Thousands of people warmly welcomed Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, during a historic visit to Malaysia and pledged to boost their efforts to lead people to the cross.
Wilson, making the first trip by an Adventist Church president to Malaysia, challenged 4,000 people gathered in a indoor stadium in the city of Kota Kinabalu to follow Jesus’ example of humility and community outreach.
“The devil is busy in Sabah like never before,” Wilson said, referring to the Malaysian state on the northern part of Borneo island where Kota Kinabalu is located. “He is busy in the Seventh-day Adventist Church all over the world to get us to look at anything except our object of presenting Christ and the three angels’ messages.
Wilson continued, “Keep your eyes upon Jesus. Keep your eyes on God’s word. Keep your focus on your prayer life and Jesus. Keep connected to the Lord through the reading of the Spirit of Prophecy. Keep your focus on sharing with others the wonderful news that Jesus is coming.”
Attendees — including many Adventists from Sabah but also others who traveled eight hours or more on a rainy Nov. 1 — burst into warm applause many times, starting when Wilson stood up and greeted them in the Malay language.
“Selamat malam tuan-tuan dan puan-puan,” Wilson said.
His interpreter, Francis Lajanim, publishing director of the Southeast Asia Union Mission, struggled to make himself heard above the loud applause.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he said in English.
Wilson was clearly touched by the kind reception.
“To have such a welcome tonight is unbelievable,” he said. “May God bless Seventh-day Adventists in Sabah.”
The audience clapped again.
Malaysia’s largest concentration of Adventists lives in Sabah, partly because of religious freedom and the historic work of missionaries from neighboring Indonesia, local church leaders said. Today, nearly 32,000 Adventists worship in about 230 congregations in Sabah, a state with 3.5 million people. Across Malaysia, the church has about 56,000 members.
In his remarks, Wilson thanked the Malaysian government for religious freedom.
“But,” he added, “our greatest problem is not religious persecution. … Our greatest challenge in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is pride and self. God is asking us to humble ourselves as Jesus did.”
Reading from Ellen White’s “Christ’s Object Lessons,” page 259, he said, “To live for self is to perish.”
“God wants us to live for Him,” he said. “God wants us to keep our eyes focused on Him.”
The 75-minute gathering concluded with Wilson appealing to each church member in Malaysia to renew individual efforts to reach out to communities under a world church initiative known as Total Member Involvement.
Thousands of people stood in the stadium in a pledge to press forward together.
The Malaysian visit came partway through a six-week trip by Wilson and his wife, Nancy, that started in Germany on Oct. 19 and will end in Fiji. Wilson arrived from Russia in the afternoon, spoke in the evening, and flew to Singapore the next day.
Malaysian Adventists had been looking forward to Wilson’s visit, and his remarks greatly boosted their spirits, said Abel Bana, a native Malaysian and executive secretary of the Singapore-based Southeast Asia Union Mission.
“This is a big boost and a big encouragement for us to move forward as we wait for the Second Coming of Jesus,” he said.
He asked for church members worldwide to remember the Malaysian people in prayer.
“As a church in Malaysia, we pray for a lot of doors to be opened,” he said. “We want to be a friend to non-Christians and to be more active in evangelism. We need the power of the Holy Spirit.”