General Conference

ANN: A Review of the Year

A s the old year turns on its hinge to close another chapter of human history, it’s natural to reflect on the year’s events and their meaning. This brief review points out some of the highlights and trends as drawn from the news reports of the Adventist News Network.

Perhaps the one most memorable news event of 1997, for most Seventh-day Adventists around the world, will be the tragedy in Dagestan, Southern Russia, when a young Adventist couple were burned to death in the town square of Buinaksk. This horrific event touched the world membership of the Adventist Church deeply, and brought appeals to the Russian government to deal with such acts of mob law.

To this tragic incident is now added the wider concern over the future of religious liberty throughout Russia. In June, questions were raised at the International Religious Liberty World Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was widely reported that Russian Adventists called the new law "counter-productive to religious freedom." Boris Yeltsin first vetoed the legislation on July 23, but approved a "compromise" version on September 4. The Russian Parliament vote to approve the new law on September 19, was vigorously protested. The fallout of the new law has already meant restrictions to the church’s outreach program.

These concerns were amplified in the more recent news (December) of the Austrian vote to restrict religious liberty. "For a European nation to vote a law that is in some ways even more restrictive than the recent Russian law is of great concern to all who value religious liberty," said Dr. John Graz, Religious Liberty director at the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters, in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.

This action parallels the increased resistance to true religious liberty as an accepted right, and the denigration of religious minorities in Europe to the status of tolerated second-class citizens. "Sect" charges leveled against the Seventh-day Adventist Church were reported from Poland, Belgium and France, as well as other countries.

On a positive note, the humanitarian work of the Adventist Church continues to grow around the world. A wide number of news stories covered this vital activity, from the Arkansas tornado relief to helping flood victims in Poland, from direct aid assistance in North Korea to a new hospital ward in Cambodia, from AIDS awareness in Thailand to anti-smoking therapy in the United States.

Frequent reports in 1997 come from one area of the world: the ongoing challenges in Rwanda and Burundi. From the beginning of the year to its end, the reports vividly illustrates both the problems and the successes for the nation and for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In January, the reporting brought hope that "in spite of insecurity, the church in Rwanda grows." Next month, however, came news of the tragedies of ongoing tribal conflict—Adventist aid workers assisting those shot in a terrorist attack (February); Pastor Theophas Ruterahagusha, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s North Rwanda Association shot dead at a roadblock by unknown gunmen who specifically targeted the pastor (August); over 100 Tutsis killed and others severely wounded in a machete attack at the refugee camp on the campus of the former Adventist university (August).

In September, and as an antidote to the news of violence and tragedy, the Adventist Church reported on its program of reconciliation. Seminars conducted by the Church all over the country were initiated to bring "forgiveness, recognition of wrongdoing, re-consecration and reconciliation."

Sadly, in November came the news of the death of Ranjan Kulasekere, an Adventist missionary in Rwanda, shot in his own home. In December, the killing of civilians continued with at least 272 Tutsi refugees killed on the former Adventist campus in Mudende. Trying to spread God’s good news in a world of pain and death: Rwanda symbolizes the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Many examples of the church-in-action could be recalled from the pages of 1997: The stories behind the church’s Global Mission program, which included an ongoing program to build roofs on thousands of church buildings in Africa, the Global Mission Pioneer volunteer program that saw thousands of Adventists sharing their lives in "hands of hope" activities in Asia, Africa and the Pacific region, and the first Adventist church organized in Mongolia (October).

Positioning the world-wide church as one that effectively uses media technology in its communication of the gospel, Robert S. Folkenberg, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, announced plans to develop Seventh-day Adventist TV programming running 24 hours a day that will cover the globe by 1999. The plan calls for the use of a multi-satellite broadcast system, compression technology, and wide use of the Internet to form the Adventist Global Communication Network (AGCN). Speaking during the September Annual Council, Folkenberg said, "In a world of great diversity, our challenge is to use modern methods to share our message. Using satellite delivery systems, we can broadcast programming targeted both in content and language to the areas of the world that are almost impossible to reach by other methods."

Other Adventist stories included an array of challenges, joys and concerns. Among these are many examples of Adventist faith and hope in action: the adding of new language broadcasts by Adventist World Radio, the ongoing TV evangelism, health-care assistance, disaster relief and development activities of ADRA, outreach meetings, but also the farewells to those who over the years made Adventism a rapidly expanding faith community, among them the church administrator W. Duncan Eva, educator Richard Hammill, and pastor J. Robert Spangler.

Reporting also covered world stories that caught Adventist attention: the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa; historic milestones such as the Hong Kong changeover; the recognition of Adventist Hulda Crooks, who credited her long life of 101 years to her religious faith.

All this, and more, attempts to share the Adventist communication motto: "Seventh-day Adventists will communicate hope by focusing on the quality of life that is complete in Christ." [Ray Dabrowski/Jonathan Gallagher]