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Middle East Division headquarters office.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Ghafary.

Middle East Division

By Homer Trecartin

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Homer Trecartin, M.A. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), is the director of Global Mission Centers for the General Conference. Previously, he served as secretary/treasurer of Middle East Union.

The Middle East Division was a church organizational unit from 1951 to 1970.

The Middle East Division is a former large unit of church organization that included the countries of “Aden1, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza Strip, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Muscat and Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Trucial Oman, Turkey, United Arabic republic, and Yemen.” It was made up of “the Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey Sections, and the Libya and Sudan Stations.” It was operational from 1951 to 1970. In 1970 there were 41 churches with 3,391 members, and the population of the territory was 134,550,000.2

Organizational History

For many years this part of the world functioned as a union mission, first as the Arabic Union Mission and later the Middle East Union Mission.3 From 1941 to 1950, this territory was not part of any division.4 Instead, it was attached directly to the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. However, there had been growing concerns regarding the status of several different unions that were at that time attached directly to the General Conference. At the General Conference Session that was taking place in San Francisco, California, United States, on July 20, 1950, the newly elected General Conference president W. H. Branson5 made a statement concerning this situation.6 In his statement, he urged that the unions that were attached to the General Conference would be better served by becoming part of a division.7

A few minutes after Branson’s remarks were made, the next item of business was presented to the assembled delegates. It read as follows:

Middle East Division

Whereas, There is contained in the present Middle East Union a population of some 80,000,000 people in 12 countries; and,

Whereas, This vast territory is peopled mostly by peoples of the Majority Religion; and,

Whereas, Although our present membership in the Middle East is small, yet it has been the experience of the denomination that such fields can be developed more rapidly when there is an adequate organization and strong leadership; and,

Whereas, The vast territory comprising this union is too large for one union organization properly to foster the work of evangelizing its tremendous population; therefore,

We recommend,

1. That a new division be organized to be known as the Middle East Division and that it comprise the present territory of the Middle East Union.

2. That the territory be divided into two union mission fields.

3. That in the beginning the staff be kept small in order to avoid unnecessary expense in administration.

4. That the Nominating Committee of this session be authorized to nominate a division president and secretary-treasurer only, and that the General Conference Committee appoint leadership for the two union missions.

5. That the territorial division of the two new unions be arranged by the General Conference Committee in counsel with the Division Committee.

6. That plans for the new division be perfected by the end of 1950 so that it may begin to function January 1, 1951.

7. That for the present the territory of Israel continue under the supervision of the General Conference with the understanding that it will be transferred to the Middle East Division as soon as the present political situation makes it possible.8

As soon as the motion had been read, the chairman stated, “Brother Branson wishes to make a brief explanation.” The president explained that the territory and population of the proposed division was vast and large, but the membership was very small. He noted the work that had been done in the area up to that time, including the schools and health care operations. He also explained that the challenges presented by territory’s “Majority Faith” called for the area to be “a section to itself.”9

There appears to have been no further discussion. The motion was voted, and the session moved on to other items.10

The next day (July 21, 1950), the nominating committee brought in a partial report that included Pastor G. J. Appel as president of the new Middle East Division.11 Following that was a letter from the secretary of the Middle East Union, which read:

To the officers of the General Conference: The delegates and members of the Middle East Union committee have met and given study to the advisability of a change in the name of the Middle East Division, and we respectfully submit the following recommendation for your consideration.

WHEREAS, The territory of the division includes much territory in Africa which is not usually included within the meaning of the term Middle East, and

WHEREAS, it seems desirable to retain the name Middle East Union Mission to designate one of the unions to be created within the framework of the new division, it was

Voted, To recommend that the name of the new division recently formed and designated as the Middle East Division be hereafter known as the East Mediterranean Division.12

Almost immediately, and without discussion, the motion was voted by the session delegates.13

However, the term of the East Mediterranean Division was very short. Within days of beginning to function on January 1, 1951, the new division committee met and quickly sent a recommendation to the General Conference requesting that the name be changed to Middle East Division. And on January 18, 1951, less than three weeks into the division’s existence, the General Conference Committee officially changed the name back to Middle East Division.14

The new division comprised the Nile Union, the East Mediterranean Union, the Iran Mission, and the Turkey Mission15 and included the countries of “Aden, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Cyprus, Egypt, Hadhramaut, Iran, Iraq, Jordania, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lybia, the Neutral Territory between Iraq and Jordania, Oman, Saudi-Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen.”16

