Gathering mission funds, sufficient and on time, to finance the world-wide Advent Movement today is really a gigantic undertaking. Governments collect taxes by law, and big business has a way of enforcing its demands, but the Treasury of the General Conference, with as heavy financial obligations as many governments or commercial concerns, is dependent on the gifts and liberality of those who believe the message of God. It may sound like foolish boasting to some, yet it is really true that no financial foundation in existence is as strong as love for missions, when properly organized. At the beginning of this century, or rather in the hard times of 1896 to 1905, when our message began to expand into all the world, including the large countries of Asia, we found ourselves in terrible straits for lack of money. Many workers in the homeland were discharged or got along on half pay. Missionaries overseas were frequently notified that they would get no wages for the next quarter or for even longer.
In the Review of January 12, 1905, I. H. Evans, then treasurer of the General Conference, wrote : "The time has come when we as a people must settle the question regarding the extension of our mission work. We are confronted with two propositions : First, enlarging our field of operation, . . . ; second, or simply holding our own, if that is a possibility, sending out an occasional missionary as one dies."
For 1904 the offerings were far short of sustaining the workers already in the field. The audit for 1903 was not remitted for nine long months after the close of the fiscal year. The remittances that were due the field from month to month had to be sent in installments, often compelling our workers to live on only a part of their salaries.
I have a very vivid recollection of a president of the General Conference visiting churches in Minnesota to collect money. He was so burdened by the dearth of funds, and he pleaded so earnestly for help, that in one meeting he, really a strong man, fainted and had to be carried outdoors. Gradually, however, our people who had long since adopted the tithing system also accepted the Bible plan of definite order in mission offerings. That plan, conceived in love and faithfully carried out, brought success. When we compare those days with what we find today, the change for the better is wonderful. But we must never forget that the great source of mission funds is love for missions.
According to Dr. Wynn C. Fairfield, general secretary of the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, one hundred Protestant mission boards and agencies in the United States and Canada gave a little over $32,000,000 for overseas mission work during 1946. More than half the total ($19,754,976) was sent to foreign fields by mission boards representing the following seven denominations : Seventh-day Adventists, $4,570,096; Southern Baptist Convention, $4,498,413; Methodist Church, $3,858,533; Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., $3,334,934; Assemblies of God, $1,351,318; Protestant Episcopal Church, $1,2o4,144; and Congregational Christian Church, $937,518.
Some claim that it is a good financial proposition today to join the Adventists. They do not use liquor or tobacco in any form, a practice which is a great saving and a great benefit to their health. Furthermore, while they enjoy good lectures and approve of all kinds of educational facilities, they do not frequent the cinema or dances or banquets where drinking is indulged in. Abstinence from these things saves them large sums of money, and it really does increase the amount that they are able to contribute for educational and mission purposes.
Back in pioneer days, when our membership was less than two thousand, James White had a survey made to discover whether the Adventist faith made people poor. To his great joy he found the opposite to be the case. We see that even now when Adventist church membership the world around is just below 600,000 and 222,000 in America. God is blessing this people, who put their trust in Him. The basis of Adventist finance is tithe and freewill offering, together with a very small income from various institutions or other business enterprises. With the help of the Lord our people today have the resources to finish the work, and in the near future, when people in the world will see their wealth go up in smoke, we shall see the results of our sacrifices in precious souls gathered out.
We have come today into a most unusual and confused state of affairs in the world. Although there is great apparent prosperity in America and some other lands, it is really a fictitious wealth, since we are living on borrowed capital. We constantly read and hear of inflation. Housewives sense it every time they go to the grocery store. We had hoped that we were over the worst, because it does not seem possible that America, which won the war, would now have the inflation experience of countries that lost. But no one really knows where we are or what may yet come.
There is one thing we do know, however. Inflation is finance "Enemy Number 1" of foreign missions. I remember well the terrible runaway inflation in Germany in 1922-23. Our work in Germany had been self-supporting for thirty years, and large sums of money had been given to our missions in other lands. But as money sank in value, or rather as prices soared in money figures, which is the same thing, our people were at their wit's end to keep their institutions going and to preserve their workers from starvation.
I remember that at a division council the representatives from Central Europe did what they had never done before. Much as they disliked to do so, they asked for help. W. A. Spicer, president of the General Conference, was with us. He comforted us, and almost amused us by saying that the time might come when America would have inflation, and would have to come over to Europe for help. We would not get much today if we did. His words of cheer greatly encouraged us, though none of us believed that America would see inflation. Today, however, it is here; and it is vitally affecting our mission income. It is true that the tithe is increasing, also the offerings, but the expenses of mission enterprises mount much faster than the income.
One large source of revenue in the Adventist Church is the Week of Sacrifice and the Annual Offering, which come in November this year. We are thinking of this especially as we write about inflation. If we give the same this year as we gave a few years ago, we really give less than half as much. But I fear that not all of us realize this situation. Our people out in China understand it, for they are in the midst of a haunting inflation. We who support the work here at the home base need to give it more earnest study. We should give more while money still has some value, and we should measure our gifts not alone by the amount of dollars we contribute but by the buying power of the money which we give. Heaven today does not measure American money in dollars but in the value dollars can buy.
Would it not be helpful if our ministers, conference officials, and local church leaders presented this matter of inflation to our members, and asked them to double their offerings, or at least make them much larger in dollars than in former years? Never before has the Advent Movement seen a time like this. It is really the most marvelous opportunity for sending this message quickly to all mankind that we have ever seen. Should we not study this in good time before the Week of Sacrifice begins?