General Conference President in Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia
by AT News Team
Pastor Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is in the midst of nearly a month’s tour of eastern Africa. He has been greeted by massive crowds, met with heads of governments and participated in events inaugurating expanded universities and other institutions.
Wilson arrived Monday in Zambia where he met with President Michael Sata in the State House, according to the Zambia Daily Mail. He will preside at the opening ceremonies for the new School of Education building at Rusangu University in Monze, 120 miles south of the capital. Nearly one million of the ten million population in Zambia identify with the Adventist faith.
It is unclear if the university is actually in session at this time. On January 23 the campus was closed due to demonstrations by students and “verbal and written threats to destroy property and physical harm [to] people,” according to The Times of Zambia. Three days earlier students “staged a peaceful demonstration” protesting tuition increases, the vegetarian diet and the reduction of funding from the denomination. At 5 a.m. police in riot gear surround the dorms and ordered all students to leave campus within an hour, loading them on buses and trucks and taking them into the town.
The university achieved accreditation from the Zambia government in 2003 and graduated the first class of 80 students with recognized four-year degrees in 2007, according to the Adventist News Network (ANN). Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of the country who led Zambia to independence in 1964 and stepped down in 1991, attended the graduation event. According to the 2010 Annual Statistical Report of the General Conference, it had a total enrollment of 1,160 of which 90 percent were Adventists, a faculty of 31 and 60 additional staff. That year it had 168 graduates.
Construction of the new building began a year ago in March 2011. This was about the same time that it officially adopted the name Rusangu University. At the time Pastor Harrington Akombwa, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Zambia and chancellor of the university, stated that it had been called this for some time. Evidently the official name, Zambia Adventist University was not widely used in informal communication and the union conference was giving study to opening a second university in the northern part of the nation.
Last week Pastor Wilson preached to a crowd of 30,000 in Amahoro National Stadium, considered to be the largest venue in Rwanda. The week before he addressed what may have been a larger audience in Eldoret, Kenya. His theme in Rwanda was “unity and reconciliation,” according to ANN. He “commended the spirit of camaraderie he observed [as] the nation continues to heal after genocide claimed the lives of as many as 800,000 people in 1994.” Adventist Church leaders were caught up in the violence between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, including one conference president who has been convicted of crimes against humanity by a United Nations tribunal. “The country’s prime minister and the mayor of Kigali [the capital city] were present” for the sermon.
“Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Pierre Habumuremyi joined Wilson in laying the foundation stone for an expansion of the Adventist University of Central Africa.” This building will house a “new School of Science and Technology” which Pastor Wilson pointed out “will support many Rwandans in the community, not just Adventists.” He also stated “that the Adventist Church is committed to support Rwandan society.” The Adventist Church is the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
The Prime Minister stated that “the government of Rwanda appreciates all the Adventist Church programs in the country, especially those in the education sector, health and preparing [the] hearts of people to be good citizens,” according to The New Times. The same week the paper reported that the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) was launching a two-year project to increase literacy among rural women funded from a grant that ADRA England negotiated with the British Department for International Development.
Rwanda has been a watershed for the Adventist movement. April 11 through 14 a Summit on Social Consciousness will be held at Andrews University on “Lessons from Rwanda.” The keynote speaker is Carl Wilkins, who was ADRA’s country director there at the time of the 1994 tragedy. He is well known as the only America who stayed in the country throughout the genocide, working to save the lives of many of his staff and their families. Heather-Dawn Small, the General Conference director of women’s ministries, is also a speaker for this event, as well as several Andrews faculty.