April 29, 2021

‘Difficult Situations Brought Us to Our Knees’

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Seventh-day Adventist leaders in the Inter-American Division (IAD) began their annual mid-year business meetings on April 27, 2021, by reflecting on God’s leadership, guidance, and blessings throughout the territory during the past quinquennium. Despite the challenges of a lingering pandemic, IAD leaders praised God for His care and protection as the church moves into a new five-year term.

IAD administrators, speaking before executive committee members, called upon God to anoint and equip each church leader and member across IAD with the Holy Spirit to complete the task of spreading the gospel wherever He leads. Leaders also pledged to accomplish the strategies and initiatives of the world church’s I Will Go plan focused on strengthening evangelism, education, and service to the community across the region.

“We pledge that we will continue to serve the people of God in this territory through spiritual and transparent leadership,” Elie Henry, IAD president, said, alongside his fellow administrators, secretary Leonard Johnson and treasurer Filiberto Verduzco.

Department directors also joined in pledging their renewed dedication to executing plans while inspiring and motivating regional leaders to engage in reaching every community with the hope of salvation.

The more than 160 executive committee members joined in the online opening ceremony, vowing to continue to proclaim the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 and to motivate leaders and members throughout the IAD region to make a personal commitment to sharing the gospel everywhere.

“Since our last executive committee meetings in November, our church has experienced difficult situations that brought us to our knees, calling fervently on God for His intervention,” Henry said. He referenced the passing in December 2020 of Erwin González, who had been publishing ministries director for IAD, and most recently Pablo Carreño, treasurer of the East Venezuela Union, who died of COVID-19 earlier in April 2021. “We experienced the loss of two of our executive committee members, both great men of God,” Henry said. He encouraged all committee members to pause for a moment to reflect on the lives and the legacy of hundreds of leaders and church members who passed away across the IAD in the wake of the pandemic.

Executive committee members moved quickly at the start of the business meetings to vote on the nominating committee tasked with presenting names for IAD department directors.

Secretary’s Report

Leonard Johnson, IAD secretary, gave a brief report on growth and losses of the church membership for 2020. As of December 2020, the IAD membership stood at 3,675,689. Ninety-four new congregations formed in that year, a significant decrease from 393 in 2019, Johnson said. Baptisms went down compared to previous years, to 85,463, without counting those who joined the church through profession of faith. Nevertheless, there are signs that the church is moving more strongly since the initial months of the pandemic, he said.

“Losses continue to be a challenge for us, but we are seeing changes,” Johnson said. Among the losses included the 8,831 church members who died in 2020, more than usual, he said. According to his statistics, nearly 4,000 pastors are ministering in more than 23,000 churches and congregations, an average of 1,155 members and 4.7 congregations per pastor. With an estimated population of 301 million residing in the IAD territory, there is one Adventist church member for every 82 persons.

“This report is more than numbers and statistics, because we continue to focus on our strategic initiatives that are strengthening the church,” Johnson said.

Treasurer’s Report

Filiberto Verduzco, IAD treasurer, began his report by reflecting on how God sustained the church after a difficult 2020. “We have gone through — and continue to go through — challenging months, but we have felt the hand of God every month during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. There were months of much uncertainty for many church members, but through it all, the church member in the region is faithful and continues to give to keep the church moving in its mission, he explained.

For 2020, tithe contributions went down 9.25 percent compared to 2019. Offerings also went down 17 percent compared to offerings given in 2019. Mission offerings have decreased significantly not only in the IAD but also in other church regions, Verduzco said.

“We must promote the missionary offering in our territory because God assures us of His blessings as we give to help others,” he said.

In the first quarter of 2021, there has been an increase of 2.3 percent in tithes compared to the first quarter of 2019, as well as an increase of 1.4 percent in mission offerings compared to the first quarter of 2019, Verduzco reported.

"Time and time again, God has guided the finances in the Inter-American Division,” Verduzco said. Even amid the pandemic, every IAD union was sent an additional 54 percent over the regular budgeted annual appropriations, he added.

“We continue to be committed to working hard at strengthening the financial system of the church because we are dealing with assets that belong to the Lord; we must take care of them,” Verduzco said.

The division’s working capital was 183.09 percent, and its liquidity 132.45 percent as of March 2021, IAD undertreasurer Ivelisse Herrera reported.

Executive committee members approved the treasurer’s report and financial report of December 2020 and as of March 2021.

Leaders also voted to approve the proposal from the recent General Conference Executive Committee meetings to hold a special General Conference Session on January 18, 2022, in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. Sixty-five delegates from the IAD territory will participate in the session to discuss amending the GC Constitution to allow delegates to join by digital means in the future if needed.

The opening day of the business meetings also featured presentations on outstanding growth and mission initiatives by each IAD department and ministry. All of them have made a difference in the life of the church in 2020 and the previous quinquennium, leaders said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.