How Great Thou Art
A report from the Inter-American Division president
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chron. 16:23-25).
As we take stock of this quinquennium, the Inter-American Division (IAD) has to conclude that it has been greatly blessed by the Lord. By His Spirit He has done wonders in the 42 countries comprising Inter-America. So vast is His grace, so great is His love manifested to His children, so sublime is His mercy to save hundreds of thousands in this territory, that no superlatives can proclaim the fullness of His glory. We can only exclaim, “My God, how great Thou art.”
Every Sabbath, as we open the doors of more than 20,000 churches, to allow nearly 4 million members and their friends to worship, their praises ring out, echoing the refrain, “O God, how great Thou art.” Our hearts beat in unison as we recognize the greatness of our Lord and humbly say, “Thank You, Lord, for loving us beyond measure.”
His works bear witness to the reality of these inspired words from Ellen White: “There is no limit to the usefulness of the one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God.”*
Focused on the growth and advancement of God’s work and believing these inspired words of Ellen White, the administration of the Inter-American Division, depending on and trusting completely in divine direction, set out to achieve several goals during this five-year period.
Preparing the Best Ministers
Having received the highest accreditation awarded to a theological seminary, the Inter-American Theological Seminary (IATS) was formally established. After we had worked for many years, and relied on other educational institutions, the Lord was merciful to our division in allowing IATS to receive the approval, certification, and accreditation of the Association of Theological Schools.
Besides the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, few Adventist institutions have achieved this level of accreditation. From now on, students completing their graduate studies at IATS will receive an accredited title recognized around the world. We thank the administration and academic staff of IATS that allowed itself to be used by the Lord. Their diligent work will benefit the ministers of our division.
We perceived the Lord’s leading through the consolidation of Herbert Fletcher University (HFU), one of the few schools in the Adventist world that offers an Adventist education totally online. When this institution is fully functional, it will bless thousands of professionals who can further their education without having to leave their homes or their jobs. All documentation has been submitted to the authorities, with a view toward formal approval and the establishment of this online university. We express our warmest thanks to all the institutions that sponsored HFU, helping with the coverage of their degrees until now.
In addition to offering academic degrees, HFU also offers nonformal online instruction for all church leaders. They can be instructed in their specific areas of congregational responsibility, and thus be more efficient. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they will give more effective service to the church.
Thousands of Spotlights
This five-year period witnessed impressive growth in the organization of new congregations. In 2010, leaders issued the challenge of converting all existing, qualified, informal groups into organized churches. However, if the challenge was just to convert existing groups into organized churches, it would have meant an end of growth, and serve only in places that have an established Adventist presence.
Subsequently, members were challenged to establish the banner of Prince Emmanuel in places where there was no established Adventist presence. By the grace of God and His leading we have met this challenge, and to date we have nearly as many groups and companies as at the beginning of the quinquennium; and this after converting most of the previous groups and companies into organized churches.
Organizing to Conquer
With the increase in members, places of worship have to be established; and this requires growth in the number of church buildings. With increasing numbers of churches and groups comes the corresponding need for new administrative organizations to coordinate the work. In fact, this has produced a significant increase in local fields, both conferences and missions.
A few years ago the Inter-American Division had about 60 local fields, most of which had mission status. Today, we have 122 local fields, and most of these have conference status.
This exponential growth of local fields has required a strategy to provide leadership at union levels. While the Inter-American Division had 12 unions a few years ago, and most of them had the status of union mission, today there are 24 unions, twice as many! Most of these are now union conferences, and others are in the process of achieving that status.
Vision One Million
At the beginning of the quinquennium, leaders met and laid plans to baptize at least 1 million new members during this five-year period. Vision One Million became the watchword. Today it is more than a slogan. By God’s grace, the Inter-American Division saw more than 1 million members baptized during the past five years, culminating with a division-wide festival of baptisms satellite event that originated from the Caribbean country of Trinidad this year.
The Complete Inter-American Christian
In Inter-America we believe the words of John when he expressed the ideal of a total Christian: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).
Balanced Christians should (1) prosper socially, (2) be in good health, and (3) show strong Christian values.
Well-behaved Christians. Much has been attempted in Inter-America to help Adventists understand that socially they must be the best neighbors, the best citizens, the most trusted coworkers, and the most loyal friends of humanity. They should endeavor to live the life of true Christians. Such programs as Hug a City, Give a Smile, and others have had a great impact the various communities. Only with divine intervention can nearly 4 million persons have such a sterling testimony.
Healthy Christians. During this quinquennium compelling health programs and initiatives were launched in many places in the Inter-American Division. Programs such as I Want to Live Healthfully have been adapted by some governments to bring awareness to the need of living a healthful life as a matter of national priority. Adventist professionals have partnered with civic leaders in promoting a healthy lifestyle for all. Much has been done in keeping the church focused on the health message and its impact on the life of individuals, the church, and the community. Ministers have been recruited to proclaim this great truth.
Moral Christians. When John said, “Even as your soul is getting along well,” he must have had our day and age in mind. So many things compete for our attention. A degradation of generally accepted moral standards can easily lead many astray. But the Lord keeps His people prospering spiritually. Inter-America does not look to the right or to the left, for we know in whom we have believed; and the prosperity of our souls, the certainty of our salvation, is our highest priority.
The financial faithfulness of the church in Inter-America is proverbial. Members believe in the Lord’s work; the church has confidence in its leaders. The generosity of our members causes the church to progress in its mission, not only in Inter-America, but in other parts of the world as well. Our contribution to mission offerings in comparison with tithe is one of the highest in the Adventist world.
The Inter-American Division continues its strong support of the church’s missionary efforts through liberal giving. This can be attributed only to an absolute trust in God, the way the Lord blesses His church, and the dedication of its members.
Faithfully returning tithe is an established practice of church life. This is not by planning or human strategy, because the issue of faithful returning of tithe is a strictly personal and private matter between believers and the Lord.
The Printed Page
One of the best means the Lord has given to His church to accomplish the mission is the work of literature evangelists. Morning, noon, and night these men and women of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, knock on doors, reach people for the Lord, and, above all, leave literature in homes filled with truth.
After years of not devoting enough attention to this important ministry, the Inter-American Division has made the publishing work a priority. Ways of motivating, supporting, and directing literature evangelists have been restored and improved. Canvassing is no longer important for some, but the entire church has been dedicated to strengthening this important and necessary mission.
Provisions have been made so that every faithful literature evangelist can receive due recognition and benefits that the church can offer.
Strength From Unity
The church is not divided, for we have promises that guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Inter-American church recognizes the value and contribution of all its members in the advancement of the mission, commissioned by the Lord to go, preach, and teach (see Matt. 28:19, 20). That’s why the entire year of 2013 was dedicated to recognizing the contribution of lay members, culminating with a special day during which local church elders were allowed to baptize those they had personally brought to the feet of Jesus.
What great joy for lay members! What a blessing this was to the church when elders throughout the territory of Inter-America, supported by the pastors, baptized thousands of individuals.
The church is served not only by ministers. Pastors bear their share of responsibility; but the church belongs to its people, and every member is important for the fulfillment of its mission.
Church leaders have the opportunity to receive nonformal training for the fulfillment of the mission. Tens of thousands worked to complete courses in order to be of greater service to the Lord and His church. The use of technology allowed millions of members to witness this graduation over the Internet.
Our praise will never cease; we will never stop showing gratitude. We want only to become more like Christ and serve Him every day. For this privilege we say, “Great and wonderful are the things the Lord has done,” and is doing, for His church in Inter-America and around the world.
* Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1925), p. 254.