The “Mission in the Pandemic” vespers was the only scheduled programing on Friday, October 30, for the 2020 Year-End Meeting of the North American Division. The evening service highlighted stories of mission within the division’s territory that creatively adapted to the realities presented by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
Kenneth Denslow, assistant to the president of the North American Division, and Jose Cortes, Jr., associate director of the NAD Ministerial Association, led virtual attendees through a series of video reports and live video-conferenced interviews that were streamed on Zoom for executive committee members and invitees. The meetings were also streamed directly on the NAD website, YouTube, and Facebook.
Attendees heard reports of an It Is Written media ministries evangelism series pivoting from in-person meetings to multi-faceted virtual programs; church planting in Washington, D.C., and Richardson, Texas; a church in Apopka, Florida, conducting its worship services as a drive-in; food distribution programs operating in Kansas City, Kansas, and throughout the Nova Scotia providence in Canada; the NAD Vacation Bible School reaching more than 13,000 children and families; and an elder ministering to a remote indigenous village on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska.
The vespers program also included live baptisms broadcast from churches in New York City, New York; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; South Windsor, Connecticut; and Cliffside Park, New Jersey. The baptisms were aligned with various evangelism series that were taking place at the same time as the vespers program. This was the first-time baptisms have been included in NAD Year-End Meeting.
For several conferences and unions who were unable to send a video report, a list of projects and ministries taking place within their respective territories rolled as part of the credits of the broadcast.
“Through these stories of church planting, lives changed, compassion, and discipleship — during a time of a pandemic, racial tension in our nation and throughout the division, and economic hardship — we’ve seen how the gospel continues to move forward,” said Cortes.
The Hispanic Work
Significant time was spent highlighting the robust work of reaching Latinx communities within the denomination, mirroring the exponential growth of the church’s Hispanic and Spanish-speaking members.
Denslow spoke about his appreciation for the division’s Hispanic brothers and sisters. “They’re such a vital part of North America. We’ve been so blessed over the years since the Hispanic work was introduced to the division by the growing congregations and the impact they’ve made in the NAD,” said Denslow. “We’re so thankful to God for the Hispanic work.”
Tony Anobile, vice president of the North American Division for multi-lingual ministries, shared details about the “GPS Caravan” (Grupos Propósito Servicio), training to develop and nurture small groups that began in 2018. The initiative was set to continue this year by specifically training young adults to launch small groups. The plan was to take one bus to 10 cities over 10 days in the spring. Due to COVID-19, however, the training was morphed into a monthly online production April – September that received more than 506,000 views and helped form 1,300 small groups.
Another example of intentionally reaching Latinx communities was illustrated by Manny Arteaga, pastor of the KalĒo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Arcadia, California. Arteaga shared how a weekly meetup he had with 10 of his friends at taco shops inspired the creation of “Tacology,” which blends the love of tacos with the study of theology, especially since tacos are a part of the area’s “street culture,” according to Arteaga.
“Whenever we hung out, inevitably the conversations would turn theological. We said, ‘What if we opened up this conversation to include more people,’” said Arteaga. From there, “Tacology” was formed as a small-group Bible study served with a side of catered tacos for no more than 35 people at a time, due to safety protocols to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re not taco vendors, we’re pastors who love Jesus,” continued Artega. “Bottom line is these spaces are specifically designed to help people think theologically. We believe you can be authentically Latino, Latina, and still be authentically Christian.”
The final virtual report was delivered by Julio Chazarretta, director of Hispanic Ministries for the Southern Union Conference. Chazarretta shared the results of the “Conectados” (Connected) virtual caravan that encompassed the work of the eight conferences within the union. The collaborative series received 75,000 views and yielded 534 baptism across the territory.
“Within the Southern Union, the pandemic has united us even further. We’ve discovered the key for our success, and that’s working together toward the same goal and fulfilling our God-given mission,” said Chazarretta. “We may come from different fields, but we represent one church. We are all on the same team, have the same challenges and beliefs, and desire to see our Lord Jesus come soon in the cloud of glory. I was very thankful for being able to lead out on this initiative.”
Cortes concluded the program affirming ministry leaders for their continue work of innovating mission efforts in their communities and beyond.
“I want to thank pastors, lay pastors, church leaders, and members for the great work you’ve done. Don’t stop loving, reaching, baptizing, and church planting. We must do it with distancing and masks on, but don’t stop doing what God has called you to do,” said Cortes.