moses’ life is a story of God’s miraculous leading and providential guidance.
The Power of One
By Bill Knott
Nations. Ethnic identities. Tribes. Language groups. Political parties. Hobby clubs. And even congregations.
We are accustomed to thinking of our lives by our connections with so many larger groups, for this is how we are socialized in almost every culture. From birth we learn our identity as a citizen of a particular country, related to millions by our genetic heritage in a people group. We speak a language in common with many others. Sometimes we even “inherit” loyalties to political philosophies or sports teams.
This is by no means bad or wrong. Our connections with so many groups help us understand our place in the world, and provide us support when daily life feels overwhelming or we feel isolated. Certainly Jesus intended that we draw love and encouragement from the fellowship for which He gave His life—the gathered church that meets for worship, warmth, and witness.
But those group identities sometimes lead us to not hear the uniqueness of Jesus’ call to each of us as individuals to join in His great mission to reach those who still don’t know Him. When Jesus addressed His disciples with the Great Commission—“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19)—He wasn’t speaking only to the 12 or the 70 or the hundreds who saw Him after His resurrection. Nor was He speaking to them only as a group.
His call to make disciples is still the duty and the privilege of every believer who takes the name of Christ. Even 20 centuries later Jesus intended we hear it and respond in highly personal terms—where we work, in our play, with family and friends, when we mingle in crowds.
This special edition of Adventist World, the third of three introducing the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s major themes for this five-year span, invites you to find that arena of your life in which Jesus is calling you as an individual to be a servant, a witness, a helper, or a friend.
As you read, allow the Spirit unusual room to prompt and nudge and move you.
A quick and perceptive look at what's going on in the Seventh-day Adventist Church...
Vegan Diet Cuts Risk of Prostate Cancer
Loma Linda University Health releases new study.
By Andrew McChesney
Men who follow a vegan diet are a third less likely to develop prostate cancer, according to a new study by Loma Linda University Health. The study, published in the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, saw a reduced risk in both White and possibly Black males who adhered to a vegan diet without meat, dairy, and eggs.
“If you are already a vegan male, be thankful that you will have a lower risk of prostate cancer,” said Dr. Gary Fraser, director of the study. “If you are not vegan, be aware that the lacto-ovo diet and the pesco-vegetarian diet did not give evidence of protection when compared to non-vegetarian Adventists.”
The study—a new analysis of 26,346 men who participated in the landmark Adventist Health Study-2—examined the association between prostate cancer and the diets of men who ate meat (nonvegetarians), some meat (semi-vegetarians), dairy and eggs but no meat (lacto-ovo vegetarians), only fish (pesco-vegetarians), and no animal products (vegans). Vegans differ from other dietary groups by consuming more fruit, vegetables, nuts, and soy. The other major difference is their nonuse of dairy and eggs.
“It would be reasonable to consider minimizing use of dairy products and maximizing fruit, vegetables, nuts, and soy—particularly if there is a family history of prostate cancer,” Fraser said. But, he cautioned, “this message about dairy is at the present time a logical deduction rather than a tested result.”
He said his team planned to soon put this message to the test directly and report on it.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, accounting for 27 percent of all cancer cases among men, according to the American Cancer Society. But male subjects in the Adventist study experienced about one-third lower incidence of prostate cancer if they were vegan, said Loma Linda University Health, a Seventh-day Adventist institution located in southern California.
“In total, 1,079 incident prostate cancer cases were identified. Around 8 percent of the study population reported adherence to the vegan diet. Vegan diets showed a statistically significant protective association with prostate cancer risk,” said an abstract of the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The precise relation between diet and prostate cancer is unclear. “Because people do not consume individual foods but rather foods in combination, the assessment of dietary patterns may offer valuable information when determining associations between diet and prostate cancer risk,” Loma Linda University Health said in an e-mailed statement.
But other recent studies have found a link between meat and cancer. An analysis from Adventist Health Study-2 published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in March 2015 showed that a vegetarian diet might reduce a person’s risk of colorectal cancer by 22 percent. Previous work from Adventist Health Study-1 linked meat consumption to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
The World Health Organization made international headlines last fall when it declared red meat and processed meat to be a cancer hazard.
Dr. Peter N. Landless, director of the Health Ministries Department of the Adventist world church, said the outcome of the latest study was not surprising. “There is robust evidence supporting the many benefits of a balanced plant-based/vegetarian diet,” Landless said in a statement. “It is interesting and exciting to see different protective properties of different diets, even among the various so-named vegetarian diets (total vegetarian or vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian).
