Gary Thurber, newly-elected president of the Mid-America Union Conference, shares his passion for Jesus Christ and his hope for the Adventist Church with OUTLOOK:
Who is Gary Thurber? What do you want people to know about you?
I am a third generation Seventh-day Adventist, who grew up in a very loving, God-honoring home. I was blessed to receive my education through the Adventist system and have had the privilege of serving as a teacher and pastor for a church I love dearly.
Having said all of that, I also know I am a sinner whose only hope is in Christ Jesus. I have been bought by the blood of the Lamb. I want to spend my life sharing the Good News of what the Lord has done for me and what He wants to do for anyone who will come to Him.
What does it mean to you to be chosen as president of the Mid-America Union?
Honored, to say the least! This will be the third time the Lord has asked our family to serve in the Mid-America Union territory. We loved the time we served here in the past and look forward to returning. I had the privilege of getting to know the Union and local conference leadership while serving in the Rocky Mountain Conference, and they are a wonderful group of dedicated Seventh-day Adventists Christians. What a privilege to be able to serve alongside this group!
What is your vision for our union?
The vision for our union is something that needs to be created collaboratively with the leadership of our territory sitting around the table together. Having said that, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been given a very special work to do in these last days of this Earth’s history. It is my prayer that we will share our faith in the context of the Three Angels’ Messages and the character of Christ. I believe the Lord is coming soon! So soon, in fact, I don’t believe we have time to be discouraged—we only have time to come alongside and encourage one another as we look forward to our Savior’s return.
As a Christian in the 21st century, what attracts you to the Adventist message?
First, I believe our message paints a beautiful, accurate picture of the character of God. The devil’s big plan, from the beginning, has been to destroy God’s good name. As I canvass the various world religions, and even many Christian faiths, I see God’s character being distorted. Secondly, the Adventist message is a message of hope. I believe the Lord has given us the privilege of sharing not only what Christ has done for us in the past but, also, what He is doing for us now, and His plans for us in the days to come.
My list could go on and on, but those are the first two thoughts that came to my mind.
What do you see as strengths of the Adventist Church?
Without a doubt, our Church’s greatest strength is our people. They are the most giving, dedicated, creative and faithful group of believers on the planet! I am constantly amazed by their steadfastness and willingness to serve the Lord whole-heartedly. I would add, too, all the men and women who serve as pastors, teachers and other leaders. They are highly trained, dedicated and put in countless hours to strengthen and encourage our Church and those God places in their paths.
Other strengths? Our schools, camps, evangelistic endeavors, health institutions and ministries, the Spirit of Prophecy, and our commitment to the Word of God…
What challenges are we currently facing, both in MAUC and around the world?
We do have a number of challenges to be sure; none of which, however, are bigger than our God! Some challenges that come to mind are not unique to MAUC but to our Church in general include:
- We must develop new strategies to make Adventist education affordable and accessible to all our membership.
- We have a need to develop new, creative ways to share the Three Angels’ Messages to reach the secular society surrounding us.
- Gossiping and evil surmising seem to be running rampant among our ranks, and it must stop. Again, this is not just a MAUC problem; this is something that plagues the Christian Church at large.
- As our world church continues to grow, respecting the different cultures and working together to fulfill our mission is becoming more complex and sometimes confusing. The counsel Ellen White gives is to “Press together, press together.”
- Despite having made strides in areas of discrimination, we (as a church) need to be more thoughtful about how we embrace and practice Fundamental No. 14 of our beliefs: “Unity in the Body of Christ.” It challenges us: “In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation.”
What are some ways Adventists can more effectively and creatively reach out to our communities in Mid-America?
First, I have talked with a couple of ministry couples in San Antonio, Texas, since the General Conference session was held there. They are sharing that people, in that town and beyond, are now more receptive than ever to our message. They attribute this largely to the Pathways to Health program, which ASI and the Southwestern Union Conference orchestrated so beautifully for the community. More than 6,000 people received free services, including medical, surgical, dental, vision, physical therapy, pastoral counseling and other assistance through this program. What a blessing!
This event depicted, in action, the message in the passage on page 143 The Ministry of Healing: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”
Secondly, John 3:14-15, says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (NKJV). Whether in giving a Bible study, a prophecy seminar, a service project, or a new creative outreach, job one is to lift up Jesus to anyone the Lord puts in our path.
Thirdly, I don’t believe there is a “cookbook method” to follow a recipe to better reach our community for Jesus. I believe, at the heart of it, a greater issue is who are we becoming and whether we reflect the character of Christ.
You are not only a man of God but also a family man. How did you meet your wife, and what would you like us to know about your children?
Diane and I began dating while we were in our high school years at Mt. Pisgah Academy in Candler, North. Carolina. I have a story to tell about the gift she has been to me, in my life, but that is for another day. Diane has worked in many areas of ministry for the church, family ministries, Ministerial Spouses Association, women’s ministries, and a communication. She also supported our local church in a variety of ways when I was a pastor, including coordinating children’s church, children’s prayer meeting, and the hospitality committee. I’m thankful to have a partner in ministry who loves the Lord and our church.
We are blessed by our two adult sons: Ryan and Justin. Our oldest son, Ryan, is an attorney and practices law at Polsinelli in Denver, Colorado. His wife, Baylie, is an ICU nurse at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Colorado. (By the way, her parents Charlie and Trish Thompson pastored and served in youth ministry in the Kansas-Nebraska Conference earlier in their ministry journey.)
Our son, Justin, is a senior at Andrews University. In December, he will complete a major in biology and minors in chemistry and religion. Justin plans to enroll in a pharmacology school next fall.
Other than family members, who has been the most influential person in your life?
Spiritually speaking, I would say it was my high school dean, Bill Wolcott. He had a profound influence on me. When I was climbing my fool’s hill, he thoughtfully and graciously helped me through those moments by showing me the love and patience of Christ. Thank you, Dean!
What is your first memory of knowing Jesus as your Savior?
Growing up in a Christ-filled Christian home, I don’t ever remember not having Jesus in my journey. Some of my earliest memories include hearing my father sing with the King’s Heralds Quartet and listening to his sermons about our Savior’s love and care. I believe it was through my father’s ministry that I gave my heart to the Lord.
What is your favorite Scripture text?
Hard question! There are so many wonderful and precious promises in Scripture!
I will give you I Kings 14:8 (last part): “Yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight” (NASB).
Why is this my favorite text? It is proof positive the gospel works! God spoke these words some 40 years after David had passed away. Despite all of David’s failures and frailties, when God remembered David, these words from verse 8 describe what God thought of David. This gives me great hope! If I, too, will strive to have a humble, repentive heart like David, I can rest assured God also will remember me as a man after His own heart. What a miracle the Gospel is!