Q&A with Japhet De Oliveira, senior pastor of the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church and co-founder of the One project, and Ed Barnett, president of the Rocky Mountain Conference.

The Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the oldest churches of the Adventist faith community in the United States, with the first Seventh-day Adventist family arriving in this Wild West town in 1871. The congregation dates to 1879, has over 600 members, and is located in the heart of a city boasting a mélange of religions and world- views. A visitor to 345 Mapleton Avenue soon discovers that apart from regular worship and congregational activities, the church is headquarters for a recently popular, vibrant, and challenging revivalist ministry, the One project.

The One project is five years old. A small group of Seventh-day Adventist ministers met in 2010 in Denver, Colorado to seek renewal for their personal lives and ministries, pray with each other and share burdens and concerns about their church. Drawing on study of the gospels, reflection on the history of Adventism, and exploration of how the centrality of Jesus in Adventist beliefs connects with “present truth” for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they reaffirmed their faith in Jesus. All.— a phrase that became the project’s official tagline.

This initial conversation turned into a “sharing of what we re-discovered,” Japhet De Oliveira, senior pastor of the Boulder church, says. It developed into a series of gatherings, and mushroomed into homes, churches, and offices. “What does Jesus. All. mean for our lives, our church, our communities and the world?” the founders asked—and continue to ask.

The conversations went global primarily through “gatherings.” Seventeen of these gatherings have attracted thousands of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. In a recently published compilation of sermons, For the One, Voices from the One Project, Japhet De Oliveira notes that the gatherings aim to “provide the much needed space for us to hear the voice of Jesus.” Each event includes several messages, opportunities to question the presenters, and “recalibration” in small groups where participants reflect on the meaning of the messages for their lives, as well as for their faith communities— locally and globally. Plans for 2015 include a gathering in Boulder, the ministry’s home, and three other locations. The One project also communicates through a website, social media, books and articles, as well as preaching and teaching. As developments in Adventism have a robust history of fervent theological debates, the One project has attracted a number of passionate critics in addition to its devoted followers. A variety of books and other publications take issue with the One project. Internet chatter is rich with speculation about the project, including attacks on the ministry. Much of what is circulated appears to be based on second-hand information and hearsay. The organizers do pay attention to criticism, and have fine-tuned the presentations over the years, reflecting on participant feedback, and concentrating on creating Christocentric messages.

Those who have participated in the gatherings frequently bear testimony to their changed lives. Many claim that the gatherings have rekindled their love of the Adventist message and have strengthened their beliefs. Lessons learned from the Sermon on the Mount, the theme of the recent San Diego gathering, were noted in the Adventist World (April, 2015) with a synopsis of some of the memorable presentations adding to numerous testimonies from participants. They appear to speak in unison about how their Christian experience was enriched and their commitment to the church strengthened.

Among more than a thousand in attendance at the gathering in San Diego, CA, in February 2015, was Shawn Nolan, an attorney and elder at the Boulder church. He says, “I went to San Diego with no particular expectations other than to experience the One project for myself. What I found was a weekend entirely focused on studying what Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount—a chance to hear, discuss, and reflect with other Seventh-day Adventist Christians on Jesus’ words and His call to action. The weekend led me, in my own life, to hear God’s call that I surrender to Jesus the separate compartmentalizations of work, friends, family, church, and society that I sometimes allow as a defense mechanism. And to live a holistic life as a follower of Jesus. To those concerned, I have the same words Philip had for Nathanael in John 1:46: Come and see.”

Dr. Denis Fortin, formerly dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, has attended three gatherings. He didn’t like the first one, in Seattle, WA, three years ago, as he “found the presentations to be too critical of the church.” The two other gatherings, again in Seattle (2014), and in San Diego (2015), provided him with a different experience. Commenting about the San Diego gathering, he said, “It fed me spiritually. The presentations were biblical and faithfully Adventist. . . . I found nothing objectionable about the music, prayers, or type of spirituality presented from the One project team. So I was blessed and have already decided to attend next year.” He adds, “Thank you for your support for the One project. It is certainly meeting a need among our young adults and young pastors, and more seasoned ones like me.”

With the One project located within the Rocky Mountain Conference, Mountain Views asked Japhet De Oliveira to share his thoughts on issues surrounding the ministry. Ed Barnett also comments on the relationship between the ministry and church leadership.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: How should we refer to the One project? Is it a movement for those who want an alternative to the Church? Is there a secret agenda?

JAPHET DE OLIVEIRA: Quite honestly, talking about Jesus captured our hearts when the five of us first met physically in Denver in 2010. Such “unquenchable desire” to know and follow Jesus has captured the hearts of thousands across the globe. It is revival and reformation in and through Jesus. So does that qualify as a movement? Probably. The One project has no secret agenda. Everything we do is in public. Our “Reflections” are online for free, and our books are published through the Church’s official printing houses in a couple of languages. We also try to address every direct question people ask. Email is the best way to communicate with us. All presentations and other information can be accessed on our web site—www.the1project.org.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: Two gatherings included presenters who are not Seventh-day Adventist. Why was it necessary to include them?

