We boarded the buses at 7:30 a.m. on August 9 and headed 30 minutes west to Brazil Adventist University (UNASP) for Day 1 of the GAiN (Global Adventist Internet Network) Conference.
In keeping with the motto of GAiN, “Wired for Mission,” the day’s presentations were dedicated to hearing about the mission of the Adventist Church from individuals directly involved in the cause: the Global Mission Center directors.
It turns out I was well prepared for the day’s presentations. On the four-hour van ride from airport to hotel yesterday, I got to chat with Clifmond Shameerudeen, director of the Center for South Asian Religions, and hear a bit from Petras Bahadur, director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations, about their unique challenges bringing the Adventist message to Hindus and Muslims, respectively.
This morning, I got another preview of things to come from Doug Venn, director of the Global Mission Urban Center, who kindly practiced his presentation on me during the bus ride. His focus? How to reach the lonely and isolated in cities.
We arrived on campus with little time to spare, but there was still opportunity to admire UNASP’s expansive main campus with its freshly tilled red soil, palm trees, and tropical flowers - which were being planted as we pulled up. It’s winter here in South America which means the temperature drops to the mid-50s (F) at night, but still rises to high 80s and low 90s during the day, which closely matches what I’m used to this time of year during a typical North American Midwest summer.
The meetings are taking place in the campus church which appears to be under some extensive renovations at the moment. There’s fresh paint in the corridors, carpets are torn up (watch your step), and here and there some of the stadium-style seats in the amphitheater are conspicuously absent. The speakers present from a makeshift podium at the front. The audio-visual equipment is top-notch though, as one would expect from a conference focused on communication, media, and technology. There’s certainly no missing a speaker’s words as the mics are turned up full blast, the sound literally vibrating through the seats during particularly energetic moments.
Day 1 of the conference started with worship and then moved on to announcements where we learned the pickup time for our field trip tomorrow (6:30 a.m.). We’ll be visiting Novo Tempo (the South American Division’s media center), Casa Publicadora Brasileira (the Brazilian Publishing House), and the South American Division’s new Technology Institute (IATec).
The first presentation was from Gary Krause, GC associate secretary and director of the Office of Adventist Mission. He kicked off the day with an introduction to the Global Mission Centers and their mission.
He told the audience that most Adventists have come from either tribal/animist groups or other Christian religions. Very few have converted from Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam. The Mission Centers seek to change that.
Next up was Petras Bahadur who presented on the challenges in bringing Muslims to Adventism. Part of the problem is that many Adventist churches do not want to reach out to Muslims in their neighborhoods. This needs to change, Bahadur implored. We have an important call to work with Muslims where we live and share the good news of Christ.
Kleber Goncalves, director of the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies then presented on reaching the “nones” - postmodern individuals who don’t identify with any religion and don’t feel religion is necessary for their lives.
He identified millennials as the main target in this mission. How do we connect to this new generation, the majority of which have left the faith of their upbringing and identify as non-religious? Technology is key, said Goncalves. Millennials are on electronic devices seven or more hours a day, so we must utilize this medium to gain their attention.
Goncalves identified three principles for reaching millennials: be willing to be flexible in the way you reach them, give them options, and most importantly, see them as individuals and treat them as such. We need to reach not just their minds, but their hearts, he reminded.
Next, Richard Elofer presented on the World Jewish-Adventist Friendship Center. He told the audience that the Adventist message wasn’t reaching Jewish people until congregations were designed specifically for them. There are now 65 Adventist-Jewish congregations in 17 countries across the world. He reminded that the “Jewish-Adventist ministry is as old as the Adventist Church itself,” referring to Ellen White’s writings on the topic of ministering to Jews. He encouraged attendees to visit jewishadventist.org to learn more about the friendship centers and their mission.
Doug Venn then took the stage and I got to hear his presentation a second time. He cited a recent psychological study that shows loneliness is a world health epidemic. There’s a correlation between loneliness and isolation and mortality. Venn asked the audience, “Do we care about the lonely or are we facing the problem where we only want to talk about ourselves, to ourselves?”
He discussed mission initiatives within urban settings that bring educational training and mental health support to people. They focus on training people in the STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) so they have a skillset that will help bring them out of poverty. On-site counselors and therapists help people who are struggling with feelings of loneliness, depression, addiction, and more. The majority of the world’s population lives in an urban setting and bringing Adventism to these individuals in tangible ways is crucial.
