Reflecting on a legacy of justice, compassion, and love, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), commemorated their 40th anniversary during their member meeting at Annual Council 2023 on October 9, 2023.. “October 10, 1983, was the day this body voted to form ADRA and establish the bylaws of an organization that has grown in scale from very humble beginnings to one with a global footprint,” stated Michael Kruger, president of ADRA International as he introduced a video report.
Following the video report was a thank you ceremony for ADRA pioneers Dr. Ralph S Watts and his wife, Pat. To celebrate their legacy of service, ADRA announced their new US$1 million entry program, which will train future Adventist professionals for ADRA work across the globe.
A History of Service
Since ADRA’s first major response to famine in Ethiopia in 1983, the organization has become globally renowned for its emergency aid. Since then, ADRA has responded to thousands of calamities and natural disasters across the globe.
“As we look at the media today, hurricanes seem stronger, tropical storms bring more devastation, droughts impact farmers, so ADRA has pivoted and changed to respond,” said Kruger.
The video highlighted three core pillars of ADRA’s work: health, community aid, and education. Specifically, their school feeding initiative, assistance in remote Mongolian communities, and recent Amazon school-build were projects of significant impact.
“Alongside these development pillars, we also recognize the growing need to amplify voices through advocacy,” Kruger added, speaking of ADRA’s first global advocacy campaign “Every Child. Everywhere. In School”. Initiated in 2019, the campaign garnered 1.3 million signatures, thanks to the help of church leaders and laypeople.
Stories of Pioneers
Following the video, Kruger invited Elder Watts to the stage, ADRA’s first and longest-serving president, to recognize his contribution in establishing ADRA in 1983 and growing it significantly in years after. Kruger, 90, still serves as a consultant to ADRA and remains passionate about mission.
“This is the man who laid the foundation, and [who] for 17 years sat in the seat I now sit in,” said Kruger, referring to Watts’ long standing role as president of ADRA International.
Drawing on a wealth of experience, Watts was invited to share some memories of his time with ADRA.
“When I look back 40 years and try to recall what it was like when I came to the GC at that time, the ADRA office was in the Review and Herald building and no one had ever heard of ADRA in the Adventist Church,” added Watts.
He continued by telling the story of how ADRA’s humanitarian effort during the Balkan War in the 1990s helped establish ADRA’s name and reputation.
“At that time, Sarajevo [Bosnia], a critical city, was shut off from the rest of the world,” he began. In response, ADRA established a postal service there and began distributing mail, resulting in thousands of people becoming familiar with ADRA, as it was stamped on every letter and package.
“The big lorries would come into Sarajevo and pick up the ADRA-stamped mail and distribute it across Europe and the world. What a blessing it was to provide this kind of service to the people there,” said Watts.
In a “tremendous surprise” for Watts, South Pacific Division lawyer Igor Radonič, was invited to the stage to share the impact of ADRA’s work on his faith. At only 11-years-old when the Balkan war broke out in 1992, his family relied on ADRA’s postal service.
“I sought refuge in nearby Serbia at my grandmother’s house, and the only way we knew my mum was alive was through her letters,” Radonič began. “ADRA also fed my mum during the war as well. She made a covenant with God that if her two children were safe and she survived the war, she would find a place to worship Him. So it’s because of ADRA that I became an Adventist.”
Embracing in a hug, Watts was moved by Radonič’s story. “I believe ADRA can play a significant role in preparing the hearts of people like this young man right here, to follow the Lord,” he said. “I believe the best days of ADRA’s ministry are ahead; I just wish I were 40 years younger!”
Recognizing a Legacy
ADRA’s segment at the Annual Council ended with the official recognition of Elder and Sister Watts’ mission work through the presentation of a trophy and the introduction of a new training program.
The “Ralph Watts New Entry Program” will see ADRA International invest one million US Dollars to develop young Adventist professionals for ADRA worldwide.
“What a thrill it is! I can’t believe this!” said Watts. “I’m honored and really humbled by this. I’m running out of words and that doesn’t happen too often!”
Speaking to their extensive service both in the United States and across the globe, Ted Wilson, General Conference president, officially thanked Elder and Sister Watts, before closing the segment with a prayer for them.
“Thank you for such extensive service. We are indebted to you both, and are extremely grateful for what God has done through you,” Wilson said.