SPD records highest baptism figure during pandemic year

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Baptism at Navosa Highlands, Western Fiji.

The South Pacific Division (SPD) experienced a significant increase in baptisms in 2020, the only region of the Seventh-day Adventist world Church to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SPD recorded 49,058 baptisms in 2020, with 8646 professions of faith, up from the 34,857 (with 11,223 POF) recorded in 2019.

We must be intentional about evangelism and have a plan. Circumstances may change but with a plan in place, it will guide us.

This statistic defies a trend of decreasing baptisms around the world, with every division except for the South Asia Pacific Division (with a 0.5% increase from 2019) recording a lower number.

While many countries in the South Pacific region have been sheltered from the impact of COVID-19, the 40 per cent growth in Trans Pacific Union Mission (TPUM) and 30 per cent in Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM) is noteworthy as a higher-than-normal growth rate.

“When countries in these unions experienced lockdown, they were still able to meet in groups of between 50 and 100,” said SPD president Pastor Glenn Townend.

“Both of these unions [TPUM and PNGUM] have focused on the harvest cycle of disciple-making. They have been very active in each area of the process to make a disciple-making disciple. There has been a lot of training, models and practice in this with World Changer Bibles and Bible reading groups.

“Many people were able to lead groups, share their faith and give basic Bible studies to people and allow the fellowship of the people and the Holy Spirit bring about the transforming life change in Jesus. These groups increased the involvement of many people and were not pastor dependent, and both the pastors and the people liked the results.”

“We have been too comfortable in our church building,” said TPUM president Pastor Maveni Kaufononga. “COVID-19 closed [the churches] and forced us outside of our comfort zone. The Spirit of God has provided so many ways for us.”

Throughout the past five years, TPUM has focused on evangelism, empowering different parts of the membership each year. Providentially in a year that technology was so crucial, 2020 was the year of young people.

“Prior to COVID-19, we dedicated 2020 as a year of our young people,” said Pastor Kaufononga. “We had a plan, COVID-19 came and adjusted our plan but [at least] there was a plan for evangelism. We must be intentional about evangelism and have a plan. Circumstances may change but with a plan in place, it will guide us.”

According to Pastor Kaufononga, one factor that may have increased the Church’s visibility in Fiji during 2020 is that many more people tuned in to watch evangelistic TV programs while locked down at home. Most of the countries in the Pacific have a strong Adventist presence through local Hope Channel TV or FM radio stations. “COVID-19 stirred up people’s hearts to be hungry for a message of hope,” he said.

Given that baptisms around the world have decreased, Pastor Kaufononga said the Church must “find the way to fulfil our mission, God’s way”.

“The Holy Spirit is working in many different ways, we just need to join Him. With this theme of ‘I Will Go’, our people are committed to go! We must not allow COVID-19 to stop us.”