João Wolff led the Adventist Church in that region from 1980 to 1995.
Published on: 06-16-2023
João Wolff, former president of the South American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, died in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil, on June 11, a day before turning 93. The cause was multiple organ failure, his family reported. Wolff, who retired in 1996, led the church in that eight-country region from April 1980 to July 1995.
Wolff was born on June 12, 1930, in Santo Antônio da Patrulha, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. His parents, Jacob and Guilhermina, wanted at least one of their nine children to prepare to serve the Adventist Church. To their joy, eight worked for the denomination.
In 1952, Wolff began taking theology courses at the then Colégio Adventista Brasileiro (CAB), today Brazil Adventist University, São Paulo campus. After graduation, he began his ministry in January 1956 as pastor of Porto Alegre Central Adventist Church in Rio Grande do Sul and accounting assistant at the Rio Grande do Sul Conference of the Adventist Church.
In 1957, he married Edy Lil Louzada, a teacher who also graduated from CAB. That same year, he took over the Department of Education and Volunteer Missionaries (current Youth Ministries) of the Rio Grande do Sul Conference.
During the next decades, he held similar positions in other regions at conference level and then union conference level of the Adventist Church. In 1969, he became president of the North Brazil Union Mission and in 1977, president of the South Brazil Union Conference.
Focus on Member Engagement
In April 1980, during the 53rd General Conference Session in Dallas, Texas, United States, Wolff became the South American Division president, a region that includes Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
Wolff’s tenure was marked by intense work on behalf of evangelistic initiatives and the involvement of members in the mission of the Adventist Church. Under Wolff’s leadership, the well-known “Five-year Plans” were implemented. Those plans sought to unify the work of the church across the region and get all members involved, placing the church in “a state of full-fledged and unceasing evangelization.”
Through the “Pioneer Project,” Wolff encouraged members to plant new churches out of Sabbath School classes. Another hallmark of his tenure was the launch of a campaign of mass distribution of leaflets with biblical messages in 1987. One of them, which had more than 14 million copies printed, was entitled, “He is the way out.”
After retiring in 1996, he kept roles of advisor and local church pastor for a total of more than 46 years of service.
Daughters Marisa and Denise shared how the trunk of his car was always full of leaflets. “He was always sharing his testimony, even in the hospital. Witnessing was part of his life,” they said. “Even when he was in a wheelchair, he went down from his apartment with his caregiver to the street every day. There he called to people passing by on the sidewalk and handed them the missionary book of the year. He preached to the best of his abilities to the very end.”
Current South American Division president Stanley Arco recalls Wolff’s enthusiasm to reach more people. “He devoted all his strength to moving the church into mission. His generous leadership left its mark on several generations of pastors, workers, and members. Wolff deeply loved his family and the church. He was a great leader, a passionate pastor, a committed missionary, tireless [in] witnessing and preaching the gospel.”
Wolff is survived by his wife, Edy; daughters Denise and Marisa; grandchildren Malton, Karin, Stefan, and Bruno; and great-grandchildren Miguel and Maitê. A funeral service took place June 12 at Curitiba Central Seventh-day Adventist Church.