May 5, 2022 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

As the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America began its annual mid-year business meetings this week, 103-year-old Elizabeth Moses from The Bahamas appealed to dozens of executive committee members to carry a fervent desire for the youth and children in the church and the community.

“We are losing too many of them [young people] to the negative influences of the world and we should extend every bit of our energy to engage with them for the saving of their souls,” said Moses.

Elizabeth Moses, 103, challenged executive committee members during the opening of Inter-American Division’s Mid-Year Meetings, to carry a fervent desire for the youth and children in the church and the community.[IAD Screenshot]

Moses, whose father was the first Seventh-day Adventist baptized member in The Bahamas, said growing up in the church, taught her how important the godly influence of church leaders can be in the life of others. “I look back at how important those times influenced my life and developed my understanding of my God and my church.”

Moses, who has served in her church for decades, challenged the more than 150 church administrators and leaders. “Prepare the youth to serve the church today and the future, use avenues to reach them, keeping them close to God, our doctrines and church,” she said.

Secretary’s report

Against the backdrop of faithful pioneers like Moses who have been significant in the growth of the church in Inter-America for over 100 years, Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary for the church in Inter-America, began his report to the executive body in Miami, Florida, and through video conference, May 4, 2022.

Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary of the church in Inter-America presents his report to the IAD Executive Committee, from Miami, Florida, United States, on May 4, 2022. [Photo: Keila Trejo/IAD]

“Our origin or genesis is a result of small beginnings, but what we see today is expansive,” said Johnson. From a bundle of tracts sent to Haiti in 1879 by J.N. Loughborough from Britain, tract sent on a ship scheduled to sail from New York to British Guiana by W.J. Boynton, a worker of the International Track Society, in 1883; tracts distributed in Honduras by Mrs. E. Gauterau in 1885, to literature evangelists George King and William Arnold who traveled to the Caribbean in 1887, the territory saw the first official Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America with 40 members in Georgetown, British Guiana in 1887.

With the official establishment of the Inter-American Division in 1922, the territory was composed of the eastern union group and western union group.  From headquarter offices in New York, Panama, then Cuba, later in 1946 in several locations in South Florida, current office building has been located in Miami since 2000.

“Our history is a rich one,” said Johnson. “You can see our beginning was small but look at where we are today.” From 1922 there was a membership of 8,000, to today with over 3.6 million members.

“We went from two regional groups to 24 unions operating 156 local fields, 23,000 churches and congregations, 22,000 employees and more than 3,000 ministerial workers,” reported Johnson. “Small beginnings have mushroomed to something significant and grand.”

Record of when the first official Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized in Inter-America. the church has 40 members in Georgetown, British Guiana. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

Membership and new congregations

In 2021, there were 349 new congregations compared to 94 new congregations organized in 2020. “Our operations are starting to normalize thanks to the faithfulness of our leaders and members to continue advancing the mission,” said Johnson.

The Chiapas Mexican Union leads with the most churches and congregations with a total of 3,309, trailed by the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union with 3,304 , he reported. From the perspective of members per congregation, some smaller unions take the lead such as the Dutch Caribbean with an average of 457 members in each congregation, followed by the Jamaica Union with 451 members per congregation.

The membership in Inter-America stands at 3,661,426, with 23,817 churches and congregations. The pastor-to-member and pastor-to-church ratios stand at 1,152 and 4.9, respectively.

In a population of more than 300 million throughout the territory, the figures show that there is one Seventh-day Adventist to every 83 people, reported Johnson. Compared to the population in 1922 of 40 million in the entire Division territory, there is one Seventh-day Adventist for every 4,000 people.

Membership statistics since the Inter-American Division was organized in 1922. [Image: IAD screenshot]

Losses in membership audits

Pastor Johnson reported that there were 124,047 baptisms in 2021; additions and letters of transfer raised that total to 173,591. Unfortunately, the Division saw a loss of 14,263 members, he said.

“We are not just highlighting the problem in Secretariat, we are seeking to address the problem in terms of our strategic planning of holding membership audit trainings, evaluations and working policy trainings with union executive secretaries’ council to address this issue,” said Johnson. “We want to minimize this great loss of members not being accounted for, encouraging trainings to facilitate in membership audits at local fields and union levels, encouraging full implementation and application of the Adventist Church Management System (ACM).

Committee members were informed that there are 31 international service employees throughout the IAD and 33 IAD Adventist volunteers serving in the world church territory

Pioneer leaders made a difference

Circling back to pioneer leaders who made a difference in Inter-America, Johnson pointed out that the first native “son” of Inter-America to hold a top leadership position as executive secretary was Bender L. Archbold in 1966.

Photos of former administrators who led in the Inter-American Division early on. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

Four years later Archbold became the first inter-American president hailing from Providencia. Jose Figueroa from Puerto Rico became executive secretary in 1970, then Pastor George W. Brown, as president in 1980-1993. Pastor Brown grew the membership to one million. He was followed by Israel Leito, who led the church from 1994-2018 and was the longest tenured IAD president. Leito oversaw the expansion of the church to three million members. The current president, Pastor Elie Henry, took over in 2018.

“As I end this historic report, I thought to encapsulate the accomplishments of the past, of those who came before us to where we are today in mission to ‘I Will Go’ in evangelizing, educating and serving the community. We continue to serve Him,” Johnson concluded.

Pastor Gerson Santos, associate secretary of the Adventist world church, shared a word of affirmation at the end of Johnson’s report. “I felt a deep feeling of commitment, seeing the dedication of brothers and sisters in the IAD, that deep rich history in Inter-America,” said Santos. “What amazing lessons of commitment and dedication of our pioneers to the remarkable growth today.”

There’s been outstanding growth in congregations and it’s challenging to account for members, he said.  “It requires courage, commitment, transparency, and integrity. There are loses but we cannot assess if those who have left 20 years ago or two years ago. So it’s important that the church is moving forward and seeing hundreds of new congregations organized each year. That’s a great indicator that the church is really growing,” he added.

Departmental leaders at IAD Headquarters pray during the initial meetings of the business meetings on May 4, 2022. [Photo: Keila Trejo/IAD]

Ismael Castillo, president of Montemorelos University, said that serving the church for 49 years has been very special. “Being part of this movement has been of great inspiration in my life and I praise God not only for the numerical growth, quality but a growth that we are a great family of hope here,” said Castillo.

“The greatest days for Inter-America are still to come,” said Lincoln Edwards, president of the Northern Caribbean University. “We look forward to the Spirit of God to be working in a mightier way.”

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