Rick McEdward, the newly elected president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Middle East and North Africa Union, remembers that as a teen he watched, fascinated, as streams of people disembarked from ships in the Saudi port of Jeddah for the annual hajj.
More recently, McEdward felt a sense of awe as he walked the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, and stood high on a hill above the Adventist-owned Middle East University, gazing down at the sprawling metropolis of Beirut, Lebanon.
A single dilemma filled his thoughts: how could each of those people be reached with the love of Jesus.
“We have a burden to be a light that shares light. How are we going to be a light?” McEdward said Thursday in an interview. “We all need to know the glory and love of God in our lives, and I would love to see that displayed in a wonderful way here.”
The question has become even more personal for McEdward after he was elected on Wednesday as president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, a region that has half a billion people and is one of the most difficult places in the world to share the gospel.
The MENA Union Mission Oversight Committee elected McEdward to replace Homer Trecartin, who asked to return to the United States for health and family reasons. Trecartin and his wife, Barbara, served from the union’s headquarters located beside Middle East University for the past four years.
McEdward, a long-time church planter, will become union president on May 15 after most recently serving as director of the Adventist world church's Global Mission Centers for World Religions and associate director of the Office of Adventist Mission. He is married to Marcia McEdward, the General Conference nurse, and they have two young adult children, Julia, 20, and Joshua, 19.
“We are so grateful to Homer and Barbara for their incredible spiritual, administrative, and mission contribution to the work in the MENA area of the world,” said Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church. MENA is an acronym for the Middle East and North Africa.
“We praise God for the advances made and that continue to be made,” Wilson said in an e-mailed statement. “We are grateful that Rick and Marcia have accepted this new and important assignment.”
For McEdward, moving to the Middle East will be like returning to the home of his youth, a place filled with warm memories of kind people and a newfound relationship with Jesus.
McEdward, 50, grew up in an Adventist family in Seattle, Washington. But at the age of 12, he moved with his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where his father landed a job as an X-ray technician at a large military hospital. As far as the family knew, they were the only Adventists in the city.
“I remember stepping off the airplane as a 12-year-old boy and feeling the blasting heat of the Saudi air,” McEdward said.
The house that McEdward would call home from the next five years stood on the sandy shores of the Red Sea. Every year, McEdward would see large ships sailing across the sea and lining up at a special terminal to offload thousands of devout Muslims on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. It was on the shore of the Red Sea that McEdward developed a personal relationship with Jesus.
“Part of that was witnessing the generosity of our neighbors who were not from a Christian background,” he said. “They were so loving and so kind to us Americans. That pointed me toward my own selfishness and led me to ask the Lord to deal with it.”
McEdward recalled his time in Saudi Arabia as one of his greatest experiences and said it “set the tone for cross-cultural living for my whole life.” McEdward later lived on the Pacific island Palau as a student missionary and, after his marriage, coordinated church planting in Sri Lanka and for the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia Pacific Division from its headquarters in the Philippines.
He also has served as a pastor and, before joining the General Conference in 2011, as associate director of the Institute of World Mission at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
McEdward received his undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University) in 1990 and his Master in Divinity degree from Andrews University three years later. He completed a doctorate in missiology from Fuller Graduate Schools in 2012.
Asked what advice he would offer McEdward, Trecartin said: “Love the people. Listen to them and learn from them.”
Trecartin, 60, who first moved to the Middle East and North Africa region in 1999, taking a job with ADRA’s South Sudan branch, also advised McEdward to make sure he took time for God, his health, and his family.
“The work will never end, and you will not survive unless you make time for those things,” he said.
He said Marcia McEdward could play an essential role in sharing the gospel in the region and urged Rick McEdward to take her along on trips.
“Let her understand what you are doing, and she will minister to people you can’t minster to,” he said. “The front-line workers are isolated and often see only the men come around. It is important for them to have a woman come who can love and listen to the wives and children as well.”
He said that when he finished preaching on Sabbaths, local church leaders usually gathered around him to talk. Barbara Trecartin, meanwhile, would sit on the front row, waiting and talking with the “real” people, he said.
“Often what she saw and heard was far more important and revealing about what was going on than what I would see and hear,” Homer Trecartin said. “Families are important in this part of the world. It opens doors for the Adventists and non-Adventists to see you as a real person with a family and not just a lone man.”
Trecartin, who served as undersecretary of the General Conference Secretariat before his election as president of the newly formed union in 2011, said he was not sure what he would do next but hoped to remain involved in church mission work.
“God knows where He needs us, and He will open the right doors,” he said. “We want to do whatever He needs so that He can come soon.”
McEdward expressed a similar eagerness in seeing Jesus’ soon coming. He said he looked forward to building on Trecartin’s achievements and to working with his team in sharing the light of Jesus with each person in the Middle East and North Africa.
“I would love to see every person have a chance to examine their lives and to consider preparing their lives for Jesus’ Second Coming,” he said.