Romanian Adventists Mobilize for Religious Freedom
As Romanian legislators consider changes to the national constitution, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is sponsoring a mass promotion of religious liberty with a marathon of town hall meetings, university lectures, and interfaith consultations.
FREEDOM CARAVAN: Religious freedom proponents from six faith groups, along with government officials, met in Lugoj, Romania, as part of the Freedom Caravan 2013, an initiative to promote greater understanding of the need for freedom of conscience. The group met with delegations and addressed university classes in more than 20 cities.In the Eastern European nation, where more than 85 percent of the population identifies with the Eastern Orthodox faith, Adventists are aiming to promote to key audiences the importance of religious liberty. The self-titled “Freedom Caravan 2013” of church and legal experts held events in more than 20 cities.
Prominent changes to the constitution could include revising the president’s role and the prime minister’s method for nominating the president.
But a few activists are also calling for the Orthodox Church to become the national religion. Though experts say this proposal isn’t likely to become law, Romania’s constitution up until 1923 did mention the Orthodox Church as the country’s official church. Various attempts over the years to reinstate the church as the state religion were rejected by parliament.
Media reports indicate that a national referendum on constitutional changes won’t take place until autumn.
“We are now analyzing each proposal, and we are monitoring the situation so that we can have a prompt reaction and appropriate action if necessary,” Burcea said.
In Colombia, Adventists Celebrate “Vision One Million”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America celebrated the fruits of its discipleship training program with a special live satellite broadcast from Bogota, Colombia, on May 4, 2013. The event was part of a multilayered territory-wide initiative called “Vision One Million,” which began in 2010. This initiative integrates church departments and ministries leaders to train and empower 1 million church members to become true followers and witnesses of Jesus.
THOUSANDS IN ATTENDANCE:More than 12,000 gathered at the G12 Convention Center in Bogota, Colombia as Inter-America celebrated its territory-wide Vision One Million discipleship program via satellite on May 4, 2013.More than 12,000 church members and visitors packed the G12 Convention Center in Bogota to witness and participate in the three-hour program, which highlighted the end of intense evangelism campaigns held throughout the large metropolis.
“Thank you, church in Bogota and the rest of theSouth Colombian Union, for your enthusiasm and commitment and efforts to impact this large city,” said Eliseo Bustamente, president of the South Colombian Union, as he addressed the 143,000-member-strong South Colombia region during his opening remarks.
Multiple activities to reach the city included a series of community activities in the city, such as a marathon, street prayer sessions, seminars to restore marriages and families, health expos, health screenings, support of a cancer foundation, and prison ministries, among others.
Edgar Espindola, vice president of the Colombian senate, thanked Seventh-day Adventists for their contribution in improving society by restoring families and standing by the Word of God, which teaches the unity of a family between a man and a woman.
Some 70 longstanding Seventh-day Adventists in South Colombia were honored during the event for their commitment to fulfilling the mission of the church. Among them was Leonil de Díaz, age 91, celebrating more than 80 years of being a baptized member, who was recognized by Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division (IAD) and Balvin Braham, associate ministerial secretary and event organizer.
BAPTISM IN BOGOTA: Carlos Eduardo Rodriguez prays before being submerged into the baptistry during the Vision One Million program in Bogota, Colombia.Raúl Taborda and his wife, Gina, were among the visitors who came to the satellite event to be baptized. The couple found themselves attending the evangelistic campaign held at the Kennedy Adventist Church in Bogota after facing a failed business and troubled marriage. Touched by the Holy Spirit, Taborda, a former Seventh-day Adventist, and his wife decided to be baptized and get married.
“God has called us to return to His ways,” said Taborda. “I learned that there is no life without Jesus, and I want to return to His ways form now on.”
Carlos Eduardo Rodríguez was also among those baptized during the event. After attending the evangelistic campaign at the Fontibón Adventist Church, Rodríguez, 36, decided to renew his commitment to God. Rodríguez had battled with alcoholism during the 11 years that he had been away from the church.
