Ted N.C. Wilson spoke from a brown sofa where he sat flanked by a Muslim cleric and a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. Across from him sat a Jewish leader.
Their burly host, Khalid Jamal Alber, a senior official with the Kurdish religious affairs ministry, listened intently from his desk.
“Seventh-day Adventists have much in common with our Jewish friends,” Wilson said, motioning to the Jewish leader, who had just joined the protocol meeting in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan. “We both believe that our Creator set aside the seventh-day Sabbath as sacred at the end of Creation week, and we both worship Him on that day.”
Wilson hadn’t planned to raise the Sabbath at the Feb. 7 meeting following a whirlwind trip to Erbil, located just 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Mosul, the Iraqi stronghold of the Islamic State militant group. He had been welcomed two days earlier by George Yousif, leader of the Adventist Church in Iraq, now seated beside him, and had then preached a Sabbath sermon encouraging local Adventist believers to remain faithful.
But when the Jewish leader arrived midway through the Sunday meeting, Wilson seized the opportunity to underscore the biblical truth about the seventh-day Sabbath.
Wilson smiled when reminded about the conversation several hours later aboard a Turkish Airlines jet winging its way from Erbil to Istanbul.
“I was just praying about that,” he said. “I don’t know what impression, if any, it might have made on those present at the meeting. But I saw an opportunity to mention the importance of the Sabbath, and I took it.”
Sharing God With Dignitaries
The Sabbath doesn’t pop up at every meeting between Wilson and world leaders, but his Bible always does. Wilson carries a small bound copy of the King James Bible in his briefcase — a practice since he served as president of the Adventist Church’s Euro-Asia Division in 1993 — and always asks dignitaries whether he may share a blessing from it and pray together.
“I have used it in committees, meetings, visits with dignitaries — almost everywhere when I do not have my regular-size preaching Bible,” Wilson said. “It has its special place in my briefcase, alongside an even thinner New Testament/Psalms Bible, and goes just about everywhere I go all over the globe.”
Wilson usually reads one of five verses — Micah 6:8, Joshua 1:9, Nahum 1:7, James 1:5, or Deuteronomy 31:6 — to the dignitary, but Micah 6:8 is his favorite because, he said, “It is so clear and such powerful counsel from God.”
In Erbil, Wilson read Micah 6:8 — “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” — and then told Alber: “You have an important position. You have an important role to play. Sometimes you think you’re pretty good at what you’re doing. But this text has three rules for leaders. It tells us this is what God requires of you: to do justly, to do what is right; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with your God.”
Wilson also presented Abner with a handsome case containing a black pen with the Seventh-day Adventist Church symbol — and used the gift to encourage Alber in his personal study of the Bible.
“You can use this to sign documents — and to take notes when you read the Bible,” Wilson said.
Wilson also prayed for Alber, his leadership, and his country.
A visibly moved Alber thanked Wilson afterward.
Wilson also prayed for Alber and Iraq when Alber met him on his arrival at the Erbil airport two days earlier.
A Burden to Pray for Leaders
Wilson, president of the Adventist Church since 2010, said he learned much of what to say to government leaders and how to approach them from watching his father, Neal C. Wilson, who served as Adventist Church president from 1979 to 1990. The elder Wilson prayed with world leaders, and his son said he was certain all other Adventist Church presidents have done so as well.
“I have felt a special burden to pray with the leaders since they need the prayer and it is a good witness to government leaders,” Wilson said. “I began using the Bible some time ago to share a promise with them and always ask them if it is permissible to share with them some encouragement from the Bible and to pray with them.”
Only one leader has refused out of many others who have gladly accepted prayer and encouragement for their difficult jobs.
When meeting a dignitary, Wilson usually starts the conversation by thanking him or her for the religious freedom granted the Adventist Church and the public. Even if the country does not allow much religious freedom, Wilson considers it is appropriate to raise the subject and encourage religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
Wilson then outlines some basic features of Adventist outreach based on Christ’s method of helping people physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. That transitions into Wilson sharing information about church work regarding health, education, community services and ADRA, and the church’s spiritual activities.
“If there are some specific concerns of our church in that country, I can then share those with the dignitary and thank him or her for the good hospitality provided to us,” Wilson said.
After that, Wilson indicates that he would like to wish God’s blessing on the dignitary and the government as they deal with many challenges. He asks whether the dignitary would mind hearing a special promise or blessing from the Bible and a pray for God’s blessing.
“You have to see the dynamics of the conversation and let the Holy Spirit lead in what to say and when recognizing that we usually only have a very limited time with high dignitaries,” Wilson said. “The Lord works in a wonderful way and usually everything works out well, including the opportunity to share the Word of God and have prayer. We praise God for the way He opens doors to bring truth to government leaders.”
Praying for Indonesia’s President
Wilson said one of his most memorable moments with a world leader came several years ago when he was able to read from the Bible and pray for the then-president of Indonesia, a Muslim.
“He especially wanted me to pray for his family,” Wilson said. “After our meeting, he was apparently so impressed with our sharing, and we give God all the glory, that he wanted the Bible text and my prayer — which I had to try to recollect after the fact since it was a simple unrehearsed prayer — on paper for his records. It was a fascinating meeting and, by God’s grace, one that will continue to draw that president, now a former president, to His Creator and Redeemer.”
All local church leaders, local field leaders, union leaders, division leaders and leaders of the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, should pray with government and civil leaders, Wilson said.
“We need to be making friends for God’s cause and helping these leaders know who Seventh-day Adventists are,” he said. “We need to be sharing basic Bible truth, in an appropriate and careful way, with leaders since they need God’s guidance and presence in their lives.”
He said he would encourage church leaders to “all be ambassadors for Christ in reaching the higher levels of society and government with simple, humble, and dignified presentation to government leaders.”
“When you are genuinely reaching out to people with God’s messages of hope, you usually receive a warm welcome and thoughtful response,” he said. “I have seen leaders visibly moved with emotion simply because we took the time to pray for them and their heavy responsibilities. No one should be afraid to share the hope of Christ with individuals of high societal standing. We are God’s simple representatives whom He can use to touch the lives of many who never have the opportunity to hear words of thanks, encouragement, and hope based on God’s Holy Word.”
He added: “If ever there was a time for the refreshing Seventh-day Adventist message as embodied in the three angels’ messages, it is now. Jesus is coming soon!”