She could have stayed home and been one of the many who opted to participate in this 61st Session of the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists through Zoom videoconferencing. But Uma Edward Pilli, principal of the Seventh-day Adventist High School in Hyderabad, India, journeyed thousands of miles to participate in person.
“I came to be a witness of, and a participant in, choosing our leaders,” she says. “A change may be needed in certain areas, and here we can voice those choices because this is a larger platform for us to verbalize our thoughts and meet and learn from different cultures.” Despite the smaller size of this Session, it is still an integral part of the GC Session experience.
Pilli, who just celebrated her thirty-second wedding anniversary, is enjoying a bit of role reversal at the Session. Her husband is treasurer of the East Central India Union, but Uma Pilli was the one chosen by the Southern Asia Division to be the delegate this time. “I am the actual delegate, and my husband is the accompanying spouse—kind of a reversal from the normal,” she says, laughing. “In 2015, he came as the delegate, and I as the spouse.”
In addition to taking an active role in church business as an official delegate, Pilli is loving every moment of the intercultural exchange a GC Session offers. “I just shared a table with people from Israel, Lebanon, and Venezuela. It was so nice meeting them, and we shared what we had—not just emotions and all, but food, even snacks I brought from India. We all liked it.”
As an educator in a school that is 99 percent Muslim (historically, Hyderabad has a significant Muslim population) in a country that has made sharing Christianity a lot more difficult in recent years, Pilli finds that the way forward is through modeling Christ. “My students often say, ‘Ma’am, you’re different.’ I have often thought of this: How am I different? I can think of only one way: through Christian education that enables me to reflect my Master Teacher — Jesus. In silence, in actions, and in relationships, I try to reflect Jesus. I cannot verbalize much about my faith, but I can let Jesus be seen in and through me. That’s the challenge I face each day.”
Pilli comes to the 61st GC Session with a burden for members and leaders alike to have the same zeal and steadfastness as early church pioneers. “The pioneers just did a better job. Our leaders need to lead and influence us in such a way that we can come to the cross without argument. Whatever the world is doing, that’s not our model to follow. Our model is Jesus — and Him alone.”
With a passion for Christ and seeking to follow Him in all things, Pilli’s great ambition as she nears retirement is to not really retire. “My desire now is to retire and settle down in my remote village and start some kind of school for underprivileged children. While I still have the energy, I want to have a small church school and teach more through life-changing habits [and actions] and lead people to Jesus. Not just preaching but living His word. We can silently preach regardless of whatever profession we are in.
“We don’t need to occupy a pulpit and speak big,” Pilli continues. “I want to be an influence on someone. I want to live the life Christ wants me to live. Even without saying anything, I want to help people know Christ and follow Him.”