July 3, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States.
In a historic vote, delegates to the 58th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church elected veteran educator Dr. Ella Simmons as a general vice president of the church. This is the first time a woman has been elected to this position and is an attempt by the world church to make the leadership more inclusive.
Until recently, Dr. Simmons was provost and vice president for Academic Administration at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, United States. As part of the 10-member leadership team — world church President Jan Paulsen and nine vice presidents — it is expected Simmons will bring her skills in education and as an administrator to the job.
Delegates responded very positively to the election of Simmons. Zeljko Porobija of Croatia stated, “I think it is a very, very good thing. As a matter of principle we should see more women in office.”
Anton Van Wyke from the church’s South Pacific region believes “It is a breakthrough for our church in its standings with world organizations, and it will lead us from strength to strength in our mission.”
Shortly after her election Dr. Ella Simmons had a press conference. “The church as an organization cannot be efficient until it allows all people to contribute in ways God called them to contribute. I think the church is taking a step in the right direction,” she said.
While a divinity degree and church ordination are often precursors to promotion in the church, Simmons said that her election did not mean the church will change it’s stance against ordaining women pastors.
“I do not feel that I have to be ordained to do the Lord’s work.” She added that she is not a pastor but believes that she is a minister. “I’ve always been a minister. I think pastoring is a unique work and while I have been prepared to nurture, to teach, I am not prepared to pastor.”
It took a long day in session before the nominating committee presented its third report at 4:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon, recommending names for the nine vice presidents as well as the presidents of the 13 divisions around the world.
While six current vice presidents were returned to office, the three new officers demonstrate the emphasis on the church for both diversity and evangelism.
Also newly elected is Pardon Kandanga Mwansa, currently president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean church region, who brings a wealth of experience to the world church leadership, having served in the Euro-Africa church region prior to his current position.
The third new vice president is popular Adventist evangelist Mark Finley, currently director of Global Evangelism at the world church headquarters and speaker/director emeritus of the It Is Written television program. Emphasizing the need to raise the profile of evangelism both in head office and worldwide, Paulsen took time to emphasize that Finley “is so saturated in evangelism that it is the center of his life.” Finley’s new position is not a change of job so much as recognition of the importance of evangelism to the church, he said.
Six incumbents were returned to other general vice presidential offices: Lowell C. Cooper, King-Yi Eugene Hsu, Gerry D. Karst, Armando Miranda, Michael L. Ryan and Ted N. C. Wilson.
Paulsen also paid tribute to outgoing vice president Harold Baptiste. Having faithfully served the church for many years, he indicated his desire to retire at this business session.
In the same report the presidents of 13 world church regions were elected. There were no surprises, with the only change being in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division where, due to the election of Mwansa as a world church vice president, Pastor Paul S. Ratsara, current secretary of the region, was unanimously elected as president.
The returned regional Adventist church presidents are: Geoffrey G. Mbwana, East-Central Africa; Ulrich W. Frikart, Euro-Africa; Artur A. Stele, Euro-Asia; Israel Leito, Inter-America; Don C. Schneider, North America; Jairyong Lee, Northern Asia-Pacific; Ruy H. Nagel, South America; Laurie J. Evans, South Pacific; D. Ronald Watts, Southern Asia; Alberto C. Gulfan Jr., Southern Asia-Pacific; Bertil A. Wiklander, Trans-European Division, and Luka T. Daniel, West-Central Africa.
Victor Hulbert/Braden Blyde/Taashi Rowe/ANN