Why is the Inter-American Division making phenomenal membership gains? How has it more than doubled its membership in the past ten years to become the largest world division? Is its leadership more qualified? Does it have superior financial resources? Are people in the territory easier to win for Christ? Is the power of the Holy Spirit more available there?
Attendance at the 1984 Festival of the Laity helped my wife and me to understand some of the principles that have fostered phenomenal growth in the IAD. Our answer to each of the last four questions above is No.
The 1984 Festival of the Laity was actually four festivals held in four different countries. Delegates from every mission and conference of the division except Cuba attended. In Mexico City, 4,000 delegates gathered. Sabbath attendance was 15,000; 3,500 delegates and guests packed the unfinished Franco-Haitian Union College auditorium at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for the second phase of the festival. From there we went to the West Indies Union College auditorium in Mandeville, Jamaica, to meet with 1,000 delegates. In Bogota, Colombia, an 8,000-seat arena found 1,900 delegates in attendance and a Sabbath crowd of more than 7,000.
After each of the four festivals Ministerial councils were conducted for an entire day. George Knowles, General Conference Lay Activities director, Carlos Aeschlimann, IAD Ministerial department leader, and my wife and I took part. My good wife, Marie, and Lillian Knowles held meetings for the workers' wives while the men met in their own meetings.
Three ordination services were conducted, confirming seventeen men in their ministry. We were impressed with the quality of workers being ordained as well as with the uniqueness of each ordination service. In every service the wives of the men being ordained were specifically included, and this helped the wives to sense their own worth as part of the pastor-evangelistic team.
This four-part festival helped us to get excited over soul saving as never before. Could it be that some segments of the church are more interested in building office buildings, getting new computers, raising money for new organs, and other worldly ventures than in saving souls? Perhaps some divisions are staggering to a halt in soul winning, but not Inter- America. I see several factors that have led to soul-winning success in that division.
1. Soul winning is taken seriously as a first priority item. Basic baptismal goals for the 1000 Days of Reaping were suggested by the division for each union. The unions then had opportunity to accept or reject their suggested goal. (Some complained because their goal was set too low.) Each field gave suggested goals for every pastor's district. (Only a few pastors have an individual church. The vast majority have multichurch districts.) The pastors, in counsel with their church officers and laity, then set goals for each church and for the various evangelistic units and teams. No goal was imposed on anyone. Those who reached their goals among pastors and laity were eligible to become delegates to the Festival of the Laity.
The plans laid include the giving of the gospel from country to country, city to city, home to home, person to person, until the last person is reached. Not only the ministers but a large number of laity have accepted this mission. One pastor baptized 2,450 in five years. One lay man, a converted criminal, has led 443 to Christ in the past five years. Delegates to each of the ministerial and lay festival meetings we attended accepted enthusiastically the objective of fulfilling the 1000 Days of Reaping goal by the end of 1984, six months prior to the General Conference session.
2. Leadership eats, drinks, and sleeps evangelism. Every segment of leadership is involved. From college president to mission treasurer, from union depart mental leader to hospital administrator, from the humblest lay person to the division president, there is extraordinary participation. It borders on the unbelievable. More than once we asked ourselves, "Is this for real?"
George Brown, division president, took time out of his busy schedule to participate in three out of the four festivals. He sat through every meeting when not speaking and showed a pro found interest in every instructional period and every report. He himself held a public campaign last March in the island country of St. Lucia that resulted in sixty baptisms. This type of model leadership deeply affects the rank and file of the church.
3. Cooperation between the lay activities department and Ministerial Association leadership of the entire division. True spiritual teamwork between division lay activities leader Sergio Moctezuma and division Ministerial leader Carlos Aeschlimann sets the example for their counterparts in the union conferences and missions. They do not practice a tug-of-war as to who is going to do what or who gets the credit. Their unity is not a thin veneer that reveals hollowness when scratched. It is a reality that leads pastors and laymen to unite together in evangelism. All departments prepare specific plans yearly. These plans are then integrated into the overall soul-winning plans for the division. For instance, at the lay festivals the youth department furnished honor guards and ushers selected from the Pathfinders. These youth, seeing and hearing the tremendous reports as well as instruction for soul winning, get the idea deeply imbedded in their hearts that the true mission of the church is to reach people with the gospel. Other departments also participated in the festivals.
Pastors seeing the integrated cooperation of the Ministerial and lay activities departments sense the value of integrating their work with that of the laymen in soul-winning activities. The uniting of pastors and laypersons was evident in all reports.
Literally hundreds of lay people in the IAD make the spreading of the gospel their major work. Their secular job is merely a sideline. One husband and wife team told of donating $15,000 of their own money in order to build a church and run a campaign that resulted in establishing a new congregation.
4. Men and women are equally involved in soul winning. A most impressive feature is the role that women play in soul winning. In every festival, women lay evangelists reported on their activities. Their ability to communicate equaled, and in some cases exceeded, that of the men. We were particularly impressed with several young business women who were deeply involved in witnessing and responsible for bringing scores of individuals to Christ.
What makes the Inter-American Division grow? I have suggested several factors. They boil down to one thing: the devotion of laity, pastors, and leadership to saving souls.—J.R.S.