“We see statistically significant protection against prostate cancer in the white vegan group of the AHS-2, with a nonsignificant trend among Black vegans, and wrestle with the protective benefit of dairy consumption regarding colorectal cancer. The epidemiologists and statisticians are facing almost as many questions as answers that are generated by various studies. There is no doubt that a meat-free diet is healthier than one that includes meat. We have long recommended that dairy products should be used sparingly and as a condiment, as it were.” Landless even posed the logical question that many might expect: “Why would we not just recommend a total vegetarian diet for all?”
“Human beings are dependent on dietary sources of vitamin B12; in many parts of the world, dairy is the only source of this essential vitamin for the vegetarian,” Landless said. “Where vitamin B12 is readily and affordably available, where adequate B12 fortification of dairy equivalents is practiced, the total vegetarian diet is very healthy. I strongly urge that all categories of vegetarian supplement their B12 intake, even more intentionally as they grow older, as B12 absorption processes slow down. The current study is a North American-based study; although the results are able to be extrapolated to a global population (White and Black males, as specified above), the socioeconomic circumstances cannot.” Landless summed up his response to Loma Linda University’s new report, saying: “As far as a general recommendation is concerned, we believe it safe and healthy to consume a balanced (supplemented), vegan diet; we urge those who consume dairy products to do so sparingly and use low- or no-fat preparations. We underscore that a balanced, plant-based diet is optimal. We strongly encourage supplementation of vitamin B12 as outlined above. These recommendations hold true for men and women. We keenly await more answers as the research unfolds.”
Division President Succumbs to Rare Disease
Asoy was elected to office just six months ago.
By Andrew McChesney
Leonardo R. Asoy, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD), died after a months-long struggle with a rare bone marrow disease. He was 56.
Asoy was elected SSD president at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, in July 2015, replacing the ailing Alberto C. Gulfan, Jr., who died of cancer on September 26, 2015.
Asoy, who was hospitalized about two months after the General Conference session, died on January 12, 2016, at the Adventist Medical Center Manila, Philippines, from complications resulting from myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare disease in which the bone marrow is unable to produce adequate healthy blood cells.
Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, called Asoy “a dynamic promoter and supporter of evangelism.”
“He was a valiant guardian of the eternal truths of Scripture and the marvelous Advent movement God has entrusted into the hands of Seventh-day Adventists,” Wilson said.
He offered condolences to Asoy’s wife, Elma, and two adult children, Elnardz and Shawnette.
SSD’s executive secretary, Saw Samuel, has been appointed acting president until a new president is elected, in accordance with the General Conference’s Working Policy.
Leonardo Remulta Asoy was born on November 18, 1959, in Mindanao in southern Philippines, and graduated from the Adventist-owned Mountain View College in 1983 with a degree in theology. He first worked as a district pastor in Ozamis City in the church’s Western Mindanao Conference and later as its youth director from 1988 to 1990.
In 1990 he earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in Cavite, Philippines. Whatever knowledge Asoy gained from his Adventist education, he returned hundredfold, friends said.
Felixian T. Felicitas, dean of the School of Theology at Mountain View College, recalled traveling with Asoy on numerous evangelism outings early in their 15-year friendship.
“On most of our trips, Pastor Asoy would turn our long travels into mentoring sessions,” Felicitas said. “At times he would park his blue pickup truck and we would sit in the back, resting. He would simply share his ministry experiences with me. Little did I know then that this was his own little way of teaching and mentoring me.”
Asoy served as president of the South Philippine Union Conference from 2011 until last year, turning it into one of the best-managed unions in the Adventist Church, said G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Adventist world church and a friend of Asoy for more than two decades.
Ng said he would long remember the one day that Asoy briefly left the hospital to attend the opening of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division’s year-end meetings on November 6. Asoy had been confined to his hospital room for 47 days, but he made it a point to be discharged from the hospital in time to attend the morning worship of the opening session. “He spoke with resounding gusto, saying how grateful he was to be present in the midst of fellow leaders from the unions,” Ng said. “He was fully committed to the Lord and to the full restoration of health.”
