‘They Aren’t Just Numbers; They Are People’
Story by V. Michelle Bernard
“They aren’t just numbers; they are people,” said Frank Bondurant, Columbia Union Conference vice president for Ministries Development, during his presentation today at the Columbia Union Executive Committee meeting, held at the Columbia Union headquarters in Columbia, Md.
At the quarterly meeting, presenters shared baptismal numbers, tithe statistics, membership data and reported on how money procured to homeland missions was used.
--At the beginning of his report, Dave Weigley, union president, said that the ”greatest joy in the world is working for Jesus,” highlighting what is happening around the union, including a union-supported Slavic company in Cleveland; an upcoming seminar on reaching the 21st century mind; and evangelism.
--José D. Espósito, assistant to the president for Evangelism, highlighted efforts happening across the union, including a recent week of evangelism in Cincinnati where more than 20 visitors attended, resulting in at least 15 baptisms.
In total, Espósito said that, in 2023, there have been 4,084 people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, thanks to Seventh-day Adventist evangelism within the union.
--Celeste Ryan Blyden, union executive secretary, shared that union membership currently totals 150,679, which includes 1,126 baptisms and professions of faith this quarter. She also noted there are currently 949 churches, companies and groups.
Blyden also featured a General Conference study that highlighted why members leave the church. She said it is rarely because of theological differences, but more because of life crises, conflicts in the community or feeling like no one misses them or cares about them.
She noted that with the increase of online churches also comes a challenge of having members who are spread out throughout the country. She also touted Safeguarding Peace, a new faith-based resource for abuse prevention and response.
--Emmanuel Asiedu, union treasurer, said that “God continues to bless our union, and our members continue to be faithful. When we use God’s money for God’s business, He is faithful.” Asiedu shared that all eight conferences in the union had a gain in tithe last quarter.
In 2024, the union will spend a significant amount on evangelism: $175,000 on general evangelism; $415,000 on an evangelism ministerium; and $20,000 in young adult initiatives.
Asiedu also noted a recent evangelism and medical service trip that both the Chesapeake Conference and union supported, resulting in the baptisms of more than 700 people and many people receiving medical services.
--Bob Cundiff, president of the Ohio Conference, and Gary Gibbs, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, gave reports highlighting their respective conference’s constituency sessions.
--During the meeting, executive committee members recognized Jorge Aguero (pictured with the union executive leadership) for his six years of service sitting on the committee and 25 years in the New Jersey Conference (NJC). Aguero, president of the NJC, is retiring at the beginning of the year to support his family as his granddaughter is fighting leukemia.
--In his report, Donovan Ross, union vice president for Education, shared that “Seventh-day Adventist education exists in the Columbia Union to nurture a lifelong encounter with Jesus Christ.” The 2023–24 school year opened with 81 Early Childhood Centers, elementary schools, junior and senior academies and institutions of higher education, totaling 7,977 students. Read more here.
--Kelly Butler Coe (see a full article next week), who previously served as Communication director, was elected as vice president for Communication. At the meeting, she said, “We’re a service department” that works closely with all the departments within the union to provide marketing and advertising, workshops, event coverage (in print, video and online) and branding assistance. She also noted the positive response to the November/December Visitor issue on emotional abuse. Read it here.
Coe told committee members that the soon-to-be new columbiaunionvisitor.com will feature articles in English, French, Korean and Spanish.
--Frank Bondurant, union vice president for Ministries Development, says his department helped return $749,700 to the conferences to help fund 41 church plants, 21 homeland mission programs, one urban center of influence, five community service projects and seven young adult projects—all grassroots initiatives.
--Rubén A. Ramos, union vice president for Multilingual Ministries, invited committee members to use every single opportunity to ask youth and young adults to become involved in ministry. At almost no cost, Ramos said his department recently provided 45 portable baptistries to church plants, showing a high commitment to this outreach.
He noted other highlights within Multilingual Ministries, such as 25 Ohio congregations that formed in just one week. “We want to see all the language groups growing in our territory,” he said, “and [we] have a committee working to analyze the groups’ needs and find better ways to reach out to their communities.”
--Terry Forde, Adventist HealthCare (AHC) president and CEO, said the organization recently congratulated two employees who have both served 50 years at AHC. Mike Gentry, Kettering Health CEO, noted the recent advances in cancer care and spoke about the system's new campus—Kettering Health Wilmington—an ambulatory center.
--Cheryl Kisunzu, Washington Adventist University provost, reported, “We look to the future, but what will the future be like? What will the future be? I don’t know. ... [We do know] we will need to be that resource where opportunities are provided.”