A desire to celebrate Seventh-day Adventist mission in a nontraditional way has led a church in the U.S. state of Michigan to make a sizeable donation toward a new medical school in Rwanda.
Samuel Thomas Jr., senior pastor at the Detroit City Temple Adventist Church, presented a mock check for $10,000 to Alain Coralie, executive secretary of the East-Central Africa Division, during the church’s first annual International Missions Day celebration.
The funds will go toward the construction of a medical school — the Adventist Church’s seventh worldwide — on the campus of the Adventist University of Central Africa in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. The $6.1 million first phase of the school is scheduled to open in September 2017.
“Words fail me to express my thankfulness for receiving pastor Alain Coralie and his wife into the fellowship of your church and for letting him share with your dear church family about the East-Central Africa Division's dream to do a medical school for the division,” Blasious Ruguri, president of East-Central Africa Division, wrote in a letter to Thomas, a copy of which Thomas shared with the Adventist Review.
“The gift of $10,000 has been received … with great appreciation, sir,” Ruguri said. “Kindly let your dear church board know this and, if possible, let all the members know that we are very grateful indeed.”
The donation has its roots in a discussion by Detroit City Temple leaders in January about how they should mark Seventh-day Adventist missions.
“Mission is close to my heart,” Thomas told the Adventist Review. “My first international trip was to Australia. From that event in 1993, God opened more doors for me to minister globally.”
He said Africa had a special place in his heart after his first visit to speak at a camp-meeting in Zimbabwe in 1997.
So he decided to reach out to Philip Baptiste, special assistant to Ruguri, who had invited him to lead a week of spiritual emphasis at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Kenya in September 2015.
“Next month, African-Americans across the U.S. will celebrate their roots in Africa,” Thomas wrote on Jan. 19. “After the preaching, singing, and diverse cuisine have ended, worshippers are left with the reality they have reminisced but not deposited a meaningful project designed to permanently change lives. While it is admirable to invest locally, City Temple as a church family is ready to reach beyond Detroit to our brothers and sisters in the global community.”
Less than a week later, Baptiste replied with a proposal about the new medical school.
“After talking with our leadership team, here's what we would propose,” he wrote. “We have an educational institution that we are currently fundraising for within our division territory. This is the main project and initiative of ECD and the GC for our 11-country region now.”
The ECD is the acronym for the East-Central Africa Division, while the GC is the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church headquartered in the U.S. state of Maryland.
Detroit City Temple quickly embraced the idea, and its church board allocated $10,000 in accumulated funds for the medical school. Arrangements were made for Coralie, who would be attending annual General Conference business meetings in Maryland in April, to collect the check and give the Sabbath sermon on April 9, the Sabbath designated as the church’s new International Missions Day.
On the big day, the church’s 330 members, together with guests, watched video footage introducing the people, economies, and cultures of the 11 countries in the East-Central Africa Division. Coralie spoke about the medical school. After the worship service, attendees were treated to a special menu of rice and peas, plantains, and other cuisine from East Africa and elsewhere.
Detroit City Temple’s example should be followed by congregations everywhere, said Duane McKey, assistant to the General Conference president for Total Member Involvement, an initiative that encourages each of the church’s 19.1 million members worldwide to find ways to actively share Jesus with others.
“We have a church that wants to be involved in the mission of the world church. That is the spirit of Adventism,” McKey said.
Detroit City Temple’s $10,000 donation, which was transferred to the division via the General Conference, comes as construction starts on the medical school. General Conference and division leaders attended a cornerstone-laying ceremony at the Adventist University of Central Africa on May 12. Other people have also joined the fundraising effort. A group of African businesspeople raised $50,000 toward the school this month. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of the General Conference’s education department, said at the cornerstone-laying ceremony that she and her husband, Frank Hardy, were personally contributing to the school as well. The final cost for the entire school is estimated at $20 million to $30 million.
Meanwhile, Detroit City Temple intends to celebrate International Missions Day again next year, and it is looking for more ways that it can assist the East-Central Africa Division. One idea under discussion is to send qualified professionals on short-term volunteer assignments. The church has identified 14 potential volunteers, including educators who could teach short intensive courses at the Adventist University of Africa in Kenya. The university has expressed interest in the proposal, according to people involved in the discussions.
“If Detroit City Temple Seventh-Day Adventist Church can gift $10,000 to the East-Central Africa Division's Medical School Project, your congregation can too,” Thomas said.