May 6, 2021
As things continue to improve with the COVID-19 virus here in the United States and in some other parts of the world, we are making plans to restart the International Leadership Program (ILP). There was a lot of enthusiasm for the program when we began back in 2018. For the first time in recent history, there was an actual program for the training and development of Church leadership in regions outside the United States. The most successful component of the program was the personal interaction of Church administrators with the local leaders in international regions, and it was this aspect that came to a screeching halt on March 14, 2020, when all international travel abruptly ended.
Now in May of 2021, almost 14 months later, international travel is still, for the most part, at a standstill. But that is beginning to change. In the past few weeks, a growing number of countries have announced the opening of borders and the lessening of restrictions for travel beginning this summer. With this in mind, during the week of April 19, the Church office hosted meetings for the regional directors and senior pastors who live in the U.S. In addition, we connected over the Internet with André van Belkum in New Zealand, Peter Hawkins in England and Morgen Kriedemann in South Africa. It was late in the evening for Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Kriedemann, and early in the morning for Mr. van Belkum, but they were online and able to participate.
From our two days of meetings, we developed a framework for restarting the ILP. We are calling it “International Leadership Program, Phase 3,” or ILP3, for short. We will hold another round of meetings with the same group in June, then finalize the schedule and teachers during the International Ministerial Conference in August. This should put us on schedule to restart the program officially in November of this year. We are prepared to adjust that start date depending on travel conditions at the time.
After a full year of disappointment and discouragement over the inability to travel to the various regions, there are now possibilities for change. November dates might be overly ambitious for some parts of the world, but we are hopeful that we can begin in regions where the spread of the virus has been mitigated. The real challenge will be to accomplish our goal, which is to conduct meetings in all 10 regions within a 12-month period of time. It will require a lot of travel over a relatively short period of time for those of us here in the office, but by November, it will be fully 20 months since the beginning of the shutdown, so I think we are ready to hit the road again! We want to build on what we started in 2018, and the best way to do that is in person.
Our meetings here at the office ended on April 21 with a commitment to move forward with travel, so that by the end of this year we will have conferences scheduled in all 10 regions of the world. In his In Accord this past week, Joel Meeker shared his thoughts about the International Leadership Program meetings and about the brethren who live outside the United States. Keep in mind that one-half of the Church’s members reside outside the U.S., but only one-fourth of the elders reside outside the U.S. This creates isolation in several of the regions, with members separated by large distances from pastors and elders.
Mr. Meeker has 35 years of experience working in and traveling through the French regions of the world, and he has a very good perspective on the reality of the conditions brethren face in some of the poorest areas of the world. I appreciated the thoughts he shared with all of us on his In Accord. He emphasized that wherever we call home and whatever trials we face, “we are all pursuing the same spiritual goals, and God is preparing each of us for the same amazing future in the family that He is forming now.”
He quoted from 1 Peter: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11).
Mr. Meeker concluded with the following comments: “We all face trials and challenges that cause discomfort, sometimes even serious pain. And as long as we bear these things with humble submission to God, He promises to perfect us, to stabilize us, to make us stronger, to reassure and calm us, and, in due time, to exalt us, to raise us up in glory. It is important for us to remember, we’re part of something much larger and more important than just our own lives. We’re part of a great spiritual current, guided by Almighty God, carrying us forward to His everlasting Kingdom. We are part of a great brotherhood around the world.”
Because of the pandemic, many things have changed over the past year. We can debate how well it was handled in some countries, or how poorly it was handled in others. We can all make long lists of things that have changed in our lives and in the work of the Church, from meeting together on the Sabbath, to traveling to international conferences, to attending the Feast of Tabernacles. Most of that is now changing, but from the beginning, there were things that never changed—and never will change—no matter where we live in this world. Our calling, our conviction to Christianity and our mission as a Church are all exactly the same today as they were in March of 2020, when the world mostly shut down. There will be more trials in the future, but we must never allow those trials or the physical conditions in the world to deter us from seeking the things that will never change!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,