San Antonio’s Alamodome more resembled the United Nations than it did a sports arena as tens of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists, many in native costumes, celebrated the advance of Adventist mission over the past 152 years.
The Parade of Nations, traditionally one of the highlights of the last weekend of a General Conference Session, had a new name designed to reflect the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s progress in mission outreach. Billed as “Mission on the Move,” the program highlighted five periods of mission outreach from the church’s inception in 1863 to the present. This year’s pageant chronicled not only the advances of Adventist mission but the societal changes that accompanied them.
The five periods described throughout the evening were The Birth of Missions (1863-1873), Mission to Christian Nations (1874-1889), Mission to the World (1890-1945), Mission With Conscious Intent (1946-1985), and Mission for the Unreached (1986-present). Along with advances in Adventist mission, video presentations seen on large screens traced advances in technology in communication, travel, and methods to spread the gospel.
Hosts Audrey Andersson, secretary of the Trans-European Division, and Garrett Caldwell, associate communication director for the General Conference, had to compete with the cheers and applause of audience members as they announced each country in turn and more than 450 costumed representatives walked across the stage.
As each nation was introduced, friends in the audience rose to shout and applaud. The most enthusiastic responses came from groups of believers who represented countries in the southern hemisphere, including Brazil, Mexico, Zambia, the Philippines, and perhaps most conspicuously, Cuba. Delegates from countries in the northern hemisphere received polite but noticeably less animated applause.
An example of changing demographics involves the fact that most of the world’s population now live in cities and metropolitan areas with more than a million inhabitants. A church where most of its members originally worshipped in rural settings now has to reach populations that live primarily in high-density, metropolitan areas.
The evening presentation, while tracing the advance of Adventism over the last 152 years, also revealed the tremendous challenges still ahead of it. Several countries where the church has established an “Adventist presence” have zero members today. In other countries, where Adventists have been involved for decades, the number of members compared to the total population is statistically insignificant. In a few countries the number of Christians in general is actually declining.
Attending his first General Conference Session, Gershom Bageni, originally from Uganda, described the evening program in one word: “Wonderful.” He enjoyed seeing how the history of Adventist mission coincided with the history of society at large.
Edson Jarvis, from Tampa, Florida, mentioned as one of the highlights of the evening the singing of “The Midnight Cry” by Kimberly Palmer Washington, near the end of the pageant. Washington sang on the stage, surrounded by hundreds of Adventists dressed in their native costumes. Jarvis described it as “awesome.” “The theme of the Session, pointing to the second coming of Christ, is exactly what we need,” he said.
The final musical number for the evening was an arrangement of “Lift Up the Trumpet,” arranged, orchestrated, and conducted by General Conference communication director Williams Costa, Jr. The choir was a combined chorus of 1,100 singers, made up of artistes, from kids to adults, who presented throughout the Session. The performance, which had nearly everyone in the dome on their feet, was the result of just one rehearsal the day before.
Before pronouncing the benediction on the nearly three-hour-long production, General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson appealed to those assembled to be filled with the Holy Spirit to share the Three Angels Messages with family, friends, and neighbors. Then, to reiterate what he said at nearly every one of his public statements throughout the Session, Wilson said, “Jesus is coming soon.”