Ng described Asoy’s life as “a celebration of piety, humility, zeal, and unflinching courage.” “Like the apostle Paul, he could say, ‘This one thing I do,’ in his lifelong commitment to the mission of the church,” he said. “Here is a valiant soldier of Christ waiting to see his Master face to face soon.”
My Straight A’s Friend, Bob Folkenberg
Remembering the late General Conference president.
By Jim Gilley, evangelist and former 3ABN president
It was a strange place to begin a friendship.
Bob Folkenberg and I were very nervous as we stood in line waiting for our final grades before graduation from Andrews University in 1962. Bob shared with me his reason for concern. “I’ve made straight A’s on every report card since the first grade. But I am concerned about this last report card, because I may have slipped to a B in Greek II with Blazen,” he said, referring to Ivan Blazen, the professor of Greek and New Testament.
I shook my head in mock sympathy. I also was worried, but my concern was whether or not I had passed Greek I. All I needed was a passing grade. When Bob received his grade, he jumped, nearly hitting the ceiling, and shouted, “Whoopee, an A!” Then he ran down the hall. Wow, well done! I thought. Straight A’s since first grade!
Bob was long gone when I received my grade and erupted in similar celebration, announcing “Whoopee, a D!” with even more exuberance. We went on to graduate that weekend, Bob with honors, and I—just barely! Both of us were eagerly looking forward to embracing that which the Lord had given us a love for: sharing Jesus with the lost.
A Heart for Evangelism
The next thing I knew, Bob was the singing evangelist for the Roger Holley evangelistic team in the Columbia Union. And because no one else would take the job, they made me the Southern New England Conference evangelist.
Bob learned evangelism from Roger Holley, a man who had studied at the feet of Fordyce Detamore, who knew more than anyone about the “science of soul winning,” as the pen of inspiration calls it. And Bob learned it well during his two years with the team from 1964 to 1966. When he left Pastor Holley to accept a call to the Inter-American Division, the practical knowledge God had blessed him with proved key to the unprecedented growth of that division. “Thousands were baptized because Bob had the faith to hold big meetings for the Lord,” evangelist Kenneth Cox told me.
Cox, working with evangelist Benny Moore, held evangelistic meetings with Bob in Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. “Anytime we had an opening, Bob would ask for our team to come,” recalled Moore.
Bob served as evangelist for the Panama Conference, then as president of the Honduras Mission and president of the Central American Union. Soon he was elected assistant to the president of the Inter-American Division, where his emphasis was on evangelism.
In 1985 Bob returned to the United States with his wife, Anita, and two children, Bob, Jr., and Kathi, to serve as president of the Carolina Conference. The Carolina Conference soon led the Southern Union and North America in soul winning. Bob often called me, and we would discuss some new soul-winning idea that he had, always on the cutting edge of technology. I was amazed at his great personal energy and his total commitment to spreading the gospel.
A Miracle at the 1990 General Conference Session
In 1990 I was chosen as a delegate to the General Conference session in Indianapolis, Indiana. When I arrived at the airport, I saw Richard Barron, a great youth leader who had also served as a conference president, and he said to me, “Gilley, there’s change in the air.”
He was so correct. I soon saw what he meant.
Only three people were chosen from the Southwestern Union Conference delegation to participate in the Nominating Committee, and miraculously I was one of them. Initially Bob was not chosen to represent the Southern Union Conference. But one of those selected to serve declined, and Bob was picked as the replacement—another miracle.
When the Nominating Committee was organized, Bob was quickly elected as chair, to the surprise of everyone. We immediately saw his strength with that committee, and it suddenly occurred to me that he could be nominated to the office of General Conference president.
I pointed this out to several people, and the next morning I told Bob that I thought that he would be asked to be president before the day was over. He looked at me as if stunned and said, “Jim, you’re the second person to tell me that this morning.”
But things didn’t go that way. The Nominating Committee ended up choosing George Brown, president of the Inter-American Division, as General Conference president. However, Brown declined the position after a time of prayerful consideration and because of his concerns about his wife’s health at the time.
When we reconvened, Charles Dudley arose and nominated Robert S. Folkenberg, Sr. Delegates on the floor elected Bob, and at the age of 49 he began his presidency at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Bob hit the ground running, putting Global Mission into action worldwide and adopting the suggestion of then-Lake Union Conference president Don Schneider and his committee to launch World Wide satellite evangelism in partnership with the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN). The Seventh-day Adventist Church entered a time of great growth, with Bob leading the way in opening evangelism in the former Soviet Union and parts of the world known as the 10/40 window.