“I’m so happy to return home,” said Rodríguez, “but more so because I feel peace after leaving my [old] life behind and being clean in Christ Jesus.”
According to Braham, some 3,580 new members joined the church as a result of the evangelistic efforts among the 130 churches in Bogota and the 130 evangelists from South Colombia and evangelists from the IAD territory who doubled efforts for the citywide impact.
—reported by Libna Stevens, IAD, in Bogota, Colombia, with William Estupiñán and Marcela Piñeros
More than 2,000 Seventh-day Adventists from the French- and German-speaking areas of Switzerland united May 4, 2013, in the city of Biel/Bienne for a congress celebrating 147 years of Adventism in the Alpine nation.
HOPE UNITES: Part of the crowd of 2,000 at the Biel/Bienne Ice Stadium for a congress of French- and German-speaking Seventh-day Adventists on May 4, 2013.The “Hope Unites” event was held at the Biel Ice House, which normally hosts games of the local hockey team and other entertainment functions. The city, where both German and French are official languages, is the largest bilingual city in Switzerland.
Wilson did not speak in English, as many of those present had expected, but rather preached in French. Using the example of the prophet Elijah, who stood for spiritual renewal against the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, Wilson called on Adventists to similarly stand for renewal of their faith.
“Switzerland has historically been a center of reformation, and it will get its role back,” Wilson told the congregation, “Today is the time to be faithful to God and to His message. It is time for revival and reformation again. God will remain faithful to His promises, and Jesus is coming back soon!”
QUESTION TIME: Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, General Conference president, answers a question, as a translator, right, listens.Among questions discussed in an afternoon session with members, one was on an increase in secularization. Wilson said this is to be met with a return to the Word of God.
Wilson said that the church’s position as having been given a special task is a signal, not for arrogance, but rather for humility. “Adventists should be best friends with all people,” he said, “but should not mix with ecumenical movements that would prevent them from fulfilling their mission.”
The first Seventh-day Adventist congregation was established in 1867 in Tramelan. In 1901 the Swiss church was organized according to language groups: the “Swiss German Conference,” with its headquarters in Zurich, and the “Fédération de la Suisse Romande et du Tessin,” based in Renens, Vaud. Both administrative regions form the nationwide Swiss Union. As of December 2012, there were 4,394 adult baptized Seventh-day Adventists in Switzerland, worshipping weekly in 49 congregations.
—reported by Inter-European Division, with Adventist World staff
READY TO WITNESS: Members of the “Live London” team of Seventh-day Adventists pose outside the Olympic Stadium in May 2011. More than 10,000 Adventists in and around London are preparing to witness during what is expected to be Britain’s largest-ever sporting event.en thousand tickets may have been oversold for synchronized swimming at the 2012 London Olympics, but the more than 10,000 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the London area are gearing themselves up to synchronize their witnessing and community activities to coincide with the greatest sporting event that Britain will have ever seen.
Among the Adventists already committed to volunteer during the Olympics is Richard Daly, pastor of the Croydon church. As part of the chaplaincy team his role will involve working with the athletes, stewards, and other volunteers of a Christian faith to provide worship services, prayer, and Bible study in the Olympic Village and other venues in the Olympic Arena. He said, “As a former athlete, and one who competed at national level, it is a privilege to combine my joy of sports and my calling as a minister. Above all it is a privilege to represent my church.” He adds that he is delighted to know that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is represented along with the usual mainstream churches of the UK in this position.
Colin Stewart is the Adventist representative on the “Going for Gold” organizing committee. He states that there are many ways that churches and individuals can get involved.
Sam Davis, South England Conference president, said, “We cannot go through 2012 and miss the largest cultural party right on our doorstep—the 2012 London Olympics.” —Victor Hulbert
Less than half of India’s children get an education. Many are orphans who live in extreme poverty in the country’s slums. One Seventh-day Adventist supporting ministry in the region is investing in these children’s futures.
