II n my three decades in finance, I’ve learned that structure is the antidote to unpredictability. Within that structure, the most pressing crises can be resolved; the most complex questions can be answered; the most unusual challenges can be anticipated.
When I stepped into the role of president of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), I found the same principle applied. Even within an industry as complex and far-reaching as international humanitarian relief and development, the structure is the antidote to unpredictability.
The list of what ADRA responds to—and how we do so in a manner that is timely, effective, and long-lasting—is extensive. Our work brings life and hope to millions around the globe, through projects as broad as clean water and as specific as literacy training for adults. But beneath it all runs the same principle I have come to value throughout my career: the structure is the antidote to unpredictability.
Then a virus threatened the foundations of that structure.
Challenged by a Virus
In the early stages of the pandemic, ADRA was quick to respond with food, water, cash vouchers, and more for the most vulnerable in the path of the virus. At the time, the path of the virus seemed narrow and manageable. As the weeks passed, however, that path widened and extended to multiple countries, then multiple continents.
Accordingly, ADRA ramped up its initial response to include more than 70 countries. In Mexico we worked to support the hearing-impaired; in Slovenia, we sent health baskets to staff and residents in nursing homes; in Cambodia, we partnered with hospitals and health centers to provide masks, gloves, and sanitizing alcohol.
The virus continued to spread, and our response intensified. In New Zealand, we distributed grocery vouchers to more than 1,000 families in need. In Kenya we set up handwashing and sanitation stations; in Finland, we partnered with local food banks. In Brazil, we began delivering food baskets to refugees and vulnerable families.
But as our humanitarian response continued to chase the virus along its global path of destruction, our own organization began to feel its effects. By early March our programs in 130 countries had to be slowed down or put on hold while we launched a global COVID-19 task force to determine the next steps and deal with the response in a coordinated manner.
Since it’s beginning, ADRA has existed as the global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
But even in those early days of unpredictability, the structure that held ADRA together proved tougher than the virus. It is not just our dedicated staff and many partners that keep us running. Overwhelmingly, our continued success is because of the unfading foundational belief that we are serving so all may live as God intended; it is the passion that fuels our common desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus, even if we have to wear masks while doing it.
More than anything, however, it is the partnership with the Adventist Church that keeps our structure intact.
Since its beginning, ADRA has existed as the global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and we have never forgotten it. It is because of the Bible and the promises of God that both ADRA and the Adventist Church exist to change the world for the better and to inspire hope in a hopeless world.
A Precedent for Partnerships
When Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019, the loss of life and infrastructure was devastating. Flights were grounded, roads and runways were washed away, and whole regions were still underwater. We mobilized our emergency response team, but the initial obstacles seemed insurmountable without local partnership.
ADRA knew that the Adventist Church was perfectly positioned as an ideal local partner. The church there understood the region, the community, and the immediate needs. Best of all, it was a familiar face to those in search of a helping hand. The Adventist presence is strong in the Bahamas, and its engagement after Dorian reaffirmed what many Bahamians already knew: Adventists don’t just preach the gospel; we practice it.
By working as partners, ADRA and the Adventist Church delivered a stronger, broader, and more efficient response to the disaster than either could have done independently. More importantly, the partnership showed what is possible when we live the gospel together, a priceless experience that found new footing when disaster struck again—this time on a global scale.
Our response to Hurricane Dorian showed us what is possible when ADRA and the Adventist Church work together to provide assistance and change lives. That premise of unified, global compassion is ingrained in what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist. Ellen White emphasized this point:
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with people as one who desired their good. He showed sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”1
Partnership for Today and Tomorrow
Life is at times difficult and painful, even for those of us with support systems, safety nets, and the knowledge of salvation. For others who lack these things, life can feel hopeless. That was true even before the globe was ravaged by a virus.
Today, millions around the world are out of work. People who never expected to be in line at a food bank are standing there now. ADRA and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have an opportunity—an obligation, even—to share Jesus with a desperate world.
As an agency of change, ADRA has the proven experience, partnerships, and access to resources. As the body of Christ, the church has the networks, passionate members, and a reputation of loving-kindness. It’s a transformative partnership like no other in the world today.
Few examples better illustrate the practical value of the church and ADRA coming together than the work being done in the United States. Today, ADRA and Adventist Community Services (ACS) are partnering on a $2.4 million initiative to provide food to 200 food pantries and medical equipment to the people and communities most in need in the U.S. By combining our resources, connections to partners and local communities, and the massive church infrastructure, we have the opportunity to change lives more efficiently than ever before.
Consider, also, the work being done with the church in South America. Not only are we partnering in that division to respond to specific COVID-19-related needs across nations, we have also developed a groundbreaking approach to address psychosocial needs throughout the entire division. By working with the church’s information technology infrastructure, together we are developing a cell phone application for a psychosocial response. This app will connect thousands of trained Adventist volunteers with potentially millions of people in need of support.
The same is true in Africa. Across the three divisions in sub-Saharan Africa, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has nearly 300 urban and rural health facilities that provide essential health services in poorly serviced areas at a nominal fee. Because of our reputation as a faith group that provides health care, some communities and governments (including those in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana) have come to the Adventist Church for help.
Because many health facilities do not have sufficient medical supplies to meet current and projected needs, however, ADRA has been focusing COVID-19 response on health-related interventions and has largely partnered with the Adventist Church. Because of this, critical health messages have been disseminated through countless channels, and shipments of personal protective equipment supplies have been delivered to 10 large hospitals and health centers across Africa.
Because of the pandemic, our “Every Child. Everywhere. In School” campaign—a global initiative spearheaded jointly by ADRA and the church—is critical. This campaign has gathered nearly 1 million signatures from more than 100 countries around the world, with the sole purpose of advocating for the rights of out-of-school children to have access to education. One day the virus will be defeated, but the damage could last generations. By partnering with the church, ADRA will continue to fight for the rights of children.
Hope for a Better Tomorrow
When COVID-19 tore across the globe, I wondered if our existing structure at ADRA could withstand the unpredictability. But when God is in the structure, nothing can prevail against it. One of my favorite passages from Ellen White comes from The Ministry of Healing,the source that has fueled much of my thought and, indeed, much of the history of ADRA and the church: “There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. . . . The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”2
That power of the love of God is our structure, and that structure is the antidote to all unpredictability. If ADRA and the Seventh-day Adventist Church continue in our partnership, our work will not, cannot, be without fruit.