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Brazil—A Reunion program conducted in the North Brazil Union Mission brought together about 220 women, half of them former Adventists.

Rose Santos told her story and what led her to sever her connection with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. With much emotion, she also described the events that made her decide to return. “It was a privilege to have this chance to tell a little about my life to so many people who, perhaps, go through the same situation and still have not found the strength to change,” she says.

The whole concept of the Reunion program, pioneered in the South American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was based on rebuilding life. It is proposed that every Adventist woman try to “rescue” a woman who has previously been a member of the church. During the following months, friendships are built or rebuilt. 

A final event is planned, and invitations are given out. The event starts with a skit where a clay pot is broken, symbolizing the end of the “old” life. At the end of the program, a potter makes a new pot from scratch, which represents what Jesus can do in the lives of those who allow themselves to be molded.

“Motivating Christian women to reach out to other women who were part of the Adventist family, inviting them to participate in projects developed by the Women’s Ministries, such as Tea With Friends, prayer groups, and others,” is how teacher Ironilde Bussons, organizer and Women’s Ministries director for the North Brazil Union Mission, defines the project.

The crowning moment of the whole project was four women being rebaptized in the first edition of the Reunion. Adventist women who were by their side throughout the process accompanied them. The strategy became a model and was developed in other cities as well. In all, between 2017 and 2018, 527 women were baptized as a result of the project.

The next edition of Reunion will be in the state of Maranhão, in São Luis. It is expected that 400 people will participate in the event and achieve the goals. In order to reach former Adventist friends, 2,587 volunteer missionaries participate in the step-by-step discipleship process. [Mosaic newsletter, Summer 2018] 

Theological forum looks to recapture the importance of discipleship

Silang, Cavite, Philippines—At the 21st AIIAS Annual Theological Forum, held at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS), regional and international Adventist scholars addressed the issue of discipleship and disciple-making to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ commission for all believers. The event brought together almost 350 theologians, pastors, and administrators.

Plenary speaker Dr. G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, cautioned against making baptism the goal of the Great Commission, the call of Jesus in Matthew 28 to make disciples. “The end product of the Great Commission is not to baptize but to disciple. Baptism is just the beginning of the story,” Ng emphasized. “After baptism, teaching continues until the church becomes a disciple-making church.” Ng urged participants to make discipleship the strongest feature of the church.

Throughout the three-day event, several forum presentations emphasized the need to balance the quantitative concern with qualitative checks that will help the church fulfill the Great Commission.

Chair of the forum committee Remwil Tornalejo noted that disciple-making is a relevant topic in the context of church growth and membership retention. By having participants from different disciplines, he said, everyone has a better grasp on this vital topic.

“Through the theological forum, AIIAS shares biblical, theological, and practical insights of what is the essence of the church existence—to do mission,” AIIAS professor of Intercultural Studies and Missiology Cristian Dumitrescu said. Pastors andadministrators present at the meetings concluded that the loss of membership was not to be blamed solely on those who left the church but also on the church’s desire to meet baptismal goals. The Great Commission and other messages of the Bible indicate that careful instruction before baptism and continuous growth after baptism are necessary, they said.

According to AIIAS Seminary dean Ricardo González, “Everybody in the church has a practical role in the Great Commission. Discipleship is a task given to the Adventist Church, to reproduce in this world the life, message, and testimony of Jesus.”

Participants unanimously concluded that changes are needed in the overall mission strategy to improve effectiveness and faithfulness to God’s missionary calling. “We have also agreed to oppose unbiblical methods of discipleship and realize that approaches focusing on numerical growth come with a cost to the kingdom of God,” they said. [Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies and Adventist Review]

The original version of this story appears on the AIIAS website under News.”

Adventist Church in Inter-American Division embarks to seek former church members

Miami, Florida, United States—It is no secret that people are leaving the church. This alarming fact has Seventh-day Adventist leaders in the Inter-American Division (IAD) focused on a major initiative to seek and reconcile thousands of former members across the more than 22,000 churches and congregations in their territory.

Inter-American Division’s “Ministry of Reclaiming and Discipleship of Former Members” initiative was officially launched through an online program on January 12, 2019.

Dr. Elie Henry, president of the IAD, pointed out a clear invitation in the Bible for this ministry as he reflected on Ezekiel 34, appealing to leaders and members to take note of those who were once were at church and for one reason or another are no longer attending.

Pointing to a recent survey conducted by the Adventist General Conference’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Dr. Leonard Johnson, executive secretary for the IAD, said the findings revealed that nearly 14 million members have gone missing during the period between 1965 and 2015 across the world church.

