Be 'Ambassadors of Peace,' Paulsen
Tells Kenyan Adventists
Christianity a 'higher identity, new humanity'
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Adventist News Network
astor Jan Paulsen, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, called for forgiveness and reconciliation during his first visit to Kenya since violence fueled by contested presidential elections erupted there in January.
Acknowledging the ethnically driven conflict, Paulsen said while the church cannot change the inevitability of war, it can change its response. Faith in God transcends ethnic loyalties, a message he said the church must champion.
"We failed terribly in 1994 in Rwanda. We can't afford to repeat that," Paulsen told a group of 80 Kenyan church leaders and ministers in Nairobi, in late August. "How are we going to celebrate life in heaven if that is the legacy we're going to drag with us?"
For the Christian, nothing should "override in importance" allegiance to God, Paulsen continued. Later, in a strongly worded speech to some 30,000 Kenyans, he specified the divisions Christianity erases: position, wealth, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, language, gender and age. "Christ has destroyed all these barriers that exist between people," he said, adding that clinging to such divisions is "an offense to God."
TWO LEADERS: General Conference president, Jan Paulsen, left, meets with Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya in Nairobi, August 22. [Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski]
But becoming a Christian does not exact a loss of culture, race or nationality, Paulsen was quick to add. "You keep all of that, but you become something more: a citizen of God's eternal kingdom. You have a higher identity, a new humanity."
Paulsen's comments followed a similar theme a day earlier during a visit with the country's president, Mwai Kibaki. He thanked Kibaki for "taking the initiative" to begin addressing some the Eastern African nation's ethnic tensions. "We have a responsibility before God and the people of Kenya to do our utmost to mediate peace and reconciliation," Paulsen said.
Kibaki told Paulsen and other church leaders gathered to "continue to do your best" in encouraging unity among the nation's ethnicities. "I keep telling the churches in Kenya, 'You all believe in the same God. You ought to come together.' God could never have wished that we fight amongst ourselves," Kibaki said.
Both leaders agreed that while churches and governments have different agendas, both "serve the same people," as Paulsen phrased it, and should "work in cooperation."
Paulsen, long an advocate of deliberate church profiling, said getting the message of Christian unity and harmony across is largely the responsibility of local church leaders and members. "We have a message to share. If we don't present ourselves, others will present a distorted picture."
"I want [Kenyans] to know us as a community that will be a voice for freedom -- freedom to believe, freedom to speak, freedom to think, freedom to share your faith," Paulsen told church leaders. "I want them to see a church constructively engaged in the lives of the people of the nation."
Paulsen was welcomed as an "ambassador of peace" by both government and church leaders in Kenya.
"Through your prayers and those of the worldwide church, we were able to come out of this crisis as a united church," Paul Muasya, leader of the Adventist Church in East Africa, told Paulsen.
Paulsen also met with a group of 40 Kenyan leaders who are Adventist, including Members of Parliament, government ministers and permanent secretaries, judges, managing directors and other civil servants.
At the end of 2006, more than 583,000 Seventh-day Adventists were members of the church in Kenya, worshipping weekly in 3,564 congregations.