The former Middle East Union Mission office located at Elias Helou Building, Sioufi Street, Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon, now became the division office as well as the union office.17 It had a membership of 1,384 in 32 churches.18 There was one college in Lebanon (Middle East College), one publishing house in Lebanon (Middle East Press), an orphanage in Egypt, and training schools in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.19

During the new division’s first executive committee meeting on Sunday, January 7, 1951,20 Pastor Appel shared his vision for the future. This vision included the executive committee focusing primarily on evangelism, opening the work in the as yet unentered parts of the territory. Noting the loyalty of those who had accepted the Adventist message, he proposed that the local converts should be built into a workforce and trained in the church schools in their national languages to take leadership positions to move the work forward.

Then he went on to say:

“Our missionary recruits should make the study of the language of first importance on arrival in the field.”

“We should not think of establishing more institutions and larger institutions, but rather place our emphasis on evangelism.”21

As had been voted by the General Conference Session, the division began with a small staff “in order to avoid unnecessary expense in administration.”22 The division had a president (G. J. Appel), a secretary-treasurer (C. C. Morris), and a cashier (Nora Atkins).23

By the time the 1952 yearbook was published, the division had added two departmental secretaries: A. R. Mazat (Home Missionary and Publishing), and Wadie Farag (Radio).24 The 1953 yearbook lists several additional departments under Appel, Morris, and Mazat and adds T. S. Geraty for Educational and Y.P.M.V. departments.25 And by the publication of the 1970 yearbook, the Middle East Division was listed as having a president (F. C. Webster), secretary (R. L. Jacobs), treasurer and auditor (R. C. Mills), assistant auditor (George Yared), field secretary (R. C. Darnell), and accountant (Mary Ghazal). The officers still covered some departments, but departmental secretaries had been appointed for the Lay Activities (Manoug Nazirian); Medical (H. D. Ridgley); Ministerial, Radio-TV, and Sabbath School (L. C. Miller); and Publishing (Maurice Katrib) departments, but the Temperance and Y.P.M.V. secretary position was vacant26 (after the departure of A. A. Haddad).27

On September 25, 1952, the General Conference Executive Committee voted that the Israel Field would become part of the Middle East Division on January 1, 1953.28 But within a few months, it was discovered that is was not feasible for the Middle East Division to administer the Israel Mission, so at the May 21, 1953, General Conference Committee meeting it was voted to immediately transfer the responsibility of administering that mission from the Middle East Division to the General Conference.29

At some point in 1961 or 1962,30 the two unions in the Middle East Division were eliminated, and multiple “sections” were attached directly to the division. The 1963 yearbook31 lists unions in the list and on the map but not in the entity descriptions or the data list on the map. By the 1964 yearbook, those lists had been harmonized, and the division is described without unions. Instead, the following entities are listed: the Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey Sections, and the Libya and Sudan Stations.32

During the first 10 years, several institutions were added to the division: the Benghazi Adventist Hospital in Libya, the Beirut Physiotherapy Center in Lebanon, the Tehran Physiotherapy Center in Iran, and the Voice of Prophecy in Lebanon.33 By 1970, the Beirut Physiotherapy Center had closed, a new facility had been opened in Turkey (the Istanbul Adventist Dispensary), another orphanage had opened in Jordan, Bible correspondence schools were operating in Cyprus, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and evangelistic centers had been built in Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran.34 There were 16 elementary schools, 9 secondary schools, and 1 college, with an enrollment of almost 2,500 students.35

Before the Middle East Division was dissolved, membership had climbed from 1,384 in 32 churches36 to 3,391 in 41 churches,37 demonstrating an increase in membership of 145 percent, or an average of 7.25 percent per year. During that same time, the territory population grew from 79,969,00038 to 134,550,000,39 an increase of 68 percent, or an average of 3.4 percent per year.

In spite of the many challenges, the work had continued to progress. In 1951, when the division began, there was one member for every 57,781 people in the territory. By 1970, when the Middle East Division was dissolved, there was one member for every 39,678 people in the territory. For comparison, in 1970, the ratio of Adventists to world population was one member to every 1,78340 people in the world. In other words, a lot had been accomplished, but a tremendous amount of work still remained to be done if everyone in that part of the world was to have a chance to know and understand the good news of a Savior who was soon to return.

