Milton E. Nebblett was a driven force who helped transform local
Seventh-day Adventist humanitarian outreach in the early 1980s into a
major player on the international development scene.
The former refugee advisor for the U.S. State Department in Vietnam
secured the Seventh-day Adventist World Service’s (SAWS) first grant –
$10 million from the United States Agency for International Development –
based largely on his understanding of government agencies.
Nebblett, who died September 13 at age 88, served as deputy director
for SAWS, which then employed 12 people in its home office and 300
people worldwide. After securing the grant, the organization soon
afterward became the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA),
which now employs 85 people in its international office and 6,000 people
Nebblett worked non-stop on multiple projects and traveled extensively
throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America to assess humanitarian needs
with government leaders. Colleagues said he constantly pushed the agency
to expand its operations. It’s estimated that he helped to secure
roughly $100 million in grants for ADRA’s projects.
“Milton was someone who I would try to emulate and replicate his
passion in my work,” said Mario H. Ochoa, ADRA’s vice president for
Network Relations, who worked with Nebblett. “He was a dynamic, vibrant,
exuberant guy. He did a lot of mentoring for me and others in the
office in those days.”
Nebblett’s wife, Ivy, said he visited 150 countries, and the couple lived in 42 different houses during his ministry.
Nebblett was the son of a custom tailor in Honduras. Like his father,
he made clothes for himself throughout his life and was known as a
dapper dresser. His wife said sewing was the only activity on which he
would focus all his attention at one time.
He graduated from Oakwood University in Alabama, United States, and in
1953 earned a master’s degree in divinity from the Seventh-day Adventist
Theological Seminary, then located in Washington, D.C. He was known as
the “love” pastor for usually preaching on the fourth chapter of the
Gospel of John, Ivy Nebblett said.
He pastored in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s, at one point
pastoring 12 churches simultaneously. He also served as president of the
denomination’s Guyana Mission. The U.S.’s Food for Peace Program
selected Nebblett to head a Guyana’s food distribution during civil
Later, while pastoring in California in the United States, the U.S.
government asked him in 1969 to serve as an advisor to the South
Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. He coordinated and built
refugee camps for millions of displaced persons fleeing from the bombing
in their villages.
He returned to the United States in 1974, pastoring in Maryland and
Pennsylvania before accepting a call in 1980 to the Adventist Church’s
world headquarters to serve as a deputy director of SAWS.
He left ADRA in 1985 to pastor in Washington, D.C. He also formed an
independent humanitarian organization for a few years before Alzheimer’s
disease set in, which he lived with the final decade of his life.
He is survived by his wife, four children and 10 grandchildren. A
funeral service is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Saturday, September 29, at
the Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland,