North American Division News
Sooner or later we all realize that we will not be the only person on this planet who doesn’t die. That moment came early for me — as young as 8 — and it was driven home with blunt force in my early 20s, when my friend Simon was suddenly killed in a horrible head-on collision. His remains were too devastated to permit an open casket. Simon’s traumatized parents opted for cremation — an unusual choice for Catholics.
The sudden and permanent absence of a friend was palpable; it was hard to comprehend that he was simply gone. For years after his death I thought I saw him everywhere, but each sighting proved to be nothing but an uncanny doppelgänger.
Our hearts struggle to accept the reality of death. Existence is such a persuasive experience that we simply cannot conceive of a world in which we no longer exist. As a small child I used to spend more time than a youngster probably should trying to imagine a universe without me: how is it possible that prior to 1969 I did not exist at all?
Perhaps our struggle to conceive of non-existence is one of the reasons the pagan idea of a disembodied afterlife has been so incredibly persistent over millennia. Sin has created a situation in which we think of ourselves as all-important, even self-existent: how could anything else exist if we don’t?
Enter the One who isself-existent, the Creator who chose to take on human form and experience this broken world with us. The One who is life lays His life down for us (John 1:4; 10:17). Even though He is the source of all things, and the means by which all things continue to exist (Col. 1:17), He determined to empty Himself to the point of death. He “made Himself of no reputation” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8).
Witness Christ in Gethsemane, faced with the sheer reality of death. He weeps. He struggles. He begs for the cup to be taken away. Contrast that with the pagan philosopher Socrates,* who told his students to quit weeping for him on the eve of his execution and welcome death as a joyful path to a higher existence. Which one do you suppose—Jesus or Socrates — knew the horrible truth about death?
If the story ended there, with Jesus in a grave, we might be tempted to descend into despondency.
Life in Christ
What is the point of living if I’m just going to die? Why continue learning, experiencing, and loving if my whole being will simply disappear forever into the dirt? By continuing to embrace life, what, exactly, am I investing in — and why?
That question eventually visits everyone. And the way we choose to continue living will be profoundly shaped by awareness of that fast-draining hourglass marking the moments before we finish.
When I first realized I was going to die, I was on the first floor of life. I now find myself on the sixth (I am 50) and well aware that I have already used up most of my time. But in Christ I have peace that life is still worth living — fully. I know that “after my skin is destroyed . . . in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). I see that Christ’s empty grave releases “those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15).
I am truly free. Until He returns, I will go on investing in life — and in Christ’s kingdom. It is time well spent, and it is good to know that many long years after my death friends will suddenly think they see me in a crowd . . . and it will be true.
* As Oscar Cullmann famously did in 1965.
— Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director for the Voice of Prophecy.kmaran Wed, 04/08/2020 - 14:19
A doctor of social work degree (D.S.W.) will be offered by the Walla Walla University Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology beginning June 2020. Applications for the program are being accepted at wallawalla.edu/DSW with a deadline of May 1, 2020.
The 2.5-year online program will provide a focus on teaching in higher education and preparation for leadership positions in the social work profession. The program will be interactive and is designed to be accessible for working professionals. Classes will be taught in real-time using videoconferencing, online asynchronous coursework with a learning management system, and weeklong summer residencies.
“One of our goals for this program is to train scholars who will change the landscape of professional social work practice through research, education, and leadership,” said Susan Smith, WWU professor of social work and sociology and director of the D.S.W. program.
The mission of the D.S.W. program is to develop experienced social work practitioners into outstanding educators and leaders who engage in the dissemination of scholarly knowledge to invigorate social work practice and advance social justice.
Students in the D.S.W. program will benefit from the 41-year history of excellence in social work instruction in the WWU School of Social Work and Sociology. The doctoral program will build upon the WWU bachelor of social work and master of social work programs, which are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. WWU offers bachelor of social work and master of social work degrees on its main campus in College Place, Washington, and a master of social work degree in Missoula, Montana; and Billings, Montana.
