Stories from Oklahoma City, Germany, Zambia, Canada, Swaziland, Pacific Union College, Andrews University, the Philippines and the General Conference

Rickey E. Smith, an Adventist young adult who appeared as a singer on the American Idol television show, was killed a week ago in a tragic auto accident. He was hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate Highway 240 in Oklahoma City, reported KOKH Channel 25, the Fox News affiliate. He ranked 8th in the 2002 season of the musical contest show and was seeking to make a career as a singer. He was a classically trained musician from Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas, according to Hollywood Life magazine, and remembered by Pastor James Black, youth director for the denomination’s North American Division, who served in the Southwest Region Conference at the time. Tributes were posted on Facebook by Pastor Tara VinCross in Philadelphia, who was a classmate at the university, and many other friends and fans.

A symposium on the impact of the Reformation on the Adventist Church concluded yesterday at Friedensau University, the Adventist institution in Germany, reports the APD. Ten Adventist scholars from around the world read papers on topics such as the Anabaptist roots of the Adventist faith, the role of controversial European Adventist leader Ludwig R. Conradi, conflicts among Adventists about “justification by faith” during the 1960s and 1970s and the extent to which Adventists are “heirs of the Reformation.” The event was organized by the university’s Institute of Adventist Studies. No information is available about the publication of the papers.

Criticles Mwansa, an Adventist who served as a cabinet member and ambassador for Zambia, was buried this week, reported the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. The funeral was conducted at the University of Zambia Seventh-day Adventist Church and attended by Rupiah Banada, the retired president of Zambia, and Harry Kalaba, the current foreign minister, among other VIPs. Pastor Pardon Mwanza, a former vice president of the denomination’s General Conference, is the brother of the deceased civil servant who served as commissioner general of the country’s revenue authority and permanent secretary of the ministry of science and technology, among other roles. Most recently, he had been loaned to Sierra Leone as a senior adviser to its civil service. Mwansa was described as “a patriot who was dedicated to duty.” He was 51 and survived by a wife and five children.

Adventist churches in Canada have collected donations, recruited volunteers and offered emergency shelter for families evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, due to the wildfire that has burned much of the city of 88,000. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Canada has moved a mobile unit near the evacuation area and distributed personal hygiene kits with toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and other necessities. Adventists have also opened their homes and taken in families from Fort McMurray who have lost their homes to the fire.

Gideon Dlamini, cabinet minister for commerce, industry and trade for Swaziland, spoke at a meeting last week where the Vibrant Life Multipurpose Cooperative Society was formed as an affiliated agency of the Adventist denomination in the African kingdom. Dlamini noted that the government does not discriminate and will work with any denomination in the formation of a non-governmental, charitable organization, and congratulated the Adventist Church for the second of five major religious bodies in the country to do so, according to an official news release. The cooperatives can assist farmers and small businesses to be more profitable, provide health and social services and launch other initiatives.

An Adventist college student was one of three winners of the Youth Photographer of the Year award this week in the largest and most comprehensive photography competition in the world. Sam Delaware from Pacific Union College (PUC), the Adventist institution in California, was flown to London for the event in which the other two winners were Sepehr J. Fard from Iran and Anais Stupka from Italy. The Sony World Photography Awards had 230,103 entries from 186 countries. Delaware is a freshman photography major at PUC who came to the college on a Maxwell Scholarship after graduating last year from Pine Tree Academy, an Adventist secondary school in Maine, where he was senior class president, a member of the National Honor Society and a Phi Beta Kappa Award recipient.

Dr. Christon Arthur was appointed provost of Andrews University (AU) at a board meeting on Wednesday (May 11). He has been dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research at the university since 2010. Prior to that he served as an associate dean of the School of Education at Tennessee State University and an elementary and secondary teacher in Grenada. He is a graduate of the University of the Southern Caribbean and earned his Ph.D. at AU as well as post-doctoral work at Harvard University. He takes over the chief academic officer position at AU on July 1 when the current provost, Dr. Andrea Luxton, becomes university president.

Dr. Ricardo A. Gonzales Astudillo arrived last week to be the new dean of the seminary at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. He was president of Chile Adventist University and is a native of that South American nation, where he once served as an officer of the denomination’s Central South Chile Conference. At his first faculty meeting Gonzales cast a vision for academic excellence, reported the Adventist Review.

Pastor Fred Thomas, “a true legend” according to Dr. G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Adventist denomination’s General Conference (GC), died last week at age 90 in Burleson, Texas. He was born to missionary parents from England in Kenya and served as a missionary in Africa until he came to the United States in 1971. He graduated from Helderberg College in South Africa and served as a mission president and union conference president in Zambia, Kenya and Rhodesia, and was one of the first Adventist missionaries to the famed Masai tribe. He spoke five African languages. In the U.S. he was a pastor in Massachusetts, general manager of the Christian Record Braille Foundation and president of the Pennsylvania Conference before becoming secretary of the North American Division in 1985. He later became Undersecretary of the GC, a post he held until he retired in 1992. In retirement, he spent seven months as president of Southwestern Adventist University in 2001-2002 and nine months at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Kenya. Two of his four sons, Fred Jr. and John, are staff members at the GC and another son, David, is chairman of the theology department at Walla Walla University. He is survived by his wife, Jean, who has been a respected editor for a number of denominational publications and key staff member for the North American Division.