[Brent Hardinge/ANN] / Adventist Media Exchange (CC BY 4.0)

General Conference

God’s Hand Seen Despite Pandemic Closures

Church leaders recount providential leading, enabling the mission to go forward in the face of coronavirus uncertainty

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | ANN Staff

When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, two years ago this month, no one imagined the devastation that would follow in its wake: over five million dead worldwide, economic collapse with millions lacking jobs and financial support, education declining, mental health cases soaring and more. 

As the virus moved stealthily around the globe and COVID-19 cases began to rise, Adventist Church leaders moved quickly to address vital concerns connected with continuing the Church’s mission in the face of nationwide lockdowns, and adapting internal operations to ensure the work could continue seamlessly and safely for employees. 

“Many items had to be handled,” explains Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists. These included reducing and eliminating travel for the traveling staff, establishing public health protocols for employees, reassessing finances and the budget, postponing the General Conference Session, learning how to conduct major meetings virtually, and more. 

Juan Prestol-Puesán, former treasurer for the GC, adds, “The moment required fast learning, deep analysis, and a positive, optimistic, hopeful, and resilient attitude. The unwritten decision was ‘we will remain financially viable, survive the crisis without affecting core mission, and adapt our operations to accomplish these goals.’”

Prestol-Puesán continues, “These three survival elements were broken down in multiple pieces and strategies and even though we prayed and sought God’s direction, it was not until later in the year that we saw the wisdom of what we did.”

Seeing God’s Hand

Despite public health concerns and local protocol temporarily closing the World Church headquarters except for absolutely essential services, administrators saw God’s care in a variety of ways. 

Dr. Peter Landless, Health Ministries director for the GC, says that at the onset of the pandemic, due to communication with other global health organizations, the Church was able to bring all traveling employees back to the United States before country borders and major flight hubs closed, avoiding workers quarantined abroad for an indefinite period of time. 

Another blessing, Lori Yingling, director of Human Resources for the GC, says, was the number of computer resources on hand due to General Conference Session planning. “We were able to close the building with just a day’s notice to our employees,” she says, “asking them to come and pick up critical work and a loaner desktop or laptop for them to work from home. Their health was our top priority. Then it was educating them on how to get into our servers, record accurate work time for our hourly staff through our online timekeeping system and educating managers on how to supervise remotely.”

GC employees had already been using the electronic platform Zoom for occasional meetings, so they didn’t need to search for a virtual communication solution — it was already in place. Wilson says, “God definitely led in helping His church almost immediately adapt to using Zoom and other electronic connections in order to keep the worldwide church community together.”

Providentially, Prestol-Puesán notes, “the GC had preserved an adequate level of working capital…that allowed it to withstand the financial punch. Appropriations to divisions, attached unions, and institutions were not delayed or reduced; operations were not interrupted; and personnel were paid their salaries and allowances on time, [even] while funding dwindled. We give all credit to the Lord.”

Creatively Reaching Out 

In the months following the COVID-19 outbreak, GC employees continued to creatively reach people for Jesus on a global scale. Yingling says, “I think the mission of the Church exploded during COVID-19! We’ve used media outlets: TV, radio, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. in a much more in-depth way, introducing more folks to Christ. Employees developed games, podcasts, wrote books, and more, that continued to move the mission forward.” 

The time at home has also enabled staff to do more virtual worships around the world every week. Yingling says, “We continue to do virtual weeks of prayers, online evangelism, small group meetings, and more. The pandemic has forced us into a new way of working that on its own may have taken us years to adopt.”

Mission the Priority

Now that the Church Headquarters has reopened and travel has carefully resumed for essential purposes, the primary goal, couched within the framework of safety and responsible practice, is the mission going forward. 

Wilson says, “We were told by the Lord that we would have pestilences and…these point to the nearness of Christ’s return. God is using His Bible-believing, Spirit of Prophecy-following, praying sons and daughters to fulfill the last great loud cry proclamation to this dying world. The world is ready and waiting for this message of hope and salvation in Christ. Many church members recognize that the end is imminent and we should be diligent in our missionary outreach work.”

In the midst of this terrible health crisis that has claimed the lives of so many, and continues to morph into various strains, we can be encouraged: Jesus is coming! He “calls us to not be afraid and to place our assurance in Him as nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-39). “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8; also John 16:33) Let us put our hope in Jesus and be encouraged in Him for He has overcome the world!”[1]


 [1] https://adventist.news/news/reaffirming-the-seventh-day-adventist-churchs-response-to-covid-19-1?searchsite=adventist.news&ref=on-site-search&searchterm=covid