GC Session Through Young Eyes
Young adult delegates share their experience.
Yuriko Ishida didn’t know what to expect at her first General Conference (GC) Session.
“This is all so new to me,” the Northern Asia-Pacific Division delegate said on July 2, the first day of the 10-day session, as she pulled her jacket closed in the air-conditioned Alamodome stadium.
“I’ve never been to the United States; I’ve never been to the GC Session,” she said. “I am glad to be here.”
It didn’t take long for the young delegates to get acquainted with the flow of the Session: morning worship followed by business session, lunch break, business, dinner, and finally evening music and colorful division reports. Many appreciated the organization.
“I’m baffled by the level of organization that I find in this place,” said Pat M. Mwezi, from the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. “Everything seems to work so seamlessly. We are thousands, but everything seems to flow in a way that’s as though we were 50 in number.
“And there’s very little free time: there is no break unless it is intended. I appreciate that. I organize camps for young people, and what I see here is something I can take home and facilitate.”
These two delegates are both in their 20s.
Making important decisions for the future of the church is a necessary task requiring a meeting of minds and spirits through prayerful deliberation. An important factor in ensuring the successful outcome of those meetings is the inclusion of delegates from around the world of various age groups.
But what is the experience like for the young adults who are asked to be part of the official business of the church during the General Conference Session? The Adventist Review spoke with more than two dozen young delegates aged 22 to 35 to catch a glimpse of the session through their eyes.
Kula Baravilala, a delegate from the South Pacific Division, enjoyed the business sessions. She appreciated being able to vote, and she found the discussions fascinating.
“I just loved hearing people’s opinions, and how they agreed to disagree,” she said.
“The Church Manual is a book that I have seen lying around the house but have never taken time to read seriously,” she said. “But after seeing how important it was for guidance, I am totally committed to reading it up.”
Delegates approved a range of revisions to the Church Manual over several days.
Baravilala said she would encourage young people to get involved in church work, “for we are living in extraordinary times.”
East-Central Africa Division delegate Kelvin Walemba said that he particularly was taken by “the varying debates. We had no shortage of esteemed scholars. The precision and keen interest with which each item on the agenda was tackled made me proud of the entire process.”
Some delegates, while appreciating the process, felt somewhat powerless. Angeli Andrea Cocos, a delegate from the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, was one.
“The body [delegates] really do not have much of a say with regards to amendments of Fundamental Beliefs and the Church Manual, etc.” she said. “These amendments are usually just being brought for acceptance, so the most important thing for us to do is prayerfully vote for the right leaders who would later be part of the different committees that [create] the amendments.”
Delegates approved revisions to the church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs that updated the language and underscored the church’s teaching about a recent, literal, six-day Creation week.
But on the issue of women’s ordination, Cocos was glad to vote on a question that had been prepared in advance. Delegates voted “no” on the action that asked whether the church’s divisions should be allowed to ordain women to the gospel ministry in their own territories.
Cocos was happy with the outcome. “I really feel that if divisions are allowed to make decisions for themselves regarding this matter, people outside of our religion will be confused because, supposedly, as Adventists we have one belief and one faith,” she said. “If ‘yes’ votes prevailed, it would disrupt the minimal unity we still have as a church.”
Opinions on business items brought before the session varied among the young adult delegates.
“I was encouraged that the delegates were able to discuss women’s ordination in a respectful and prayerful way that allowed many people the opportunity to speak on their personal convictions,” South Pacific Division delegate Clare Barnes said. “It highlighted to me that on this issue, all who spoke had the best interest of the church at heart, even if it didn’t feel like it at times.”
She added: “As a young woman, I was especially encouraged to see so many men standing up in support of women in ministry. . . . We as members of God’s church have all been called into His service, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender.”
Walemba said he hoped church members young and old would be able to move on from the General Conference Session “with a stronger bond.”
“There will be criticism from without; let us hold fast and strong from within, for ours is the kingdom of God and not the world of men,” he said.
Kimberly Luste Maran is young adult editor for Adventist Review
In Their Own Words
Here’s more of the talk around the table with young adult delegates at the 2015 General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, and Adventist Review staff.
