This summer, at the fifty-ninth General Conference session in Atlanta, Georgia, the Adventist church elected a new leader. His name is Ted N.C. Wilson and KidsView got the opportunity to meet with him. Our two reporters, sisters Carmen and Carolina Cruz, who attend Atholton Adventist Academy in Columbia, Maryland, asked him several questions to help you, our readers, get to know him better.
Carmen Cruz: Tell me a little bit about your childhood. Where you were born, and what activities did you enjoy doing as a child?
Ted Wilson: O.K., that’s kind of fun. I was born in Washington Adventist Hospital [in Takoma Park, Maryland], which was known as the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital then. My parents came back on a furlough* from Egypt and they were going to be here about six months and then go back. And ten days after they got off the boat, I was born. Then, when I was 6 months old, I went back to Egypt, and lived there until I was about 8 years old. That’s all I knew, and my earliest memories and my whole orientation of what the world is all about is the Middle East and Egypt. So my favorite food, even more than American food, is wonderful Mediterranean Middle Eastern food. And my second- favorite food is Indian food, because our family is connected with India.
I had a very wonderful childhood in the Middle East, and my growing- up years have been wonderful years. I grew up in a family that loved Jesus. They loved the Bible, they loved the Spirit of Prophecy, and I never had a negative impression about the church or about God’s truth. That’s probably one of the greatest blessings I can take from my family from my growing-up years.
If the Lord doesn’t come soon, you may have families in the future. And even if you don’t, you can practice this beautiful principle. My parents always gave me the impression, the understanding, that they believed in me. They never tried to put me down. They instead tried to encourage my talents and everything that I had. I think that’s important, for parents to tell their children they believe in them, and to encourage them spiritually and academically, musically, and socially. Just send them on their way so they can really accomplish something for the Lord.
(*Vacation given to missionaries so they can go to their homeand.)
Carmen: What age did you give your life to Christ?
TW: I think it was a natural progression, because I grew up in a Christian home. Then I took studies to be baptized, and I was 12 years old when I was baptized in the Takoma Park church. But I can remember I was about 21 when it really sank into my mind that “the Lord has just provided salvation for me!”
And you grow from there. Every day is a day of growth and leaning more and more on the Lord. So you never come to the point where you say, “Oh, I’m now perfect,” or “I’m now at the summit of my spiritual experience.” We always need the Lord.
Carmen: There are a lot of temptations and pressures in middle school. What advice can you give to me, and to young people facing challenges?
TW: First of all, stay very close to your parents, because they’ve got some good advice (they should have!) and the Lord will give them counsel. Always keep talking to your parents. Keep talking to others you consider to be role models and good leaders. And you need to understand the beautiful text in Philippians 4:8. You’ve got all kinds of pressures and all kinds of things coming at you. So you have to make decisions. You have to decide what you’re going to watch on TV, what you’re going to access on the Internet, what you’re going to download on your iPod or whatever it is. You have to make that decision. And yet, other people are trying to make the decisions for you. You have to filter all of that through something such as this beautiful verse, that says: “Whatsoever things are true,… honest,… just,… pure,… lovely,… of good report; if there be any virtue [if there’s anything good about it], if there be any praise. . . ” Those are the things you ought to think about.
So when you’re tempted to watch a movie or see something on TV, or access something on the Internet that isn’t really going to help you a whole lot, you need to say, “Oh yeah, the Lord said I need to look at things that are honest and just and pure and lovely. “Then you fill your mind with the things that will lift you to Jesus rather than get you on a bad detour. You want to invite the Holy Spirit to help you to filter out all those things that are going to lead you offtrack.
Maybe that sounds a little bit theologically involved and philosophical, but it comes down to a really practical thing of you making the right decisions, and asking the Lord to help you do that.
Carmen: My sisters and I feel called by God to sing of His love to others. How old were you when you felt God had a special purpose for your life?
TW: I suppose it was around the age of 11 or 12. My parents and I talked about maybe being a pastor. I love architecture, and at one point I wanted to do that. Or dentistry, or medicine, or something. But I remember a very important meeting at the Takoma Park church when I was just a young fellow, probably around 11, 12, or 13. There was a very godly man who worked in the Youth Department of the General Conference. His name was Elder E. L. Minchin. And he made a call one time for people who wanted to be pastors, and that really impressed me, and I went forward. I think that was one of the specific times when I knew God wanted me to be a pastor.
I’d encourage you and your friends to go to college because you need to. Not everybody goes to college—maybe they need to go into a trade or some other thing. But whatever it is, go for it. Don’t be distracted from what you know the Lord wants you to do.
When you get to college don’t fall into the trap of just having a lot of fun. You need to have fun in life, that’s true, but don’t lose focus on your studies. You’ve got to have a good balance in life, because we are social, physical, mental, and spiritual beings. So you’ve got to have that good balance, and the Lord will help you.
Carmen: When you were a young adult, what college did you attend?
TW: I went to La Sierra University [in southern California] for my freshman year. I had a great time there and made a lot of good friends. I had gone to school all the time at home—Sligo School, John Nevins Andrews Elementary and Takoma Academy. And then I decided I needed to go somewhere, you know, and my mother wasn’t very happy about that. But I went way out to the West Coast and spent a nice, exciting year there and had a good time. Then I came back to Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) and finished. College was a very formative and a important time.
