Remembrance: Nebblett Helped Develop ADRA, Secured Early Grants
Former tailor, pastor brought experience from refugee work in Vietnam (Posted October 11, 2012)

BY ANSEL OLIVER, Adventist News Network

Milton E. Nebblett was a driving force who helped transform local Seventh-day Adventist humanitarian outreach in the early 1980s into a major player on the international development scene.

ADRA PIONEER: Milton E. Nebblett helped expand the trajectory of Adventist humanitarian outreach by securing the first major grant for the organization now known as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Here he appears in a 2010 family photo.
The former refugee advisor for the U.S. State Department in Vietnam secured the Seventh-day Adventist World Service’s (SAWS) first grant—$10 million from the United States Agency for International Development—based largely on his understanding of government agencies.

Nebblett, who died September 13 at age 88, served as deputy director for SAWS, which then employed 12 people in its home office and 300 people worldwide. After his securing of the grant, the organization soon afterward became the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which now employs 85 people in its international office and some 6,000 people worldwide.

Nebblett worked nonstop on multiple projects and traveled extensively throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America to assess humanitarian needs with government leaders. Colleagues said he constantly pushed the agency to expand its operations. It’s estimated that he helped to secure roughly $100 million in grants for ADRA’s projects.

“I would try to emulate and replicate Milton’s passion in my work,” said Mario H. Ochoa, ADRA’s vice president for network relations, who worked with Nebblett. “He was a dynamic, vibrant, exuberant guy. He did a lot of mentoring for me and others in the office in those days.”

Nebblett’s wife, Ivy, said he visited 150 countries, and the couple lived in 42 different houses during his ministry.

Nebblett was the son of a custom tailor in Honduras. He made clothes for himself throughout his life and was known as a dapper dresser. His wife said sewing was the only activity in which he would concentrate on one thing at a time.

He graduated from Oakwood College in Alabama, United States, and in 1953 earned a master’s degree in divinity from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, then located in Washington, D.C. He was known as the “love” pastor for usually preaching on the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, Ivy Nebblett said.

IN VIETNAM: Nebblett worked in Vietnam to aid refugees during the Vietnam war. Above, he meets with Buddhist monks circa 1973.
He pastored in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s, at one point pastoring 12 churches simultaneously. He also served as president of the denomination’s Guyana Mission. The U.S.’s Food for Peace Program selected Nebblett to head a Guyana food distribution during civil unrest.

In 1969 the U.S. government asked him, while pastoring in California in the United States, to serve as an advisor to the South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. He coordinated and built refugee camps for millions of displaced persons fleeing from the bombing in their villages.

He returned to the United States in 1974, pastoring in Maryland and Pennsylvania before accepting a call in 1980 to the Adventist Church’s world headquarters to serve as a deputy director of SAWS.

He left ADRA in 1985 to pastor in Washington, D.C. He also formed an independent humanitarian organization for a few years before Alzheimer’s disease set in, which he lived with the final decade of his life.

His wife, Ivy, four children, and 10 grandchildren survive.

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