The first volunteer interns to the United Nations will begin work at the Seventh-day Adventist office in New York City on September 24, 2001. Matthew Mills and Samantha Burchard, both recent graduates of Pacific Union College, accepted the newly created positions which they will help shape for future interns.
Sending Adventist interns to the United Nations is a dream realized for Jonathan Gallagher, UN Liaison director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Working at General Conference headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland, Dr. Gallagher is able to spend little of his time at the New York office. With Matt and Samantha located at the United Nations Plaza, the church will now have easier access to ambassadors and diplomats, as well as UN staff.
Gallagher was introduced to Matt and Samantha through a mutual friend. Discovering that the two graduates each hold degrees in Spanish and communications––and were looking for jobs––Gallagher was impressed that the pair would be ideal to expand and develop the church’s presence at the UN. He described the UN program as unique, explaining that “the individuals are required to interface with diplomats and high-level officials of many different cultures and backgrounds. Matt and Samantha will help provide a consistent and effective voice for the world church.”
Along with other non-government organizations and leaders of the 48 subsidiaries to the UN––including the World Health Organization and the High Commissioner for Human Rights––the interns will help facilitate church cooperation in UN-sponsored activities, providing global humanitarian aid and improving religious freedom and human rights internationally.
With the support of the Office of the UN Liaison and General Conference Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, Matt and Samantha can strengthen the church’s channel of communication and influence at the United Nations and support church interests worldwide.
The Adventist church currently holds consultative status at the United Nations and frequently provides advice on issues of religious freedom, human rights, health, and education. Interacting with UN personnel allows Matt and Samantha the opportunity to share what the church is accomplishing around the world. With passes to attend seminars and summits at the UN, the interns will also be able to communicate the needs of the church to UN representatives.
“The first thing Matt and Samantha will be asked is, ‘What do you do?’” says Gallagher. “Then, after they describe the church’s work with religious liberty, human rights, and other aid, people want to know ‘Why?’ This is an opportunity to explain that we serve a God of love and compassion.These are truly significant opportunities that will be of great benefit to the continuing outreach of the Adventist church.”
Funding for the internship program remains the biggest problem. “The challenge now is not the opportunities, but the budget,” says Gallagher. To compensate for the high cost of living in the New York area, accommodations for the interns have been donated by Rod Colburn of Metro Ministries in New York. Only a small amount of departmental funding is available. Matt and Samantha hope to remain at the UN office for at least six months; however, the duration of the program remains heavily dependant on funds that are not yet secured.
Despite the monetary challenge, Samantha says she is eager to begin working at the United Nations: “If everything didn’t seem right then I’d be really frightened, but because I know that these are the plans God has for me, I’m not scared.”
Matt agrees, “We have seen a series of opened doors and answered prayers. I’m excited about what is going to happen.”