Wolff has served the Adventist Church in different regions and roles (Photo: Personal Archive)

South America

Pastor João Wolff, Former South American Division President, Dies at 92

Wolff led the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s and drove the advance of the denomination in the territory.

Brazil | Jefferson Paradello

Pastor João Wolff passed away on Sunday, June 11, 2023. Retired since 1996, he was president of the South American Division of Seventh-day Adventists from April 1980 to July 1995. He was 92 years old and in a hospital in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, where he lived with his family.

Pastor Wolff was born on June 12, 1930, in Santo Antônio da Patrulha, Rio Grande do Sul. In 1952, Pastor Wolff started the theology course at the Colégio Adventista Brasileiro (CAB), which is today named Centro Universitário Adventista de São Paulo (UNASP) - São Paulo campus.

After graduation, Pastor Wolff began his ministry in January 1956 as pastor of the Central Adventist Church in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, and assistant bookkeeper for the Rio Grande do Sul Conference, the administrative headquarters for the region. In 1957, he married teacher Edy Lil Louzada, who also graduated from CAB. That same year, he was called to lead the departments of Education and Missionary Volunteers (MV, today's Ministério Jovem) of the Rio Grande do Sul Conference. In 1960, they moved to Paraná, where Pastor Wolff led the same departments.

In 1963, Pastor Wolff became president of the Catarinense Mission, a regional administrative office of the denomination in the state of Santa Catarina. The following year, he was chosen as director of the MV for the South Brazil Union (USB), which at the time covered other territories such as western Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Mato Grosso, and Goiás.

In 1969, Pastor Wolff was elected president of the North Brazil Union, administrative headquarters for Pará, Amazonas, and surrounding states. And in 1977, he assumed the presidency of the South Brazil Union.

Focus on Member Involvement

After serving the Adventist Church in various capacities, in April 1980, Pastor Wolff was appointed president of the South American Division (SAD), responsible for Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. He was elected during the 53rd General Conference Session, the main administrative meeting of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was held in Dallas, Texas, United States.

Note published by Revista Adventista in the May 1980 edition (Image: Acervo RA)

Note published by Revista Adventista in the May 1980 edition (Image: Acervo RA)

Pastor Wolff’s years in office were marked by intense work on behalf of evangelistic initiatives and the involvement of members in the church's mission. As Roberto Gullón describes in the book A Seed of Hope, a commemorative work about the 100 years of the SAD, under Wolff's leadership, the "five-year plans" were implemented, which sought to unify the activity of the Adventist Church throughout the division. They were intended to engage the faithful in sowing, reaping, and keeping new converts, placing the church in a "state of total and permanent evangelization."

In addition, with the Pioneer Project, it stimulated members to establish new churches from Sabbath School classes. Another of its achievements was in 1987: the launching of a campaign of massive distribution of pamphlets with biblical messages. One of them, which had more than 14 million copies printed, was entitled He is the way out. In an interview with the Adventist Review, published in February 2016, the "pastor of the pamphlets," as Pastor Wolff came to be called, revealed that he personally delivered 700,000 of them. "I influenced more by example than by sermons," he stressed.

As he left the presidency of the SAD in July 1995, after the 56th GC Session, held in Utrecht, Netherlands, Pastor Wolff recorded the following words, contained in the text Joy and Gratitude:

"For every time, place, and purpose, God seeks men and women who allow Him to use and guide them through the influence and power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His work. This is what happened with the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America.

“I feel grateful to the Lord for the privilege of having participated, for 15 years, in this beautiful and blessed story of the growth of the Church in the territory of the South American Division."

Subsequently, in 1996, Pastor Wolff served as director of the Global Mission Department of the South Brazil Union—the year in which he ultimately retired. In 1998, he became a pastoral counselor at Rádio Novo Tempo in Curitiba. In 2000, he served as pastor of the Portuguese Adventist Church in Toronto, Canada. In all, he had dedicated more than 46 years of work to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Accomplishments

By phone, daughters Marisa and Denise described the impact of their father's ministry on the church and their own family. "For us, it was the work with the youth, which he did when he was director of the MV Ministry. I have memories of participating with him as a young girl; then of his work in the North Union,” shared Marisa. “There, he was starting the IATAI [Transamazon Adventist Agro-industrial Institute]. He spoke a lot about the purchase of that land. I remember his insistence on starting medical school at the Universidad Adventista del Plata (UAP), in Argentina. And the trunk of the car was full of boxes of brochures."

Even after formally leaving his ministerial duties, Pastor Wolff continued to proclaim Jesus' return. "He always witnessed, even in the hospital. Witnessing was part of his life. He would ask if the person knew the church, how their life with God was. Ninety percent of the people knew that he was a pastor of the Adventist Church. His testimony was very strong at all times," Denise emphasized. His life inspired two grandsons, Stefan and Bruno, to become pastors, who today work in Germany.

Marisa and Denise detailed that Pastor Wolff lived in an apartment. Even in a wheelchair, he would walk down to the street every day with his caregiver. There, he would call out to people passing on the sidewalk and hand out the missionary book of the year. "He did that from the gate of the building until last year. He preached the way he could until the end," they pointed out. "What remains is the faith and trust he had in the promises of God, the certainty he had in what he preached, and the hope of seeing Jesus."

Pastor Stanley Arco, current president of the SAD, recalled Pastor Wolff's enthusiasm to reach more people. "He dedicated all his strength to propel the church into mission. His multiplying leadership left its mark on several generations of pastors, workers, and members,” Pastor Arco said, highlighting Pastor Wolff's life of faith and prayer. “He deeply loved his family and the church. He was a great leader, a passionate pastor, a committed missionary, tireless in witnessing and preaching the Gospel. He always exalted the name of God and His Word. With a focus on Christ and His mission, his life has inspired and mobilized the church throughout our division. His work has moved us forward as a church."

Wolff leaves behind his wife, Edy; daughters Denise and Marisa; grandchildren Malton, Karin, Stefan, and Bruno; and great-grandchildren Miguel and Maitê.

The original version of this story was posted on the South American Division Portuguese-language news site.

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