Israel Leito led the Inter-American Division for almost a quarter of a century.
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Published on: 03-26-2018
Inter-American Division (IAD) president Israel Leito announced his retirement from church service today as the denomination’s regional business meetings commenced in Miami, Florida, on March 24, 2018.
Next to his fellow administrators, Leito addressed the executive committee representing the 24 major church regions, or unions, in Inter-America that decision to leave came about after much consideration and prayer.
“By the grace of God I have served the church in the IAD for many years and have decided to retire as of August 1,” said Leito as the packed auditorium grew silent. Leito spoke highly of the level of dedication and commitment he has witnessed from Elie Henry, executive secretary and Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer, as they led the division together as top administrators.
Leito shared one reason why Ted N.C. Wilson was scheduled to be part of Inter-America’s bi-annual business meetings and why these were moved ahead of the world church’s Spring Meetings next month.
Before the nominating committee stepped out to study names, Wilson took a few moments to acknowledge Leito’s outstanding leadership.
“On behalf of the world church and the General Conference I would like to express strong appreciation to Pastor and Mrs. Leito for their very extraordinary extension of their lives in service of their church,” said Wilson. “How do you deal with someone who has been a president of a division for nearly a quarter of a century? Pastor Leito is so focused on evangelism so enthusiastic about young people.”
Leito, who has been president of the Inter-American Division since 1993, has led the church from 1 million to 3.7 million members. He holds the record for the longest-serving division president for more than two consecutive terms, according to the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
His 48 years of denominational service include more than 41 years in Inter-America, in the Netherlands, Central America, and the IAD headquarters.
“I want to express my profound gratitude, express my extreme appreciation for the way God has led you, and I think so many feel the same,” added Wilson as committee members stood to their feet in applause.
“With the blessing of God, Inter-America will do many more things, so there is nothing to fear,” said Wilson as he quoted 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Leaders prayed for Leito and his family before the nominating committee stepped away to study new names for the IAD presidency position.
Like everyone in the auditorium, the announcement brought shock to Josney Rodríguez, ministerial secretary of the church in Inter-America, and former union president in Venezuela.
Rodríguez, who learned of Leito by reading through his articles in the youth magazine printed decades ago, was stunned by the announcement. “I am proud to have had him as a mentor, and seen the incredible vision of ensuring that the church is better cared for through the organization of more unions and conferences across the territory.”
Leito was instrumental in re-organizing the church territory in Inter-America from 11 to 24 unions, and from 60 local fields to 150 since he was elected in 1993.
His leadership also saw the establishment of the Inter-American Theological Seminary (IATS), which for decades has been offering graduate degrees, equipping hundreds of ministers to minister throughout local churches and institutions in the territory.
“I feel like my training wheels have just been taken off,” said Efraín Velázquez, president of IATS, as he was taking in the news of his mentor leaving. “I remember being 15 years old when I met Pastor Leito in 1989, as I was a layperson in my church back home in Puerto Rico.”
That mentorship by Leito has been visible throughout the IAD where for more than two decades training, equipping and empowering of church leaders and members have been part of the culture now.
A native of Curacao, Leito began his church career in 1969 as district pastor in the Netherlands Antilles Mission. He then served as youth ministries director at the Inter-American Division headquarters in Miami. From 1986 to 1993 Leito served as Church Ministries director at the General Conference.
Leito said he looks forward to enjoying retirement with his wife Ludmila, their son and daughter and three grandchildren, and is willing to assist the church if the need arises.
After more than two hours in session, the nominating committee recommended the name of Elie Henry as the next president of the IAD. His name will need to be voted in by the world church’s executive committee in Maryland next week, leaders said.
The nominating committee took another break to study names to fill the executive secretary position.