“There are many across the territory who are waiting for that moment to give their life to Jesus because they have received the light of the gospel,” Elie Henry, president of the Inter-American Division (IAD), said. His remarks were part of the final charge to the more than 650 lay evangelists and church leaders gathered during the last day of the IAD’s Festival of the Laity held in Panama City, Panama, in early August. “And we must continue to testify and advance the mission,” he said.
“Our church continues marching on and only stops to baptize. That’s Inter-America,” he continued. “But we must remain committed as church leaders, pastors, and laypersons to sharing the message of salvation with greater member involvement and impact the territory even more.”
Henry appealed to laypersons and ministers to cling to the Word of God and trust in His providence as they keep the spirit and passion for mission work.
The festival was part of evangelistic initiatives and activities commemorating the centennial anniversary of the IAD, which was officially established in 1922.
More People to Reach
“There are still many more to reach before Jesus comes, Henry said. “Our utmost concern should be helping persons to find the eternal peace only found in God.”
Henry praised the tireless work of church leaders and lay evangelists in Panama for reaching 100,000 members in that country. Jose A. Iglesias Torres, the 100,000th member, was baptized during the worship services as festival delegates cheered on. Iglesias, a business owner in Panama City, has been part of a special small group created to reach upper-class individuals in urban areas.
“This is a dream come true, to reach a membership of 100,000,” Panama Union president Jose De Gracia said. Before the Panama Union was formed in 2015, it had 40,000 members and was part of the South Central American Union. As the centennial celebrations approached this year, church leaders and lay evangelists doubled their evangelism efforts to reach more than 7,000 new believers. “Our church would see an average of 3,500 baptisms each year, but this year has been historic thanks to the extraordinary commitment of our lay members,” De Gracia said. “And the year is not over yet.”
Crucial Role of IAD Laypersons
Themed “His Light Prevails,” the festival gathered hundreds of outstanding laypersons from August 4 to 6, 2022, to highlight the crucial role the layperson plays in growing the church, IAD personal ministries director Melchor Ferreyra said. The festival comes after a 12-year hiatus. The last time the IAD held a Festival of the Laity was in 2010.
Ferreyra reminded the lay delegation about their important contribution to advance the mission of the church while pointing to the overall initiatives that fall under the IAD’s strategic plan to evangelize, educate, and serve the community. “We want to accomplish more through discipleship, while preparing, motivating, and inspiring others to be totally involved in the mission of spreading the gospel,” he said.
Delegates were presented with new resources that can assist laypersons in the task of discipleship.
“We want to reach the goal of having at least 100,000 lay preachers, hold 100,000 small groups campaigns, engage 200,000 Bible instructors, and 100,000 missionary couples, this year and next,” Ferreyra said. “Proclaiming the good news of salvation has always been at the core of our mission, and I know that with the dedication and passion for mission among our lay members, we can reach that goal.”
Honoring Lay Delegates
Leaders honored delegates from each of the 24 unions, or church regions, in the IAD for their dedication to the mission and significant contribution in growing the church in their respective region. In addition, personal ministries directors from each of the unions were recognized, as well as De Gracia of Panama, for his leadership in growing the church in Panama and facilitating the festival with his team of leaders and staff.
Sergio Moctezuma, who led Sabbath School and personal ministries in the IAD from the 1960s to 2000s, was honored in absentia for exceptional leadership in providing training and guidance to thousands of laypersons across the territory. Moctezuma organized the first-ever Festival of the Laity in 1969, the first in the IAD and in the world church.
“We want to take a moment to honor Sergio Moctezuma,” Ferreyra said. “He’s known as the father of the festivals of the laity, citizen of many countries in Inter-America and South America, mentor of mentors, teacher of teachers, and was not able to be with us here in Panama.”
Large lay delegations from the South Colombian and East and West Venezuelan unions briefly connected online during the live program on August 6 to send special greetings from their respective regions.
The program also included several panel discussions on the authority of the Bible, creationism, the judgment, and other pillars of the faith. In addition, the festival included prayer sessions, a drama performance, regional lay evangelism progress reports, media preaching tools, and more.