Especially troubling were the countries of Bahrain, Qatar, and Yemen, where the church had been unable to establish a single worshiping group.41 But even in the other countries, the membership of the small church or churches was often made up entirely of foreigners or minorities (such as Armenians in Iran). On the surface, it must have seemed like an almost impossible situation. And yet, looking back at nearly a hundred years of work in the Middle East, this period stands out as one of the high points in the history of the work in this part of the world. But sometimes, the picture is clearer when you are looking back than when you are in the midst of it.

On the afternoon of June 15, 1970, Elder Robert H. Pierson, president of the General Conference, addressed the General Conference Session in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. He summarized the situation in Africa, which included political problems that led to the East African Union being detached from the Trans-Africa Division and being administrated by the General Conference. He and Elder W. R. Beach, the General Conference secretary, had traveled to the area in late 1969 to see the situation and talk with the area leadership, and from these observations about the relationships of the peoples of the territory, they recommended some reorganization moves concerning the East African Union and the Tanzania Union.42

The chairman for the afternoon, Elder R. R. Bietz, then called on Elder W. R. Beach to present the recommendations. The proposed new organization called for a new division be created that would cover the territory of the Middle East Division and the East African Union, along with the Middle East, Ethiopian, East African, and Tanzania Unions from the Trans-Africa Division and the Northern European Division. This new division, to be named and a location chosen by the new division committee (and approved by the General Conference Committee), would begin operating on January 1, 1971.43

After supportive statements by the presidents of the three divisions being affected, the session voted almost unanimously in favor of the recommendations.44

Church papers around the world quickly picked up on the news with reports such as one from the British Adventist Messenger, which called the recommendation “one of the more unusual decisions” to be voted at the General Conference.45

Thus ended what may, in retrospect, be seen as the “golden age” of the work in the Middle East as a result of the specialized and focused attention in a part of the world where the work was particularly challenging and difficult.

Executive Officers Chronology

President: G. J. Appel (195146–1958); R. A. Wilcox (195847–1966); F. C. Webster (196648–197049).

Secretary-treasurer: C. C. Morris (195150–1956); R. E. Osborn (195651–1958).

Secretary: R. H. Hartwell (195952–1962); W. R. Lesher (196353–1964); R. C. Darnell (196454–1965); R. W. Wilmot (acting, 196655); R. L. Jacobs (196656–197057).

Treasurer: R. E. Osborn (195958); A. W. Fund (acting, 195959–1960); V. A. Fenn (196060–1966); R. C. Mills (196661–197062).

Sources

107th Annual Statistical Report of Seventh-day Adventists. Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1969.

“General Conference News Gleanings.” British Advent Messenger, July 3, 1970.

General Conference Committee Minutes. General Conference Archives. Accessed January 30, 2019 and February 5, 2019. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/Forms/AllFolders.aspx.

Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee. General Conference Archives. Accessed January 29, 2019 and February 5, 2019. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED.

Olson, Mildred. Midge in Lebanon. New York: TEACH Services, 2005.

———. Midge and Wayne in the Middle East. Brushtown, NY: TEACH Services, Inc, 1995.

“Proceedings of the General Conference, Forty-sixth Session, July 10–22, 1950, Fourteenth Meeting.” General Conference Report—No. 9, ARH, July 21, 1950.

“Proceedings of the General Conference, Forty-sixth Session, July 10–22, 1950, Seventeenth Meeting.” General Conference Report—No. 11. ARH, July 27, 1950.

“Seventh Business Meeting, June 15, 1970, 3:00 P.M.” ARH, June 16, 1970.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, various years.

Tippett, H. M. “The Mid-century Session Begins.” General Conference Report—No. 1. ARH, July 11, 1950.

“W. H. Branson Elected President.” General Conference Report—No. 2. ARH, July 13, 1950.

Notes

  1. Aden was a colony of the United Kingdom and became the capital of a new state known as the People’s Republic of South Yemen, which, in 1970, was renamed the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

  2. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  3. The Middle East Union Mission was at first called the Arabic Union Mission. “General Conference Detached Missions,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1942), 194.

  4. Minutes of the General Conference Committee, June 8, 1941, 15, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1941-06.pdf.

  5. “W. H. Branson Elected President,” General Conference Report—No. 2, ARH, July 13, 1950, 48.

