Humility, kindness, peace were hallmarks of his years of service
Juan Carlos Viera, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and administrator universally admired for his humility, kindness, and the sense of peace that surrounded him, passed to his rest on November 25 at the age of 78, at his home in Beaumont, California, following an illness.
Before his retirement, Viera served as director of the Ellen G. White Estate, located at the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was the first — and, so far, only — person who was not from North America to head the estate, which manages and promote the Adventist Church co-founder’s legacy and writings.
His daughter, Elizabeth Viera Talbot, a minister who heads the Jesus101 Biblical Institute ministry of the North American Division, confirmed his passing.
Fifty years ago, it was highly unusual for a 28-year-old Seventh-day Adventist pastor to be called as a conference president. But that was the lot of Juan Carlos Viera, who less than a decade later was elected president of the South American Division’s Austral Union, covering Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
“Everyone commented on his brilliant mind, his Christ-centered theology, kindness in administration, and his peaceful demeanor, not just for his family and friends,” Talbot said via telephone from California. “People came to him to find that peace, and I attribute that to his Christ-centered theology.”
Viera’s parents were Seventh-day Adventists — his mother joined the church first, with his father following “much later in his life” — and as a child, Juan Carlos studied at the Adventist Institute of Uruguay in Progreso, Canelones Department, some 22 miles (35 km) north of Montevideo. A classmate there was Humberto Rasi, who retired in 2002 as education director for the world church.
“Wherever Elder Viera served, he was respected for his leadership skills and admired for his ethical principles and commitment to biblical truth,” Rasi noted in an email.
Jim Nix, who followed Viera as director of the White Estate, praised his colleague’s demeanor and service.
“Juan Carlos was the consummate Christian gentleman,” Nix said. “As a former union conference president in South America, he applied his administrative skills to his work at the White Estate. Although he only served one term as director, the legacy he left behind when he retired was that of a man who loved the Lord and His end-time Remnant Church, who believed in the biblical gift of prophecy, and on a personal note, was kind and supportive to me personally, something that was probably also true in his interactions with other members of the White Estate staff.”
It was Viera’s time in Adventist education that sparked an interest in ministry. Rising to administrative positions, his home division sponsored his studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, where Viera’s doctoral thesis covered “Seventh-day Adventists in Latin America: Their Beginnings; Their Growth; Their Challenges.”
Introducing Viera’s work, the late Fuller missiology scholar C. Peter Wagner wrote, “The social problems that large masses of population are confronted with, and the appearance of the liberation theology in the social and religious scene, represent an important challenge for the Church in general and Seventh-day Adventists in particular.”
During his time at Fuller, Viera was called to serve the world church at the White Estate, first as an associate director and then as its director.
Talbot said her father was drawn to this particular ministry: “He was blessed by the heritage of the church and wanted to share it in the right setting. He wanted to educate people on the beginnings of the denomination. And he wanted people to understand how inspiration worked. To this end he conducted several seminars worldwide on how God communicates with prophets.”
Viera also wrote a book on how inspiration worked for the prophets of God, Talbot said. His goal was to help Adventists to know about Ellen White, but also that her work “was pointing to the Bible.”
In retirement, Viera served for 15 years as translator of the “Ellen G. White Notes” published by Pacific Press to accompany the church’s quarterly Adult Bible Study Guide. He also translated all the books produced by the Jesus 101 Biblical Institute, which Talbot directs. His own books include Ready to Meet Christ, The Voice of the Spirit, and Year 2000: Will This Be the End?
For Talbot, of course, Viera’s legacy is more personal: “My dad’s integrity, as a Christian and a person, is what I personally admired. He was the same person at home as he was outside. He did not have multiple faces as a pastor. One of the reasons I am a minister and working for the church is his integrity and example,” she said.
A memorial service will be held on January 14, 2017 at 4 p.m. at the Alhambra Seventh-day Adventist Church, 220 S Chapel Ave., Alhambra, California.