Roger Robertsen praises the courage of former Muslims who take a stand for Jesus.
A group of 21 people comprised of mainly Jews and one Arab was baptized in the Sea of Galilee last Sabbath during a rare large baptism led by five local pastors.
Several hundred people gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to witness the baptisms after a sermon by evangelist Mark Finley.
Jews who join the Seventh-day Adventist Church often come from Russian, Ethiopian, and other backgrounds, and those baptized on June 18 were no exception, said Roger Robertsen, leader of Seventh-day Adventists in Israel. Several other candidates represented “the international flavor of Israel,” and one was a former Muslim, he said.
“We have just restarted our work among Muslims, and this is the third baptized so far this year,” Robertsen told the Adventist Review on Monday. “More are on their way to the Lord and the church. On Sabbath, following pastor Mark Finley’s appeal at the end of his sermon, two more expressed their intention to be baptized.”
Robertsen praised the courage of the former Muslims who have taken a stand for Jesus.
“These are people who make their decision knowing that it may cost them family relationships, friends and even their life,” he said. “So decisions like these are solid and sometimes have a high price attached to them.”
The large baptism was a rarity because the Adventist Church usually tries to keep baptisms more personal and to avoid the cacophony of multiple interpretations and simultaneous singing in various languages in a country where Adventist congregations worship in English, Russian, Romanian, Hebrew, Amharic, Arabic and Spanish, among other languages.
But an exception was made last Sabbath because “from time to time it is good to be together as it has a unifying factor to it,” Robertsen said.
The last large baptism occurred on July 12, 2014, when a local church baptized 21 people.
With the latest baptisms, the Adventist Church has 731 members worshipping in 20 local congregations and groups scattered all over Israel, most of them in the Tel Aviv area.
The church had 717 members in late 2012 and the figure grew steadily to 831 members until “a long overdue membership audit” was taken last year, Robertsen said. The missing members were mainly people who came to work in Israel but disappeared without notice and have been missing for years, he said.
The Adventist Church, meanwhile, has been looking for new ways to grow in Israel, a place where traditional methods of evangelism such as public meetings and the distribution of literature are challenging. The most recent baptisms only come about through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the work of church members, Robertsen said.
“These have been converted due to the working of the Spirit and the personal efforts by pastors and members,” he said.
The Adventist Church, however, is also preparing to open the Haifa Life Hope Center, a vegetarian restaurant and community center that it hopes will become a so-called center of influence to share the gospel in downtown Haifa, Israel. Two congregations already meet in the complex located on two adjacent properties.
“The two church halls — housing Romanian-speaking and Russian/Hebrew-speaking congregations — that have been dedicated in the Haifa Life Hope Center have already proven a blessing because they are much more visible than the former locations,” Robertsen said. “More people are attending, and last Sabbath several individuals were baptized from these two churches. We are truly grateful for the support that made it possible to buy these two centrally located properties.”
Among the biggest supporters is Michael Ryan, a former general vice president of the Adventist world church, who now serves as a special assistant to the world church president, Robertsen said.
“In addition to God’s direct intervention, more than anything and anyone else pastor Mike Ryan’s influence made this project possible,” he said.
The date for the restaurant’s opening has not been set yet.
Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, who witnessed last Sabbath’s baptisms, wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that he was excited to see that the Lord was continuing to teach and draw people to the truth in Israel.
He also asked church members worldwide to pray for the Haifa Life Hope Center.
“Pray that it will be a vital part of Total Member Involvement in Haifa,” he said.