Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, has offered to intercede on behalf of Adventist students required to take exams on Saturdays in Uganda.
Saturday exams are a major challenge in this East African country with a fast-growing church membership. Wilson addressed the issue — and questions about Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day — during a Feb. 14 news conference in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
“The problem of exams and class attendance on the Sabbath day is a critical problem in a number of areas of the world, and I certainly will try to bring this to the attention of the federal government and try to help them give it as much consideration as possible,” Wilson told journalists shortly after arriving for a four-day visit.
Wilson is to meet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at his official residence, Nakasero State House, on Feb. 16. Uganda’s president also plans to attend Wilson’s Sabbath sermon at the Kololo Independence Grounds in the capital on Feb. 17.
At the news conference, Wilson praised Uganda’s government for providing Adventists with the freedom to worship on Sabbath.
“You can be assured that personally I am very much in favor of trying to help in every situation that I possibly can to bring about accommodation for those who wish to keep the Sabbath and take tests on another day,” he told a crowd of journalists clutching video cameras and smart phones in Peniel Beach Hotel on the shore of Lake Victoria.
Tough Sabbath Choice
Thousands of Adventist students are forced to choose every year between passing exams or obeying the Fourth Commandment to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” in Exodus 20:8, said Immanuel Ogwal, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist Church in Uganda.
“I met a young man has been in the university for 12 years because the exams come on Sabbath every time and he cannot compromise,” Ogwal said.
Government officials have countered church requests to ease the rules by suggesting that Adventist students study at Bugema University, the only Adventist institution of higher education in Uganda, Ogwal said. But the university, which Wilson planned to visit on Feb. 15, does not offer the courses needed by some students, he said.
“As citizens of this country, we also are entitled to the educational services that the country provides,” Ogwal said. “At the same time, we have our religious rights that need to be respected.”
As of the end of 2017, the Adventist Church had 378,197 members in Uganda, the result of a far-reaching evangelistic campaign that led to 80,000 baptisms in 12 months, church leaders said. Uganda has a population of 41 million, 80 percent of whom are Christian.
Local media have put the spotlight on Wilson’s visit, and one national newspaper, New Vision, published four stories in the run-up to his arrival, said Apollo Mubiru, online editor for Vision Group, whose holdings include New Vision, four television stations, and four radio stations.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday
Two reporters asked Wilson about the Adventist Church’s stance on two holidays that fell on Feb. 14 this year: Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
“Why don’t Seventh-day Adventists celebrate Ash Wednesday?” a male reporter asked. “It’s from the Bible.”
Ash Wednesday, which is observed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and other Western Christians, marks the first day of Lent and is the start of six weeks of repentance before Easter.
Wilson said many Adventists view two holidays linked to Christian tradition — Christmas and Easter — as an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ sacrificial love.
But as for other Christian holidays, “Adventists would prefer to stay with a very simple understanding of the Bible and rejoice in the Lord every day rather than simply picking three or four days out of the year,” he said.
He noted that he had opened the news conference by reading Philippians 4:4, which says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (NKJV).
“Just as I read, rejoice in the Lord every day,” he said. “And every seventh day, on the seventh-day Sabbath, we commune with God because that’s the day He actually asked us to keep holy.”
And Valentine’s Day?
He offered a similar reply to the journalist who asked about Valentine’s Day, a Christian feast day more associated nowadays with romantic love. Clasping the hand of his wife, Nancy, who was seated beside him, as he spoke, Wilson said that spouses should love each other every day of the week and not just once a year.
The journalist, Ruth Faith, said later that she appreciated the response.
“I think Valentine’s Day is a sin,” said Faith, who works for New Vision and its sister newspaper, Bukedde. “Men who celebrate it mostly are not in a good condition in their marriages.”
While she didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, she said she might embrace it in the future.
“I’m waiting for God to give me the right Valentine man,” she said, chuckling.
Blasious Ruguri, president of the Adventist Church’s East-Central Africa Division, whose territory includes Uganda, sat near Wilson during the news conference and smiled approvingly as he heard the replies to the holiday questions.
“He answered very nicely, giving the reporters an answer bigger than what they were looking for,” Ruguri said in an interview. “He saw the bigger picture, and you could see the reporters smiling in satisfaction.”
Wilson is wrapping up a five-country trip that also has included stops in Germany, Portugal, Nepal, and India. He returns to the United States on Feb. 17.