Asian Aid is building a new orphanage for 70 orphans now living in a cramped home on the outskirts of Bobbili, India. Sunrise Orphanage, slated to open early 2012, can house more than twice as many underprivileged children.
HELPING CHILDREN: Orphans sponsored through Asian Aid receive food, shelter, and values-based education at nearby Adventist schools.Sunrise’s 12-acre plot means the orphanage can grow some of its own food and sell crops for income. Each child will plant a vegetable plot to learn gardening skills and the value of industry, a press release from the ministry said.
Established in Australia 40 years ago, Asian Aid now operates an American office, based out of Collegedale, Tennessee, in addition to its headquarters in Wauchope, New South Wales. The ministry operates more than 100 schools and orphanages in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Through sponsorships, Asian Aid sends 8,500 children to Adventist schools in the region.
“We’re not only giving them an education, but introducing them to Jesus,” says Asian Aid CEO Jim Rennie. “Sponsorship is really a daily missionary activity. If someone wants to know that they’re making a difference in the mission field every day, they can.”
Basic sponsorships cover a child’s tuition at a local Adventist school, with higher sponsorship levels providing shelter and food as well.
Orphans in India are often abandoned and ostracized by society, Rennie says. In one recent instance, current Sunrise Orphanage staff awoke to find a child tied to a post in the yard.
“She went from being a little girl who was petrified to another of the bright, cheerful kids at Sunrise who’ve got a very loving, spiritual couple to look after them. To see the difference in that little girl was very exciting,” Rennie says.
Asian Aid’s ministry is not limited to sponsorships. The ministry also oversees numerous development projects, such as providing clean water sources, literacy, and vocational training for adults and medical care for underserved populations, including Nepalese women and leper communities. Asian Aid also provides shelter for women who have escaped human trafficking. —Adventist News Network
The saga of securing official church status in Hungary continues, despite what religious liberty advocates called encouraging news late last year when the Constitutional Court struck down the country’s controversial Law of Churches.
Prior to that ruling, more than 300 minority faiths—among them the Seventh-day Adventist Church—were set to lose official legal status in Hungary on January 1, after which they would undergo a reapplication process.
CHURH REGISTRATION: John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, monitors the status of church registration in Hungary from the movement’s headquarters.With the new year those churches are facing a similar situation.
The country’s Constitutional Court overturned the Law of Churches purely on technical grounds, and on December 30 Hungary’s majority conservative party “easily” reintroduced and passed essentially the same law, effective January 1, said Dwayne Leslie, the Adventist world church’s legislative representative in Washington, D.C.
Hungary’s Parliament claims the law is necessary to weed out businesses or individuals posing as churches just to gain the accompanying rights and privileges. Furthermore, the majority government maintains that the law doesn’t infringe on religious liberty. It doesn’t “forbid” worship according to any faith tradition, Hungary’s minister of state for government communication, Zoltan Kovacs, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Kovacs said the law merely outlines how churches can gain official recognition “if they show themselves to be popular enough.” One condition requires a church to prove a decades-long history in the country and count more than 1,000 members.
The Hungarian government is “making efforts to explain to the international community that this is not a human-rights issue,” said Ganoune Diop, the Adventist world church’s representative to the United Nations.
“The situation in Hungary is very complex, and there are several issues at play, from economic to judicial and legislative—and in front of these issues, religion. The government sees the deregistration of churches as a response, in part, to the tremendous challenges the country is facing,” Diop said.
Many members of the international religious liberty community maintain that regardless of the country’s internal struggles, the law poses undue challenges for legitimate religious organizations.
“Now we not only have an objective standard of what constitutes a church, but we also need a two-thirds vote of Parliament just to become an official religion, and we think that’s problematic,” Leslie said.
Currently, 82 of the some 300 minority religions deregistered under the latest law have reapplied for official status, among them the Seventh-day Adventist Church, denomination officials in Hungary said.
Religious liberty analysts said provisions of the new law indicate that those churches that have already applied for status will not experience a gap in official recognition. They’ll maintain previous recognition while a decision regarding their ultimate status is pending in Parliament.