Some of the core requirements for the D.S.W. degree will include Ethics and Social Responsibility; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Leadership Theory; Innovations in Social Work Education; Strategic Management; and a capstone research project. The program at WWU will be the only D.S.W. program in the Pacific Northwest and one of only two D.S.W programs on the West Coast. WWU will be one of only a handful of institutions across the country to offer a faith-based D.S.W. program.
“As socially conscious members of a faith-based institution, all of our students are called to think critically about the role that spirituality, religion, and faith play in their lives and in the lives of those around them as they serve others and pursue justice,” said Smith. Two candidates will be selected from each cohort for paid teaching assistant positions and a full tuition waiver. To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit wallawalla.edu/DSW.
—Kim Strobel is the University Relations Supervisor at Walla Walla University.georgiadamsteegt Wed, 04/08/2020 - 05:38
Randy Robinson, treasurer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), recently spoke with Kimberly Luste Maran, an associate director of communication for the NAD, about his role, and how the division is functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview was conducted entirely online.
Kimberly Luste Maran: I’m thankful that we’re able to talk through cyberspace as our office family serves virtually. This is a time of great uncertainty, change, and adaptation. How are you doing?
Randy Robinson: By God’s grace, so far my wife Denise and I are well. We are communicating regularly with Denise’s parents, to make sure they are OK. They live just a few minutes from us. We also touch base with our two sons and their wives, making sure everyone is well where they live. These are very interesting times! I appreciate much more now the ability to move around freely since that privilege has been significantly restricted. I pray that all of our members are well and safe, and I am grateful that so far, my family is safe.
You are the treasurer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. In a nutshell, how do you analyze the finances of the division; what criteria do you use in figuring out the financial health of this organization?
Before I get into a detailed explanation, I want to say my job sits on two foundational realities. First, I am responsible to God for how I do my job. And second, I would not be here without the faithfulness of God’s people and their investment in the Seventh-day Adventist Church!
Getting current, accurate, and regular financial reports is the critical requirement. The NAD treasury team does an awesome job of providing me with that information. I evaluate the financial health of the NAD on a monthly basis. That includes digesting the monthly interim financial statements, comparing actual performance with the budget, and recommending adjustments as necessary. Without getting into the financial weeds, there is one metric that I pay particular attention to: the number of days of cash we have on hand. That is an indicator that tells us, if all income stopped today, how long we can do business. I recommend that every organization know that indicator, and monitor it on a regular basis. If that is healthy, it will prove invaluable when difficult times come, similar to what we are facing now. By the way, the NAD indicator is currently healthy!
Share with us the division’s financial picture as of December 31, 2019.
As I mentioned, our cash reserves are in a good place, and overall we are healthy financially. At the end of 2019, the North American Division is strong financially — thanks to the generosity of it’s amazing members and God’s abundant blessings!
The true health of an organization is tested when times are challenging. Some people ask why we store cash away or plan to have reserves intentionally. They may ask, why not spend all the cash and resources for mission rather than save it?
It is times like these when we find the answer to that question. Someone once said, “There is no mission without margin.” I strongly subscribe to that position. Cash on hand and a strong balance sheet, which the NAD has, gives us the chance to operate successfully through a downturn, and to maintain support of the mission we are called to. We can continue to provide needed appropriations to our organizations that depend on them. We can continue to pay employees. We can find ways to creatively operate outside the office. We may even be able to provide some assistance for struggling organizations.
As the first quarter of 2020 draws to a close, how have you seen the COVID-19 pandemic impact tithes and offerings in the division? Or is it too early to tell? We know that this time of upheaval and unease is affecting our members who have been so faithful.
First and foremost, I know this is God’s church. He will absolutely care for His people. It may be uncomfortable and uncertain from our perspective. But I trust in Him to carry us through. On that foundation things are, admittedly, unclear. I anticipate a tithe drop from two points of view. First, our churches are closed, and second, many of our members are losing their employment due to this situation. These factors will undoubtedly have an effect and we really won’t know what that is until the April tithes and offerings are accounted for across the division.
Because of the current financial health of the NAD, we have the opportunity to sustain normal operations as well as continue regular appropriations to our member organizations for up to six months, even if we sustain significant tithe losses.
