June 10, 2022 | St. Louis, M, United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
A former president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Inter-American Division (IAD), reflects on General Conference Sessions past, the challenges the church in the division faced, its remarkable growth and what made a difference among the multi-cultured territory.
Considered as a giant of Inter-America in the last half of century, Pastor George W. Brown is known to be one of a handful of leaders who shaped the course of the church territory to what it is today.
It was 1966 when Pastor Brown stepped into the General Conference Session in Detroit, Michigan, United States. The time when GC sessions were held every four years, he says. At 42, he had been recently appointed as president of the Caribbean Union College in Trinidad, now the University of Southern Caribbean. Prior to that he served as church pastor, dean of men, youth ministry leader and education director for the Caribbean Union.“There was a big crowd and I was profoundly impressed to see how well the Adventist Church had been organized, its progress and achievement throughout the world,” said Brown. “I was very much impressed by what I witnessed there.” Robert H. Pierson was the president of the General Conference at the time and what Brown remembered the most was his utter surprise when someone from the nominating committee came to him for an interview to become the youth director for the IAD.
Forty-four years had passed since the IAD been officially organized in May 1922, at GC session in California, United States, and the territory had seen a lot of growth throughout its regional territories in Mexico, Central America, The Caribbean, the French-speaking territories and the countries on the northern tip of South America.
Challenges at the time
“There was a movement in some of the areas of our division wanting to fragment a little bit from the linguistic point of view and that concerned me,” he said, “because Inter-America became what it was then because of the unity that had existed before.” Once Brown moved to work at the Division office in Coral Gables, Florida, he said: “I was hoping that we would get into a new era when there would be greater passion for remaining united as part of the world church.”In 1975, Brown was appointed to be field secretary for the IAD under the leadership of Pastor Bender L. Archbold, the first native-born Inter-American to become president who led the church to become the fastest growing and largest of the world divisions.
Under his new assignment, Brown had more contact with the administration and he began to understand the importance of making sure every effort was made to keep the IAD united ethnically, linguistically and spiritually.
The three main languages in Inter-America and are still English, Spanish and French.
“To think of the various languages, cultures of our division and yet remaining a solid example in evangelism and church growth meant a great deal to me and I wanted to maintain that in the future,” he explained. Leaders began to create an atmosphere of oneness during committee meetings, which were held at different parts of the IAD territory to build mutual respect, he said. “The message was clear: ‘All welcomed, none more important than the other,’” he said.
Changes in the right direction
“I could feel there were changes in the right direction, but from the particular area from which this was brewing there was still some attempt to bring about some type of separation,” explained Brown. It was something Pastor Brown had to address more purposefully once he was elected as president of the IAD at GC session in Dallas, Texas in 1980.
“In our committee meetings, in any form of communication, during our visitations to the field, as well as the messages that were given, devotionals, and all activities, we had to convey that message of unity,” he said.
At the time, the Lay Activities department launched the Festival of the Laity, which was a great program that helped unite people regardless of nationality or the language, he said. It was the first Festival of the Laity ever heard of around the world church and one that brought about an amazing momentum among the laity to further spread the gospel, thanks to the visionary leadership of Pastor Sergio Moctezuma, said Brown.
Territory-wide events like celebrating evangelists who had led 100 or more new believers to baptisms during one year, youth activities, and more. The goal was to emphasize the unity of the division. When that is done, he said, “you gradually develop a culture of oneness.”
Bringing about unity
“Everything we did was to bring about the necessary cohesion to keep the division united. It was intentionally done,” he said. Yet you can intentionally do something but at the same time create a problem, said Brown. “We had to be very wise, very tactful in all our approaches so that people, our leaders would learn the value of remaining united.” It took a lot of creativity, prayer, and dialoguing, he added.
Under Pastor Brown’s leadership from 1980 to 1993, the IAD was the first to reach 100,000 baptisms in a year and it continued year after year. When Brown retired in 1993, the IAD had over 1.5 million members.
“I was very pleased because when the time came for me to retire in 1993, I was greatly blessed to see the united force of workers that we had in our division,” said Brown.
One people, one message, one hope
Today, the very name Inter-America is pregnant with meaning, he said. “It had so much to do with a united force and evangelism, in education and in every aspect of the church: one division, one people, one message, one hope, united in that great world mission of sharing the gospel.”
Session after session he’s attended, this year’s GC session becomes his 12th, has been impressed by the greatness and blessings of God, and a lot of changes to the constitution and bylaws which have favored the growth of the church around the world.
This year, Pastor Brown, as an IAD delegate, has been watching with his wife Carla and voting from his home in Florida. “We are richly blessed with the technology that has allowed us to accomplish so much even during this terrible period of the pandemic,” he said. Yet as Seventh-day Adventists, the benefits of technology have been a great blessing, but at the same time “we must remember it is not technology that will finish the mission, but people who are fully committed and empowered by the Holy Spirit united to finish the work.”
At 98 years old, Pastor Brown said he has no illusions that he’s going to be around for another GC session but remains prayerful that the church will continue with a sound biblical emphasis, united and ready for Jesus Soon return.