As the sky darkened, indicating Sabbath had begun, the Friday evening portion of Annual Council began with song service led by Charles Haugabrooks, a regular on programs such as 3ABN and Hope Channel. Following opening prayer, representatives from around the world presented a series of brief spotlights on mission projects in their communities.
Missions of Jeremiah and Abraham
Viktor Alyeksyeyenko, secretary of the Euro-Asia Division, spoke of a two-option mission program they have developed. The two options are Mission of Abraham, in which young people go out elsewhere in the world and minister, and Mission of Jeremiah, in which young people stay in their hometown and do the same.
“There are three stages in this program, and the last one is the most challenging,” admitted Alyeksyeyenko.
Stage One is all about connections by various means, including such things as discussion clubs, health exhibitions, cooking classes, camping, interest clubs, Christian cafes, and Christian entertainment centers.
Stage Two more overtly and directly brings God into the previously established connections, through such things as evangelistic series and testimonies.
Stage Three is baptism. “It’s easy to invite someone to church,” Alyeksyeyenko says. “It’s another thing entirely to bring them to the commitment of baptism. But it’s a crucial commitment and one we are equipped to encourage and mentor.”
Through this mission initiative within the Euro-Asia Division, there have been:
- 122 projects implemented
- 163 missionaries trained
- 2,000 young people involved
- 20,000 non believers visiting programs
- 2,000 people attending gospel programs and exploring bible lessons
- 241 people baptized
- 1,500 people attending church or baptism classes
- 24 people entering Adventist universities
Why should the church emphasize those with special needs? Larry Evans began his presentation answering that question: “They’re special to God and they need to be special to us as a church, too.”
Evans is the director of Possibilities Ministries, previously known as Special Needs Ministries, and they have recently begun focusing on the unique ways that blind or low-vision members can minister to others. Globally, there are over 200 million people who are blind or have low vision.
“This group of people have strong potential to do evangelism,” said Erton Kohler, president of the South American Division. “We need to look at them not only as people that need support or a word of mercy, but as a group that has a special affinity with others and can share the message of hope in a very special way.”
To demonstrate the special connection those with low or no vision have with others, Kohler shared the story of Regiane, a woman in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was caught in the middle of a botched robbery and shot in the head. She survived, but the result was total blindness and a requirement to adapt her life to a new reality.
Regiane realized that she now had a connection to a group of people she previously did not, and began hosting Bible studies specifically designed for blind people or those with low vision. Today, they meet regularly to discuss and study the Bible, and to share testimonies with each other.
“It’s not what the blind cannot do, it’s what they are doing,” concluded Evans. “We’ve focused for so long on the ‘cannot’ that we’ve limited the possibilities. Never should we write the conclusion when God still adding chapters.”
Peace in the Storm
Hurricane Dorian is the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, and the strongest hurricane on record to have hit the Bahamas. On September 1, 2019, it hit the islands, wreaking havoc on the islands of Abaca and Grand Bahama. Residents ran wherever they could--some to the U.S., some to other islands, and most into the capital city of Nassau. Some, who couldn’t or chose not to leave, clung to trees or drain pipes for the entirety of the two-day storm, enduring winds of 185 mph and gusts up to 220 mph.
“We are accustomed to hurricanes coming and passing by quickly,” said Peter Kerr, president of the Atlantic Caribbean Union. “This one sat on top of us for 40 hours and sent storm surge flooding up to 23 feet, leaving behind homes, neighborhoods, and lives devastated and shattered.”
A newly built church on the Island of Abaca, which was due to be dedicated in December, was flattened in the storm, the roof coming down on those who were sheltering there, killing eight.
Kerr shared how the church--including the Inter-American Division, ADRA, and conferences in Florida--stepped up to find those left with nothing a place to get food and a shower, accommodating them as best they could in the now overcrowded capital city.
“ADRA brought the expertise we needed to deal with this crisis, Puerto Rico adopted us and made us part of their family,” said Kerr. “Church officials visited and walked where we were walking, saw what we were seeing, smelled what we were smelling. They prayed for us, made hot meals for us, and showed us we weren’t alone.”
Kerr ended with a public expression of gratitude to all who have helped and continue to help the Bahamas as they recover from this intense and historic disaster.
“Thank you for praying with us,” he said. “The church in the Bahamas is strong. Our people are resilient and they are courageous and they are bold. We are prepared to rise from the rubble and see flowers bloom again, and through it all we will praise the name of the Lord.”
Mission to the Cities
Jonathan Walter, media & communications manager for the World Church, read Acts 1:8--”You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
“We want to be a praying missionary movement,” he said. “So we prayed and God put on our hearts the country of Iceland.”
A highly secular, wealthy, postmodern and progressive country, Iceland is, without question, a mission field. As Walter and his team asked God to show them how to reach the people of Iceland, particularly those in the capital of Reykjavik, which was chosen as part of the Mission to the Cities efforts, they realized the most radical thing they could do was pray.
“By God’s grace, inspired by Ellen White’s words that ‘prayer and faith can do what no power on earth can do,’ 50 missionaries from six continents came together to pray for Iceland,” Walter said. “We spent hours praying together, asking God to empty us of ourselves and fill us with the Holy Spirit, interceding for the mission field before we went out.
Once they felt it was time, the group entered Reykjavik, loaded with GLOW tracts and on fire to share their message with the city. After several days, the group had no only been able to give tracts to the leaders of the country, but had also collected thousands of prayer requests, which they shared with each other for constant prayer via WhatsApp.
“We haven’t stopped praying for these requests since we returned,” Walter continued. “People will be running to know who this God is who answers prayers. It’s nothing we have done, but what God did. He is willing to work with us when we make ourselves available. Prayer is the beginning of mission.”
Every single Iceland Conference employee has committed to being “in charge” of prayer ministries. Prayer is and will continue to be a strategic focus for this small conference.
General Conference Session Update
The 2020 General Conference Session will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana. G. Alexander Bryant and Maurice Valentine II, representatives of the Lake Union, offered an update on plans for this intense quinquennial event.
The union has determined they will be doing a public evangelism project during the session focusing on health. This will include health clinics and screenings, which will be followed up with invitations to Bible studies.
“We believe in public evangelism in North America, but we also believe it needs to be done using the methods of Christ,” Bryant said. “We believe God is going to do something special in Indianapolis, and hIs spirit will be poured out.”
Valentine shared the story of procuring Lucas Oil Stadium for the Session. Owned not by the city, but by an individual, the stadium was originally priced beyond their budget, so the committee gathered and fasted with prayer for two weeks. They asked God not just to bring the cost within their budget, but to simply make their use of the stadium of no cost to the church.
“I finally decided that it just wasn’t going to happen,” Valentine admitted. “Two days later, the call came in. The stadium owner had decided to offer the stadium to us free of charge.”
The room filled with “Amen!”s and applause, as church representatives from around the world gave thanks to God for answering prayer yet again.
“You can’t quantify results in numbers,” began Mark Finley. “Only eternity will reveal the impact efforts like those we’ve heard about tonight have on the church, but since I know some of you appreciate numbers, I have brought a few.”
Finley shared that since 2005, there has been a 60 percent reported increase in church membership; we have added one million new members for 15 years in a row. All of this he credited to God.