By AT News Team, Feb. 12, 2015:   More than 50,000 Adventists from 11 nations in east Africa gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last weekend for a Celebration of God’s Blessing, reported the Daily News. Speakers included Pastor Ted Wilson, president of the denomination, and Mohammed Gharib Bilal, vice president of the country. The event was held in the National Stadium.

In his remarks, Bilal stated that the right to worship is guaranteed in Tanzania’s constitution and stressed that this means people must respect the religion of others, according to The Guardian newspaper. “The doors are open so we may consult and encourage one another in matters related to our people,” the vice president said. Bilal also appealed to Tanzanians to vote in elections later this year. “We have opportunity to pray for peace and tranquility in this country,” he stated in view of the discord and violence that has often accompanied elections in the region.

Two other cabinet members were on the platform; Bernard Membe, foreign minister, and Stephen Wasira, agriculture minister. Wasira is an Adventist.

Membe told the gathering that religions have a critical role in creating a God-fearing community with high values, according to the Daily News. Religions are duty-bound to mould capable and God-fearing national leaders who focus on integrity, love and humility, he continued. He commended the Adventist denomination for being a good example of religious tolerance in the country, noting their knack for cooperation with all religions. He said that he had never heard of Adventists having conflicts with the government or other faiths. “This is a great and good lesson for Tanzanians with their diverse ideologies, faiths, ethnicity and color,” he was quoted by the newspaper.

Membe assured the Adventist denomination of the government’s commitment to cooperate with them for the welfare of the country, “adding that the state has the duty of supporting religion and encouraging interfaith harmony.” He applauded the Adventist initiatives to meet human needs in the developing nation, including 15 secondary and primary schools, a university and two hospitals.

In contrast to this emphasis on cooperation, Wilson expressed a more limited view in his Sabbath sermon, according to a transcript almost immediately published in the online edition of the Adventist Review. “We should not align ourselves with any other religious organizations or ecumenical bodies,” the transcript states. Wilson emphasized the “distinctive” aspect of the Adventist faith, stating that “in the last days … anyone worshiping on another day that the seventh-day Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast.” He specifically included language that is proposed but has not yet been voted as part of the denomination’s official Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, that Earth was created “in six literal, consecutive, contiguous, 24-hour days.”

Wilson also stated his concern about the tradition in Tanzania of businesses and schools operating on Saturdays which creates problems for Adventists. He also said that the denomination had been kept from acquiring property in the central part of Dar es Salaam for both worship and community services, according to The Guardian.

The meeting with Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, came when Wilson and a group of Adventist leaders were invited to a dinner at the State House, the president’s official residence. The talks lasted until 10:30 p.m. reported the Adventist Review.

“I wish to congratulate you for enhancing peace in your country and other African countries,” Wilson told President Kikwete. He said the history and contribution of Kikwete in working for peace in Africa will always be remembered, reported The Guardian. “You have done a great job in Tanzania and Africa. To us, having peace is the most important thing because it allows us to continue preaching the Word of God.”

Vice President Bilal announced that the Tanzanian government would help church members to acquire land for development initiatives, also reported The Guardian. “According to [Wilson] the church is proud of the success that has been made in spreading the gospel and social services,” stated the Daily News.

Two hundred buses brought groups from Kenya and there were people in the crowd from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Dijibouti, Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Similar events with Wilson as the main speaker were held in South Korea in 2013 and in Brazil last year, the Daily News reported.

A major evangelism campaign was implemented in the three weeks leading up to the major event. During the weekend at least 2,309 people were baptized in Dar es Salaam alone. Pastor Geoffrey Mbwana, a vice president of the denomination and native of Tanzania, spoke daily on radio, television and the Internet from January 10 through 31, and there were more than 100 local seminars throughout the city with more across the country.

The event was an occasion for social action projects as well as an evangelism campaign. Last week the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) gave $40,000 worth of lab equipment, textbooks and shoes to public schools in one district. Nyachia Robert, program director for ADRA, told the Daily News this included a pair of shoes and science, math and English textbooks for 3,000 students as well as lab equipment and supplies for three secondary schools.

Robert told the newspaper that supporting the next generation was crucial to development. “We want more scientists in the country,” he stated in explanation of the specific type of aid provided. He said that ADRA was the Adventist expression of Christ’s example of serving and caring for those in need. “The agency searches out deprivation, social injustice and need, then works to eliminate them.” ADRA is representative of Adventists’ desire to improve the quality of life.

Free health screening was provided to the public as part of the event. This included blood tests for HIV-AIDS, heart disease and diabetes. At the same time participants could donate blood to the National Blood Transfusion Service.

It was also significant, given the traditional attitudes toward women in leadership expressed by some Adventists from Africa, that three of the denomination’s top-ranked women were speakers during this event. They were Dr. Lisa Beardsly-Hardy, director of education; Heather-Dawn Small, director of women’s ministries; and Linda Koh, director of children’s ministries.

The Daily News reported that there are five million Adventist believers in Tanzania, a country with a population of 49 million. The most recent official report of church membership for the denomination in Tanzania is 420,640 as of December 31, 2013. There are nearly 4,500 local congregations.