Problems arose during Bob’s second term of office, and he decided to resign in 1999. It was a dark time of his life. But the Lord still had much work for him to do.
Greatest Ministry Comes After GC
Bob returned to the Carolina Conference, where Ken Coonley, who had served as executive secretary during Bob’s presidency there, was now president. Bob began a project he called Global Evangelism but later changed to ShareHim, which organized lay members and youth to hold evangelistic meetings all over the world. ShareHim is owned and operated by the church as a department of the Carolina Conference, but is funded exclusively through direct donations.
The other day I contacted Benny Moore, who joined ShareHim after retiring from denominational work, to ask about the results of ShareHim under Bob’s leadership for the past 10 years. Not all totals are known. But ShareHim conducted almost 6,000 evangelistic series resulting in 300,000 baptisms in the 11 years from 2000 to 2011. An average of 50 people were baptized per series.
On December 24, 2015, Bob went to sleep in Jesus after a long struggle with cancer. When Bob, Jr., called to tell me, I was driving with my son, John, in my pickup. I stopped the truck and reflected on Bob’s life. I thought back to Andrews University and standing in line for our grades.
One day we will once again stand in line, and Bob will hear the words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” Bob may have worried that he had slipped to a B, but once again I believe he made an A.
People with a great message to share like us do not have to be persuaded at all...
Sharing the Wealth
Are You the Millionaire Next Door?
By Ted N. C. Wilson
In 1996 university professor Thomas J. Stanley and his former student, William D. Danko published a book entitled The Millionaire Next Door. Their research-based work has sold more than 3 million copies and has become a classic on finances. In their book the authors explain that most truly wealthy people don’t live the way the rich are portrayed on television or in films: in big houses, driving fancy cars, dressed in expensive clothing. Instead, the truly rich live much more frugally, work hard, live in ordinary houses, and don’t continually give money to their adult children. It’s possible, they say, that people living next door to a millionaire may be unaware how wealthy their neighbor actually is.
But what about those who are spiritually wealthy? What about those who are sons and daughters of the King of the universe, the one who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10)? What about those who “have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7)?
Could it be that those with whom we come in contact, those living beside us, are unaware of the spiritual treasures God has bestowed upon His people for these last days to share this eternal wealth with others?
A Weighty Responsibility
“We have a message from the Lord to bear to the world, a message that is to be borne in the rich fullness of the Spirit’s power,” wrote Ellen White.1 “Upon us rests the weighty responsibility of warning the world of its coming doom. From every direction, from far and near, are coming calls for help. God calls upon His church to arise and clothe herself with power. Immortal crowns are to be won; the kingdom of heaven is to be gained; the world, perishing in ignorance, is to be enlightened.”2
Jesus challenged His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37). James admonishes believers to be “[doers] of the work” (James 1:25). Jesus Himself said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
I challenge you to become involved in the daily mission of the church far more than you ever have before. Pastors and lay members, young and old, are to work together in soul winning. We are counting on you! God is counting on you! Evangelism is the lifeblood of the church. All of us are to be in involved in it—through personal witnessing, small group evangelism, or public evangelism in its various forms—even if you think it won’t work in your area. Adapt your methods, but reach out. Do something for Jesus! Every effort under God’s guidance to reach the hearts of people will bear fruit. Let the Holy Spirit revolutionize your thinking. Take the church’s mission of outreach into your hands on a daily basis, working closely with church leaders and pastors. Let it be total participation, no one left out, everyone a missionary.
You Are God’s Messenger
You don’t need to be a minister in order to win people to Christ. Ellen White wrote: “Every one who names the name of Christ is expected by God to engage in this work. The hands of ordination may not have been laid upon you, but you are none the less God’s messengers. If you have tasted that the Lord is gracious, if you know His saving power, you can no more keep from telling this to someone else than you can keep the wind from blowing. You will have a word in season for him that is weary. You will guide the feet of the straying back to the fold. Your efforts to help others will be untiring, because God’s Spirit is working in you.”3
Let’s do something for Jesus and for others. Rather than look inward and criticize the local church and its activities, reach out to others for Christ, and don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t needed. Work closely with your pastor, local church, and conference. The Holy Spirit will empower you as heaven’s messenger to your neighborhood. As you work with Him revival and reformation will become something very personal and real.
