June 9, 2022

Feeding of the 3,000 and Answering Questions

Meet some of the volunteers tasked with making the Session run smoothly.

Debbie Michel
[ Photo by Mark Froelich]

The 61st General Conference (GC) Session is run by an army of volunteers, many of them students and young adults who are keeping the gears turning for the massive gathering of Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, June 6-11, 2022.

Volunteers are responsible for a host of tasks, such as scanning meal badges, providing translation during the business meetings, and answering questions at information booths throughout the bustling America’s Center Convention Complex.

Spearheading the Andrews University pages program is Erica Bradfield, who brought a group of 30 students who speak Cantonese, French, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, Swahili, and other African languages.

So, what questions are people asking the student pages at the information kiosks?

“Usually, it’s directional,” Bradfield says. “Where is this room? Where is the dome? How do I get meal tickets? Where do I get my badge? I don’t have a badge, where can I go to see the program? Things like that.”

Meet Some of the Volunteers

Elsie Mokaya originally hails from Kenya and is pursuing a master’s degree in music at Andrews University. As the first-time Session attendee sits at her desk watching the global community of delegates and their families in their native attire parading past her, she is struck by the many requests for how to find the prayer room.

“I feel like that has been the most consistent room everybody’s been looking for,” Mokaya says. “And it clearly shows that a lot of people are really praying for the Session right now, and they’re just putting everything in God’s hands.”

She has also received many questions from local residents who want to observe how the church conducts its business.

Mokaya, who recently returned from a trip to Madagascar, where she participated in teaching music to children, says there’s a certain manner in representing Christ at public events such as the Session.

“It can be by saying good morning as they pass, you know, by smiling at them. Even though you’re wearing a mask, you can smile with your eyes and just wave at them,” she says. “So, we may not necessarily be reading the Bible or preaching to them, but just by using kind words and speaking to them with a kind heart is a way of reflecting Christ.”

[ Photo by Mark Froelich]

Sandratra Randrianarivo, who goes by the name of Ando, a native of Madagascar and fluent in French, arrived in the U.S. only six months ago to begin the master’s program in Community and International Development at Andrews University. Thinking of the people she has assisted in navigating their way around the convention center and the city of St. Louis brings up tears for her.

“It been an amazing experience,” she shares. “There are people here who don’t speak English, and when they come, they’re like, ‘Oh, we don’t understand English,’ and I’m really happy to help them.”

She reflects on her life of service, saying, “Jesus gave us the example of offering His time, and as followers of Jesus we also need to give and do what He did. This world won’t get better unless we do that.”

Viviene Dyer, the most experienced volunteer of the group, is serving at her third GC Session. The Jamaica native is pursuing a PhD in higher education administration at Andrews University.

Yes, the questions she hears at the booth are repetitive, but that doesn’t bother her.

“For me, volunteering is a personal effort,” she states emphatically. “Don’t look at your brother and don’t look at your sister and say, ‘What are they doing?’ It’s, ‘I will go and do for the Lord.’

“I believe that what the Lord has blessed us with is not just for us. If we’re not sharing it with others, then our lives are just in vain. And the Lord expects us to share with others what His blessing has shared with us. We can’t keep it to ourselves.”

Kelly Thompson is the assistant to the food services director and helps manage a team of high school and college students.

“They are phenomenal,” she says. “They’re happy, cheerful. They love what they’re doing. I’m happy to say the church is giving a great example to our youth of how we can be.”

But there are situations that pose a challenge. A few people who are rude or skirting the rules have created frustrations.

Her prayer is that this doesn’t have a negative effect on the youthful volunteers. “I hope that doesn’t harden their hearts,” Thompson says ruefully, “you know, not wanting to work for the church or [be] members in the church because of these experiences that they’re having.”

As a schoolteacher, Thompson is turning these experiences into teachable moments and is delighted to see the young volunteers grow almost overnight.

“You’re seeing them start kind of being timid, but becoming a little bit firmer than when they started,” Thompson says. “I’m walking around to see if they need any help, and I hear them affirm themselves. You see a little smile on their faces. Like, ‘I did it!’ And then talking to them at the end and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m loving this. I want to do this again tomorrow.’ So, that’s a joy to see the kids doing that.”

Follow the proceedings of the 61st General Conference Session at adventistreview.org