Session delegate urges more youth representation

Session delegate urges more youth representation

Business Meetings | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | Arin Gencer/ANN

Chairman: Issue resides at local, regional level

A delegate stepped up to the microphone and identified himself as "one of the few" under the age of 30 from the Seventh-day Adventist Church's North American region.

"I'd like to know when would be an appropriate time to address the issue of the lack of representation from that age category," said David Kokiong, 28, of Montreal, Canada, during the Tuesday morning business meeting at the 59th General Conference Session. "Many youth and young adults are either misinformed or uninterested, or even ignorant, about the processes and procedures that go on in the church."

Kokiong's comments drew attention to a reality among the hundreds of delegates who are attending Session: Young faces are few and far between. But the ones who are on the Georgia Dome floor, along with their older counterparts, say more should be present -- particularly as they are the church's future leaders.

"It is a problem," said Robert Vollmer, an Austrian delegate.

Vollmer, 32, offers a solution to involve more of his contemporaries "in the upper levels of our church," such as Youth Ministries. Right now, "you have to work in unions and divisions -- and then your name is known to the nominating committee," he added. "But by then, you're at the age of 50, 60 years."

For Tuesda Roberts, attending Session has provided the General Conference delegate from North Carolina a much better sense of the world church and how it works -- an opportunity that more young adults should have, she said.

But Roberts, 30, has only had this opportunity because James L. Black Sr., the North American region's director of youth ministries, recommended her -- as part of a concerted effort to incorporate more young people this year.

"If the union doesn't know us, they can't select us as General Conference delegates," said Roberts, the young adult coordinator for the South Atlantic Conference. "How do we identify promising young adults who have the potential to become future church leaders?"

"I'm hoping that this delegation that the General Conference is sending this time can represent to these other people that young adults can carry their own -- and we can represent the church well," Roberts added.

In response to Kokiong's query, the day's meeting Chairman Mike Ryan said the Steering Committee would look into the matter.

"I know many of the people seated on this floor, they also have that same burden in their heart," Ryan said. "You may look around and see people who are a little older and think that they are not concerned about that. But that's a major concern."

But the issue begins at the local level, said Robert Kyte, chairman of the 236-member Nominating Committee, which does count some young adults among its ranks.

"We would be delighted to have a much larger slate of individuals, both by gender and by age, available to the Nominating Committee," Kyte said to delegates in Wednesday afternoon's business meeting.

"You have to look for leaders who are competent to come in and fill the world positions," he said. "The responsibility to prepare candidates for the world positions lies with the local union and division conferences."

Gilbert Wari, president of the West-Central Africa region, has encountered a practical obstacle to getting young African delegates to Session. Although his region "wanted to bring as many young people as we could," Wari said, United States embassies denied their visas, fearing the young people "would not go back to Africa."

That attitude reflects a recurring problem, said Wari, who helped a young man from Sierra Leone get a visa to attend the last Session -- and never saw him again.

"The young people have polluted the waters, and that's why today, all of them were turned down," he said.

But, like several of his fellow delegates, Wari said their presence is vital.

"The youth is the church of today and tomorrow," Wari said. "If the youth are not involved in today's activities of the church, there will be a gap....They will not be prepared enough to carry on with the mission of the church as they should."