After a short break where the audience was led through a series of stretches and exercises, Clif Shameerudeen took the stage to discuss bringing the Adventist message to the world’s Hindu population which totals over 1 billion. “How are Hindus finding Jesus Christ?” Shameerudeen asked. In addition to Hinduism, the Center for South Asian Religions also seeks to reach those who practice Jainism and Sikhism.
Next, husband and wife team Greg and Amy Whitsett from the Center of East Asian Religions discussed the challenges and opportunities for reaching the Buddhist population, as well as those who practice Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Finding common ground is important: remembering that like Adventists, those from East Asian religions strive to live morally, desire peace, and seek to live in harmony with the world around them.
The Whitsetts were the last of the morning presentations and then it was on to project slams. Project slams are an opportunity for individuals to share information on a project they’re working on with the group. Each “slam” gets seven minutes. The projects ranged from a Bible study app for college students, to a virtual reality Bible Adventure app for kids, to a series of health classes, to an announcement about the Adventist Online Learning Conference happening at Andrews University in October.
After lunch in the UNASP cafeteria, Michael-John Von Hörsten, the medical coordinator for ADRA’s Kurdistan Clinic discussed the role of Adventist Help in providing emergency medical care to refugees. Von Hörsten shared heartbreaking stories of providing physical and psychological aid to those who have been affected by ISIS. One man’s three young children were killed by ISIS and his wife kidnapped. Von Hörsten also discussed the unique psychological needs of children rescued from ISIS training camps who have been trained to kill and often try to murder parents and siblings once home.
He shared a quote from the Tennessee Office for Refugees: “To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.”
Next, Rick Kajiura from the Office of Adventist Mission shared “The Golden Rule for Shooting Video Stories.” His travel tips for videographers included traveling alone or in a small group, traveling light (just the basics), and the ability to adapt.
He also shared tips for keeping the subjects of your stories safe when in the mission field, reminding the audience that some individuals may face threats and physical harm to themselves and their loved ones for speaking about their Christian faith. These tips included not identifying people or places in a story, avoiding sensitive and direct keywords that may make someone a target, avoiding church jargon, and running the final version of a story by the people in that particular mission field, as they are the ones who will face any consequences for the stories.
Next, all of the Global Mission presenters took the stage for a panel discussion and question and answer period with the audience. One question that led to extensive discussion was about the fact that the majority of Adventist church members across the globe are immigrants in their countries; it’s proven very hard to attract a country’s natives to the church, whether you’re in Great Britain, Paris, the United States, or elsewhere. How do we increase the number of Brits or French or Americans in our churches and help them understand the Adventist Church is for them, too? Greg Whitsett reminded, “We have to have intentional programs to reach all people groups, not just those that respond the fastest.”
After another short stretching break, the audience was given a brief introduction to the world of YouTubers. There are over 100 Brazilian Adventist YouTubers who have the capacity to reach an audience of over 1 million. 20 of them were in the audience and came up on stage to talk about how they share their faith with their unique audiences.
Next, Corrado Cozzi, communication director for the Inter-European Division, treated the audience to a sneak preview of a new documentary series called “The Vision,” about the earliest mission work in Basel, Switzerland.
Last on the agenda for the day was a fuller introduction to our GAiN host, UNASP. Students took the stage to tell us all about UNASP. With over 17,000 students on three campuses, a total of 2,345 acres of land, 17 undergraduate programs, 28 post-graduate programs, and an unmeasurable amount of passion and energy, UNASP’s mission is far-reaching. Students come from all across the globe to study at UNASP.
The approximately 30-minute presentation was complete with an interactive video (students live-acted and narrated while the video played), and multiple choirs took to the stage to sing praise songs. Throughout the video, the students stressed that in addition to a great education, they were here to share in the mission of the Church, and then to take that mission back to their homelands.
The 100+ students who had come on stage at various points throughout the presentation were first dressed in shiny white choir robes, which were whipped off at the end to reveal their native dress from all across the globe. The joyful and exuberant presentation was met with a standing ovation from the audience. It was an energetic conclusion to Day 1 of GAiN.
I’ll be reporting on each day’s events for Spectrum. You can also follow live updates on our Twitter feed at @spectrummag. The official hashtag for the conference is #GAiN17
See also: GAiN Conference Day Zero
Alisa Williams is managing editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.
Image Credit: gain.adventist.org
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