An old song from my parents’ generation crooned about meeting in St. Louis, today the chrome-arched city along the Mississippi River that is host to the 61st General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Karen and I drove down on Sunday for the opening of this Covid-postponed (twice) gathering of leaders and delegates from the four corners of the earth.
Embedded in the former football stadium of the St Louis Rams, the 1800-plus delegates were spread across the now concrete stadium floor either in person or via global Zoom (provided for those delegates who for pandemic, visa-entry or personal reasons joined the session from their homelands).
The Monday morning opening service included a welcome from the three world church officers, Ted Wilson (president), Erton Köhler (secretary) and Paul Douglas (treasurer), and was followed by a ninety-minute prayer service, interspersed with singing, group praying and the preaching of Mark Finley (evangelist), Barry Black (chaplain of the United States Senate), and me (your pastor). The three of us had been assigned themes by Jerry Page, Director of the G. C. Ministerial Association, and I know I speak for the other two preachers in saying it was a honor to lead the worshiping delegates to prayerfully focus on the daily baptism of the Holy Spirit. And it felt like being home for me with Ken Logan, our Pioneer organist and minister of music, at the convention organ console (a seat he hardly ever vacated through the long business session hours morning and evening).
One of the joys of a General Conference session is the serendipitous meetings with people you haven’t seen for months or years, in our case, fellow pastors and ministers from around the world. What a special joy those reconnecting conversations were for Karen and me.
One quick scan across the assembled delegates, and you are quickly reminded that (as it should be) our church is truly a growing and growingly international body of Seventh-day Adventists. Long gone are the days when the North American delegation dominated either the discussions or the votings. Youthful faces from the two-thirds world are a reminder of the increasing influence young global Adventists will have on the future of the world church.
A highlight for our brief time at the session came in Ted Wilson’s quinquennial President’s Report, a review of major church developments over the previous five (in this case seven) years. As you can see from my third row snapshot, the pulpit stands at the side of the sprawling backdrop that proclaims, “Jesus Is Coming—Get Involved.”
The president’s multimedia presentation, a peripatetic highlighting of stories from across the world, ended dramatically with an Adventist World Radio (AWR) report of how communist guerrillas, fighting an insurgency war against the Philippine Army, somehow connected with AWR shortwave broadcasts there in their mountain hideouts. Long story short, one by one these rebel fighters came to know Christ and began to study the Bible via their shortwave radios. Once contact was established with Adventist members in the region, these fighters began to surrender to the army, confessing their newfound faith. Through a live Skype connection, two of the transformed former rebels (masked to protect their identity) shared their testimonies (translated by their pastor, who stood before us in the stadium). One of them was a woman (masked face on the right side of the big screen picture I took), who in tears shared her testimony for Christ. Then in a dramatic ending, our eyes dropped from the big screen to a Philippine Army colonel and his wife, who stood with Ted Wilson beside a baptistry on the stadium floor, also led to Christ by the Adventists of that mountain region. The stadium burst into applause as this military husband and wife followed Jesus and joined our faith community.
Only at a General Conference session! I’m sure the week will culminate in a celebrative Sabbath of worship there in the sports stadium.
Karen and I returned to our quiet little village, grateful for the privilege of serving this global community of faith, and thankful for the testimonies of men, women and children in this parish who (without any accompanying fanfare or big screen drama) continue to take their stands for Christ their Savior. “Jesus Is Coming—Get Involved” is a fitting call to us here at Pioneer as well. For our own mission statement, “Love on the Move,” can come true as we all get involved for Him.
So let us press on to love lost people to Christ, for are we not all “former rebels” won to Jesus by His unrelenting love? “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself’” (John 12:32).