The unlikely Annual Council “honorary delegate” smiles across the conference room table, darting his eyes around, waving his hands for emphasis, and . . . cooing.
His name is Mateo. He is from Argentina in the South American Division and will be 4 months old soon—the youngest “attendee” at these meetings.
Why is he here? Because Mateo—and his 32-year-old mother, Marly Muller Bulich—are, plain and simple, the future of this church.
Marly Muller Bulich is a social worker by profession, currently a stay-at-home mom, a former missionary to Kyrgyzstan, and one of the young lay delegates to the meetings that guide and direct the work of the church in all parts of the world. She is a very warm and friendly young woman who first came to the meetings in 2011 (her term as a lay delegate will continue until 2015).
Last year, at the conclusion of the 2012 meetings, Marly returned home feeling more tired than usual. And for good reason: in addition to having just concluded an intense schedule of business and mission sessions and flying back to her home in the southern hemisphere. Marly and her husband, a schoolteacher, soon discovered they were expecting their first baby.
But this year, as the meetings loomed near, Marly had a decision to make. She believed that her attendance at these sessions was important and felt a keen desire to be a part of the decisions made by her church. But her new baby—who is nursing—came first.
So little Mateo got his first passport and visa to visit the United States of America, and last week he and Marly flew from Buenos Aires to Houston to Washington, D.C., to attend Annual Council 2013. This trip is Mateo’s first journey anywhere.
How is Marly making it work? Fortunately her parents—who are retired missionaries—met her here. They have been helping her with Mateo where possible, and they are staying together at a local hotel. But because Mateo needs to eat every three to four hours and is now old enough to pay attention to his surroundings and voice his approval or disapproval rather loudly, Marly says, “We are playing it by ear.” For Thursday night’s first session of evening meetings, she was able to leave Mateo with her parents. During Friday’s agenda, she pushed him in his bright red Peg Perego® stroller with diaper bags attached through the halls of the General Conference. For larger sessions held in the auditorium, Marly smiles as she says, “We’ll sit in the back.”
“It’s such a privilege to be here,” she said as we talked in the Adventist Review conference room while she took turns feeding and keeping Mateo occupied and happy. For Marly, now more than ever, the future of the church is absolutely important. It’s these young mothers and fathers who take their babies to Sabbath school and church—something Mateo is already starting to enjoy—who determine the real growth and future of Seventh-day Adventism in the world. And it matters greatly to the rest of us that Marley and Mateo are here. “I want Mateo to feel supported and cared for by his church as he grows up,” Marley says while stroking his sweet face as she cradles him in her arms. What happens here this week clearly matters to a young mother raising her baby in this faith.
A baby who, as Adventist Review and Adventist World associate publisher Claude Richli said when he stopped to admire his chubby cheeks in the hallway, could be a “future GC president.”