JAPHET DE OLIVEIRA:  Great question. This is a popular one out there. When Jesus explained the Gospel, he used only the first testament. When we explain the Gospel today, we have the privilege of using both the first and second testaments. While the Bible is inspired, most of us are not versed in the original languages. We rely on translations, paraphrases, commentaries and an endless list of great voices trying to articulate and express the Gospel to all the world. I love to read. There is nothing wrong with reading great books, as long as the final test of authority is the Bible. We have held 17 gatherings around the world, of which two have featured authors sharing insights into their latest books. I am personally thankful for the great wealth of Christian writers that have shaped my love for Jesus. I know that Ellen White’s library, and the libraries of all our founders and missionaries were filled with great pieces of literature—secular and religious. Again, the Word of God is the final test. To that end, I can say that we are committed to seeking great authors who can help us articulate our faith better. It would be sad if we ended up like those living under totalitarian regimes, and burning all the books containing a single sentence with which we disagree.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: Stories about your ministry abound. There are accusations that challenges to traditional Adventist beliefs drive the project and seek to undermine the church. Books and blogs have been written attacking the founders and the project itself. What is your reaction to these criticisms and publications?

JAPHET DE OLIVEIRA: Befuddled. Bemused. Baffled. These are three words that describe my personal reaction. On my father’s side of the family, we trace our heritage back to the foundation of Seventh-day Adventism in the south of Brazil. I come from a long line of men and women who loved Jesus and expressed that love clearly through Adventism. So now for random people, who have never talked to me, to start accusing me of not lifting up the beauty of Jesus within Adventism is—quite frankly—bizarre. Some friends informed me that an independent publisher was printing books that were slanderous to the character of the One project co-founders, who are all Seventh-day Adventist pastors. When I asked the publisher why they print such lies, they basically said, “This is what sells.” They told me that I could write my own book, and they would publish that as well. They don’t care about the content! They would not meet with us to discuss the issue either. Our response is like that of Jesus before Pilate. We too claim that everything we have done is public. We will continue to take the high road. We will continue celebrating the supremacy of Jesus in the Adventist Church. We will continue to encourage those on the fringes of the Church to return to the Word of God, as it is our only reliable source of guidance in a difficult world.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: In what ways has the Rocky Mountain Conference helped sponsor the One project?

ED BARNETT: There has been no financial support for the One project. It does have a secretary, and her payroll is processed through the conference, but that person is paid for by the One project. We provide a “courtesy payroll” for that position just like we would for any locally hired church or school secretary. We don’t sponsor the One project, but offer to consult when either side wishes to do so. The One project is a ministry that is operated by one of the pastors in the conference. Many churches and pastors have different ministries that they help run, whether it be a prison ministry or community service projects or day care center, etc. This is nothing new for our conference.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: Does it concern the conference that the One project is housed in the Boulder SDA Church and run by one of its pastors?

ED BARNETT: We have an interest in all ministries operating in our conference in the name of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and probably even more so when one of our pastors is a key leader in the project. With this in mind, our focus has been to keep close to what is going on and make sure that the project is truly a ministry that is bringing people closer to God. We believe that “by their fruits you shall know them,” so we are observing the results from the programs. Right now, there are a great deal of things being said about the One project—some things positive and true, but also some things far from the truth. I have had a number of church members from within our conference—as well as from other parts of the country—say how blessed they have been by attending a One project gathering. It is my plan to attend one of the gatherings personally. Meanwhile, we continue to monitor the project.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: Have you, as the conference president, ever talked to the leaders of the One project about any concerns that you may have?

ED BARNETT: Yes, one of the issues has been that the One project has had some speakers from outside of our church. I shared this concern very openly with Pastor De Oliveira and asked him to explain the rationale behind such invitations. I let him know that to me it has been a distraction from the project’s focus on Jesus. He did assure me that the organizers get full manuscripts from all speakers ahead of time, so they know that they will not say anything contrary to the beliefs of our church. But because of views these guest speakers have expressed in books over the years, consider- able questions have been raised as to why they would have been invited to speak.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS: What are some of the positive outcomes the conference sees from the One project?

ED BARNETT: First, I get excited about any program that really focuses on Jesus. I believe that that is the project’s central focus. Those who have attended several of these gatherings have shared with me how valuable, biblically- anchored, and affirming they were for them as Seventh-day Adventists. I believe it angers Satan that Jesus is their focus. Second, I appreciate the transparency. All of the sermons presented at the gatherings are available on the Internet.