Raafat Kamal Elected President Trans-European Division
Raafat Kamal, the new president of the church’s Trans-European Division, acknowledged that Seventh-day Adventists face an enormous challenge in twenty-first-century Europe, but said he believed new ways would be found to share the message of Jesus’ second coming.
Kamal was elected on July 10 by the General Conference’s Executive Committee, the top governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to replace Bertil Wiklander as president of the 22-nation region that includes Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and a swath of countries stretching from Finland to Cyprus.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a unique prophetic message for the people of Europe at the end of time,” said Kamal, referring to the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14.
“I am excited about the opportunities that we have within our reach, and humbled by the fact that God is using us to accomplish His mission,” he said in an interview. “The question before us is how God will transform our minority church from being a fortress influenced by secular society into a force to transform local communities.”
Kamal, who has served as the division’s field secretary and Wiklander’s assistant for the past seven years, said a spiritual decline accompanied by growing materialism presented a challenge for the Adventist Church.
“Europe, possibly for the first time in 1,000 years, is now a mission field,” he said.
Adventists account for only about 0.04 percent of the 203 million people living in the division’s territory, or one in every 2,415 people, he said.
World church president Ted N. C. Wilson said new methods were needed to sensitize people to religion and to find approaches that reach their hearts.“We will be praying that the new president will help to increase the focus on these very important eternal objectives that are very precious to the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” he said in an interview.
Wiklander, who turns 68 in September, said he was retiring for personal reasons and had reached the decision with his wife.
“I have had the privilege and joy of serving the church as division president for 19 years, which is a long time considering the amount of travel required,” he said. “In my Swedish culture one retires at 65 years of age, and I have passed that.” He said he looks forward to spending more time with family, serving the church through biblical scholarship, and seeking God through music, art, and poetry.
Raafat (pronounced: Rah-afat) Kamal, 50, was born in Lebanon and holds two undergraduate degrees, in business and theology, as well as four master’s degrees, in systematic theology; educational administration and curriculum; Islamic philosophy and theology; and business administration. He married Heidi Kamal Kendel, a native of Norway and registered nurse, in 1987, and together they have two daughters.
Asked what inspires him, Kamal pointed to Lamentations 3:22, 23, which reads: “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
“I’m inspired to know and experience God’s faithfulness, love, mercies, and compassions new every morning,” he said.
— Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Russia: Nine Teens in Hot Water for Skipping Sabbath Exam
Adventist leaders in Russia appealed to the Russian government to intervene after nine Adventist teenagers were barred from advancing to the tenth grade for refusing to take a final exam on the Sabbath.
School officials, who had flatly rejected requests for flexibility, appeared to back down after the appeal on behalf of the students. All were ninth graders in the southern city of Belgorod who had missed the state exam in mathematics on Sabbath, May 31.
Federal education authorities, who had scheduled the exam for that day, had anticipated that some students might not be able to attend for religious reasons. So they ordered public schools across the country to offer the exam to those students on June 16 or June 19.
Adventist students in other parts of Russia took the exam on June 16, four Adventist leaders with the Euro-Asia Division said in a letter to the Russian government.
But education officials in the Belgorod region, which includes the city of Belgorod and is located along the border with Ukraine, refused to administer the exam on an alternative day.
“We believe that this situation is unacceptable and call on the leadership of the Russian Federation as well as public and religious associations to take all legal measures to eliminate these violations in the Belgorod region,” the letter said.
The letter also said local school principals and education officials had “crudely and offensively” pressured Adventist parents to tell their children to reject their religious beliefs and take the exam.
“Even in Soviet times, during the persecution of all religious organizations, officials did not deprive the children of religious families the opportunity to receive a secondary education,” it said.
The appeal appeared to have worked. Belgorod officials later agreed to let the nine students take the math exam shortly before the start of the school year on September 1.
— Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Philippines: White Estate Branch Office Opens
A branch office of the Ellen G. White Estate has opened at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines, the second such facility to be established outside the U.S.
The branch office contains copies of Ellen White documents and other historical materials from the main office at the world church’s General Conference headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and it will provide AIIAS seminary students as well as local Adventists and non-Adventists alike with increased opportunities to study the church’s heritage, Adventist officials said.
“What we are doing is acknowledging what you already know—that international students come to AIIAS to prepare to work for the Lord’s cause,” James Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate in Maryland, said at an inauguration ceremony on Sabbath, June 28.
The Ellen G. White Estate was created by the last will and testament of church cofounder Ellen White and has a mandate to act as her agent in the custody of her writings and the handling of her property.
Reuel Almocera, director of the new branch office, said the branch office as part of its new role would also reach out to Adventists by establishing mini-research centers, developing portable exhibits, and providing fun activities such as trivia games for church programs.
— Gay Deles, writing from Cavite, Philippines
Italy: ADRA Assists With Immigrant Crisis
Italian workers with ADRA, the relief agency of the Adventist Church, have distributed several hundred personal hygiene kits and staged a gospel music concert for a group of African immigrants fished out of the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy.
The Italian naval ship Etna docked in the Sicilian port of Palermo in mid-June after picking up 767 immigrants in various operations across the Mediterranean, including a group from a shipwreck off the coast of Libya that killed 10 and left 15 others seriously burned.
On the next Sabbath ADRA workers visited a community center sheltering 280 immigrants from Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Guinea.
“This allowed us to see firsthand what the real and immediate needs are and what we can do to help make them feel welcomed and loved,” said Luca Alfano, project leader of ADRA in Italy.
The following Monday ADRA volunteers handed out about 300 personal hygiene kits containing essential items such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and towels to the immigrants.
That evening the Palermo Ghanaian Adventist gospel choir performed a musical program at the center. “We tried to convey warmth and solidarity with these people who were visibly lost, disoriented, and insecure,” Alfano said.
ADRA was working with the community center to provide other assistance, including lessons in the Italian language, workshops, and various recreational and cultural activities.
— Adventist World staff
Colombia: Parade Points to Sabbath
Here’s a novel way to share the Sabbath: create a city parade with seven floats, each representing a day of Creation week.
That’s what Adventist church members did in the Colombian city of C?cuta, just across the border from Venezuela, to showcase the Sabbath, a Creation expo, and the launch of an evangelistic campaign.
Dubbed “Creation Caravan,” the seven colorfully decorated floats on trucks rolled through the main streets of C?cuta for the two-hour event on a Sabbath last summer. Many participants, both on the floats and on accompanying motorcycles, wore T-shirts with the message “Sabbath Is My Day.” Volunteers handed out hundreds of flyers.
“Traffic would go at the rhythm of our caravan activity, and we could see people’s surprised looks,” said church member Eliana Pedrozo. “They began to ask us questions.”
Onlookers were invited to meet the next day at the town’s main pier, Plaza de Banderas, for a Creation expo and later at the Libertad Adventist School for the evangelistic series.
“Everyone who came by the pier was invited to participate in Expo-Creation,” said Raul Torra, communication director for the Northeast Colombia Conference. “Many of them were so impressed when they heard the story of Creation highlighting the Sabbath as the day of hope.”
— IAD and Adventist World staff