Meeting and Witnessing in Times of COVID

ASi members reflect on the pandemic, the health message, and what could come next.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
Meeting and Witnessing in Times of COVID
Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) members wait in line to have breakfast on the second day of the organization’s 2021 international convention in Orlando, Florida, United States, on August 5, 2021. [Photo: Adventist Review]

The 2021 Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) International Convention is meeting in Orlando, Florida, United States, August 4-7. Members had anticipated this in-person event after plans for the 2020 annual convention had to be scrapped because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Talking to many members from all ages and backgrounds in corridors and around breakfast tables allows for a glimpse into the joys, fears, and beliefs of ASi attendees. Just being present at an in-person event in Florida in August is a statement of commitment as the weather is very hot. Other ministries and church departments opted out of attending the in-person convention this year due to health-related or other concerns.  

Orange County, where the convention venue is located, has been under a state of emergency since July 28 amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in force recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of “substantial” and “high” transmission of the virus.

Organizers said they are trying to follow all the local guidelines in place, which are few and don’t seem to be strictly enforced. “Wash your hands often, and don’t get as close as you would like to,” ASi president Steve Dickman advised on the opening night. 

ASi vice-president Andi Hunsaker, a physician, agreed and reminded attendees that those not vaccinated are expected to wear a mask. Hunsaker’s request is also the venue’s policy. 

Approaches and opinions about the topic are lively and varied. They usually revolve, however, around a few talking points. Taken together, they open a window into a vital group of God-loving members who, in the best Adventist tradition, are often very sure of what they believe (and occasionally even think to know what others should). 

For international evangelist Mark Finley, it is possible that two Adventist church members may think differently about some topics. “Can two faithful Seventh-day Adventists think differently about political issues?” he asked during a seminar presentation on August 5. “Can two faithful Seventh-day Adventists think differently about a pandemic? Yes, they can!” he answered.  

Finley reminded ASi members attending his presentation that there is a more significant issue at play: “The proclamation of the three angels’ messages to all the world to prepare a people to meet Jesus.” It is something, he emphasized, that should be above any other personal consideration. 

Below is a sample of some of the opinions shared in informal settings during the convention’s first two days. 

The Importance of Staying Healthy 

“The pandemic has brought to the forefront once more the importance of the Adventist health message,” a middle-aged man told me. “We have a treasure in our hands.” 

For him, it’s all about strengthening your immunity. “I don’t judge others, but I think the key is to follow the advice we have to enjoy a stronger immune system.” 

Others seemed to agree. “Physicians have become too dependent on drugs,” another man commented. “They prescribe medications for anything. Of course, if I broke an arm, I would ask for painkiller medication. But I try to avoid it as much as possible.” 

A relatively young man said we need to keep stressing the eight natural principles of health God has given. “It is the key—to follow God’s principles for health,” he said. 

A common thread in ASi members seems to be a deeply held belief in the longstanding Adventist health message. Whether they decide to wear a mask or not, and beyond their particular view of the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccines in general, they have something in common: they believe living the Adventist health message has definite, measurable benefits. 

Living the health message, however, does not prevent members from taking all the possible precautions to avoid infection. “I do my part to protect my family and me and trust God will do the rest,” a masked father of two said. “We have faith, but we follow advice.” 

For others, it is more about the mission. A lady with years of experience in the mission field told me that for her, mission is above any other consideration. “The question is, how can we best accomplish our mission? How can we be more effective for mission? If I have to be vaccinated and wear a mask to do what God has called me to do, I’ll do it.”

A retired nurse also commented that since she was vaccinated, she felt much freer to attend events such as the ASi convention. “It’s comforting to know that even if I get [infected], it is very likely my symptoms will be mild because I got the vaccine.”

No matter what side members take on various pandemic-related issues, they agree that taking good care of your health is key to preaching to others by word and example. 

Prophetic and Mission Significance 

Most members who shared their thoughts in informal conversations agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic might not be, in itself, an event predicted by Bible prophecy. They think, however, that it pre-announces, and ushers in, other events foretold by prophecy at the end of time. “This is just a test,” several told me. “A test of things to come.”  

The future challenges described might include, according to them, a new pandemic, increasing government control and oversight, and even restrictions on meeting and preaching freely. “We have to enjoy this kind of gathering while we can,” a man told me. “It won’t always be like that.” 

Several ASi members emphasized the “blessings in disguise” the pandemic has brought. Amid a lot of sickness, pain, and death, some believe the pandemic has allowed the church and its supporting ministries to revamp their strategies, adapt, and reach an even greater number of people who need to hear God’s plan for their lives. “It is the reason we go on with our mission despite the challenges brought by the pandemic,” a young man told me. “We know God has sent us, and we will go.”

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review