  6. H. M. Tippett, “The Mid-century Session Begins,” General Conference Report—No. 1, ARH, July 11, 1950, 2.

  7. “Proceedings of the General Conference, Forty-sixth Session, July 10–22, 1950, Fourteenth Meeting,” General Conference Report—No. 9, ARH, July 21, 1950, 211–212.

  8. Ibid., 212.

  9. Ibid., 212–213.

  10. Ibid., 213.

  11. “Proceedings of the General Conference, Forty-sixth Session, July 10–22, 1950, Seventeenth Meeting,” General Conference Report—No. 11, ARH, July 27, 1950, 261.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Minutes of the General Conference Committee, January 18, 1951, 288, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1951-01.pdf.

  15. Ibid.

  16. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Ibid., 151.

  20. Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, January 5–22, 1951, 1, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19510101.pdf.

  21. Ibid., 3.

  22. “Proceedings of the General Conference, Forty-sixth Session, July 10–22, 1950, Fourteenth Meeting,” 212.

  23. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  24. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1952), 138.

  25. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1953), 142.

  26. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  27. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1969), 177.

  28. Minutes of the General Conference Committee, September 25, 1952, 973, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1952-09.pdf.

  29. Minutes of the General Conference Committee, May 21, 1953, 1194, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1953-05.pdf.

  30. Minutes for the Middle East Division Committee do not exist for the years 1961–1963, and the last mention of the unions occurring in the General Conference Committee minutes is August 10, 1961. Minutes of the General Conference Committee, August 10, 1961, 975, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1961-08.pdf.

  31. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963), 150–151.

  32. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1964), 163.

  33. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961), 141.

  34. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 186.

  35. “Statistical Report for 1969,” 107th Annual Statistical Report of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1969), 24.

  36. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  37. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  38. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  39. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  40. Calculated from the world population (3,483,000,000) divided by the membership (1,953,078). “Statistical Report for 1969,” and “Countries, Islands, and Island Groups in Which Seventh-day Adventist Work Has Been Established,” 107th Annual Statistical Report of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1969), 20, 31.

  41. “Countries, Islands, and Island Groups,” 30–31.

  42. “Seventh Business Meeting, June 15, 1970, 3:00 P.M.,” ARH, June 16, 1970, 21.

  43. Ibid., 21–22.

  44. Ibid., 22.

  45. “General Conference News Gleanings,” British Advent Messenger, July 3, 1970, 4.

  46. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  47. The yearbook does not list Wilcox as president until the 1959 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show he actually arrived the last part of 1958. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1959), 132; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, November 11, 1958, 653, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19581101.pdf.

  48. The yearbook does not list Webster as president until the 1967 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show him as chairman in mid-1966. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1967), 169; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, June 26, 1966, 1348, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19660601.pdf.

  49. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  50. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 148.

  51. The yearbook does not list Osborn as secretary-treasurer until the 1957 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show he actually arrived the last part of 1956. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), 123; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, November 2, 1956, 473, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19561101.pdf.

  52. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1959), 132.

  53. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963), 151.

  54. The yearbook does not list Darnell as secretary until the 1965–1966 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show him as secretary in late 1964. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1966), 167; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, November 11, 1964, 1183, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19641101.pdf.

  55. Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, January 14, 1966, 1313, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19660101.pdf.

  56. The yearbook does not list Jacobs as secretary until the 1967 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show him as secretary in mid-1966. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1967), 169; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, June 26, 1966, 1348, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19660601.pdf.

  57. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

  58. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1959), 132.

  59. The yearbook does not list Fund as the acting treasurer until the 1960 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show him in attendance in late 1959 and Osborn no longer in attendance. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1960), 135; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, November 26, 1959, 755, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19591101.pdf.

  60. The yearbook does not list Fenn as treasurer until the 1961 edition, although Middle East Division Committee minutes show him functioning in mid-1960. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961), 138; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, June 21, 1960, 782, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19600601.pdf.

  61. The yearbook does not list Mills as treasurer until the 1967 edition, although the Middle East Division Committee minutes show him in attendance in late 1966. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1967), 169; Minutes of the Middle East Division Committee, October 11, 1966, 1357, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/MED/MED19661001.pdf.

  62. “Middle East Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 183.

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Trecartin, Homer. "Middle East Division." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 16, 2021. Accessed April 19, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7DZF.

Trecartin, Homer. "Middle East Division." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 16, 2021. Date of access April 19, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7DZF.

Trecartin, Homer (2021, April 16). Middle East Division. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 19, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7DZF.