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Ministers explore creative mission in Europe

London, England—A team of pastors from the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC) visited with TransEuropean Division (TED) staff in London April 11, 2017 with the aim of gaining an insight into how mission can be achieved within secularized and diverse cultures. Led by Pastor Victor Kulakov, the group specifically chose to visit the TED territory because they see themselves facing similar issues.

Dr. Daniel Duda, director of Education and of Adventist Mission in the TED, highlighted the challenges to sharing the gospel that are faced by the 11 unions and three attached fields within the TED. “While nineteenthcentury methods are still having some success in a few areas, we have to be innovative and change our mindset in order to reach out to people groups who have radically changed their worldview, either post-Communism or post-Christianity,” Dr. Duda said.

Part of that learning was a review of some of the success stories and mission experiments that have taken place in the TED over the past 12 months. TED Communication director Victor Hulbert took the group on a whirlwind virtual tour of a variety of projects including Messy Church, a pizza church, health clubs, a motorbike club, and creative youth and Pathfinder initiatives.

In relation to initiatives focused on the European refugee and migrant situation as well as other forms of outreach, Hulbert noted how genuine compassion makes a significant difference in people’s lives. He showed how the church in the UK was highlighted for the work it did around the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I—and the stories of courageous Adventist conscientious objectors. More recently, Adventists in Hungary and Poland (among other places) were able to make significant community impacts by focusing on the Desmond Doss story during the release of the Hacksaw Ridge film.

The fourth presenter, Patrick Johnson, the TED Ministerial Association secretary, showed how good mentoring and discipleship can not only benefit the pastor and his or her family but will ultimately help the church grow as a positive discipleship track leads to an increased and natural process of total member involvement. [Victor Hulbert]

Adventist University president attends meeting at the White House

Washington, DC—Oakwood University president Dr. Leslie N. Pollard attended a meeting convened by President Donald J. Trump at the White House in late February 2017, as part of a group of more than 60 leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)

Pollard communicated that the purpose of the meeting was “to confirm a national agenda for assisting HBCUs [to] continue and strengthen their contribution to the nation’s graduation rates.”

In his newsletter, Pollard shared some startling facts: while HBCUs make up only 3 percent of all institutions of higher education in America, they graduate annually 21 percent of all African Americans that receive bachelor’s degrees from all institutions. Terri A. Sewell, United States Congress Representative for Alabama’s 7th congressional district, wrote that while “many HBCUs were founded by churches and former slaves to educate the children of former slaves,” presently, “75 percent of all black officers in the Armed Forces, and 80 percent of all black federal judges graduate from an HBCU.”

The special “listening session” was convened by President Trump before he signed “a new and stronger” executive order recognizing the importance of HBCUs. Pollard also explained that HBCUs and partner organizations requested “to increase ... grant funding.” Still, “we seek investment, not charity,” tweeted Pollard, who remarked that “the HBCUs output is a national gift.”

On the same note, Sewell explained that “the top HBCUs in the country have only a fraction of the endowment that top predominantly white institutions (PWIs) have,” and that “the endowment gap between the top HBCUs and the top PWIs has doubled in the past 20 years.”

Addressing HBCUs specifically, President Trump pledged his support to these schools, their mission, and to “our shared mission of bringing education and opportunity to all.”

Pollard’s visit to the White House garnered mixed reactions. Some questioned the purpose of the meeting and its tangible effect on Oakwood University. Pollard said he would like to answer questions regarding his decision to attend the meeting in these simple words, “Because I’m fighting.” He explained that his resolve is to seize every single opportunity to garner support for Oakwood University and its mission. “I believe my job is to make sure that Oakwood’s agenda is always on the table.”

“Going to the White House also presented a chance for Oakwood University to represent all of Seventh-day Adventist higher education,” explained Pollard.

On March 16, President Trump unveiled a discretionary budget blueprint. According to news reports, the budget increased defense and security spending, while slashing the funds allotted to other departments and programs. Higher education did not escape deep cuts, said Pollard. Overall, the budget for education was reduced by $9.2 billion, or 13.5 percent. [Marcos Paseggi | Adventist Review]

Global conference focuses on issues impacting families, women, and children

Budapest, Hungary—Close to 400 delegates from more than 60 countries gathered in Budapest, Hungary in May 2017 for the first-ever International Leadership Conference focused on issues impacting families, women, and children.

