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Arne P. Nielsen, Vice President for Education for the North American Division, Passes to His Rest

The unexpected loss of Nielsen, described as "a tremendous servant of God, a great leader, a true friend, a devoted husband and father," has many grieving in the worldwide Adventist community.

Arne P. Nielsen, NAD education vice president, passed away unexpectedly on June 3, 2024. Photo: North American Division

UPDATE: THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 2024, 6:15 PM

Arne P. Nielsen, vice president for the Office of Education for the North American Division (NADOE) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, passed to his rest on June 3, 2024, after several days in the intensive care unit dealing with complications from an acute illness. He was 64.

“We have lost a tremendous servant of God, a great leader, a true friend, a devoted husband and father,” said G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, upon hearing the news of Nielsen’s passing. “We especially lift up his wife, Teen, and three sons — Josh, Jake, and Jesse — and offer to this family our most sincere condolences. Though our hearts are broken, we look forward to seeing Arne again.”

“Our hearts are heavy and burdened with the news that Arne Nielsen died early this morning,” wrote Ted N.C. Wilson, General Conference president, in a communication to world church leaders. Wilson, who knew Nielsen’s parents when they were missionaries, continued: “Arne Nielsen was a very committed educator dedicated to the wonderful spiritual asset of Adventist education. Our deep sympathy and condolences go to Teen, his wife, who works in GC secretariat, their three children, and the extended Nielsen family. What hope we have in Jesus’ soon return!”

In November 2018, Nielsen was voted to serve as the division’s vice president for education, a role he fulfilled until his unexpected passing. Previously he served as the NAD director of secondary education and accreditation from 2014 to 2018.

Larry Blackmer, retired NAD vice president for education, said, “Arne's gift was in collaboration. He had an open-mindedness that allowed him to strengthen relationships and really build the team at the NADOE. During his time at the NAD, he connected with people, with key stakeholders, and really got them to buy into his vision.”

“Arne Nielsen has been a source of stability and support in the Guam-Micronesia Mission for years and has drawn close to many in the islands as he has labored alongside us to reach people with the Gospel. His presence will be greatly missed,” shared Matthew Kirk, GMM president.

From January 2011 to February 2014, Nielsen served as vice president for Integrated Youth Ministries in the Florida Conference, leading Children’s and Family ministries, Youth and Young Adults Ministries, Camp Ministries, and the education department in a joint venture to disciple God’s children. Before that he served for four years as superintendent of education in the Florida Conference (from July 2006 to Dec. 2010) and three years as superintendent of education in the Idaho Conference (from Nov. 2003 to July 2006).

“I was fortunate to work as Arne's assistant while he was the Idaho Conference superintendent of education. He was truly a godly man. No matter how early I arrived at the office, he was already there, deep into his daily Bible study,” said Connie Williams, administrative assistant to the Idaho Conference superintendent of education. “He cared about the teachers. When a teacher with a need contacted him, he worked diligently to have resources and solutions to them by the end of that same day. His strong leadership, and his caring style, had a lasting impact on the schools and teachers in the Idaho Conference.”

Williams added, “Arne’s family was a priority. While his work included many meetings and travel, he always found a way to spend quality time with his family. Arne was very proud of his sons, and his eyes sparkled whenever he spoke about Teen.”

“We would have been happy for Arne to have stayed longer,” said Don Klinger, retired Idaho Conference vice president for administration and planned giving. “He was a team player, supported and appreciated by educators, pastors, office staff, school boards and committees. Adventist education was dear to his heart and he gave it his full support. He assisted in formulating a renewed vision for Gem State Adventist Academy and for education in the Idaho Conference. He was willing to confront challenges and difficulties, but always in a firm, yet diplomatic way. With his gentle, Christlike spirit, he made a significant impact.”

In GMM on an accreditation trip with Arne Nielsen education VP for NAD

Members of the NAD Education Accreditation team pose with staff and faculty of the Chuuk Seventh-day Adventist Mission School in the Guam-Micronesia Mission. Arne Nielsen, NAD vice president for education, is pictured in back row, third left from the school sign). Photo provided by Martha Ban

Impact in the NAD

A lifelong educator, Nielsen believed that the real object of education, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is to transform the lives of students and “restore in man the image of his Maker, … to promote the development of body, mind, and soul” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 15). Believing that all children have the right to reach their God-given potential, Nielsen thought that the best way to accomplish this was by relying on God to lead, building trust and buy-in from educators, developing instructional leaders at the school level, and creating a differentiated system that provides resources and support for educators to grow and flourish. During Nielsen’s tenure at the NAD, he successfully managed several significant departmental initiatives such as:

  • Facilitating school accreditation visits for Guam-Micronesia Mission schools;
  • Providing instrumental leadership in development of NAD’s own student information system, AE-Connect;
  • Guiding the taskforce that updated Journey 2 Excellence, a guide and framework for continuous improvement at all levels of Adventist education;
  • Supporting the development of standards-based learning initiatives in K-12 education;
  • Supporting and advocating for the development of a mental health website, mental health training for educators, and NAD Social-Emotional Standards;
  • Developing the Grade 1-12 Encounter Bible program for NAD schools; and
  • Co-founding the international Encounter Bible committee with the Australian/New Zealand Union to oversee curriculum release and training for the global Adventist community.

“Arnie was an easy, informal, comfortable person to work with. He also had a good sense of humor that made our relationship enjoyable,” shared Gordon Bietz, retired Southern Adventist University president and retired NAD associate director for higher education. “His legacy enriched education worldwide, particularly in measuring and quantifying progress.”

Arne and Teen Nielsen (older caucasian couple posed by palm tree

Arne and Teen Nielsen pause for a moment during a trip to the Guam-Micronesia Mission territory. Photo provided by Martha Ban

Early Days: From Ghana to U.S. to Kenya

Nielsen was born in Ghana, West Africa, to missionary parents from Denmark, and his early years on the mission field instilled in him a love of service, heart for mission, and ability to connect with people from all walks of life.

After graduating from Andrews Academy, Nielsen went on to finish a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education/Health at Andrews University in 1983. He landed his first teaching job at Mount Pisgah Academy (MPA) in North Carolina in 1983. He taught physical education, health, and biology lab; coached gymnastics; and served as a boys’ dean. He eventually served as Mount Pisgah principal from 1991 to 1996. While juggling the responsibilities of a boarding school, Nielsen also completed a Master of Arts in School Administration at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.

“I consider Arne to have been the best principal I’ve served under. He presided over the ‘heyday’ of Mount Pisgah Academy when enrollment hit a peak,” shared John Ratzlaff, retired math and computer teacher from MPA who served before, during, and after Nielsen’s tenure. “Arne had a very level-headed temperament and treated the wide range of staff with consistent respect. I would say his tenure gives evidence that when a person in leadership submits his heart to the Lord, God can work in a mighty way to help the school prosper and change the lives of many students for eternity.”

In 1996, the Nielsen family moved to Africa, where Nielsen spent seven years as principal and business manager for Maxwell Adventist Academy in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Arne Nielsen left a long-lasting legacy at Maxwell Academy. Students, teachers, and staff have been profoundly touched by his love and care. He brought to this East African school a breath of fresh air propelled by his vision of Adventist education in the African context,” Lari Rusenescu, principal, Maxwell Adventist Academy, said. “Arne’s support to Maxwell did not stop at the end of his assignment. He continued to provide guidance through his frequent visits as a member of the accreditation teams. The next visit will not be to Nairobi but we will meet him when Jesus calls us all to go home.”

Something Better educators' convention spark tank awards

In August 2023, at the "Something Better" NAD educators' convention, Arne Nielsen (left) congratulates one of the grant winners at the "Spark Tank" event as judges look on. Photo: North American Division

The Home Team

In 2020, while working for the NAD, Nielsen earned his Ph.D. in leadership from Andrews University after successfully defending his dissertation titled “Coaching and Being Coached: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Education Leaders in the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”

Cathy Payne, NAD Adventist Education administrative assistant, shared how Arne created a family environment for his team. “Arne was more than just a supervisor; he was my brother at heart. We picked on each other like siblings, and we would laugh at things no one else would. I know I went through a very difficult time recently, and he was a constant in my life. When I was crying, he would console me. When I needed a hug, he gave it to me. Arne cared about people; he always had a smile and kind words to say. He was a rock,” she concluded.

“During the time Arne was VP, our digital footprint grew and developed from expanding data collection for data-informed decisions to the development of AE-Connect, our own student information system,” said Martha Ban, NAD director of technology for education. “Arne was far more than a boss. He was a colleague, sounding board, collaborator, mentor, and friend. With Arne at the helm, my work was more than a job. It was an adventure ⸺ with the student and educators at the heart. The impact he made on Adventist Christian education is far-reaching. I am especially grateful for the time I spent with him in our GMM schools, where I really experienced his passion for mission-minded learning.”