I think our faithful members will continue to be faithful. They may need just a bit of time to adjust to giving in a way other than placing funds in an offering plate. That is not an option now. But I know they will find a way.
One great option is AdventistGiving, an online mechanism that makes it easy to continue giving through a person’s own local church (if the church is one of the many on the www.AdventistGiving.org platform) straight from their bank account, debit card, or credit card.
My church is not meeting on Sabbath right now due to state restrictions, so I cannot give at church. My wife and I went to AdventistGiving and returned our tithes and offerings to our local church in Ellicott City, Maryland. It really is easy. I hope church members try it!
What might the pandemic mean for the NAD’s local churches, conferences, unions, and other entities in the next few weeks/months?
We really do not know quite yet. At the division, we anticipate a downturn, but right now it is hard to say how we will be affected. We are preparing ourselves financially by reducing our spending, encouraging our members to continue their faithfulness, and praying for the grace of God to guide us through this difficult time.
I am so encouraged by the reports I am getting — and by my own experience in my local church. How creatively we are staying together! The other day, our church had a drive-thru prayer event. We drove into our church parking lot, the pastoral team and elders placed their hands on our cars, and prayed for us! What a great way to minister! We kept our distance, and still were ministered to. We also receive regular short video clips from our pastor encouraging us. We participate in a virtual worship service every Sabbath. We are so blessed even during a difficult time!
In what ways have you seen technology help in both our service to the field and in giving?
Actually, this has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. The office closings came so fast that we barely had time to figure out what to do. But we were able to transition our employees to their homes and continue to operate the organization. This same thing has happened across the division! Phones are being answered, important meetings are continuing via Zoom, bills and employees are being paid. The mission of the church is going forward. God has provided us with technology to pull this off and amazing information and technology services (ITS) teams to help us through! I did not think the organization could do it so successfully, but by God’s grace, ingenuity, great people with great minds, technology, and flexibility on the part of our employees, it happened and continues to be successful.
How do you see technology playing a part in the future of the church, its services, and its finances — both in the local context and at the division?
I think we learned a lesson through this experience. We can do much more business in a virtual environment. There will always be a need for face-to-face meetings and travel. But we have learned that much of that travel can be curtailed or eliminated. That can be applied to every level of the organization. I have participated in Zoom meetings successfully with nearly 300 people online. Trainings are happening, board meetings are conducted, and classes are being taken successfully online. This is a huge takeaway for me, and I hope we do not lose sight of it once things get back to “normal.”
We know that times will continue to be challenging for everyone. How long do you foresee the church in North America being able to function as it currently operates?
Policy states in most cases that an organization should have between three and six months of liquid reserves. The NAD has very close to six months. I hope and pray that we do not have to face the possibility of employee reductions, however, that may be a reality for some of our organizations, depending on how long this situation lasts and what kind of toll it takes on our members’ employment.
I want to again thank our members for their faithfulness, even in difficult times! I am amazed at their generosity, and it creates in me an obligation to use those resources in the most efficient way possible. But we do have to face the reality that some of our members may lose their income and thereby lose the ability to return tithe. We do our best to plan for it. We cut back on our expenditures and as a last resort, organizations may be faced with looking at personnel adjustments. That is evaluated organization by organization and may look different depending on individual circumstances. There are mechanisms in policy that help us do that as carefully as possible. We try our best to create a situation where the affected personnel land on their feet. But of course, that possibility is one that is difficult and one that we hope to leave as a last resort.
Small businesses and those people with income instability will be receiving government help. Will the government help defray costs for operating our churches? How about conferences, unions, other entities, and the division—is there government support coming?
The recently passed CARES Act delivers several options for helping U.S. based businesses, including non-profit church organizations such as ours, survive this challenging time. There are loan opportunities to help organizations get through the most difficult times. There are also tax credits available to those who keep their employees on payroll. There are several other government assistance options that we are looking at. Our Canadian organizations are also exploring options from their government that may be of assistance. Our legal teams look over these types of benefits to make sure there are not unwanted strings attached that as Christians, we would object to. It appears, in this case, that there may be some opportunities for us to accept some help if it becomes necessary.
