December 7, 2006 Pretoria, South Africa …. [Elizabeth Lechleitner/Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]

“As a global community, we need to be a voice that articulates the issues, a voice that stirs the conscience of the governments and the people in positions to make a difference,” said Pastor Jan Paulsen, Seventh-day Adventist world church president. His remarks were part of December 4 inaugural events at the church's new Southern Africa-Indian Ocean (SID) regional headquarters located in Irene, a suburb of South Africa's administrative capitol, Pretoria.

“We cannot be content with merely asking, 'What can we do?' We have to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,” he added.

In his address, Pastor Paulsen outlined what he believes is the world church's two-part agenda. While most Adventists readily acknowledge the church's “obvious” mission–that of “nurturing the spiritual life of the global community”–Paulsen stressed its other aim: meeting the “temporal and immediate” needs of both church and community members.

Cautioning against isolationism, Paulsen said, “The church was established primarily for people who are not members and must not be a community for itself. We have a mission to reach those who are outside. The church must be a compassionate, proactive community, addressing the hopes, aspirations, frustrations, sufferings and longings of everyday life.”

In particular, Paulsen highlighted four areas where he expects the church in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region and worldwide to contribute more actively and visibly. Those areas are education, HIV and AIDS, violence and abuse against women and children, and civil war and unrest.

“Education in developing countries for parents who look to a better future for their children has enormous value,” said Paulsen, commending Adventist education's uniqueness in offering not only sound academics and professional training, but also a perspective that values “moral and ethical integrity.”

Adventists must direct considerably more focus, however, to the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Africa, Paulsen observed. Responding to the staggering rate of HIV infection in South Africa, which falls second only to India, Paulsen said, “I suspect sometimes that the global community tires a bit of all this. You hear the same [statistics] so many times that somehow an element of fatigue sets in.”

“God forbid,” he continued, “that the church should ever tire of exploring ways [to] contribute to alleviating some of the sufferings [brought on by] this pandemic.” Paulsen then called on church members to partner with governments and organizations to raise the funds, resources, and awareness necessary to combat HIV and AIDS.

Paulsen added that he expects the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region to “develop a comprehensive, sustained, strong and well-communicated ministry that will train the local churches to be centers of support, hope, love and compassion for people who are suffering.”

“The church is doing many good things for the community, but we've not been effective or strong in making [HIV and AIDS awareness] known to the public, or indeed making it known to the government with whom we wish to partner in addressing this issue,” Paulsen remarked candidly.

Working together with social and state initiatives was a common thread Paulsen wove throughout his address. The regional headquarters' inauguration fell amid a 16-day national campaign to combat violence against women and children.

“I thank you for the challenge,” Paulsen said, “but frankly, 16 days is not enough. The church has to make this issue part of its ongoing initiative in the community. We have, as a church, released a formal statement specifically addressing the reprehensible nature of abuse against women and children. But statements can easily be filed and forgotten if we don't keep articulating the issues and identifying with people in the community.”

Violence in the home, Paulsen implied, is often a reflection of aggression on a national scale. “We recognize the difficulty of finding healing after extensive destruction. The church is engaged in healing, but it's a long process,” said Paulsen, referring to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Paulsen expressed particular concern over the atrocities that continue to plague Africa, most notably in Congo and Darfur.

“We don't say much, and we don't hear much, about the many more whose lives and homes have been destroyed in Congo. And at the moment we have Darfur in Sudan where a quarter of a million people have been killed and 2-3 million people are refugees living in squalor because there is no togetherness of thinking and planning or will and resolve by the international community to implement solutions,” he stated.

Referencing a parable recorded in the New Testament book of Matthew, Paulsen stressed that action, not words, ought to be the benchmark of Christianity. “I suffered from HIV and AIDS, and you loved me and accepted me,” Paulsen said, adding to a passage where Jesus implies genuine concern for humanity far outweighs doctrinal expertise when it comes to eternal value.

“When the cause of the poor and suffering is no longer visible on the agenda of the church,” Paulsen said, “I despair at the church. Christ will hold this church accountable if we are not a compassionate voice for the needs of the poor and do what we can to alleviate their sufferings.”

The inauguration of the new headquarters was laced with symbolism representing the region's unity and diversity, including a flag raising ceremony.

As a civic guest at the event, which was attended by some 300 guests from the church in South Africa and the region, Mike Seloane, African National Congress Member of the Provincial Legislature, addressed the inaugural audience. “Christ was not sectarian. He accepted and loved everybody unconditionally,” Seloane said.

He pointed out that God's character is marked by unity, love, forgiveness, truth, and humility–qualities the church should strive to embody. Seloane also referred to the church's moral voice in society. That voice, he said, “is playing a leading role in providing services and programs that will deal with ethics and corporate governance. This church is known to adhere to high standards of morality.”

Seloane added that “this church has to [m]ake a conscious decision to form partnerships with government and the rest of civil society [while] still reflecting the character of Christ and not compromising the 'truth.' Communities are looking forward to get[ting] restoration and hope from institutions such as churches.”

Seloane, whose wife is a Seventh-day Adventist, said the new SID offices “must be offices of hope and peace. This church through this office has to look at Sub-Saharan Africa's problems, like HIV and AIDS, without being judgmental [and] restore homes through showing unconditional love to the infected individuals and families.”

“This is a special day for our church on the continent of Africa, and especially its Southern part,” said Paul Ratsara, SID president. The opening of SID's new headquarters drew a wide audience of regional church officials, including representatives from 23 of the region's countries and territories. Together with Ratsara, Solomon Maphosa and Jannie Bekker, regional secretary and treasurer, respectively, officiated inaugural celebrations.

Among representatives from world church headquarters were Matthew Bediako, the world church's executive secretary, Robert Lemon, its treasurer, and, Pardon Mwansa, one of the world church's vice presidents and a former leader of the region.

The Pretoria headquarters will replace SID's former offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, and will minister to a regional membership of some 2 million Adventists. The church formally established its work in the southern part of Africa in 1887 in Cape Town, which for decades hosted its regional headquarters.

According to Ratsara, the move from Harare will take place over the next few weeks. The spacious three-story complex, located in one of Pretoria's business parks, will house some 50 personnel. SID headquarters is one of three African regional church centers. Headquarters for Eastern Africa are located in Nairobi, Kenya; Abidjan, Ivory Coast hosts Western African regional offices.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Adventist News Network.

Image by Image by ANN. Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN
Image by Image by ANN Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN

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