Every five years cities in America—and even beyond, sometimes—offer bids to host an international meeting of the Seventh-day Adventist church known as a General Conference session. Through their administrators they invite us to come and savor their hospitality with offers of hotel rooms to house our more than 2,500 delegates and their families, stadiums with seating for crowds that swell to 60,000 and more at the weekends, and readiness to accommodate the world’s largest—temporary—vegetarian restaurant for a week and a half.
It takes nine years from winning a bid to hosting the meeting. San Antonio, Texas, famous for its relaxing River Walk and a tense, historic 1836 battle, is hosting our July 2-11 session this year. Back in 2006 it won the bidding with strengths like its Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for housing exhibits and food service, and its airport only 18 minutes from the nearby 65,000-seat Alamodome for holding the big meetings. In 2011, after bidding successively for the 2005, 2010, and 2015 meetings, Indiana’s capital city of Indianapolis was rewarded for unswerving consistency when it earned the right to host our 2020 session.
But why should cities want Adventists around? What is so significant about their presence in town? And what will people remember when we conclude our convention and depart the Dome? Three things at least.
For one, they will remember Adventist family. Right now, Henry B. Gonzalez is one vast family room: vibrant Adventist music; vivid, graphic displays; scheduled indoor concerts and unscheduled shrieks of joy as loved ones long separated, now stunned at the chance encounter, stumble into each other’s embrace. It is the place where scores of thousands, some lost and all searching, safely ebb and flow, under the solicitous watch of caring and competent personnel. We throng through the sights, sounds, and tastes—through a glorious range of exhibits by the world church’s 14 administrative units, and multiple educational, evangelistic, vocational, media, publishing, and other tasteful and tasty displays and samples that all proffer delectable portions of our dynamic, varied, global Adventist life.
And as we throng, greet, taste, and ask directions within the center, around the dome, or elsewhere across the city, our guides and helpers make up their minds about the Adventist family. Perhaps they find us courteous, appreciative of their attention and assistance. We hope they find us consistently respectful, obedient, and cooperative; keeping restrooms, grounds, and waste disposal areas clean; patiently waiting our turn in line; generous with tips and thanks for room service, taxi rides, or satisfying restaurant experiences. Church administrators have carefully factored in our stewardship of generosity because we care about our hosts. They wanted us here, and they’d like to be glad we came.
One of our goals is to put smiles on people’s faces.
Sheri Clemmer, our church’s top meeting planner, remembers comments from previous hosts: they loved our music—so different from many other concerts they’ve hosted; our Parade of Nations was gorgeous. In Atlanta in 2010 one usher who saw the parade rehearsal told Clemmer that when he clocked out he was coming back to the stands because he could not think of missing the real thing. These affirmations are welcome. And constant, conscious living with and for Jesus is the only good way to earn them. Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians still holds: “Imitate me like I imitate Christ” (see 1 Cor. 11:1). What would Jesus do? Not litter! Voicing Paul again, living for Jesus includes eating and drinking, meeting in the Dome, and jogging in the streets (see 1 Cor. 10:31). Which touches on a second way that San Antonio will remember us—as a caring community.
Three months ago the Alamodome saw Adventists on grand display: three days of Your Best Pathway to Health left their riveting impression as 1,700 Adventist volunteers gave more than US$20 million in free medical and other attention to the people of the city. And we still care. Katia Reinert, director of the North American Division health department, explains that “one of the things we really are hoping to do is to help the people of San Antonio to see Adventists as people who are caring, who are interested in the needs of the people of San Antonio—particularly the health needs.”
Her department, along with many sponsoring partners, is showing this by staging a free Instep4Life 5K walk/run, Sunday, July 5, at 6:00 a.m., a downtown health expo that same Sunday, and mobile expos during the week to the city’s outlying areas. Instep4Life, a national Adventist Church initiative, sponsors programs in healthful living. Learn more at www.adventistsinstepforlife.org/article/5/adventists-instep-for-life-awards.
Sunday’s free 5K fun walk/run serves as a consciousness raiser on matters our host city’s health department identifies as significant community challenges, especially childhood obesity. All 2,500 expected participants will receive a medal for their effort.
At the health expo that follows, attendees will be given free medical examinations and copies of the book Health and Wellness, by Mark Finley and Peter Landless. “After we leave,” Mark Finley says, “we want them to be in a healthier, happier, holier place. Health involves choices, not just chance. Our message is a wholistic lifestyle: Jesus came to cities teaching, preaching, and healing [Matt. 9:35]; so we want it to be better for them in every way—spiritual, mental, physical. One of our goals is to put smiles on people’s faces.”
More San Antonio, led by Kristina Lockhart, Texas Conference assistant to the president for communication, is doing just that: promoting more health, more life, more joy, more abundant living for city residents; getting the word out, not only about the fun walk/run on Sunday, but about the mobile health expos that will minister to the needs of underserved neighborhoods.
The General Conference Youth Department is also working to make San Antonio happy that we came. Benjamin Lundquist, Dana Connell, Lavinia Seawright, and Marquis Johns are coordinating a four-pronged Impact San Antonio program of worship, leadership, discipleship, and local mission trips. Four hundred fifty Adventist youth have unleashed their sanctified energies into this aggressive venture for God. Their street ministries include interesting contrasts: graffiti cleanup on the one hand, and graffiti art for God on the other, the latter led by Manny Cruz, who has done the same God glorifying artwork in several other cities across North America.
When we leave, San Antonio will know that we care about their community. They will remember us as part of their neighborhoods, working in unity with their own community leaders for the betterment of their local world.
Of the many other ways that San Antonio will remember our 10 days among them, I mention but one more—as people of God. Our session is infinitely more than a mere business meeting, except we dramatically redefine our understanding of church business. Limiting our convention to selecting world leaders, voting recommendations, and recording minutes while sharing with our neighbors tragically misses our reason for meeting. When we leave San Antonio, we ourselves, as surely as the people we leave behind, must know that more than anything else we had a meeting with God: they must take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus (see Acts 4:13).
Sure, we enjoyed a family reunion that celebrated love across all boundaries of distance, ocean, and language. And certainly we savored blessed interaction with our neighbors here. But more than all else, we and they should be as
sured that for 10 days in their midst, God’s united, global body, His remnant inheritors and practitioners of everlasting gospel truth, worshipped, praised, worked, and grew together in preparation for that other encounter, history’s climactic meeting that Jesus’ blood bid for us: not a 10-day stint in San Antonio, but an eternity forever in heaven with the Lord.