Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Pacific Division (SPD) experienced a significant increase in baptisms in 2020, regional leaders recently reported. The SPD recorded 49,058 baptisms in 2020, with 8,646 professions of faith, up from the 34,857 (with 11,223 professions of faith) recorded in 2019.
According to Adventist leaders, the 40-percent growth in the Trans-Pacific Union Mission (TPUM) and 30 percent in Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM) is noteworthy as a higher-than-normal growth rate. TPUM is based in Fiji and includes other Pacific islands such as Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu, among others.
“When countries in these unions experienced lockdown, [across the Pacific Islands], people were still able to meet in groups of between 50 and 100,” SPD president Glenn Townend said. “Both of these unions [TPUM and PNGUM] have focused on the harvest cycle of disciple making. They have been very active in each area of the process to make a disciple-making disciple. There has been a lot of training, models, and practice in this with World Changer Bibles and Bible reading groups.
“Many people were able to lead groups, share their faith, and give basic Bible studies to people and allow the fellowship of the people and the Holy Spirit to bring about the transforming life change in Jesus,” Townend added. “These groups increased the involvement of many people and were not pastor dependent, and both the pastors and the people liked the results.”
“We have been too comfortable in our church building[s],” TPUM president Maveni Kaufononga said. “COVID-19 closed [the churches] and forced us outside of our comfort zone. The Spirit of God has provided so many ways for us.”
Throughout the past five years, TPUM has focused on evangelism, empowering different parts of the membership each year. Providentially, in a year that technology was so crucial, 2020 was the year of young people.
“Prior to COVID-19, we dedicated 2020 as a year of our young people,” Kaufononga said. “We had a plan, COVID-19 came and adjusted our plan, but [at least] there was a plan for evangelism. We must be intentional about evangelism and have a plan. Circumstances may change, but with a plan in place, it will guide us.”
According to Kaufononga, one factor that may have increased the church’s visibility in Fiji during 2020 is that many more people tuned in to watch evangelistic television programs while locked down at home. Most of the countries in the Pacific have a strong Adventist presence through local Hope Channel television or FM radio stations. “COVID-19 stirred up people’s hearts to be hungry for a message of hope,” he said.
Given that baptisms around the world have decreased, Kaufononga said the church must “find the way to fulfill our mission God’s way.”
“The Holy Spirit is working in many different ways; we just need to join Him. With this theme of ‘I Will Go,’ our people are committed to go! We must not allow COVID-19 to stop us.”