December 30, 2008 – Miami, Florida, United States…[Libna Stevens/IAD]
As 2008 comes to a close, the church in Inter-America continues to enjoy explosive growth, thanks to aggressive initiatives in evangelism, member retention, education, technology, as well as significant strides in community outreach throughout the territory.
This year has seen the baptism of more than 127,500 souls. Nearly 50,000 of these baptized souls joined the church during the division-wide evangelistic initiative celebration called Pentecost and More, which took place March 15. The historic three-and-a-half-hour program took place during a satellite broadcast around the world from Kingston, Jamaica, the hub of the event.
Pentecost and More was the culmination of the commitment of strong ministers and church members united in evangelizing in thousands of churches, tents and groups throughout the territory.
In order to effectively serve the fast growing membership, the Division had to reorganize the territory this year, expanding from 15 unions to 17. The newly established Central Mexican Union will cater to the vast population of Mexico City, and the Belize Union of Churches became the newest addition to the Division.
Efforts have continued this year to upgrade the territory mission fields to conference level in order to leave room for additional territories to be organized. So far 11 missions have been upgraded to conference status. Currently there are 54 conferences and 49 mission fields throughout Inter-America.
As the church in Inter-America expands, it has also seen a renewed dedication to the retention of new and established members in 2008. Thanks to aggressive evangelism initiatives focused on prayer, Bible study, and member training throughout thousands of churches in the territory, a membership retention rate of 97% of the total membership was realized. At almost every level of the church, including Division headquarters, a high-level church executive has been assigned the sole task of designing and implementing special programs to instruct, inspire, and involve members to become active in the mission of the church.
One such program in Inter-America is small groups training. Thousands of administrators, pastors and laypeople have been trained to use small groups as a growth and retention tool to improve the spiritual life of its members. Under the direction of a small group ministries leader, this year has seen an increase of more than 15,000 small groups throughout the territory, bringing the total to over 56,800 small groups in Inter-America. It's a ministry that is spreading like wildfire and proving to strengthen the church in Inter-America.
As church membership and small groups grow, so must temples be built to accommodate the unstoppable sprouting of new congregations. The church in Inter-America will endeavor in aiding new congregations an appropriate place to worship.
Taken the concept of the One Day Church project-where a ready-to assemble metal and roof structure is provided, the project was amplified by one of Inter-America's unions to fit their growing needs of the church territory. With a metal structure, roof and a front entrance side, these new structures will be adopted for city churches as well as for rural areas accordingly. So far, Inter-America is in need of more than 4,000 such temples to accommodate the growing congregations.
Not only is Inter-America focused on growth and retention, but also in assessing its purpose and plans to attain organizational excellence. The IAD's Executive Committee unanimously indicated a desire to be the world's best-run organization to the honor and glory of God, after spending four days in training earlier this year with the General Conference Office of Assessment director Mr. Paul Brantley and Dr. Ella Simmons. Committee members reviewed practices, plans, and results and took an action to have every of its unions, local fields and institutions implement the Seven-Point Planning & Assessment System as part of each entities' yearly budgeting process.
Inter-America has been committed to working progressively toward higher levels of assessment beyond the basic level as soon as possible through the Division's Office of Leadership training. This office will ensure that robust assessment systems are in place within all of the union territories.
Caring for the vast ministerial workforce was another focus in 2008. More than 900 district pastors and their spouses gathered for the first territory-wide ministerial summit. The ministers were spiritually recharged, and encouraged to reacquaint themselves with their pastoral identity in the context of the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities in their respective regions. They were also urged to continue training elders and laypeople, making it possible to reconnect in a more personal way with their membership.
One of the youngest ministries in Inter-America, Chaplaincy Ministries, took a larger step this year as it gathered dozens of chaplains for a special symposium, designed to unify efforts in networking, training, and improving the ministry with continuing education throughout the territory.
More than 100 regional education directors, university presidents and educators took a special tour of the Holy Land this year. Designed to enrich educators and minister's knowledge of Biblical history, the tour inspired and renewed leaders to continue to inspire, teach and train the thousands of men and women enrolled in our educational institutions and thousands more attending churches.
This year saw the launch of new Bible textbooks for students enrolled in hundreds of elementary schools throughout the region. More than 100,000 textbooks and teacher guides ranging from kinder to fifth grade were printed in Spanish, replacing the decades old textbooks. English and French translations are schedule to be completed next year. The new textbooks are helping children capture the biblical lessons they need for spiritual growth.
