Capping off the 61st General Conference (GC) Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, leaders, delegates, and visitors gathered in St. Louis and online to enjoy a Sabbath afternoon program, followed by a final “Mission on the Move” program, which together celebrated the multicultural nature of the Adventist Church and encouraged members to say, “I Will Go”.
SABBATH AFTERNOON—“I WILL GO” HIGHLIGHTS
The program began by introducing the new Andrews Bible Commentary, commissioned and funded by the General Conference and Andrews University, involving more than 60 biblical scholars from around the world. “As the Seventh-day Adventist church has expanded over the years, the needs of this now international body have grown,” commented the video narrator. “We thought first of maybe another revision but we realized there’s so much new material that’s come,” Richar Davidson, Bible Commentary contributor said. He added, “it’s time for a new one”. “The International Bible Commentary is being introduced with an updated approach to enriched biblical study,” providing a wider context of understanding for the World Church. The new commentary will be provided in several languages including English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
After finishing with a prayer of dedication over the commentary, 8-year-old Trevor Douglas Barnes enthusiastically ran onto the stage, saying “I want to go! I want to go! Do you want to go and serve?” to open the official program. The crowd then enjoyed an opening video from singer Allesandra Sorace, performing “Isaiah 6: Here Am I Send Me” and introducing the mission theme of the program.
Hosts Tiffany Brown, former church planter, and Caleb Haakenson, Adventist Mission video producer, then welcomed everyone to the program, entitled “Reach the World: I Will Go”, and introduced the first segment—a video report from Adventist Youth Ministries.
i. Adventist Youth Ministries
“At the core of Youth Ministries and initiatives is the love for mission” said Kenia Reyes, senior editorial assistant. Reyes highlighted the impact many Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs have had in their communities around the world. These clubs have been one of the conduits through which many young people have chosen to give their lives to Christ, “reaching far beyond the walls of the church”. She added, “The Pathfinder club is one of the Adventist Church’s most effective soul-winning ministries.”
Reyes also elaborated on the value of Adventist summer camps and Global Youth Day in reaching souls for Jesus. Mission Caleb and One Year in Mission are also other mission-driven initiatives that allow young people to give back to their local communities.
ii. The importance of strategic planning
After this, Brown and Haakenson briefly interviewed Mike Ryan, special assistant to the GC president for strategic planning. This provided overarching context around the “I Will Go” theme of the program, as Ryan answered their question “Why does the Church need a strategic plan? Why don’t we just trust the Holy Spirit to lead us?”
“First of all, I am very confident the Church has been and is currently led by the Holy Spirit,” Ryan began. “As partners in God’s mission, inspiration tells us our plans need to be organized, clearly stated, and based on the instruction of the Bible. Strategic planning is one of God’s methods to organize His mission.”
Ryan also urged all members to say, “I Will Go” and respond to heaven's call. “The strategic plan of the Church will only be as effective as the participation of church members,” he said.
iii. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia
Following this interview, Brown and Haakenson introduced a video about the new Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, which featured director of GC Archives, Statistics and Research, David Trim, and managing editor for the encyclopedia, Dragoslava Santrac.
Drawing on the contributions of hundreds of authors and editors worldwide, “ESDA is a wonderful tool for learning more about the Seventh Day Adventist Church, its history, crucial events and themes, institutions, and people around the world” stated Trim. ESDA is available for free online, making these meaningful records and stories accessible to all around the world. “You’ll find fantastic materials for mission stories, devotionals, children and youth programs, prayer meetings, and sermon illustrations,” noted Santrac. Although the website is in English, many of the resources can be accessed in diverse languages such as Portuguese, French, Spanish, Russian, and Korean.
Couching the resource within the “I Will Go” framework, the stories, photos and information available at encyclopedia.adventist.org hope to inspire Adventist laypeople to follow in the footsteps of missionaries and get involved in reaching the world.
iv. Global Mission Church Planting
The next segment of the Sabbath afternoon program featured the work of Adventist Mission in establishing Global Mission Centers and planting churches around the world.
The Adventist movement began as a church planting movement and continues to grow. “In 1922, the Adventist church planted 75 new churches. Last year, it planted over 2.5 thousand,” stated the video narrator. As this movement seeks to expand, “church planting is the most effective way to grow and expand the church.” Like the early pioneers, many individuals today work sacrifically to spread the good news.
Global Mission Centers support the work of many of these individuals in spreading the Gospel truth. “[Global Mission Centers] go quietly about their work, finding methods and models to make the Adventist message understandable, attractive, and meaningful to people from radically different worldviews”.
After the video, Petras Bahadur, director of the Global Centre for Adventist Muslim Relations at the GC, Dr. Cliffmond Shameerudeen, coordinator for the Centre of South Asian Religions at the GC, Dr. Kleber Goncalves, director of the Centre for Secular and Postmodern Studies at the GC, and Dr. Oscar Osindo, director of the Institute of World Mission (IWM), were invited on stage to share on the importance of mission work.
“Many people simply don’t care about the Word!” said Goncalves. “That’s why we need to have intentional approaches using Christ’s Method as we work with post-Christian people: mingling with them, showing sympathy, ministering to their needs, in order to gain their trust before we share cognitive truth.”
“As the world becomes increasingly complex, the need to orient missionaries for cross-cultural service grows,” added Osindo. “Jesus had a three-year missionary training program, and Paul trained Timothy. Missionaries need training and the mission of the church benefits as a result.”
v. Specific initiatives: Tentmakers, Mission to the Cities, King Tut & MU Tokyo
Keeping in theme with Global Mission and the importance of reaching cities, the audience then enjoyed a recap of specific ministry initiatives that have three videos about Tentmakers Ministry, Mission to the Cities, and a new initiative taking place in Australia.
