On the final Sabbath of the 2000 Toronto General Conference Session, I stood in a high balcony with my parents, looking at the vast and vibrant crowd of more than 50,000 believers who filled the capacious SkyDome. My parents, both longtime church employees, had driven more than 500 miles to visit us, and to witness for themselves one of the most remarkable gatherings of any Christian faith group in the world.
As my mother watched the mission presentation captivate the assembly with its vivid images and compelling stories, I heard her softly murmur something I now think of as I approach each General Conference Session.
“I wish my mother could have seen this,” my mother said. “She never knew how big her church was.”
And it was true. My Italian grandmother, like my mother a convert to this movement, had mostly known the congregation she attended—a midsized congregation in a midsize U.S. city, where the fellowship creaked and groaned with decisions about renovating the church building, supporting the local church-run elementary school, and keeping the parking lot plowed in the winter. Her gaze rarely lifted above the challenges of retaining good pastors, assisting with the annual Ingathering program, and offering child care to stressed church families. Yes, she was aware of the extensive mission program of the church: a mission story was shared each week as part of the Sabbath School program. But little in those crafted lines, usually read by the Sabbath School superintendent, could convey the color, the sound, the diversity, that is this global movement.
“She never knew how big her church was.”
Those of us blessed to serve at the church’s world headquarters frequently forget the privilege we have of seeing this movement in all its scope and scale. Baptisms are reported in tens of thousands; budgets reach into the millions. Inspiring stories of commitment, faith, and courage flood our offices with such regularity that they sometimes no longer seem remarkable. In pre-COVID years many leaders spent more than 150 days each year—and often well more than 100,000 flight miles—visiting congregations, attending mission conferences, speaking at ministerial training sessions, and encouraging new initiatives.
But the vast majority of Seventh-day Adventists will never share those experiences nor attend a General Conference Session. So it falls to those of us given the privilege of serving to share the news we know—how the Spirit of God is working in so many places, reviving believers, reforming congregations, propelling individuals and groups to knock on doors, text their friends, and share gospel literature in their neighborhoods.
The document you hold in your hands has two primary purposes—to inform the 2,713 delegates who will participate in the upcoming General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri (USA) June 6-11; and to report to a global movement of 22 million believers some pieces of what the Spirit has been doing in the church since the last General Conference Session in 2015.
It would take far more than the 128 pages of this “Supplement” (as this introductory report to the daily General Conference Bulletins has been labeled) to tell the fuller story of the past seven years. “My Father is still working, and I also am working,” Jesus told those who challenged His healing ministry. The presence of Jesus—and the work of the Holy Spirit—has been moving forward in more than 90,000 Adventist churches around the globe; in nearly 9,000 elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools; 560 hospitals and clinics; and 60 publishing houses.
It may be tempting as you survey this report of dozens of ministries, services, and institutions that serve the world Seventh-day Adventist Church to read it as you would read a corporate report—for data, assessment, or critique. So let me encourage you to pause at the end of each report and pray—pray for those who dream and imagine; for those who implement and execute; for the many who labor and pray through these ministries to expand God’s kingdom.
My grandmother never knew how big her church was. But her grandson certainly knows. And his heart—my heart—is moved each day by the power of faith; the embrace of all colors, languages, and ethnicities; and the commitment to “press together” as a global family awaiting the return of Jesus.