Church leaders in Hungary report that “communication with the government” suggests that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will regain official church status.
“One positive improvement in the new law is that it does not prohibit denominations to use the term ‘church,’ even if they are not accepted by Parliament,” said Tamas Ocsai, president of the church’s Hungarian Union Conference. Churches to which Parliament does not grant official recognition will receive a “religious association” status, he said.
“Hopefully some churches in Hungary—including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has been operating in the country for more than a century—will have a positive answer [next month],” said John Graz, director of public affairs and religious liberty for the Adventist world church. —Adventist News Network
The denomination’s nearly US$167 million world budget for 2012 allocates $38.7 million in appropriations to the 12 world divisions other than North America, with an additional $27.4 million for missionaries and employees serving in other divisions.
MONEY FOR MISSION: General Conference undertreasurer Juan R. Prestol recently spoke about the church’s 2012 world budget.Operating costs for the denomination’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, is limited to 2 percent of world tithe, which is set this year for $40.9 million. Finance officers said headquarters consistently operates more than $2 million under that cap.
The world budget includes only items relating to the denomination’s world headquarters and does not include the reported incomes or budgets for its 13 world divisions or their respective local administrative units and congregations. The world budget includes headquarters operations, interdivisional employees, departmental work worldwide, and appropriations to world divisions.
“It’s the faithfulness of the members who provide support for all of these programs,” says Juan R. Prestol, undertreasurer for the Adventist world church. “Most of the givers are not wealthy but live with other heavy financial obligations. The church is being rewarded by their faithfulness.”
Receiving divisions are allocated appropriations between $1.7 million and $4.6 million. The 2012 budget also includes a 3 percent increase over 2010 appropriations levels. In previous years that amount was given at the end of the year with supplemental budget funds. This year the 3 percent is offered at the beginning of the year as a budgeted item.
Prestol said about 65 percent of the denomination’s funding is paid in the U.S. dollar, Brazilian real, euro, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Mexican peso, and Korean won.
Tithe income from North America has remained steady, with an upswing in tithe and mission offerings from overseas divisions. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of that is affected by currency exchange rates, Prestol said.
North America remains the largest giver of mission offerings. In 2010 North America gave about $23.6 million in mission offerings, or about one third of the total $70.9 million in mission offerings. — Adventist News Network
Participants at a recent high-level religious freedom meeting in Moscow vowed to keep the plight of persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East and Africa in the international community spotlight.
FREEDOM FOCUS: Religious liberty proponents meet in Moscow to propose ways of keeping the plight of persecuted religious minorities in the public eye.About 100 million Christians worldwide—mainly in the Middle East and parts of Africa—suffer persecution or are caught up in violent religious conflict, according to conference organizers.
The three-day International Conference on the Freedom of Religion and Discrimination against Christians began November 30, 2011, and brought together a diverse group of leaders from the Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Islamic communities. Topping the agenda was the growth of what some have called “Christianophobia” in many countries where dominant religions or ideologies exert significant political and social power.
Vasiliy Stolyar, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Euro-Asia Division, said conference participants were united in their resolve to do more to alleviate the plight of religious minorities suffering persecution worldwide.
Discussions at the conference also focused on the impact of the so-called Arab Spring on the rights of religious minorities in countries that have experienced dramatic political change.
John Graz, secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, described the issues raised at the conference as a “significant and growing concern for religious liberty advocates.”
Graz said the IRLA has been tracking an upswing in social harassment and attacks against religious minorities in the region over the past year, including a rise in anti-Christian sentiment. He pointed also to United Nations reports that have tracked a steady exodus of Christians from Iraq and, more recently, Libya—a trend that indicates a significant sense of unease among minority religious groups.
“We urge governments around the world, along with international bodies such as the United Nations, to do everything in their power to ensure that religious freedom, as a fundamental human right, is both recognized and protected in these countries,” Graz said. —reported by Bettina Krause/Adventist News Network
Anew General Conference initiative coordinated by the movement’s Revival and Reformation Committee, “Revived by His Word,” is especially designed to strengthen the spiritual experience of each church member through Bible reading.
