A historic gathering of Seventh-day Adventist communication and information technology professionals have converged near Sao Paulo, Brazil for a week-long series of events that seek to better understand technology, its current use in the Church and ways in which it can enhance mission effectiveness.
The Ministry of Information Technology
The week began on August 7 with the fourth annual meeting of information technology (IT) specialists from around the world. A record 336 attendees from multiple countries flocked to the Southern Hemisphere to grapple with the ever-changing technology landscape and the even more dynamic landscape of global mission.
“Reaching the world through technology solutions and services’ is our mission statement,” explained General Conference administrator of ITS Software Development
Stephen Filkoski. His words were reflected in close to two dozen other presentations that peppered the two days of intense meetings—IT is a ministry function that provides tools for effective ministry.
“You have a unique ministry,” said Mabio Coelho, Chief Information Security Officer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to those in attendance. “What you do is no less a ministerial work than pastors and those who physically baptize other people.”
“I am thrilled that the first day of GAiN was fully focused on mission...”
With that in mind, presenters from the world headquarters and the 13 divisions and attached fields shared various updates and tools that are being used or considered to further mission. Coelho discussed cyber security, Filkoski announced dialogue around a developing Human Resource Management System, and an IT representative from the West Central Africa revealed a digital records management system that his Division is working on, allowing all local churches to tap into a centralized database of church records.
“I was impressed with how the various church entities are integrating technology into propagating the Gospel,” said first-time attendee Abitana Hachamba, communication director in Midlands Zambia Conference, in the Northern Zambia Union.
Presentations were more than just show and tell, though. The greater purpose involves collaboration. “Find ways to share your resources with other parts of the world who may not have access to critical tools,” challenged Nancy Lamoreaux, Chief Information Officer for the Adventist Church.
Looking toward the future, major announcements included the development of an “Adventist Cloud,” a denominational alternative to commercial cloud services. Coelho introduced the concept, emphasizing several key drivers to developing an internal cloud such as lower costs and added security as well as general cloud-based features including fostering collaboration and enabling innovative applications. A second major announcement involved the development of a global visual identity for Adventist websites. John Beckett, director of the Office of Global Software and Internet, and Brent Hardinge, assistant director of General Conference Communication demoed several examples of ways in which Adventist websites will take on a coordinated design, while still allowing for customization and unique branding.
The IT meetings were hosted at IATec, the South American Division’s Institute of Technology. The new high-tech building houses dozens of employees, who have been brought together by the Division to “optimize, standardize, and globalize procedures, data, and information flows,” according to the organization’s website.
“The establishment of IATech and bringing together so many talented Adventist professional technologists demonstrates that the South American Division clearly understands the importance of technology in contributing to the mission of the church,” said Luke Pannekoek, Information Technology Manager for the South Pacific Division. “God willing, their impact can ripple around the globe and hasten the return of Jesus.”
GAiN 2017 Off to a Record Start
August 9 launched the second set of record-breaking meetings on the campus of Brazil’s Centro Universitário Adventista de São Paulo (UNASP), a university with more than 6,000 enrolled students. The Global Adventist Internet Network (GAiN) convened with more than 800 attendees from over 80 countries—the most ever. The event, organized annually by the Communication Department of the General Conference, brings together multi-disciplinary communication professionals to discuss best practices and industry trends, while engaging in meaningful networking.
Organizers themed this year’s event “Wired for Mission,” in an effort to emphasize the greater purpose of media technology and communication within the Adventist Church. The first day of meetings featured presentations from Adventist Mission leaders and directors of the six Adventist Mission Centers, offering perspectives on current mission challenges.
“Today we’re going to look into the mission mirror, but we may not like what we see,” said Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission. Krause outlined some startling statistics including that 86% of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists worldwide do not have even one friendship with a Christian. “We do not make friends with non-believers,” he offered. Krause concluded by challenging communication professionals to harness the power of culture in reaching the world’s population. “Study the culture. Look. Listen. Learn,” concluded Krause.
The theme is hitting home with those leading Adventist media outlets. “The presentation from the study centers and the challenge that media entities support the centers in accomplishing their mission really stood out to me,” said Klaus Popa, CEO, Stimme der Hoffnung Media Center and HOPE Channel Germany.
Perhaps the most striking metaphor supporting the theme came early in the lineup from Gregory Whitsett, director of the Center for East Asian Religions. Whitsett, along with his wife Amy, associate director, demonstrated how a vastly different worldview can contribute to a very different understanding of John 3:16. They advocated a multi-step mission process and proposed a mobile app that would aid missionaries in their work, “It’s time for technology and mission to marry each other!” concluded Whitsett.
The first day of the GAiN conference concluded with a surprising display of how media, art, and a passion for mission can leave a significant impact. Dozens of UNASP students put on a coordinated showcase of the university’s commitment to education and mission using dynamic music, interactive projection technology, drama, international costuming and a combination of elements, the effects of which are difficult to capture in words. The result was a long and robust standing ovation—an affirmation of the spirit of innovation and creativity applied to the mission of the Church.
“I am thrilled that the first day of GAiN was fully focused on mission,” concludes Williams Costa, director of communication for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lead organizer. “The presentations, the discussions, the suggestions, the proposals, and finally the presentation from the university—everything was about mission. In my heart it’s so meaningful that people attend GAiN and their first and strongest impression is about mission.”
GAiN participants and presenters will continue to grapple with this much needed relationship between technology and mission over the next few days. Further reports will be available as GAiN 2017 continues through August 13. Follow the event @AdventistReview on Twitter or with the hashtag #GAIN17.