Does the church in North America have anything along these lines to help local church workers such as teachers and pastors?
The financial structure of the church has anticipated these kinds of situations — to a degree.
Some people think tithe is given to the conference, then it goes on to the union, division, and General Conference — never to be seen again. But that’s not true. Yes, some resources stay in those parts of the organization. But the largest portion by far is “repurposed” and sent back toward the grass roots to assist education, evangelistic efforts, and conferences that have fewer resources. There are significant sums of money that flow back through the organization and target areas that may have less financial lifting power.
One significant evidence of funds flowing back is that overall, we pay ministers the same base wage. Unlike the congregational model where a large church with wealthy members can pay its ministers a large sum, our ministers are paid on the same scale regardless of the church size. That means we can have churches in large urban areas as well as smaller rural areas and still have pastoral support. Our teachers are paid on a similar basis.
That is just one example. There are several other ways funds are returned back to local areas where they would otherwise be unavailable. Again, I have to thank our members for faithfully investing their tithe dollars in the church. Without their partnership, we would not be able to direct funds in ways where every part of the field receives benefit.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I have one last question: What do you take comfort from during these times fraught with uncertainty?
I am trained to be financially conservative. I do my best to place God’s church on a sound financial footing. As important as that is to me, it is secondary to my belief that this is God’s church. I take great comfort in the statement by Ellen G. White that it will seem as though the church will fall. But it will not fall (see Selected Messages, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1958, 1980, book 2, p. 380). God will see it through!
While we now experience one of those times when things seem shaky, I am absolutely confident in God’s leading and protection. God will never leave or forsake us!
I pray daily for wisdom, discernment, and strength to lead according to God’s plan, not just for myself, but for His leaders and members all around the world. We are a family — God’s family. No matter what happens, that is solid and absolute. I do not fear for the church because it is God’s church and He will see it through!kmaran Tue, 04/07/2020 - 15:17
Even before his state issued a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19, Desta Gelgelu, an economics professor, church planter, and pastor of the Oromo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, called his conference executive secretary for advice. This conversation strengthened Gelgelu’s conviction that something had to be done to protect the Oromo-speaking church members from the potential spread of the virus.
It was March 13, a Friday afternoon. Gelgelu, or Pastor Desta, as he is known by his congregation, quickly called his core elders together on a teleconference. They decided not worship in the church for the March 14 Sabbath services.
For a congregation that loves to spend all day every Sabbath fellowshipping together at the church, this would leave a huge void! The leaders scrambled to put together an alternate plan. They turned to teleconference and livestreaming on Facebook.
"Now we are reaching out to five times the number we were reaching before!" Pastor Desta explains. He shares that their church building only accommodates around 250 people, but on that first Sabbath of livestreaming, the reach grew to more than a thousand viewers from around the world. Viewers watched from Australia, Africa, Canada, and states across the U.S., chiming in with spontaneous, affirming comments. When the service finished, people from around the world joined with a hearty, "Amen!"
"The current situation is a blessing in disguise," Pastor Desta says. "It forced us to go out of the box.As it is written in Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’”
“And even this [pandemic], which is a crisis, in one way is working for good,” he adds. “The church is forced to learn something new. Financially, we will be hurt. Spiritually, we pray that we will come out richer than we were before.”
Describing the needs during this time, Pastor Desta says, “People are talking about hand sanitizer. Much more than that, it is time for us to talk about Jesus Christ, who sanitizes us from all our sins.People are rushing to buy bread, but now it is time for us to rush to get the bread of life, the Word of God.”
Pastor Desta, who also serves as the North American Division’s church planting consultant for the Oromo language group, and his team are initiating prayer chains, children’s ministry trainings, and Bible studies throughout the week during this time.
“That sense of attachment and community, we don’t want it to decrease,” he says. “Human instruments are fragile and fail, but God is omnipotent. When they tell us to be far away from each other, no one can tell us to be far away from our God.”
— Terri Saelee is coordinator of Adventist Refugee & Immigrant Ministries for the North American Division.kmaran Wed, 04/01/2020 - 17:55