“We’re here to serve with purpose, to have passion in work that we do to spread the gospel, and to build partnerships with communicators,” said Libna Stevens, president of the Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC), about the 29th annual convention.
Nearly 300 dedicated professionals and eager students attended the annual convention, which was hosted at the headquarters of the North American Division (NAD) in Columbia, Maryland, October 18-20, 2018.
Stevens’s statement unpacked the convention’s new tagline, “Purpose. Passion. Partnership.” The tagline reflects the organization’s clarified vision — “to expand and strengthen our global network by developing leaders who pursue excellence in communication.”
“We wanted to highlight that we have a purpose to be part of this mission of spreading the gospel. Whoever we are, whatever responsibilities we have, we need to make sure that our identity is focused on that,” continued Stevens, who is also the assistant communication director of the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “We have to do it with passion because we care. We need to be passionate about God’s church and our role in communicating. In addition, we need to focus on networking because we’re all on the same big team.”
“I hope by the time we’re done, you’ll each have 40 new networking relationships established,” said Daniel Weber, SAC executive director and NAD communication director, during announcements.
Ivan Ruiz-Knott, a second-year board member of SAC, who also attended the convention as an exhibitor, spoke on the necessity of networking, especially when it comes to creativity.
“Without a place like SAC, it’s [easy] to create in a vacuum and not have a lot of feedback. It’s good to have this community,” said Ruiz-Knott, principal at Types & Symbols, which showcased its redesigned Conflict of the Ages series by Ellen G. White, co-founder of the Adventist Church.
“With Adventism, there are a lot of close connections. The two degrees of separation from everybody is something we talk about often. But even though that is the case, you can’t always communicate with those people easily,” continued Ruiz-Knott. “Having events like this, where all of those people come together, is a great way to reconnect to see what’s happening and share what you’re doing. Face-to-face communication is always fantastic.”
Young Adult Spotlight
The three-day convention featured professional development workshops; a presentation by Adventist Health on its revamped brand identity; a “Tech Talk,” which highlighted the must-have gadgets of the year; a Q&A session with Dan Jackson, president of NAD; tours of local museums, a local television station, and the local NPR affiliate radio station; and an unprecedented keynote presentation for the SAC convention.
“Every year we decide who we want to be our keynote presenter,” said Weber to attendees. “We said, ‘What if we pick people you may not know about who are doing some really cool things?’ We decided to feature some younger people who work for the church, or don’t work directly for the church, to help elevate their platform.”
The keynote presenters were Kaleb Eisele, creator of Humans of Adventism, a social-media storytelling, community-building ministry; Erica Jones, assistant director of NAD Women’s Ministries and director of Gorgeous2God ministries, an online safe space for girls to ask difficult questions about various topics, including sexuality, dating, and suicide; Emily Long, founder and editor-in-chief of 71.5 magazine, which provides an avenue of expression for those on unconventional journeys with God; and Justin Khoe, creator of “That Christian Vlogger,” a YouTube ministry that helps viewers “experience faith in the first person.”
Each speaker was given approximately 20 minutes to discuss their ministry and answer questions. At the end of Khoe’s presentation, one audience member raised her hand to say, “Your blog is the reason why I’m still in the church.”
Communicating the Bigger Picture
The Sabbath programming was untraditional, much like the keynote presentation. The Columbia Union coordinated the Friday evening and Sabbath morning schedules. Programs featured a total of six speakers and two musical performances — the Takoma Academy Camerata, and 9- and 12-year-olds Jana and Gabriella Apola, who played the violin.
Celeste Ryan Blyden, vice president for strategic communication and public relations for the Columbia Union Conference and editor of the Visitor, tasked the six speakers with sharing how they communicate God through their ministries. The speakers included Michael Speegle, senior pastor of New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland; Catherine Nyameino Ontita, director of communication for the East Kenya Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; Tim Madding, senior pastor of Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland; Jarilyn Conner, communication professor for Washington Adventist University; Joseph Khabbaz, youth and young adult pastor of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland; and Ann Roda, vice president for mission integration and spiritual care of Adventist Health.
“Those of us whom God has given voice, whether it’s through an e-newsletter, blog, or if our conferences or unions hired us to do videos, run magazines, whatever avenue God has given us the opportunity, [I hope] we will use it [to communicate Him],” said Blyden. “We’re only here and given this call for such a time as this, and then it will be someone else’s turn. So, while we have this moment, what are you and I going to do?”
Testimony at SAC
Tori Allen, a senior at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, studying communication arts with a minor in psychology, arrived at the convention burdened. She said her mind was flooded with doubt as she considered her future.
“People have asked me, ‘What are you going to do?’ It’s just theory, what are you going to do with that book knowledge? How can you apply that? Communication is so broad,’” Allen said. “These are the types of things I’ve been fighting,”
“But then I got here,” said Allen with a huge smile. “First of all, the fact that this exists [is amazing]. It’d be one thing for me to be at a communicator convention — I would still be inspired. But these are Adventists and Christians; these are people who get [the Adventist culture].”
Within the culture, Allen is mindful that the health message is a big component of Adventism. She has held medical professionals in high regard when it comes to their ability to help others, and had been encouraged by a mentor to study nursing.
“But it’s not my passion. I’ve struggled with how I can be an effective Adventist, Christian, and person in general [with communication],” said Allen, who decided against nursing once she realized where her interests lay. “I like talking to people; I like finding out what experiences impacted them and shaped them into who they are.”
Allen attended one of the professional development sessions that focused on writing. During the workshop, she asked for tips on how to improve writing. The presenter’s answer? Reading fiction.
“I could’ve cried when he said that. I used to feel like my hobby of reading books was a waste of time,” said Allen. “I’m a very ambitious person, so I try to use all my time efficiently. So, [I would get disappointed in myself when I would use up my free time] reading books. When he said reading actually helps, I realized it’s an efficient way to spend my time.”
Further, the convention inspired Allen’s decisions for her immediate future.
“This has changed what I think I want to do next semester,” said Allen, who is currently in her final semester but will graduate in May 2019. “I saw these communicators who went out on a [limb]. I saw Justin Khoe do his YouTube channel; I saw Kaleb do Humans of Adventism. I’m seeing people take their ideas and make them [into] something. They have inspired me tremendously. I want to take this next semester to explore my ideas.”
The convention concluded with an awards ceremony that highlighted 31 of the year’s best content productions by Adventist professionals and students in the following categories: writing, design, video, spoken word, and campaign.
The organization’s five top awards were given to the following: Student Award — Sheann Brandon, Southern Adventist University alumnus; Young Professional Award — Heather Thompson-Day, assistant professor of communication at Andrews University; Award of Excellence — Walla Walla University Brand Refresh; Cutting Edge Award — “Forgiven to Forgive,” Gulf States Camp Meeting Campaign; and Lifetime Achievement Award — Martin Butler, founder of SAC’s predecessor, the Southern Society of Adventist Communicators (SSAC).
“I’ve been blessed,” Weber said during his closing remarks. “Having the opportunity to meet all these people, these wonderful communicators, and to hear their stories. It’s been a huge blessing to get to know them a little better and also see their commitment to God, and to the Church.”