1,700 Adventist laypeople convene in Orlando, Florida, despite ongoing challenges.
Published on: 08-05-2021
An estimated 1,700 members and guests have traveled to Orlando, Florida, United States, for the 2021 Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) International Convention. Under the theme “The Three Angels’ Messages: Into All the World,” the event had been planned initially for 2020 but had to be rescheduled.
The 2021 convention opened on the evening of August 4 and will continue till August 7, while keeping to the social distancing and prevention protocols in the state of Florida as much as possible.
Orange County, where the convention venue is located, has been under a state of emergency since July 28 amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in force recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of “substantial” and “high” transmission of the virus. It is estimated only 30 percent of convention attendees are wearing masks.
The event includes an opening plenary session by Amazing Facts ministry president Doug Batchelor and three seminar tracks with speakers that include television network 3ABN vice-president and chief operations officer Jill Morikone, international evangelist Mark Finley, and It Is Written speaker/director John Bradshaw, among others.
The three tracks approach the topic of the three angels’ messages, recorded in the Bible in Revelation 14, from different but complementary angles, organizers said. Based on Bible prophecy, Adventists believe that God has called them to share those messages to worship God and leave systems of false worship.
According to the event program, the first track will discuss how to relate to God while sharing the three angels’ messages. The second seminar track will present how to relate to law and government while spreading the three angels’ messages. The topics of this second track include “Jesus, the Coming Crisis, and our Relationship to Civil Authorities,” “How to Respond to the Sunday Law,” and “How to Identify a Conspiracy Theory.” Finally, the third track will discuss how to relate to friends, neighbors, and co-workers while spreading the three angels’ messages.
Television network 3ABN will broadcast and record the plenary sessions, ASi leaders noted.
The Joy of Meeting in Person
ASi members said they are glad to finally attend an event in person after so many months of video-conference meetings.
Long-time member and supporter Jackie Small shared that, together with a friend, flew from Tennessee to Orlando to attend the convention. Both explained they had earlier contracted COVID-19 and recovered from it, and now feel thankful to be able to travel and meet friends in person again.
Small’s friend shared that for years, Small has contributed to several ministries and mission initiatives. “ASi is an opportunity to meet in person some of the leaders of the ministries she’s been supporting,” she explained. Small agreed, adding, “[Attending the ASi convention] is a highlight in my year. It’s a wonderful spiritual blessing. You see old friends and also make new friends. I love it!”
Blessings in Disguise
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unexpected challenges to church and lay-led ministries, ASi president Steve Dickman acknowledged. But according to him, there is a silver lining in all of this. “As I think about the difficulties that our churches and supporting ministries face, my heart is cheered by Jesus Christ,” he wrote in the welcoming message to the convention attendees. “He is the answer to all the challenges.”
But if the pandemic’s toll has resulted in significant challenges for many ministries, others said the past 18 months have been a time for growth and expansion. One of them is Adventist World Radio, the official radio network of the Adventist Church. “This has been a wonderful time for us,” Duane McKey, AWR president, acknowledged. “We are doing very well.”
Another ministry that found unexpected blessings during the pandemic is F.I.T.T. Challenge, a food and health initiative based in Summerville, Georgia. In 2016, Gabriel McClover and his family opened a health-food restaurant in the 4,500-resident town northwest of Atlanta. Since then, they have expanded by offering fresh meal plans and delivery options, coaching, and health and lifestyle classes, among other services.
The McClovers called their program F.I.T.T. Challenge from the words “Food Inspiring Total Transformation.” According to Gabriel McClover, a side-effect of the pandemic restrictions in 2020 was a significant growth of their business. “We had been doing delivery two or three years before COVID, so we were way ahead of the game. When we had to close the restaurant, the delivery business exploded,” he said.
Despite the pandemic-related restrictions, the McClovers reported that they visited 32 U.S. states since the beginning of the pandemic, training people in churches and other Adventist ministries. They recently returned from Minnesota, where they are working on a joint project with the Minnesota Conference. “Now literature evangelists are canvassing with the F.I.T.T. Challenge in Minnesota,” he shared, beaming.
What Is ASi All About?
In his welcome message, Dickman reminded attendees what a privilege it is to meet again. He gave all credit to God. “God has opened the door for us to be here together in person,” he wrote. “I am so thankful.”
Dickman, however, reminded his audience that the meeting is not an end in itself. He added that ASi members and guests should use every opportunity to fellowship and network for mission work. “If I have learned anything in the last year and a half, it is not to take face-to-face fellowship for granted,” he shared. “Our theme [about the three angels’ messages] … deserves our best energies and attention.”
Other ASi members seemed to agree.
Take Barbara Taylor, for instance, a businesswoman and church planter based in Copper Mountain, Colorado. Taylor began attending the ASi conventions in 1991, not long after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist. One of the things she loves about ASi, she shared, is that it demands active participation. “ASi is an involved organization; it is not just about sitting in the church pews,” Taylor said. It is one of the reasons, she emphasized, that she’s prompted to keep attending the convention year after year.
Another reason, Taylor noted, is the ultimate goal of the organization. “ASi is a wonderful group of people who are in love with the Lord and enjoy ministering to others,” she said. “They are committed to bringing people to Jesus and sharing the three angels’ messages. They love telling others that Jesus is coming soon.”