During a lengthy itinerary to Germany and several countries in Africa, the General Conference President, Pastor Jan Paulsen, visited the Baltic Union on 27 April – 1 May. Accompanied by the Trans-European Division President, Pastor Bertil Wiklander, he visited Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania and Riga in Latvia.
In a meeting with pastors and members on 28th April, pastor Paulsen said that this was his first visit to Lithuania. “Although I was Trans-European Division president until 1995, when I was called to the General Conference, you joined this division at the very end of my ministry here, and so I could not visit you then. Now I am happy to be here among you and see you as a part of the worldwide God’s family.”
The meeting took place in the Adventist Church in the city of Kaunas, which also includes the Lithuanian Mission Office. The building was purchased and renovated by General Conference funds (13th Sabbath Offering) and additional funds from the Division, and pastor Paulsen expressed his great satisfaction with the facilities, recognising how well they now serve the church.
After a meeting with the pastors and a public worship service, pastor Paulsen opened up for questions from the congregation. These ranged from “What challenges does our church face in today’s world?” to specific issues concerning ordination. Pastor Paulsen underlined the need to remain focused on our primary mission, which is evangelism: “All church members should participate in the mission of the church,” he said.
In his sermon pastor Paulsen encouraged people to long and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. He continued: “Let me remind you of some aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to make Jesus Christ the centre point upon which we build our lives. Jesus says: ‘I am the Way.’ It is the role of the Holy Spirit to show ‘the Way’. Another role of the Holy Spirit is to preserve the unity of the church. Church unity is a unity in the Spirit. The love of God binds us together. Finally, the presence of the Holy Spirit brings fruits, and these fruits of the Spirit find their fulfilment in relationships between people. The Holy Spirit is very practical. His presence helps us to go out and meet the people, to make new friends. Don’t be afraid of being open to people. As you make friends to witness about Jesus, you will never walk alone.”
During his brief stay in Lithuania, pastor Paulsen was also informed about the many challenges and needs the church faces here. As a sign of encouragement, he offered a generous financial contribution to an evangelistic project to plant seven new groups in un-entered cities in the country. His visit was much appreciated by church members and leaders and has given new inspiration to the church. The membership in Lithuania was less than 50 in the early 1990’s and is now about 1,000.
During his visit to Riga, the Latvian capital, pastor Paulsen preached in three different churches on Sabbath, 30th of April, where 1,000 people were blessed by his message: Riga I (Latvian) church, Riga IV (Russian) church, and the new church plant “Korinta”, which successfully operates as a “Café-Church” for late teens and young adults.
In preaching to the Latvian and Russian congregations, pastor Paulsen based his message on Titus 2:11-14, reminding the church of its calling to “do good”, both as a consequence of what Jesus has done already through his first coming and in anticipation of what he is yet to do at his second coming. He said that Adventists are called to protect their community as a family by not slandering anybody but practising the spiritual gifts of love and forgiveness, and by being peacemakers. At the same time, they are to work as witnesses among lost people and do good to others as a sign of God’s love. He summarised his message in three points: (1) Live in attention to your own life: Shun evil and do good! (2) Create a good spirit inside the community of faith! (3) Be Christ’s witnesses everywhere, for he is the only future for this world!
On Sabbath afternoon, pastor Paulsen joined the Korinta church plant. He shared a brief message regarding the power of the Holy Spirit to give life to dead bones, using the prophetic vision in Ezechiel 37, and encouraged the young people to continue to actively build friendship with others and make Jesus known. In a question and answer session, he dealt with very concrete issues facing young people in the church today, such as pre-marital sexual relations, divorce and remarriage, unclean food, worship style, and cultural diversity in the church. When asked what he feels about his work, he said: “I can honestly say that I like my work, and I am thankful that God gives me strength. I cannot say how much I appreciate and value your prayers for me.”
Dr Paulsen also gave interviews to the local Adventist radio and church newspaper “Adventes Vestis” (Advent News). “We are very thankful that Dr Jan Paulsen could visit our Union,” said Valdis Zilgalvis, Baltic Union president. “Although we are a very small union in terms of membership (about 7,000 members), we are certainly not small in the terms of complexity. The Baltic Union includes three different countries and four different language groups, each one with very different mentality.”
Much in the same way as in Lithuania, pastor Paulsen also granted financial support to assist the Latvian Conference in its evangelistic outreach, where a series of projects are being launched in several major Latvian cities.
The Baltic Union Conference was founded in 1908 and consists of the Estonian Conference, the Latvian Conference, and the Lithuanian Mission, uniting more than 7,000 Adventists in the three Baltic countries. In 1994, thanks to the very warm support by pastor Paulsen, then president of the Trans-European Division, the Baltic Union returned the Western European family of Adventist churches after many years of separation caused by the Second World War. The Baltic Union is today a member of the Trans-European Division of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church.
Baltic Union Conference Communication Director