By everyone to everywhere

The model and challenge of Global Mission.

Harold Butler, D.D.S., is director of development and planning at the Office of Global Mission at the General Conference.

Global Mission is a systematic, planned approach of taking the gospel to specific areas or people groups that have not heard or accepted Jesus Christ as personal Saviour.

What is the best method to start new work? Are there basic principles that apply to all planning? While some fundamental principles remain the same for all plans, each situation requires a customized approach. For example, meeting people's needs is a principle that can be used anywhere, but what needs and how they are met may differ. A country like Japan with its high-tech, literate Shinto-Buddhist culture would require a much different approach than Afghanistan with its agrarian lifestyle and Islamic belief system. However, both contacts may be gin with the principle of providing a service to society that meets a felt need.

In the Philippines, with its Christian background, the first contact may involve only an invitation to an evangelistic crusade or perhaps an opportunity to reestablish one's relationship with Christ. Decision, response, and baptism may fol low. On the other hand, Somalia, a Muslim nation with no Adventist members and recovering from years of civil strife, may require a totally different approach. The initial contact there may be humanitarian aid through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency or the Adventist Volunteer Taskforce, meeting crucial agricultural or health needs.

Thus, the initial contact with a community may vary with each situation. It may be a public evangelistic crusade; an English language school; a health education program; distribution of food, clothing, or literature; or simply being a friend. Whatever the approach, it must break down prejudice against the gospel and reveal that Christians really do care be cause that is the Christian thing to do. It must also foster relationships that might develop interest in the gospel.

Christ's method

Look at Jesus and see how He made contacts. He was an itinerant, traveling from town to town with His disciples. There was little if any community-based support. His ministry was with people. He taught them, healed them, and spent time with them. He provided opportunity for spiritual healing. His encounters were not for long periods of time, or even repetitive. Christ employed a personalized approach. Often He dealt on a person to person basis, rarely holding large public meetings. His methods were simple and practical. He adapted easily to the situation and to the individual concerned, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated. He sought people, spoke to them at their level, and met them where they were. He refused no one. He used the meager resources at hand.

Early church

Paul and other early missionaries combined Christ's method of going from town to town with a new church-based outreach. As soon as one church developed, it became a base of outreach to the surrounding areas. A community of churches began to develop. The early Christians were Christians by example first. In contrast to the typical lifestyle of the day, they gave to the poor, helped the sick, cared for widows and orphans, and were generally good citizens. Christian imigrants and traveling merchants took the gospel to areas far from their home churches. They were so successful in sharing their faith that historians estimate that half of the city dwellers of the Roman Empire were converted to Christianity from a non-Christian, hostile background before Constantine made Christianity the state religion. This was accomplished, not by a centrally organized program of outreach, but by individually inspired Christians doing their part in sharing the gospel.

Adventist beginnings

When the Adventist movement began, the church was small, regionally based, and concerned primarily with North America. In 1869, nine years after the organization of the church, the first Foreign Mission Society was formed for the purpose of sending the gospel to foreign lands and distant parts of the United States. By the 1870s Adventist members began to feel a responsibility to take the gospel to the whole world. In 1874 the first Adventist missionary went to Switzerland. Thereafter, missions opened up in Australia (1885), South America (1886),Africa(1887),the Far East(1888), Turkey (1889), the Pacific Islands (1890), and India (1893).

The early Adventists based their missions philosophy on Scripture. Mark 16:15 told them to go to all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. They identified with the three angels of Revelation 14:6-12, who had the everlasting gospel for every nation, tribe, language, and people. They took seriously their task of proclaiming the gospel to the world. They even felt that Christ would not return until the task of proclamation is complete.

Because the Adventist Church is worldwide, the phrase "foreign missions" is not quite appropriate to define the Adventist mission. Missionaries are sent "from everywhere to everywhere." In effect, "missions" in Adventism has a unique meaning: "missions at home and abroad simultaneously, with the whole world a mission field and every member a missionary."

Early Adventist missionaries used a method similar to that used by the apostle Paul. When the apostle started work in a city he went to the synagogue first and tried to get converts from the Jews before going to the Gentiles. Once there was a nucleus of believers in that location, the new members worked for their friends and neighbors, expanding their group. Although Adventists are Protestant Christians, some of their major doctrines differ from other Protestant denominations. Early Adventist missionaries often started working in new areas by sharing their unique Christian beliefs with other Christians with whom they had something in common, just as Paul did with the Jews. After establishing a local nucleus of members, they shared the gospel with the non- Christian community.

Adventist missions and laypersons Adventist laypersons initiated the work in several countries. Michael Czechowski, a Polish Catholic priest, converted to Adventism during a trip to the United States in 1857. Unable to persuade the Adventist Church to send him back to Europe as a missionary, he found his own source of support and returned to Europe to share his new-found faith. From Italy to Switzerland to Romania, he traveled from town to town. He printed some 100 tracts in various languages. His work caused Adventist headquarters to send their first church-sponsored missionary, J. N. Andrews, to Switzerland in 1874.