Doug Venn, coordinator for Mission to the Cities and director of the Global Mission Urban Center for the Seventhday Adventist Church, and his team displayed postcards brought by delegates on a wall, surrounding a sign that read “I Want This City.”

The Hungarian Minister of State for Churches, Minorities, and Civil Affairs, Miklós Soltész, emphasized the need for faith communities to address societal challenges by sharing Christian values. “It looks like we live in a better age,” said Soltész. “In many countries we have many opportunities. But there is a question. Do we recognize all the problems and fears that are all around us?”

The first keynote address of the multiday conference was delivered by Dr. Ella Simmons, a general vice president for the General Conference.

Simmons focused most of her thoughts on the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, pointing out the significant dysfunction within that family unit. She concluded that most of the alienation within families occurs due to lack of forgiveness present in broken relationships, and she challenged church leaders and members to take seriously the “ministry of reconciliation” entrusted to believers by Christ. Simmons reminded attendees that “if we want to reach the world, we need to remember that the first victories must be won in the home life.”

Another notable aspect of the conference was the presence of Dr. George Barna, well-known author, researcher, and statistician, whose research has informed the Christian community around the world for decades. Barna spent most of his time unpacking the concept of worldview—a set of filters by which we perceive the world around us—and the impact society is having on younger generations.

His 2017 survey revealed that while 58 to 70 percent of parents see value in their children being exposed to extended family gatherings, church services, art exhibits, and the Bible, children on average spend only two hours per week on these activities. In contrast, 33 to 43 percent of parents do not see value in their children being exposed to professional sports, television news, online content, and current movies, yet children on average spend seven hours per day on these and related activities.

Statistically a very small amount of younger people have what he called a “biblical worldview”—only 4 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds and 7 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. “We are in a crisis,” Barna said. “If the church does not wake up and solve it, biblical Christianity in the United States is in jeopardy.”

Barna then turned his attention squarely to parents, offering a statistical call to parental responsibility. He pointed out that while children form their worldview by the age of 13, only 5 percent of parents with 5- to 13-yearold children in the United States have a biblical worldview. “Our children usually make their spiritual choices by default, acquiescing to cultural norms,” he concluded.

Barna ended on a positive note, emphasizing that though not easy, worldviews can be changed through proper asking of questions and meaningful dialogue with children and teens in an effort to “dislodge what culture has placed in their minds.”

“Parents must be intentional about making sure sound biblical values are passed on to their children on a daily basis through family worship and by modeling godly living,” said Willie Oliver, director of Family Ministries for the Adventist General Conference and one of the organizers.

“You can’t get more missional than this. Because, when we have strong families, we will have a strong church that can share the gospel with power and joy and help hasten the coming of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Kiti Freier Randall—a pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist from Loma Linda University Health Care—emphasized from the beginning the role the home plays in childhood development. “Although other supportive institutions in society play a role, it is in the family that nurture is effective and meaningful.”

Randall contrasted the idyllic statement with the reality that children around the world are at risk due to a great number of factors. Lack of access to education, especially for girls, is a significant risk, leading to other risk factors such as poverty, drug use, and an increased rate of teen pregnancy and gang violence. Childhood obesity is another risk factor, leading to “serious lifelong consequences.”

At the same time, malnutrition and starvation continue to present a risk to children around the world, in addition to abuse of various kinds. Randall explained in detail the effects of trauma and abuse, including showing a brain scan that showed a visible difference in the brain of an abuse victim. “Trauma, abuse, and neglect actually change the architecture of the brain,” said Randall, who also informed participants that if children are born healthy and die before becoming one year old, the number one reason they die is “because their parents will kill them.”

Randall also spoke to a controversial subject, the risk factor involving technology addiction. “Too much or misused technology can impact a child’s physical and mental health,” she explained, leading to negative impacts such as sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. She challenged parents not to expose children younger than two years old to technology.

