May 15, 2015

No Free Camel Rides at GC Session

news editor, Adventist Review

Free camel rides. A Bedouin tent. An iPad giveaway.

Homer Trecartin, leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Middle East and North Africa, batted back and forth these ideas at a brainstorming session with his communication coordinator, Chanmin Chung.

The dilemma: how to make sure that their booth about God’s work in strict Arab countries gets noticed in the exhibit hall of the upcoming General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas.

“We got stressed out thinking about how we could satisfy people’s expectations toward the Middle East and North Africa,” Chung said. “How could we attract people to our booth?”

Their solution? Good old-fashioned mission stories with a twist. There are stories that visitors will never hear elsewhere because they are too sensitive to share in the media. A few people might even feel impressed to become missionaries.

The challenge of the exhibit hall is shared by many of the 600 Adventist organizations that will vie for attention in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center during the Adventist world church’s quinquennial business meeting, held July 2 to 11 in the Alamodome stadium next door.

Previous General Conference sessions set the bar high. An Asian organization once shipped a local bus to the United States to showcase at its booth, while another group offered men’s neckties emblazoned with the Adventist Church’s logo. One of the biggest hits was a booth with a flock of lambs that children could pet.

This year’s booths also promise to impress.

Some of the church’s 13 divisions are shipping sizable containers to San Antonio.

Washington Adventist University’s marketing team has spent considerable time developing a simple yet eye-catching theme for the university’s booth, spokeswoman Angie Crews said. Without giving anything away, she said various details were being finalized that she hoped would astonish visitors.

GoodSalt, owner of scores of well-known Adventist paintings and other artwork, also has been coy about its booth. Its director, Lars Justinen, said he didn’t want to ruin the surprise but could reveal that he would announce the launch of Advent100, “a special evangelism resource exclusively for the Seventh-day Adventist world church.”

“I can say that it will be the start of the most significant resource for Adventists involved in evangelism in generations,” he said by e-mail. “That may sound a bit bold, but I write that without exaggeration. I can say that it addresses the needs of all Adventists spreading the gospel in this visual age.”

The Andrews University booth at the last General Conference session in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Robert East / ANN)

“A Couple of Insane Ideas”

Back at the Middle East brainstorming session, Chung proposed “a couple of insane ideas” about holding a raffle for an iPad or for two plane tickets for a mission trip to the Middle East, he said. He and Trecartin, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, also considered giving the booth an Arab theme such as a huge pyramid, free camel rides, a Bedouin tent, or a statue of a camel that people could pose with for photos.

Adding to their stress was the fact that the union will make its debut at the General Conference session. The union, with just 3,400 Adventist believers living among a population of half a billion people, started operating as an autonomous detached field in 2012 after previously being part of both the Inter-European Division and the Trans-European Division.

“People expect something when they see our name and they know that it is our first time at the General Conference session,” Chung said. “It is not an unusual expectation because, as you know, each organization pours energy and time into impressing visitors. In addition, the Middle East and North Africa are still exotic. Expectations are too high!”

But reality sank in. The union’s funding possibilities were limited and it would have to settle on a booth measuring a tiny 10 feet by 10 feet (3 meters by 3 meters).

A Secret Weapon

Trecartin and Chung, however, refused to be deterred and decided that the union had a secret weapon: amazing stories of God’s power that cannot be shared in the Adventist Review or other Adventist media.

“Personally, I would like to send many stories about our secret evangelistic meetings, baptisms, and many other miraculous stories related to the unreached people of our territory,” Chung said. “However, we can’t, and it won’t happen.”

So the union decided to make its mission stories the focal point at both its booth and a report that it will deliver at the General Conference session on the evening of July 4. They announced the mission focus via a well-received social media campaign with PowerPoint-style slides reading, “There will be no camel riding! There will be no Bedouin tent. But we have many exciting mission stories.”

Trecartin explained that the main goal of the booth and the report is to invite people to make a major difference in one of the most challenging mission fields for the church.

Some people may wish to give money, but that will not be the union’s focus. Trecartin noted that Jesus never told His disciples to pray for money but often told them to pray for laborers.

“That is our great lack. We need people that are willing to leave the comforts of home and come and join our team,” he said.

He and Chung are praying that the message will strike a chord.

“We expect people to focus on the simple core of our union and its mission, without any of the bells and whistles,” Chung said. “We hope this will be a blessing to everyone. After all, when we think about the essence of the General Conference session, it is all about spiritual revival and rearming ourselves with the mission spirit.”

The exhibit hall is scheduled be open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on July 5 to 10 and 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. on July 11. The Middle East and North Africa Union booth is located at C1748, Convention Hall C.