By AT News Team, July 2, 2015: One of the first items of business voted by the delegates at the General Conference (GC) Session today was 33 changes in the status and territory of union conferences and union missions. These changes had to be voted before all the delegates could be seated because at least 11 of them involved new delegations. Almost all of these were from Africa and Latin America, where the Adventist faith has seen enormous growth.
A total of 22 of the 33 changes are in sub-Saharan Africa. Additional units are being added to the Adventist denomination in Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria. New units are also being added in Mexico and Brazil.
Perhaps the most important change is the approval of the Middle East and North Africa Union Mission which actually began operation in the fall of 2011 when the GC executive committee voted the recommendation for today’s approval. Unlike any other union conference or union mission on the globe, this one is not under one of the divisions of the GC but is connected directly to the world body due to the sensitive politics and inter-religious issues in the region.
A total of 22 nations make up the territory of this new union mission, including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. It is some of the most conflicted territory on the globe these days. There are only 68 Adventist congregations and about 3,500 members spread across nearly 500 million residents. It is one of the most difficult missional contexts anywhere in Christendom.
The only change being recommended for the northern hemisphere (North America, Europe and Russia) is the reorganization of the Adventist denomination in Finland. Implemented last fall, the local conferences were merged with the Finland Union Conference so that a single entity functions both as local and union conference. There are 70 congregations with a total of about 5,000 members in this Nordic country and the new organization is more cost-efficient than the traditional plan.
The 22 Changes in Africa
Approval of the Burundi Union Mission, which was raised from the status of an “association” in October 2012. There are 791 congregations with a total of 109,000 members in a population of about 10.5 million.
Approval of dividing the Kenya Union Mission into the East Kenya Union Conference and the West Kenya Union Conference, each with more than 4,000 congregations and 460,000 members in the east and 365,000 members in the west of a nation of 45 million population.
Approval of the organization of the North East Congo Union Mission at the end of 2013 with 1,600 congregations and a total membership of 160,000 in an area where there has been considerable armed conflict and disruption of church life.
Approval of dividing the Tanzania Union Conference into the Northern Tanzania Union Conference with 3,200 congregations and 360,000 members and the Southern Tanzania Union Mission with 1,500 congregations and 112,000 members at the end of 2013.
Approval of an upgrade of the Botswana Union Conference from union mission status as of October 2013. It has 220 congregations with 40,000 members and has nearly doubled its size in the last decade.
Approval of the same upgrade for the Indian Ocean Union Conference, also in October 2013. It includes Madagascar and six smaller island countries off the east coast of Africa with 2,000 congregations and 142,000 members in a population of 25 million.
Approval of the Malawi Union Conference with 3,100 congregations and nearly a half million members in a nation of 16 million residents. It has doubled the number of Adventists in the last decade.
Approval of dividing the denomination’s unit in Angola into the North-Eastern Angola Union Mission with 1,100 congregations and 160,000 members and the South-Western Angola Union Mission with 1,900 congregations and 255,000 members in a nation of 21 million people.
Approval of dividing the denomination in Zambia into the North Zambia Union Conference with and the South Zambia Union Conference. The country of 14 million has more than a million Adventists and 6,100 congregations. It has more than doubled its membership in the last decade.
Approval of forming the Cameroon Union Mission from a portion of the Central African Union Conference at the end of 2013. The new unit has 1,400 congregations and nearly 90,000 members in a nation of 17 million population where the Adventist faith is growing at about five percent a year. The Central African Union Conference will retain 225 congregations and 13,500 members.
Approval of upgrading the status of the Eastern Nigeria Union Conference as of the end of 2013. The new union conference has about 1,200 congregations and 130,000 members in an area with a population of 53 million.
Approval of dividing the Sahel Union Mission, a territory with 11 west African nations and a population of 116 million, into two new organizations, the Eastern Sahel Union Mission with 400 congregations and 20,000 members and the Western Sahel Union Mission with 128 congregations and 12,500 members at the end of 2013.
Approval of dividing the denomination in Ghana into two entities, the Southern Ghana Union Conference with 1,700 congregations and 110,000 members and the Northern Ghana Union Mission with 1,600 congregations and 155,000 members at the end of 2013.
Approval of dividing the North-Western Nigeria Union Mission into the Western Nigeria Union Conference with 700 congregations and 45,000 members and the Northern Nigeria Union Conference with 500 congregations and 37,000 members. This change that was actually implemented at the end of 2013 means there are now three union conferences in Africa’s largest nation with a total population of 170 million people.
The 11 Changes in Latin America
Approval of the formation of the East Brazil Union Mission from a portion of the Northeast Brazil Union Mission as of January 1, 2013. The new union conference has 2,300 congregations and a total membership of 190,000, and it is growing at about three percent per year. This means that Brazil now has nine union conference and union mission organizations, more than the number in any other nation on earth.
Approval of dividing the South Mexican Union Conference into the Southeast Mexican Union Mission 1,000 congregations and 86,000 members and the Chiapas Mexican Union Conference with 2,800 congregations and nearly 200,000 members as of August 2012.
Approval of upgrading the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union Conference in September 2011, which now has 2,600 congregations and 195,000 members. With this change and the previous item, Mexico will have five union conferences in a nation of 90 million people.
Approval of upgraded status for Dominican Union Conference which shares the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo with Haiti. This change was implemented in September 2012 and the new union conference has 1,200 congregations with 300,000 members, although growth has slowed from eight percent a year to about one percent a year over the past decade.
Approval of upgraded status for the denomination on the islands of Curacao and Bonaire in the Caribbean. The new Dutch Caribbean Union Mission will have 35 congregations and 7,600 members.
Approval of dividing the Mid-Central American Union Mission into separate union missions for the nations of Honduras and El Salvador. The change was implemented on January 1, 2012. The new Honduras Union Mission has 665 congregations with 182,000 members and the new El Salvador Union Mission has 950 congregations with nearly 200,000 members.
Approval of organizing the denomination in the nation of Panama into a union mission from part of the territory of the South Central American Union Mission. The new Panama Union Mission will have 440 congregations and 100,000 members.
Approval of upgrading the status of the South Columbian Union Conference with 1,000 congregations and 150,000 members. The nation of Columbia has two union conference organizations in a population of 47 million with the Adventist faith is growing at about seven percent a year.