“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—African Proverb
History was made in April 2019 when a delegation of presidents of U.S. regional conferences — historically African-American Adventist Church administrative regions — traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for a summit with Adventist church leaders of the East-Central Africa (ECD) and West-Central Africa (WAD) divisions, and the Adventist University of Africa (AUA) vice-chancellor. The delegation also included the executive secretary of the North American Division (NAD), the Regional Affairs director of the U.S.-based Pacific Union, and three regional conference treasurers.
Titled "Transatlantic Family Reunion Summit," the venture, which was intended to build relationships, convened on the sprawling, scenic compound that is home to the headquarters of the ECD, AUA, and Maxwell Adventist Academy.
For years, the idea of black leaders from the African continent and from regional conferences in North America coming together to share stories and strategies for mission and ministry was explored, but it had not materialized until 2019 for a variety of reasons.
Realization of a Dream
ECD president Blasious M. Ruguri characterized the summit as the “realization of a dream” deferred. He welcomed the North American delegation with a charge which included a confession that misinformation and misconceptions had kept both groups apart.
“We must do the hard work of destroying the strongholds that still enslave so many millions of those that we serve,” Ruguri said. He then challenged the gathering to remain faithful to the vision and committed to the mission, as well as to serve “in a manner worthy of the sacrifice of our ancestors, and especially of our Savior.”
WAD president Elie Weick-Dido delivered a closing charge that called on the groups to embrace our shared heritage and values, as well as to pursue common goals and ventures. Hosts of the next summit, scheduled to be held at the WAD, includes 12 of the poorest countries in the world. Leaders think Weick-Dido, who pastored in the Lake Region Conference in the United States before returning home to Africa, is uniquely qualified to bridge the two continents.
The summit included sessions to examine missional growth, including an emphasis on the concept of Total Member Involvement (TMI), an initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist world church to get every church member involved in sharing Jesus with their neighbors and friends. African leaders were eager to share how God is blessing the work in Africa, where approximately nine million Seventh-day Adventists currently live.
Bigger Than the Two Groups
AUA vice-chancellor Delbert Baker, under whose leadership the institution has experienced exponential growth in infrastructure, course offerings, and enrollment, lauded the summit as being historic, helpful, and heuristic.
“It represents something bigger than the two groups combined,” he said.
Event logistics were planned and executed by ECD special assistant to the president Emmanuel Pelote and Office for Regional Conference Ministry executive director Dana Edmond. The Regional Conference Ministry has headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, United States.
Many in the North American delegation had never visited the African continent before, and the trip evoked a spectrum of emotions, according to participants. Safaris to wildlife in their natural habitats evoked exclamations of awe and wonder. Visitors said they found particularly moving a Saturday (Sabbath) visit to a Maasai village that included worship and a baptismal service in a nearby river.
At the closing of the summit, most participants agreed that this event should become a regular venture, and a follow-up is already in the works.
Additionally, each African division was aligned or matched with three regional conferences, whose administrators committed to inviting and hosting the African church leaders in the United States regularly, organizers said.