Hirotaka Stephen Bralley, director of secondary education and accreditation, concurred. “Arne was a shepherd. He was a living model of how to lead diverse individuals through projects that could only be accomplished together. His care and attention to each person’s value, strengths, and weaknesses allowed him to mentor and coach those around him. He didn’t just lead; he created an environment of growth so that those around him would be able to lead as well. He understood the importance of finding joy in the journey and always relished finding those moments to laugh, explore, and be curious.”

“If I were to sum Arne up, I'd say he's quite simply the epitome of a godly man,” said Marc Grundy, NAD director of higher education marketing. “He was always fair (more than fair), reassuring, even-keeled, a great thinker, and just a super human being who was kind, caring, and giving. In my nearly 30 years of working for the church (and this is probably hard to believe), he's the only boss I actually looked forward to [having] my employee evaluation!”

Arne Nielsen with long-lensed camera

Arne Nielsen enjoys time with a camera with a long lens in his office at the NAD headquarters in Columbia, Maryland. Photo provided by Martha Ban

The newest member of the education team, Juan Antonio Lopez, NAD director of Adventist Colleges Abroad, added, “Arne was able to inspire, help, and sustain our mission during probably the most challenging years since the organization's inception. His role was humble and positive, and he always showed respect for all leaders and faculty of ACA. In my personal relationship with him, especially this past year, he has mentored me in many ways with care and wisdom.”

“The Adventist university college presidents universally experienced Arne as a caring, engaged leader who genuinely cared about each campus and its uniqueness,” Andrea Luxton, NAD associate director, higher education, reported. “His positive and passionate belief in the power of Adventist education at all levels was deeply encouraging and inspiring to me personally and to our higher education leaders.”

Leisa Morton-Standish, NAD director of elementary education, underscored Arne's sense of calling to the teaching ministry: “Arne was very committed to Adventist education. He dedicated his career to serving the church. His passion for mission was evidenced by his years of service at Maxwell Adventist Academy, and the Guam-Micronesia Mission held a special place in his heart.”

“Arne was such a wonderful and gentle boss. He cared for his colleagues and staff, and was always accessible to all of us. We have lost an education giant and a stellar leader!” concluded Evelyn Sullivan, NAD director of Early Childhood Education.

"Arne was quite humorous, articulate, reliable, and caring, to name a few. He was quick to show appreciation and offer encouragement. He was an optimist at heart and often had an uplifting quote to share. It was a pleasure working with/for him for over 10 years, and he will be greatly missed.

My heart goes out especially to his family, whom he loved deeply. May you experience God’s abundant love in a brand new way through caring friends, precious memories, and quiet moments," expressed Yvonne Tait, NAD Adventist Education administrative assistant.

Kyoshin Ahn, NAD executive secretary, said, “Dr. Arne Nielsen was a Christian gentleman and a respected colleague. With his infectious smile and gentle spirit, he touched the lives of many and brought people together for a common cause.”

“Conversations with Arne were always memorable. He was fully engaged in whatever you were discussing, and his questions and comments were articulate and insightful. He would often weave humor into the conversation with a funny story or travel adventure,” said Judy Glass, NAD treasurer. “Arne was passionate about learning and cared deeply about the people in his life. He was a wonderful friend and colleague, and he will be greatly missed.”

In a special moment with NAD staff on June 5, Bryant added, “Arne had an extraordinary gift of being able to bring people together even when there were very strong opposing viewpoints. I believe that was one of his significant contributions and legacies that will reverberate throughout this division and globe for years to come. In our meetings when we were engaged in intense discussions, Arne would always find a way to flash that signature smile and that twinkle in his eyes that communicated we are still friends.”

Bryant continued, “He had a rare combination of gifts that combined dutifulness, high intelligence, deep spirituality, a strong work ethic, great people skills, and a genuine love for people. Arne loved his family deeply. We will miss him dearly, but look to see him in that ‘great gettin’ up morning!’”

Arne is survived by his wife Teen, who has partnered with him in life for more than 40 years; and three sons: Josh, Jake, and Jesse (Noora). 

A memorial service will be held at the North American Division headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 30, 2024. A memorial service will also be held on July 27, 2024, at 3 p.m. ET, at the Mount Pisgah Academy Seventh-day Adventist Church in Candler, North Carolina. Please continue to pray for the Nielsen family.