Another milestone was reached when, after almost four decades, an independently-accredited seminary on Cuba held its graduation ceremony. Once an extension of Montemorelos University in Mexico, the Adventist Theological Seminary in Havana was granted accreditation by the Adventist Accrediting Association last year, but celebrated earlier in 2008 during the graduation of 33 new pastors. The seminary grants bachelor's degrees in theology to men and women each year, providing a much-needed work force of pastors and Bible workers committed to spreading the gospel in Cuba.
Inter-America's Publishing Association celebrated 25 years of history and growth in the territory. Hundreds gathered to witness and celebrate the success of IADPA to honor its founders and leaders, past and present. From its humble beginnings, IADPA now is a multi-million dollar organization and ranks highest in sales of Spanish-language Adventist literature, and number four in world-wide sales behind the Brazil Publishing House, Pacific Press, and Review and Herald.
One of its most recent ambitious projects launched this year was the publication of the set of Spirit of Prophecy's Testimonies to the Church in Spanish. A labor which took years of translating and editing is now available in all 9 volumes.
The French translation is presently underway.
Another focus in 2008 was technology. Focus was given to technology as intensive training throughout the territory has been given through the netAdventist software that allows churches to connect globally with other Advenitst communities through the internet. Dozens of workshops have been conducted throughout Inter-America this year as the church plans to enroll nearly 1,000 of its churches on the netAdventist platform. Inter-America is offering churches free enrollment. So far, more than 200 have registered in the system.
The Inter-American Division also launched a brand new magazine to cater to its vast church territory this year. Called Adventist Life in the Inter-American Division offers readers articles promoting the family, on stewardship, and theology, resources available while featuring news from the vast territory. The quarterly magazine is distributed in Spanish, English and French.
Urged with the mission of reaching out to the millions who are not able to read and write, the division and Hope for Humanity held a special literacy conference as a launching pad to take further steps to end illiteracy in our churches and communities, and to incorporate literacy into the strategic planning of each church organization in the territory. Literacy coordinators and teacher volunteers, in addition to ministers and administrators, participated in hands-on training to expand efforts in combating illiteracy in Inter-America.
This partnership (with Hope for Humanity) continues to invest funds and resources to support literacy programs throughout its territory and envisions a transformation of each church into a literacy center by enabling church members to reach out in service to the community.
So far 11 countries in the territory have active literacy programs in hundreds of communities.
Many churches and countries joined together in Inter-America to provide aid to victims of the devastating storms and hurricanes which have affected the Caribbean during the past few weeks. Through church member volunteers and ADRA thousands of disaster victims have benefitted from relief supplies, shelter and continued support in the hardest hit countries like Haiti, Cuba, Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, and Jamaica.
Committed to reaching the less fortunate, the church in Inter-America involve thousands of its members into what was considered the most ambitious community outreach project ever attempted in the territory…providing a meal for one million of the neediest people in Inter-America. This community outreach project was a division-wide activity held Oct. 11, 2008. The activity also promoted awareness for the needy who go hungry every day.
Designated as Inter-America's Day of Kindness and Compassion, the event was coordinated by youth ministries and ADRA leaders in each union and conference throughout the territory. Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists throughout our 17 unions volunteered and coordinated with local authorities and community leaders to accomplish this benevolent activity, thereby igniting the spirit of giving and compassion needed in our world today.
Soon after this activity, the church in Inter-America began a series of unscripted dialogue sessions between top church leaders and the local church.
The dialogue meetings were designed to improve communication by talking about concerns, needs, and issues that local church leaders and members may have, as well as resolve issues, promote networking and team spirit in order to attain a higher level of unity.
The first two-and-a-half hour dialogue session called Facing the Issues was held in Puerto Rico early last month, five additional venues are scheduled during the following months throughout the territory. These dialogue sessions will be streamed live over the internet.
By the grace of God, the church in Inter-America continues to experience amazing growth thanks to the commitment and dedication of its church members. As church members continue actively work to make disciples, so has the good news of Jesus' resurrection and love spread throughout their communities, as well as the hope of His soon return. We in Inter-America glorify God for His goodness in 2008 and pledge to do our part in sharing the Gospel with the millions still in need of preparing for the Kingdom.
To learn more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America and its major events and activities, visit us at www.interamerica.org