That marvelous volume, Testimonies for the Church, volume 9, tells about our special work in Total Member Involvement. Note these urgent reminders: “The most solemn truths ever entrusted to mortals have been given us to proclaim to the world.”4 “Let us remember that a Christlike life is the most powerful argument that can be advanced in favor of Christianity. . . . Men will believe, not what the minister preaches, but what the church lives.”5 “Christ’s work is to be our example. . . . His life was one of unselfish service, and it is to be our lesson book.”6 “If every church member were a living missionary, the gospel would speedily be proclaimed in all countries, to all peoples, nations, and tongues.”7 “God’s people are to be so earnest and faithful in their work for Him that all selfishness will be separated from their lives. His workers will then see eye to eye, and the arm of the Lord, the power of which was seen in the life of Christ, will be revealed. Confidence will be restored, and there will be unity in the churches throughout our ranks.”8 “It is not learned, eloquent speakers that are needed now, but humble, Christlike men and women, who have learned from Jesus of Nazareth to be meek and lowly, and who, trusting in His strength, will go forth into the highways and hedges to give the invitation: ‘Come; for all things are now ready.’?”9
A Mighty Example
Andressa became a mighty example of Total Member Involvement at the age of 13. Her first contact with the Adventist Church was through her grandmother and a small Bible study group. She enjoyed it so much she decided to start a small group herself. “But first,” she said, “I need to get baptized [and] give my life to Jesus so the children that I’ll teach will also follow my example.”Andressa was baptized, and the very next Thursday she started her small group. The number of children coming to her Bible study continued to grow rapidly, up to 45! There were so many that Andressa encouraged the group to split into smaller groups. One young person said, “Andressa showed me I could create my own small group. . . . Everybody should create a small group; it’s an extension of the church. It’s an extension from God.”
In addition to her small group ministry, Andressa was involved in many more outreach activities. In a video interview she described her week: “On Sundays I go to the radio station and start with a devotional. There’s a segment for children, where I tell Bible stories. On Mondays I go to school, and in the afternoon we do a lot of missionary work. On Tuesdays I visit the nursing home. We sing, play, and pray. Some of the people there are lonely, and sometimes they open up to us. On Wednesdays [a group] meets at my house to make crafts that we can sell, and that’s good, because the people in this group don’t have a lot of money. On Thursdays in the afternoon I preach to the children in my home. In the evening we go to homes of some of the church members and play music for them. On Fridays [I have] a small intercessory prayer group. Intercessory prayer is really interesting because a lot of prayer requests are answered. Prayer is powerful. On Sabbaths I wake up earlier and invite some children to go to the church with me. This is what my week is like!”
Andressa is certainly an example of Total Member Involvement! Her schedule might intimidate many adults. Despite her age, it would seem as if she’s done more than people who are older. “Jesus is coming,” Andressa said. “He is showing us the signs. The prophecies—they are being fulfilled. If we do not do our part now, maybe tomorrow time will run out.”
Time Is Running Out
Sadly, time did run out for Andressa. One Sabbath morning when she was going to preach at her church, the car she was riding in collided with a truck. Four women died, including Andressa, who was 14 years old. She accomplished a lot in her short life. More than 100 people were baptized because of her witness, and countless others continue to be inspired by her example. What about you? Are you willing to be totally involved for Jesus? Are you ready to share the treasure you have? As we see the end of time approaching, let’s renew our efforts to be involved in all that God intends for His remnant church: every member involved in lifting up and sharing 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.
Reach the World for Jesus
Soon we’ll look up and see Jesus appearing in the clouds of heaven, as He said he would. He will come to take us home. It will be the culmination of His redemptive work using every willing follower to reach the world for Him. I appeal to each of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be part of Total Member Involvement. The latter rain of the Holy Spirit is approaching, and with it the great proclamation to every person on earth in anticipation of Christ’s soon return. By God’s grace, let’s be a part of it!
If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to watch the five-minute video in which Mark Finley, Duane McKey, and I explain more about how you can be a part of Total Member Involvement. It’s available on Vimeo at: vimeo.com/144789637 or on YouTube at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxNfaJO-Hqk.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 7, p. 18. 2 Ibid., p. 16. 3 Review and Herald, Nov. 24, 1904. 4 Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 19. 5 Ibid., p. 21. 6 Ibid., p. 31. 7 Ibid., p. 32. 8 Ibid., p. 33. 9 Ibid., p. 36.