AR: What is your overall impression of the General Conference session?
Claire Barnes, SPD: The thing I most enjoy at the General Conference session is that we get to actually experience the worldwide church: to see all of the different people from everywhere, we sing the one song—and that sort of stuff. It’s kind of corny, but it’s a lot of fun. And any challenges, any misconceptions you may have about different cultures, and all that sort of thing, gets corrected; you get to experience and see for yourself and engage with other people.
Lesleigh Bower, SPD: One of the most fantastic things about the tone of this session is that there has been a strong emphasis on young people from administration at the top, starting with administration’s decision to meet with us when the session commenced, and President Ted N. C. Wilson’s welcome to us on the stage, and also the offering that was taken up [on the first Sabbath]. I so appreciate the fact that there’s an intention to include young people in this process.
It will remain as rhetoric, however, unless there are more young people on the ground. I appreciate that the church is willing to listen, so I’ve been in touch with my president, and I understand that there are going to be changes to our constitutions and bylaws to include younger people. I encourage all of the delegates here [at the table]: Let’s go home and do good things to encourage our peers to come, because we all know capable people, like-minded people, who would love to be involved, and we just need to make it happen.
Esther David-Strickland, SPD: I’ve really enjoyed the congress, and just being part of this whole event. I come from an island where it’s laid-back, and we don’t see what’s really happening. So being here, I realize I need to do something when I go back. I need to push our youth to say, “Hey, we’re in paradise (because, you know, the Cook Islands are paradise), so we don’t see what’s happening—we need to be more connected.” I’m sure the people we share with would just be inspired. And push a little bit to do something.
As a young delegate, I was wondering if the young adult delegates, through the General Conference, could have experienced delegates as mentors. I don’t understand what’s happening in some of the meetings. If there can be a way for them to just sit beside us and pray and explain . . . ‘Adopt a youth from a country,’ or something like that, and that way we would see how the culture is, how the church business works, and stuff like that.
Tell us what you appreciate about the church.
Yoriko Ishida, NSD: The first thing that I really appreciate in this church is the fact that they’re really trying to get us as young people involved into these important meetings, such as the youth being invited to the General Conference; and they give us the opportunity to think and learn more about the church. I also really appreciate that during the meetings they really put emphasis on prayer, and to be considerate, to have spiritual love for each other.
Brian Kemoabe, SID: I want to say something positive that I’ve seen in this session. In Botswana some Pentecostal churches are preaching prosperity gospel, and people are losing their money, and the government is talking about how to manage the problem. It makes me happy to see how our church operates, how different we are from other religions, and it is helpful to see how it promotes good relationships with our church and the government. It gives me hope that our church can do well in my country. This is one way to open doors for us to minister better in our part of the world.
Krissie Hopkins, SPD: I’ve been impressed with coming here and seeing our leaders as a church, listening to Ted N. C. Wilson speak, and just seeing that he is Spirit-led and loves the church, and the other leaders as well—I’m coming to an appreciation of what they do, and their faith in God, and how hard it is for them. Like reading through Moses’ story, and seeing his experiences leading people, I recognize that it’s so hard—I just appreciate the way leadership has been really good.
Vivaldi Therasse, IAD: One thing that our church has done better than other churches—this is from what people who are not Seventh-day Adventists tell me—is that we are very welcoming. Other churches will say, “No, Jesus is not this; no, God is not this; the Sabbath is not this.”
I really like how we take a different approach and don’t tell others, “Your day of worship is not the right one.”
Instead, we say, “OK, you worship on Sunday. Would you like to come to our church? We worship on Saturday.” That kind of thing—you walk through the process with the person. Here’s what someone who is not Adventist told me: “Go and tell your people we appreciate this. You don’t judge us, you just kind of walk through with us, and that’s a good thing.”
What could the church improve on?
Therasse: We have a problem of not including the young professionals in church business. Most churches where I come from have deacons older than 50. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, the young people also want to take part. I know quite a number of young people, we were in school together, and most of them have left the church because they feel we’re not included. Most of them are joining the Protestants because they feel that when they go to the Protestant churches they’ll be asked to sing as choristers. They’ll be asked to act as ushers. . . . We need to reach out to the young professionals. There are people out there making tons of money but want to contribute to the church and are qualified and skilled to make those contributions.
