EARLIER THIS SUMMER I HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF ATTENDING THE church’s fifty-ninth General Conference session in Atlanta. I was not a delegate; so I didn’t get to make any speeches on the floor of the Georgia Dome or cast any votes either for or against any of the motions under consideration. I was among the scores of “technical staff,” church employees working behind the scenes, so to speak, to make sure all the details of managing a session are taken care of.
As I was about to leave our production office the last Friday of the session, I was told someone wanted to see me. I hadn’t seen Rodrigo “Rudy” and Luisa Jimenez in more than 14 years. At the time Rudy, a district pastor, was my translator for a series of reaping meetings in which I participated in the Philippines under the auspices of The Quiet Hour (see “Evangelism’s Unsung Heroes,” July 11, 1996).
In an instant we shared an embrace and began the joyful process of catching up. Where are you now? He’s president of the Western Mindanao Conference. Where are your children? In college[!?!]. We visited briefly, prayed together, and, after wiping tears from our eyes, shared one more embrace before Rudy and Luisa disappeared into the crowded corridors of the Georgia World Congress Center.
For me all the pageantry, musical performances, and parliamentary procedures of a General Conference session are dwarfed by the sublime joy of meeting someone with whom you’ve shared some life experiences.
On the last Sabbath of the session, on the floor of the Georgia Dome, I spotted Arkadiusz “Andrei” Bojko, who translated my evangelistic presentations during a visit to Poland in 1999 (see “From Pole to Pole,” Feb. 10, 2000). He now pastors a Polish-language church in Chicago.
In the hallways and lobbies I also had a chance to greet the conference president who called me to pastor a two-church district in the high desert of northern Nevada. I confessed that at the time I felt like Moses being sent into exile in the wilderness, but that in hindsight God’s hand was surely in the assignment: it was an ideal move in terms of my own professional growth and spiritual development.
I had lunch one day with one of my mentors (now a university president) who taught me the value of translating timeless truths in creative ways into contemporary settings.
Indeed, throughout the session, as I ran into former classmates, church members, and associates from more than 35 years of ministry, I kept thinking how fortunate I am to have shared so many experiences over so many years with so many people.
Sometimes you hear a General Conference session described as kind of a preview of heaven. That’s true only to the extent that we will have shared experiences to remember in heaven. “Remember that church campout when it snowed on the Fourth of July?” “Remember when we whitewashed the entire church in one day?” “Remember that mission trip we took to Mexico?” “Remember when we played in that church softball league?” “Remember the baptism we had in that mountain stream?” “Remember those daily Bulletins we put out in Atlanta (St. Louis, Toronto, Utrecht)?”
You see, no matter the amount of Facebook friends, how many songs are loaded onto our iPods, or how many blogs we read (or write), life is measured best by our personal relationships, and the number of shared experiences we have with those individuals.
Life is all about relationships. Family members, friends, work associates, fellow believers—all offer opportunities to build relationships that enrich our lives and give us a reason for living. But more important, they give us avenues for reflecting the light and love of Jesus to those with whom we share this planet.
Jesus moved easily among different segments of His society and could count among His acquaintances people of all walks of life. At the end of His earthly ministry Jesus was able to say to His Father, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26).
May the same be said about us.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published August 26, 2010.