Randall offered a bright spot to the daunting realities she began with. Science is focusing increasingly on the idea of resilience, “the capacity to maintain or develop competent functioning in the face of major life stressors.” Factors such as social support, connectedness, meaningful activity, and exercise all lead to increased resiliency.

When asked how these insights impact the Adventist Church, Randall realized that “what they need, our church has to offer. Our church has all the elements that we need to change the trajectory to a positive one. We have the ability to provide meaningfulness and hope in life. We have the ability to provide nurturance and relationship with healthy adults, and access to healthy activities.”

Among other topics, Family Ministries directors Willie and Elaine Oliver facilitated a dialogue surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) issues and questions. Dr. Ekkehardt Mueller, an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), gave an overview of the subject, highlighting research done by BRI in gathering biblical insights into the matter.

Mueller made it clear that the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not “condone the sin of homosexual activity.” However, he reminded attendees that “we distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity.

“As Adventists we respect all people, whether heterosexuals or homosexuals,” Mueller presented. “We acknowledge that all human beings are creatures of the heavenly Father and are extremely valuable in God’s sight. Therefore we are opposed to hating, scorning, or abusing homosexuals.”

Mueller also reminded delegates of the broader reality of sin, even within Romans 1. “Sin is serious business whether sexual sin or other sin, whether heterosexual sin or homosexual sin,” he explained.

A second presentation was delivered by Virna Santos, a representative of By Beholding His Love, a ministry focused on equipping “individuals, families, churches, and schools with biblical-based training, while teaching the methods of Jesus to understand issues related to sexual identity struggles” and “facilitating healthy, genuine and intentional connection between Church and LGBTQ communities.”

“With parenting in general, it’s amazing what you can learn if you just listen,” explained Elaine Oliver. “Sometimes we become impatient, forgetting that God is never impatient with us. The same principle applies to the way we should interact with children wrestling with sexual identity questions.”

“We need to be careful not to cherry-pick when it comes to sins,” concluded Willie Oliver at the close of the panel discussion. “We need to be like Jesus. We have to genuinely love others. You’re not going to reach anyone for Jesus, unless you genuinely love them.”

Meanwhile, the Women’s Ministries department hosted seminars centered on women interacting meaningfully and purposefully with women of other faiths. Department director HeatherDawn Small and associate director Raquel Queiroz da Costa Arrais invited guest speakers to both teach and inspire women on how to reach out into various communities of women.

“We’ve got to help our women look beyond themselves and the ones they know to the ones they don’t know,” said Small, “to the ones who don’t look like them; the ones who don’t speak their language and whose culture is different. That was the main focus of our training here.”

Across the hall, the Children’s Ministries department, led by Linda Mei Lin Koh, director, and Saustin Mfune, associate director, was exploring a topic—among others—with an unexpected twist. Seminars focused on impacting and ministering to children from affluent homes.

Presenters shared several of the leading causes contributing to the possibility of emotional troubles within affluent environments. Various principles and ideas were shared for effective ways to minister to children in these circumstances.

While the topics covered and the dialogue facilitated were both practical and critical for mission, it was the unprecedented collaboration of three world church departments that stood out most.

“This has been a tremendous collaboration between these three departments,” shared Geoffrey Mbwana, a general vice president of the General Conference.

Measuring success is many times a moving target, yet organizers of the global conference expressed confidence in the event’s positive outcome. “Many shared new convictions established during the conference by listening to compelling truths that were not clear to them before,” said Willie Oliver—“especially the fact that areas they once believed had nothing to do with their respective ministries were obviously also their concern.”

“I’m a convert,” shared Carla Baker, Women’s Ministries director for the North American Division, at the close of the conference. “I do believe that Women’s Ministries can do a lot to reach the mothers. I will be doing something about that.”

Willie Oliver also pointed to requests for future events as an indicator of success. “This level of new synergy, as well as requests by many conference participants to repeat this kind of event in the near future, are indicators of a level of success we expected as an outcome of this shared effort by Children’s, Women’s, and Family Ministries.”

The collaboration was further extended when Willie Oliver welcomed the Ministerial department’s offer to focus a special edition of Ministry on the issues of the conference. Each delegate received a complimentary copy of the May 2017 edition in their package, which was very well received. [Costin Jordache | Adventist Review]

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