Ishida: More emphasis needs to be placed on our history. It will help if churches teach us more about Adventist history, doctrines, the Spirit of Prophecy, and what the Bible really says. We need to make sure our members know about the three angels’ messages, what happened in 1844, etc. Of course, knowledge is not everything—love for God is the most important thing. But if we can study more about those things with the Bible as the basis, it will build up our faith as young people, and it will help us to evangelize other people because we know for ourselves what we believe.
Jem Cadanilla, NAD: One issue the church should look into is losing our young people, those who were born and raised as Seventh-day Adventists and have left. It’s sad that at the one point in their life when they had questions about God, the church, going through the teenage years, they didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. Or when they try they don’t get direct answers or direct responses. . . . These are people who have a lot of potential and skill that could help us finish the work. If we could just find a way to just reach out and get them back into the church, that would really be great.
Berenice Cheng, SPD: A lot of talk is going around the Adventist Church right now about how youth ministry can be a little bit entertainment-focused. But when I came to the GC session as a young delegate, I was very encouraged to see that the GC doesn’t believe in a faith that is coddling, doesn’t believe in encouraging its young people to be entertained. Rather, it encourages young people to come to the table and be intelligent about their faith, to be advised and informed about their faith.
And as I’m sitting in the sessions I’m learning so much more about the Adventist Church that I never knew. When preparing to be a delegate, I had to study about the church and my Bible in a way that I’ve never done. . . .
The reality of the situation is that although we might want to expand the delegation of youth that come, not every single youth in the Adventist Church is going to be able to experience a GC session. So how do we reach those who are leaving? How do we reach those who feel they haven’t been met adequately in their home division? One of my brothers brought up a good point about involvement in the local church from the deacon level on up, on a service level, that sort of thing. And I think in my division, at least, the youth appreciate when they’re not being entertained. They appreciate it when they know the church knows they can take responsibility. Sometimes there’s a little bit of a disconnect between wanting to be involved and knowing or feeling confident that you can do the job that you’ve been given.
I particularly appreciated Pastor [Gilbert] Cangy’s introduction in the orientation. That was a pivotal example to me of what mentorship should be like. The brief explanation of what to expect was extremely helpful. . . . Our churches—at least in Australia—recognize that youth are leaving, they want to do something about it, but sometimes they don’t know how to mentor effectively. If the division’s youth department could initiate mentorship training, mentorship programs, both targeting young adult and the older generation to work together, I think that would be so beneficial on so many levels.
Frank Artavia, IAD: I was telling Pastor [Cangy] that our problem is that we are, shall I say, submitted to the elders—we are so pushed to respect the elders that we only follow and we aren’t allowed to have the experience to lead. I’ve been in some of my union’s meetings, and I’ve seen some recently graduated pastors told by older church members, “I don’t trust you because you’re too young. I’m not going to listen to you because I’ve been Adventist for 30 years. I have more time in than you, so I’m not going to respect you.”
I respect the older generations: they have served the church. But they underestimate young people.
Share some final thoughts.
Kevin Walemba, ECD: I would most definitely encourage and recommend to young adults much like myself the need to attend our next GC [session]. It’s an experience like no other. I have been able to meet hundreds of wonderful young people—some as exhibitioners, others as specials guests, delegates, family, and observers. In a world where social media is taking over, to meet, greet, and walk with people is as gold.
Barnes: I would like for the church to escape the politics that threatens the unity of our church by trying to create uniformity. . . . I hope that God will continue to use His people as ambassadors in whatever country, occupation, or situation they find themselves. And I hope that those who might have been discouraged by the events of this session will turn even more to Jesus—and that He will lift them up and encourage them.
Angeli Andrea Cocos, SSD: I’ve heard a lot of good sermons during this session, but the one point that struck me the most is that God has been faithful to His church so far, so let’s move forward to our mission. Let’s trust that He shall be with us all despite challenges.