Armando Miranda, a General Conference vice president and chair of the Revival and Reformation Committee, said, “Nothing can possibly replace listening to God speak to us through His Word. Prayerfully meditating on Scripture is a primary source of spiritual strength.”
“Revived by His Word” is a unique approach to reading the entire Bible through. Church members worldwide will be encouraged to unite in reading or listening to one chapter of the Bible each day, beginning April 17, 2012, during the church’s Spring Council. The Bible reading plan will conclude at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas in 2015.
There are 1171 days from Spring Council 2012 to the beginning of the General Conference session on July 2, 2015. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. By reading one chapter each day, and two chapters during the General Conference session, millions of participating members will complete their journey through the Bible by the end of the General Conference session. An Internet component on the Revival and Reformation Web page sponsored by the world church’s Ministerial Association will allow participants to share inspirational devotional thoughts internationally.
“Revived by His Word” is much larger than reading or listening to one chapter of the Bible each day. It will direct the attention of the entire membership to the importance of knowing Jesus through His Word. —reported by Mark Finley, assistant to the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Southernmost Adventist School Graduates High Schoolers
After 57 years of academic life, the Liceo Adventista de Punta Arenas (Punta Arenas Adventist Academy) had its first high school-level graduation. In a ceremony filled with emotion, 29 students graduated as the class of 2011. Some of these have been accepted into engineering, medicine, or education programs for advanced study.
GRADUATION CELEBRATED: Several leaders came together for the first high school-level graduation at Punta Arenas Adventist Academy in Chile, the southernmost school in the church’s global educational network From left: Cesar Beroiza, Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, Juan Carlos Díaz, and Mauricio Galdamez.Founded in 1954 with the pastor’s wife as the only teacher, the school now enrolls 520 students in grades kindergarten through 12. Ten of this year’s 29 graduates completed all of their education at Punta Arenas Adventist Academy. The school is valued in the region both for its academics and for its Christian values, and there is a waiting list for admissions.
Situated on the Strait of Magellan facing Antarctica, Punta Arenas Adventist Academy is the southernmost of all 7,806 schools in the Seventh-day Adventist system. Within this system there are 1,680,153 students worldwide.
Augusto Aguila and Isolina Olivares, together with the Melgarejo-Andrade couple, were present, representing the generation that saw the beginnings of the dream of having an Adventist church school in the southernmost city of the world. The guest list also included Cesia Aguila and Eliana Dobson, who received special recognition for being the first teachers in the institution.
Also present was Margarita Goic, lawyer for the secretary of education for the Magallanes Region, and Nelson Santana, supervisor of the Department of Education for Magallanes Province, both representing the minister of education of Chile. “We will continue to support the school,” said Goic, who was instrumental in the school’s receiving authorization to award secondary degrees. School principal Juan Carlos Diaz Costa added, “Ms. Goic has been a tremendous asset and support to the school.”
The ceremony was historic because of the presence of Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, education director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who spoke to the more than 300 persons gathered in the gymnasium. Beardsley-Hardy emphasized the importance of continuing their Christian education and challenged the graduating class to be adventurous and choose from among the 111 Adventist colleges and universities in the world. She encouraged them to be faithful in whatever task lay before them and to place their dreams before God in prayer, because it is His will to bless them and to bless others through them.
Diaz Costa spoke about the importance of the student body developing faith. He recognized the work of those who had played a part in the development of the institution in the past. Special mention was given to Cesar Beroiza and his wife and to Maruricio Galdamez, who are now serving in Talca and Angol, Chile. Both teachers were special guests of the graduating class and were recognized for the significant work they had done for the school.
Special music was provided by the insititutional choir and by the well-known Chilean Army trumpeter, Lt. Fernando Leiva. —reported by David Mauricio Sandoval Romero, El Liceo Adventista de Punta Arenas; translation by Myrta Rojas