Seventh-day Adventist leaders at the Inter-American Division (IAD) recently honored Sergio Moctezuma for his extraordinary contribution to the growth of the Adventist Church throughout the territory since he began his church service in the 1960s.
The special recognition event drew top church leaders and staff members at the IAD office in Miami, Florida, United States, ahead of Festival of the Laity, held in Panama City, Panama, in early August 2022.
“We are delighted to honor you for helping the church grow bigger and stronger as it is today,” IAD president Elie Henry said. “This would be a moment to share with the laity throughout the territory, but because of current circumstances, we are honoring you in person here,” he said.
Moctezuma was awarded two medals and a special plaque by IAD administrators as a token of his extraordinary contribution to church growth. During his tenure, the membership in the IAD territory grew to more than two million.
“We recognize you for the indisputable capacity and mission-minded influence shown in your faithful service in the mobilization of the laity in our territory for so many years,” Henry said.
Known for his energy, creativity, and mission-driven leadership, Moctezuma began his church service in his home country of Mexico, in the Mexican Union in the 1950s, and later in the late 1960s was called to serve in South Brazil Union and the South American Division (SAD) territory. Later, in 1975, he was called to serve in the IAD in Miami as director of personal ministries, formerly known as lay activities, and Sabbath school departments. He served in that position until he retired in 2000, but served as assistant to the then-IAD president Israel Leito until 2005.
“He is known as the father of the festivals of the laity in Inter-America and around the world church, with the first ones held in 1969,” IAD personal ministries director Melchor Ferreyra said. In 1979, regional Festivals of the Laity were held in Guatemala, Colombia, Barbados, and Haiti, to cover countries in each IAD region in English, Spanish, and French.
Festival of the Laity: A Celebration
“Festivals of the Laity were always about celebrating and recognizing laypersons for winning others with the gospel. They became known as featuring inspiration, motivation, and training to reach more people for Christ,” Ferreyra said.
Under Moctezuma’s leadership, a new concept of what it means to be a layperson emerged: someone who could be trained as a lay preacher, a Bible instructor, a lay evangelist, Ferreyra said. Moctezuma “pushed the idea for every local church that it should be a lay member training school for lay members to lead in Sabbath School and what we know today as small groups,” Ferreyra added.
Soon after, lay training schools were taking effect under the guidance of the IAD and then with the General Conference and the National Institute of Christian Ministries. Apart from training institutes, Moctezuma advocated for Sabbath School materials for children, and the development of numerous resources for the church.
From very young, Moctezuma knew that church members could do their part in support of the mission, not only to rely on the work of the local pastor as a separate ministry, and that not every church member had to be a lay evangelist. “It was better to use church members to testify, teach the youth to preach, and then I could come in with the work of a minister. My idea was always about the instrumental work of the laity,” Moctezuma said.
During his SAD service, as branch Sabbath schools became a setting for witnessing and winning others, Moctezuma said he was amazed to see their potential for growing the church. “I began to read and study Ellen G. White’s Christian Service book, studied my Bible, and it became clear and a turning point in pushing for pastors to train members in every church to take part in witnessing opportunities best fitting for the gifts of each member,” Moctezuma said.
New Lay Movement
Returning to the Inter-American Division just a few years later, it was the opportunity to be part of a new movement to train and highlight the important work of the laity in partnership with the church pastor, setting evangelistic goals and advancing together, Moctezuma said. It’s all about “ministers and laypeople united to finish the work to hasten the coming of our Lord,” he said.
When Moctezuma’s name came up during the end of the recent IAD Festival of the Laity in Panama, the more than 650 laypersons and church leaders who were attending burst into applause for his pioneering work and legacy.
“I praise the Lord for the opportunity He has given me and my wife, Raquel, to serve Him and see ‘the living forces of the church’ inspired by the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the mission entrusted to us,” Moctezuma said.