“One of the greatest mission challenges still facing us is trying to start new groups of believers in the large cities of the world,” explained Brown.
Tentmaking has existed since the time of the apostle Paul; however, his primary calling was mission. Usually working in hard to reach areas like the 10/40 window, many modern “tentmakers” use their skillset in varying trades to share the Gospel. “Adventist Missions Global Mission Initiative helps local fields support tentmakers by providing training and materials.” Rick Kajiura, communication director of Adventist Mission adds that they also provide spiritual retreats for tentmakers to meet and fellowship together.
Mission to the Cities focuses on equipping missionaries to start small groups and centers of influence to reach people in large cities. The video narrator said, “Mission to the Cities is my opportunity to put God’s character of love on display. Mission to the Cities is saying, ‘I Will Go’.”
One initiative bringing the influence of Jesus into cities is the “King Tut Roadshow”, a mobile center of influence in Australia bringing an archaeological exhibition to public and private schools. The roadshow is an interactive experience allowing students to view and touch artifacts of Ancient Egypt, permitting them to learn about its history including the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many children begin to learn about Bible characters who once lived, leading them to realize that the Bible is true.
Another unique program introduced was the “Mission Unusual Tokyo Initiative”, which is now resulting in baptisms. With a burden for mission, the Adventist church faces the challenge of reaching the unreached right in their capital city, Tokyo. Taking a wholistic approach to discipleship, missionaries in Tokyo will focus on developing intentional relationships while meeting the needs of those they encounter to reach Tokyo for Jesus.
vi. Health Initiatives
Dr. Dick Hart, president of Loma Linda University, then took to the stage to talk with some students over Zoom who have been volunteering overseas as medical missionaries. Many of the missionaries, along with their families, currently live in countries like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Belize, and Malawi.
Following this interview, attendees enjoyed a video of a choir of young people from around the world singing the “I Will Go” theme song.
vii. Testimonies: lives touched by Adventist initiatives
Winding down the Sabbath afternoon program, Brown and Haakenson introduced many individuals who shared their video testimony of being changed by Adventist ministries including the Heroes app, Hope Channel International, ADRA, VividFaith, Adventist Volunteer Services, and the “I Will Go” Ride.
Specifically, the “I Will Go” riders covered more than 1000 miles riding from Washington DC to St. Louis the week before Session commenced, to commemorate the work of pioneer colporteurs and distribute literature along the way. South Pacific Division President Glenn Townend explained the significance via video.
“The legacy of this small group of farmers on the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Australia and around the world has been profound. Their descendants have included more than 100 denominational workers, pastors, educators, administrators, and missionaries in the South Pacific and throughout the world.”
Finally, GC Children’s Ministries director Linda Koh joined Brown and Haakenson on stage to celebrate the testimony of two young girls in the South Kenya Conference who have preached an evangelistic series in both English and Swahili.
“Patience and Prisphene were a beautiful sight, and 75 people were baptized!” said Koh.
viii. Challenges of Adventist Mission
To cap off the Sabbath afternoon program, Adventist Mission Director Gary Grause and Adventist Mission Communication Director Rick Kajiura shared some of the challenges still facing the Church in reaching different parts of the world, via video message.
Beginning just over three decades ago, the Adventist church has experienced tremendous growth through church plants and the witnessing of thousands of individuals giving their lives to Jesus since then. Nevertheless, one of the most significant challenges to Adventist mission has been reaching the unreached in remote places like the 10/40 window where Christian presence is currently too small to make an impact.
Reaching populations in large cities has also been challenging as urban communities are often influenced by varying religions, belief systems, or non-belief systems. Reaching individuals who are financially stable, without need of anything is also a difficulty. Although the task is great, we are called to respond to Christ’s invitation for mission by saying, “I Will Go”.
Finally, Alessandra Sorace again performed “Here Am I Send Me”, but this time on stage to bring the theme of mission and service full circle, reminding attendees to also say, “I Will Go”.
SABBATH CLOSING—“MISSION ON THE MOVE”
Following the Sabbath afternoon program, the 61st General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church commenced its closing ceremony with an opening video celebrating the mission of the Church, followed by a flag parade.
Resembling a shortened version of the usual “Parade of Nations” seen at Session, this year’s focus was turned away from attendees individually cheering for their home country, and toward bringing church members together—from all nations, tribes, tongues, and people—in a unified purpose and challenge to reach the world.
Supporting this emphasis, the hashtag #OneAdventistFamily was used throughout the parade, and no individual country was mentioned verbally on stage. Instead, flagbearers from each country walked down the four aisles of The Dome—in order of when that country was reached by the Adventist Church—with another person holding the name of their country.
At the end of the march, flagbearers stood around the perimeter of the floor area to provide photo opportunities for those in attendance. At this time, a video was played, focusing on the remaining territories that the Church has yet to reach.
As the video finished, world church president Ted Wilson, GC secretary Erton Köhler and GC treasurer Paul Douglas stood on stage with presidents from all 13 world divisions and attached unions. Elder Ted Wilson then spoke, encouraging all members to “take the gospel to every nation, tribe, tongue and people around this globe” and then leading the worldwide Adventist family in a dedicatory prayer.
Following the prayer, an extravaganza of choirs and orchestra joined in a mission song medley, coordinated by GC Session music director Williams Costa, and culminated in the hymn “We Have This Hope”.
Finally, 8-year-old Trevor Douglas Barnes—who opened the Sabbath afternoon program—gave the closing prayer of the 61st General Conference Session, alongside his father Trevor Barnes Jr, pastor of the Northside Adventist Church in St. Louis.
Find the recorded livestream of the GC closing ceremony here.
- Angelica Sanchez contributed to this report.