“Tonight I want to spend a few minutes talking about God’s oasis, for His people. It is not a place. It's a person, and His name is Jesus,” said G. Alexander Bryant, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), on January 8 at the opening general session of the 2023 Adventist Ministries Convention (AMC) held in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Bryant continued, “In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (KJV).’ This is an invitation to God, through Jesus, for His people. And that invitation is for calm. . . . He asks us first to ‘come.’ … [Jesus] is the first place that we can retreat that brings peace in difficult and troubled situations.”
The three-day convention, starting with a reception and evening general session on Jan. 8 and running through the morning of Jan. 11, was bookended by the Adventist Radio Convention on Jan. 6-8, Adventist Women Leaders luncheon meeting on Jan. 11, and the NAD Children’s Ministries Retreat on Jan. 11-14. In addition to the “Replenish” juice bar, ministry exhibits booths, seminar tracks, and morning hikes, the notion of rest and replenishment spilled into the six general sessions of the AMC.
“When we're tired, something about us changes. This depletion takes us to a place of finally giving ourselves the truth about who we are and what we believe. This type of fatigue that we do not know how to remedy on our own can be used by God,” said Lola Moore Johnston, senior pastor of the Restoration Praise Center in Maryland, as she described Elijah’s situation on the mount, and in the wilderness when he was in hiding. Elijah had to learn to rely on God, to trust in His power — and this is a lesson for leaders today. “I think that God allows [us to be] in this state so that our off-camera selves might be exposed and healed.”
The each general session featured two keynote addresses; two song service blocks with the praise team from the Crosswalk Seventh-day Adventist Church in Redlands, California; short historical session with Michael W. Campbell, director of NAD Archives, Statistics, and Research; and Matthew J. Lucio, pastor of the Peoria Seventh-day Adventist Church in Illinois and host of the Advent History podcast; presentation of ministry awards; and prayer time.
Lessons from Early Leaders
The sessions kicked off with Lucio and Campbell hosting a short segment titled “Historical Replenish,” where the two conversationally shared interesting tidbits from Adventist history described in modern terms. At one of the segments, while talking about the difficulties James White was encountering in early 1878, as plans developed for the “Dime Tabernacle” in Battle Creek, Michigan, Campbell said that the Whites decided they needed some rest and relaxation, to which Lucio rejoined, “So they got a nice little Airbnb house in Colorado.”
“It was incredible for James White — it was only when he stopped working and had some peace, some quiet with beautiful, natural views, that he had the space to kind of recharge spiritually because he was burnt out,” added Lucio.
“It was called the ‘grove experience’ with James and Ellen going out into nature and hiking to a grove of trees. They just took all their frustrations and laid their souls before God, and had this kind of reconversion experience,” said Campbell.
“Basically, the check engine light is coming on saying, ‘Something’s wrong, we need to attend to your soul.’ ... They went and got that spiritual tune-up,” Lucio said.
Keynote speakers included Bryant; Johnston; Jennifer Woody, pastor of the Monroe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington; W. Derrick Lea, director of NAD Adventist Community Services; Elden Ramirez, executive secretary of the Lake Union Conference; David Yeagley, director of Young Adult Ministries for the Washington Conference; Erica Jones, NAD Women’s Ministries assistant director; Ann Roda, vice president of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care for Adventist HealthCare; Vandeon Griffin, NAD associate director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries; David K. Ferguson, senior pastor of the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Tennessee; Pedro Perez, Florida Conference Pathfinder and Adventurer director; and Wendy Eberhardt, vice president of ministries for the NAD and AMC organizer. Each speaker addressed an aspect of replenishing ministry leaders to continue the work they’ve been called to by God.
Speakers addressed topics including the discouragement, burnout, and crises that affect ministry leaders, and how leaders need to take time to replenish spiritually, physically, and emotionally. For some it’s solitude that is needed — time to study the Word, pray, and reflect and renew their faith and commitment. For some it is time with family and friends. For others it is enjoying music, or engaging in humor and laughter.
“Some of our church members may believe that because we are working for the Lord, we don't have to deal with the challenges they face. That is not the case. As you know, we have challenges that we face in our roles, we have challenges that we face with our families and in our work. … We have those moments when we are facing challenges that are causing our flame to start going down,” said Ramirez.
He concluded his general session keynote with this prayer: “Lord, We ask for forgiveness. . . . Help us rekindle that fire and when we see no power, help us to remain faithful and give us the strength that we need to overcome … And [when] our time together here is over and we go back to our homes, we want to be filled with the Spirit and [be] the keepers of the flame.”
Jones, who shared about the many challenges she faced in 2022, said, “It's a choice to say to God, 'I don't get this. And [life] doesn't always seem fair. But I trust You because You can see what I can't. And if You don't move the mountain, I trust that there's a way through.’”
A Work Well Done
Ministry awards in the categories of lifetime achievement and excellence in ministry were given to those serving in a variety of ministries. Those honored included Ralph Ringer, director of Jewish ministries for the NAD; Byron Dulan, vice president for regional affairs for the North Pacific Union Conference; Joyce Fortner, director of Children’s Ministries for the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference; Dora Baker, coordinator of Adventist Community Services for the Bermuda Conference; Don Keele, Jr., director of Young Adult Ministries and Adventist Christian Fellowship for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference; Carla Baker, retired director of NAD Women’s Ministries; John Swafford, retired club ministries director of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference; Terri Saelee, coordinator of NAD Adventist Refugee & Immigrant Ministries; Kimberly Mann, associate pastor at the Oakwood University Church; Ken Rogers, Youth Ministries director for the Southern Union Conference; and Ron Whitehead, executive director for the Center for Youth Evangelism and assistant professor of Youth Ministry at Andrews University.
On Tuesday, January 10, attendees enjoyed a short concert by the Watchmen Acapella singing group. Special late night programming was enjoyed by attendees on Monday night and Tuesday night, with a Sonscreen Film showcase with the first showing of the film “Those Were the Good Days,” and The Skit Guys comedy presentation, respectively.
Time to Replenish
“I knew that I needed God to direct this event. I said, ‘Lord, these are your leaders. What is the message that you want us to present? You know what they need most?’” shared Eberhardt, as she began preparations for the convention.
“After spending time just studying and listening to God, [the need] became clear as I was reading Jeremiah 31, about the Lord restoring us. Then my mind went to the four Gospels, and I went to the story where Christ had sent the disciples out. They were so excited and exuberant with spreading the gospel. Jesus said to them, ‘Come away; come be with Me, we need to be together.’ It's like they just needed to regroup, needed to breathe. And Jesus knew that,” she said.
Eberhart continued, “We have had to stretch ourselves tremendously during this pandemic, to continue to do ministry. Our leaders had to learn how to get beyond the masks and separation and isolation, and I felt the Lord telling me that we needed to ‘come away’ — to replenish through meeting and talking to other ministry leaders, have some time for silence and solitude, and just replenish.”