The word ‘president’ is likely to conjure up all sorts of different ideas for each of us. Whether you were aware of it or not, the Seventh-day Adventist church has one of their own. His name is Ted Wilson and he has been the President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists since 2010. Though one might ask, what does he do? What is his role? What is he like? Does he too sit at a large oak desk on a velvet chair with two flags by his side?
Well, when we interviewed Wilson he was seated on a chair in his humble abode in the US state of Maryland.. A line of family photos sat on the shelf behind him and he was still trying to fiddle with his landline connection so not to interfere with the recording.
As with other Adventist presidents, Wilson is a real person with a family he loves, deep passions, and hobbies he enjoys. We set on a journey to get to know him, to show you that though he holds a flashy title, he’s just an ordinary human being like you and me — perhaps with some fine leadership qualities and a strong desire to serve.
Wilson comes from a family line of well-travelled, missional-minded people. His grandparents were missionaries in different parts of the world and his father grew up in Africa and India. He was almost born on a boat in the ocean himself but arrived in Maryland just days after his parents had returned from service in Cairo, Egypt. A few months later, they returned to Egypt, where Wilson spent a large portion of his childhood. He still recalls his memories of the Middle East with great fondness. “It’s home”, he says. The people, the culture, the food and the language all hold a special spot in his heart. He remembers the day he, his sister and mother boarded a boat out of Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis while his father stayed in Cairo to keep the church together. He remembers the close friendships his father had with the governor of Cairo and how he would share Jesus to those in authority, and in return, they would protect him and his family.
To this day, Wilson attributes much of who he is to his father and his mother. “My dad taught me early on in life to stick up for the people who don’t have a voice, to be the voice for the people who need an advocate. That doesn’t mean becoming an extremist — it just means having responsibility.”
All of these experiences abroad gave Wilson perspective, taught him how to relate to people of different cultures and created a desire to serve people around the world.
As he was growing up, Jesus was always at the center of his family’s home. His parents were the foundation for his experience with Jesus and they treated him and his sister with an incredible amount of love and care.
He recalls his father often saying to him, “Son, we believe in you, we love you, and we believe in you.”
Of course, no matter how good a family you are raised in, your faith has to become your own one day. When as a young man Wilson sought God for himself, he began to understand the magnificent grace of Jesus and the honor it was to serve Him, read His Word, and talk to Him through prayer. He experienced God speaking to him, leading him, opening doors for him, and helping him go down the right paths in life.
If you ever get the chance to chat with him, you will see how excited Wilson gets when talking about God. When we spoke with him that was evident as he moved around on his chair and got up close to the camera. Jesus is more real for him than anything else. He beams with gratitude that we have a God to lean on, a God who loves all people, and a God who offers us the gift of salvation---and the privilege to tell others about this salvation in Christ, His three angels’ messages, and His soon second coming.
“How do you explain that?” he said. “I can’t explain it. I just have to believe it. To me, it’s just amazing. It’s unbelievable and it is believable. He loves us so much.”
Later in life, Wilson’s family moved back to the United States. After his undergraduate education, he got a Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Education from New York University, a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University, and a Master of Science degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University. It was here at Loma Linda University where he met his future wife, Nancy, who he says is, “A wonderful woman, a wonderful lady, a wonderful person.” — The two have been together 45 years and counting.
Together, Wilson and Nancy continued to serve around the world in New York, Côte d’Ivoire, Russia, and Maryland, near Washington D.C. During this time, Wilson found himself working in all sorts of positions. He worked in business offices, for a radio station and publishing house, pastored a local church, did departmental work, administration in secretariat and presidential positions, health work, and all sorts of odd jobs that came with being a missionary in foreign countries and at home. Somewhere in all of this, Nancy and Wilson had three daughters: Emilie, Elizabeth and Catherine — those of whom have since given them eleven grandchildren.
When we asked what one piece of leadership advice he had to impart on us, Wilson said,
“Listening is so important, to treat people fairly and with balance and equality. The greatest thing we can do is love other people, actively listen and engage with their stories, and appreciate what we can learn from them.”
In addition to English, Wilson speaks French and some Russian. His favorite city is New York because “did you know there are over eight hundred languages spoken in that city? It’s a microcosm of the world!” And though he reads widely on international activities and stays up to date with current events, on his nightstand you’ll find the Bible and various books by Ellen White. Ask him which is his favorite and he might begin to list every one of them — though he is particularly marveled by ‘The Conflict of the Ages’ series.
And that’s a snapshot of Ted Wilson. .
There is much more we could tell you about Wilson, and which he could tell us about himself. But in the end, he is just another member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church's worldwide family, setting out to accomplish God’s work - his calling: pastoral ministry.
“You know,” he said in closing, “you don’t even need to know what the General Conference is or who the President is. All you need to do is know the Lord, attend your local church, be involved in mission, be in relationships, and love people telling them about God’s love and Christ’s soon coming.”