Then I went on to the Ssminary at Andrews University [in Michigan], and then to Loma Linda University [in California] for a public health master’s degree. And that’s where I met my wife, Nancy, which was a wonderful thing! And then I went to pastor. Actually I pastored before I got married, but I learned more in the first year of pastoring than I probably did in any classroom, because reality teaches you a whole lot.
Carolina: Do you have any children?
TW: I have three wonderful daughters. They are just precious to us. Our first daughter is Emilie and she’s 32, and married to a pastor who’s down in Avon Park, Florida. She just had her first baby. Little Henry is his name. We just saw him last night on Skype, and it’s so exciting to see him. He just kind of sits there. It was so fun!
Then Elizabeth is going to be 30, and she has two wonderful children, who are 3 ½ and 1 ½ , a little granddaughter and a little grandson. They’re just so precious—Lauren and Matthew. We just have a great time with them. She’s married to a pastor of two churches in the mountains in northeast Georgia—a beautiful area.
Our youngest is Catherine. She’s a physical therapist. Of our three daughters, the oldest one is a nurse and a teacher, the second one is a nurse, and the third one is a physical therapist. She is married to a dentist, and they live out in Denver. [She and her husband just had their first child, a little girl.] We just pray that the Lord will provide this new little one with a wonderful, healthy life.
Carolina: I love animals. Do you have any?
TW: We had a parrot for many years. Now our oldest daughter in Florida is keeping him. His name is Peanut, and he loves peanuts. We got him when we lived in West Africa. So we’ve actually had him probably 22 years or so. He’s an African gray, and African grays can live to be 80 years old, so he may outlive all of us.
Then we had three cats, one for each of the girls, but they have slowly died off. We don’t have any pets right now— we’re traveling quite a bit so it would make it a bit more difficult. So we don’t have any right now.
Now we’d like to talk a bit about your current role as president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Just what does that mean? And what kinds of things do you do as the president?
The church is a wonderful body of believers. [And together we are] focused on understanding what Scripture says. We also understand that the Spirit of Prophecy through Ellen White is a wonderful blessing to the church, and these help bind the us together—the beautiful truths of Scripture. And we have an organizational setting within the church, where we have the local church, then a conference or a mission. Then we have a union, which is a bigger collection of all those conferences. Then we have a division, which covers another large section. We have 13 of those. Then we have the General Conference, the building in which you are, and it’s the headquarters for the whole work around the world. But we don’t believe in a CEO kind of command and control situation. We believe in a committee system. So we work together in a more [teamwork-oriented] way, not in a kind of dictatorial or kingly power way.
I happen to have been elected as the president of that whole organization, which is a very humbling experience. It’s only by God’s grace that I can accomplish anything good for the Lord. We have a lot of committees, a lot of people we work with, a lot of speaking appointments, encouraging people, trying to help them, working with a lot of media activities like the Adventist Review and Adventist World, Adventist World Radio, Hope Channel, and so many other things. So we’ve got all these different entities that work together as a beautiful family to help with the one purpose, and that is to point people to Jesus and His soon coming.
Carolina: How does having this position make you feel?
TW: It is a very sobering situation and certainly all the demands kind of weigh you down. And you just have to say, “Lord, help me out. I’ve got all these appointments, all these people to talk to, all these different things I need to do. Help me to know what is the priority that I should be looking at, and how to get everything done so that Your name will be glorified.” We must never, ever feel that we, when we get to a certain position, can accomplish all these great things and we’re going to do this and that. We have to be even more humble and just lean on the Lord and say, “Lord, I want to claim James 1:5, which says, if you lack wisdom, ask for it.” That’s what I try and do every morning, because I know my job is so big it’s far beyond me. So I hope you’ll pray for me.
Carolina: Will you travel a lot? And what areas of the world are you looking forward to visiting?
TW: I’ll get to travel too much, probably. Fortunately, my wife will travel with me on quite a few trips, and that’ll be very exciting because she’ll be with me. She’s a wonderful Christian woman and a real spiritual support to me. But it is a privilege to see our people, and we will be traveling to many different places. A few months from now we’ll be traveling to South America, and then directly from there over to India, and then many other places in the future. But everywhere we go, we want to make sure that people feel a part of this wonderful Advent movement that’s headed towards Christ’s soon coming.
Carmen: We have just one more question for you. What message would you like to give to the children and young people that are out there?
TW: The Lord loved children. And I think He has a special regard for children and for young people, because He knows that their lives are in the balance, and He loves them so much He wants them to be with Him in heaven. He also knows that young people have lots of energy and lots of creative ideas, and He wants to use those ideas. So my appeal to the children and to the young people of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not to allow the devil to sidetrack you into things that you would use your talent and your time for that would just be spinning your wheels, but that you’ll keep your eyes on Jesus and ask Him every day, “Lord, what do you want me to do today for You, and for others?” When you do that, He’ll definitely come into your life.
This church was started by young people, and I believe that the work is going to be finished largely by young people who are on fire for the Lord and understand fully the beautiful truths in Scripture. Children and young people should never feel like they’re just on the sidelines. They ought to feel very much a part of the church, and that the Lord loves them with every ounce of love that He has.