2020 onwards­: Into the unknown

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Bushfires, flooding, cyclones, hailstorms, pandemics, COVID-19, lockdowns, isolation, online church, Zoom, working from home, burnout . . . you’ve guessed it—we’re finally up to date for our Record Rewind column! And let’s face it, a lot has happened in the past four years. But in this time, what lessons have we learned? What changes have we seen? And what can we expect for the future?  

The whirlwind of strife all began in that dreadful year: 2020.

All throughout January, devastating bushfires tore through a large proportion of Australia, as I’m sure many of you remember; followed by extensive storms which caused flooding in many parts of New South Wales and Queensland. It was a summer of heartbreak as families and entire communities lost their homes, loved ones and livelihoods. These nightmare-ish natural disasters impacted 31 Seventh-day Adventist sites, including schools, churches and aged-care facilities (Adventist Record, March 7, 2020). Not long after this, a category five cyclone cut a path of destruction through the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, leaving thousands of people homeless, cutting power and water supplies, and flooding entire villages (Adventist Record, May 2, 2020). What a way to start the year! And quite abysmally appropriate too, considering how the rest of the year turned out.

Then came that fateful phrase: “COVID-19”. At first, we didn’t know what it was. Now every single person around the globe recognises that phrase—and inwardly winces from the trauma of the past four years. No-one was left unaffected. Lockdowns, restrictions, job losses, illnesses, vaccine debates and a constant barrage of news spreading anxiety more than offering helpful information . . . everyone has been hurt in one way or another.

But there were silver linings which came out of this experience! We saw ADRA providing emergency meals, essential goods and services, and psycho-social/emotional support for individuals all around the South Pacific who were suffering from hard times (Adventist Record, April 18, 2020).

Though churches were empty across Australia, Fiji and New Zealand for months on end following their closures on March 19, church life took on a new format with online worship services getting creative (Adventist Record, April 18, 2020). We saw the creation of the #weRtheCHURCH program which united thousands of Adventists from around the South Pacific Division to worship together online, sharing inspiring stories and footage from the South Pacific to showcase messages of hope and faith (Adventist Record, May 15, 2020). 

Another encouraging outcome from the lockdown periods was the rise in interest for Bible studies. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create fear and uncertainty around the world, the Church is also noticing a rise in interest from people seeking reassurance and biblical answers to the crisis” (Adventist Record, April 18, 2020). Thousands of requests for messages of hope, Bible studies and theological answers were received across the Pacific, with Adventist Media’s Discovery Bible School receiving 853 sign-ups for Bible studies in just one weekend! (Adventist Record, April 18, 2020).

Adventist Record also launched its first book, Living 28: Fresh perspectives on practising our faith, a project which had taken years of planning and hard work to accomplish (Adventist Record, March 7, 2020). However, the distribution side of the Adventist Record did face some difficulties in the latter half of the year. “With churches closed due to COVID-19, the team at Adventist Record has received multiple inquiries regarding the continuing distribution of the magazine. Churches and conferences have expressed a desire to continue receiving the print magazine” (Adventist Record, May 2, 2020). While the number of magazines requested for Australia and New Zealand dropped at this time, extra numbers were able to be provided for the Pacific (conversation with Jarrod Stackelroth, December 2023).

As the lockdowns continued into another year, there were several staffing changes at Adventist Record as individuals changed careers, moved and the department underwent a restructuring. Jarrod Stackelroth was appointed Signs of the Times magazine editor, while still retaining his role as editor at Adventist Record (Adventist Record, February 6, 2021). But these career changes were not isolated to Adventist Media alone—seeking a career change became a global phenomenon. Up to 40 per cent of people around the world in 2021 were considering leaving their current employment, with this number being estimated to be as high as 3 in 5 Australians. In America, 4.3 million individuals quit their jobs in the month of August alone (Adventist Record, November 6, 2021). The ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19 was taking its toll mentally on the whole world.

We saw this descension into discord, discontent and disunity very clearly as persecution and discrimination towards Christians intensified in countries across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Christians in these regions reportedly were being refused COVID-19 aid and being made targets for human trafficking cartels (Adventist Record, February 6, 2021). In Haiti, four Seventh-day Adventist Church members were kidnapped during a live Facebook worship program and held captive for more than 72 hours before being released (Adventist Record, May 1, 2021).

But there were reasons to be grateful in 2021, and practising gratitude became an important beacon of hope amidst these tough times. One momentous occasion which was celebrated that year was the granting of university status to Avondale College, now Avondale University, on July 1, 2021 (Adventist Record, July 31). After 124 years of history as a higher education institution in Australia, being one of the oldest, Avondale finally became recognised as a university. “It has all been worth it,” said South Pacific Division president Pastor Glenn Townend. “Avondale as a university will continue to provide graduates and research that blesses the Church and the world around us” (Adventist Record, July 31).

As we entered 2022, the world began to open up once again, with lockdowns becoming a thing of the past for many regions around the South Pacific. However, churches were still experiencing pandemic-fatigue following the arduous challenges of the previous two years. “Even after a year-end break, many pastors and local leaders are exhausted from juggling the many conflicting interests and tensions” (Adventist Record, February 19, 2022). This fatigue continued to shadow churches for much of 2022.

But despite these challenges, having the freedom to attend church unimpeded and return to life as ”normal” helped to calm our unsettled states and restore our peace after two long years of chronic anxiety. As an indicator of this normality returning, the General Conference session, which was originally planned for 2020, was able to go ahead after two years of postponement. Church life was finally starting to look “normal” again.

This year past, 2023, marked the 125th anniversary of Adventist Record’s first publication—hence the theme of our Record Rewind columns over the past 12 months. “When I started at Adventist Record, the magazine was a black-and-white, weekly periodical. Since then, we’ve seen Record introduce colour, go online, change to a fortnightly publication, relocate to Adventist Media and become a multiple platform ministry. Reading habits have changed, technology has changed, but people’s need for connection, communication and community has not,” said Mr Stackelroth (Adventist Record, January 28, 2023).

As we have looked back upon eras of our Church’s history, we have been able to learn many important lessons—lessons from our mistakes, our hardships and our triumphs. And perhaps the one most relevant for us today is that of gratitude. Looking back on these past four years, we can choose to either focus on the horrors and trauma we have experienced or look for the silver linings, the reasons for joy and celebration, and take this spirit of gratitude with us into the new year.

So, what will the future hold for Adventist Record?

Who knows where the future will take us as a publication. But may we all remember one thing moving forward: to practise gratitude for what God has done. As we look back on all the stories of faith from the past 125 years, may we take encouragement that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He will surely guide us in hope towards the future.

May we enter this new year with joyful hearts as we recount the many stories of what God has done in the past 125 years, captured in the pages of Adventist Record. And let us look forward to many more testimonies of faith in years to come.

Thank you for reading and taking this journey back through the years with Adventist Record

Olivia Fairfax is an editorial assistant for Adventist Record.

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