“That means that one out of three members has been lost over the past fifty years,” reported Johnson. For the IAD, that translates to just over two million members during that time period. “If we had those members up to 2015, our membership could be more than six million today. So it’s not a world problem only but a problem in the IAD.”

From 2016 to 2018, more than 153,000 members have dropped out and/or gone missing across the IAD, according to the official tallying done throughout the IAD’s 24 unions, or major church regions, said Johnson. Among the many issues that the survey pointed out was how relationships are important to prevent members from leaving the church.

Building relationships is a key element in retaining and seeking members, so the initiative is being driven by the ministry of the Sabbath School class structure.

“Our mission is to search for former members and invite them to be reconciled to God, reconciled to the church through a process of seeking to appeal to the heart of the member,” said Pastor Samuel Telemaque, Sabbath School director for the IAD, who is spearheading the initiative. “Before we can give them the Bible, we need to create the environment of relationship, love, kindness, and laughter in the Sabbath School class that leads to an environment of love for the study of the Word.”

A practical guide, voted by top administrators and leaders during IAD’s Year-End Executive Committee Meetings, focuses on the stages of reconciliation and gives practical instructions on how to implement a ministry of reconciliation for former members, in addition to discipleship of former members and reintegration into the fellowship life of the church.

The program also touched on the cost of discipleship, the importance of intercessory prayer, the call to the ministry of reconciliation, and more, not only to take place through Sabbath School ministries but also through youth ministries, the pastoral ministry, and public campus ministries, among others.

“This is not an event, it’s a process,” said Telemaque. “The process includes recruiting and training those individuals who will seek out former members, thoroughly identifying all missing members, searching, contacting, listening and acknowledging their pain, apologizing on behalf of the church, and welcoming them back.”

The initiative will see a scheduled homecoming Sabbath celebration on September 7, 2019, where thousands of former members are expected to flood churches and congregations across the IAD.

“Let’s work together through the Sabbath School, youth, and all departments to restore and reclaim former members,” Telemaque said. [Libna Stevens/IAD]

eHuddle reinvigorates passion for evangelism

San Diego, California, UnitedStates—For two and a half days, onFebruary 18–20, 2019, evangelism direc-tors of conferences and unions, church administrators, pastors, innovators, and other leaders gathered at eHuddle in San Diego, California, United States of America, to share, learn, and dialogue on how the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America can more effectively reach people in a growing, secular culture.

More than 200 people attended the eHuddle event, sponsored by the North American Division (NAD) Ministerial Association, and more benefitted from the presentations via Facebook. During the meeting, more than 30 presenters shared tried and tested ways along with innovative, creative, and new approaches for how they engage their local community and church.

“For this year’s event we wanted to address two needs that we see in our churches: First we focused on how churches can grow young and ensure retention of young people. Presentations were shared how to disciple children and to help them make a serious decision for Jesus,” said Jose Cortes Jr., event organizer and associate director of the NAD Ministerial Association. “Second, we engaged with the epidemic of dying and plateauing churches in our division. We are concerned about the health of our churches and, therefore, wanted to address these issues.”

Various presenters spoke on these two themes, sharing practical solutions and ideas on how they were addressing them in their local context. In one presentation, Tim Gillespie, lead pastor of the Crosswalk Seventh-day Adventist Church in Redlands, California, spoke about how his church helps remote churches connect to Crosswalk. The satellite congregations reap the benefits from the programming at the main church.

During his presentation, Gillespie challenged the audience: “We live in a time where Uber is the largest taxi company in the world, and yet it doesn’t own a car. Airbnb is the largest hotel chain, but it doesn’t own a room. Perhaps we need to rethink the model of church in our current time.”

Tom Evans, president of the North New South Wales Conference in Australia, sees value in this event. “We need to consistently search for new and relevant avenues and methods in ministry. I like how eHuddle creates space where projects can be refined and developed.”

Many attendees of this year’s event left invigorated by the ideas that presenters shared. First-time attendee Vanston Archbold Jr., general field secretary for the Southwest Region Conference in the Southwestern Union, said, “I am inspired by what others are doing. I have the same amount of resources, and this encourages me to figure out what I can do in my field.” 

The meeting this year encouraged attendees throughout the NAD to try new things and, at the same time, also served as a reminder that evangelism is not the same in every community.

“It is important to find a way to create relationships and connect with people in the community. This requires an understanding of what their needs are,” said Dr. Ivan Williams, director of NAD Ministerial Association. [Enno Müller, communication director of the Southeastern California Conference]

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