Abram La Rue approached the church about going to China. Administrators told him he was too old and advised him to go to Hawaii. In 1883 he started selling Adventist books in Hawaii. Within two years the church sent a missionary to the islands to follow up La Rue' s interests. La Rue continued his mission sailing to Hong Kong, China, Japan, Borneo, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Palestine, and Lebanon. And wherever he went he sold Adventist books, creating interests for the truth. In 1902 church headquarters sent J. N. Anderson to Hong Kong to baptize the believers La Rue had prepared.

A diamond-digging Adventist layman from Nevada went to South Africa in 1878. He took with him a supply of Adventist tracts and papers. He shared his faith and soon created a good interest in the community. In 1886 the new believers wrote to the General Conference requesting a minister be sent to their town to start an Adventist church. The next year a missionary team arrived.

In India Adventist work began with a woman. Anna Gordon left the United States in 1892 as a self-supporting missionary. However, one year later she died. Soon after, five literature evangelists from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States landed in India. In 1895 the church sent Georgia Burrus, a Bible worker, as the first regular missionary to work among the women of Calcutta.

South America was no exception to the pattern of lay involvement seen on other continents. In 1883 W. J. Boynton, a layman, sent tracts with a sea captain from New York to Guyana. The captain dropped them off on the pier in Georgetown. Curious individuals picked up the tracts. Several accepted the truth and wrote to Boynton, requesting more materials. To follow up these interests T. E. Amsterdam went to Guyana in 1886 as a self-supporting literature evangelist. A year later a regular missionary reached Guyana. In Uruguay three colporteurs started the work in 1891. Later a Bible worker joined them, and in 1895 the first missionary arrived. In Colombia, a self-supporting English teacher started the Adventist work in 1894.

The model and the challenge

The early Adventist mission model included: (1) publications taken or sent to seaport towns; (2) literature evangelists working initially among Christians in these towns; (3) regular missionaries sent after interests had developed; (4) missionaries and national workers taking the gospel inland; and (5) Adventist health and/or educational work established to strengthen and broaden the growing church.

This model and the method of the early church may not be exciting or pro found, but they were simple and they worked. Beginnings were small. Deprived of a local support base, the evangelists moved from town to town, building a nucleus of believers. Self-supporting volunteers and itinerant tentmakers made their impact. Ministry was often individualized. Ministers practiced what they preached. They loved people. They helped people.

And the results were historic. Just as the early Christian church was very successful in the first few hundred years of its outreach, so was the early Adventist mission. Today, 129 years after the organization of the church, Adventists have a presence in 200 of the world's 229 countries.

The remaining unentered areas of the world are a great challenge, however. Many of these areas are resistant to Christianity. What can we learn from the early Christian church and early Adventist missions that will help us reach these unentered areas? What resources does the church have to make the initial con tact? Here are some.

1. Health. The health work is still the right arm of the church. We have a rich heritage of health outreach programs that are being used successfully in many countries. Can our health work still play this important role today? The curative approach of the past, with a hospital/clinic base, may not always be possible because of political, financial, or human resource constraints. However, simple tasks such as sending volunteer health teams to villages, teaching people basic health principles, and conducting rural and mobile clinics may still serve as an effective means of witness and outreach. Of course, the sophisticated high-tech health care available in our large institutions will continue to open doors.

2. Development and relief. Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is already on the front lines in many parts of the world with their humanitarian out reach and development programs. This organization probably comes as close as any to carrying out Christ's type of ministry. ADRA is able to meet a variety of needs and begin establishing relationships with communities. As an international organization with credibility with many governments, ADRA's goal is to help others help themselves.

3. Communication. Face to face initial contact is preferable but not always possible. The church has used Adventist World Radio to" make initial contact with potential believers in areas inaccessible to direct contacts. The printed page is another proven method of making initial contact. Even if we cannot give out literature in person, we can mail it to any part of the world. Audio- and videotapes are becoming important communication tools for outreach. Christian Record Services reaches out to the hearing- and sight-impaired around the world.

4. Educational contacts. With the world becoming more and more an inter national marketplace and English be coming the most common mode of communication, Adventist English language schools not only meet a specific social and business need, but provide opportunities for goodwill and outreach in many places.

Students in many countries are looking for an opportunity to travel abroad and study in Western universities. Inter national friendship organizations arrange for foreign students to live in private homes while they attend university. Opening our homes to such students provides an excellent contact point.

5. Adventist tentmakers. Adventists today have an opportunity to follow the example of Paul. The great apostle made tents to support himself, but used every moment he had to be a witnessing missionary. Adventists can also be true witnesses while practicing their various professions. This may be the only way Christian faith will ever enter some parts of the world. The Center for International Relations, recently set up by the General Conference, will help Adventist professionals be tentmakers in areas where there are no Adventists.

These are just a few ways to make initial contacts in unentered areas. Each group responsible for an unentered area will have to innovate outreach methods appropriate to that situation. But innovation need not be complicated or costly; it can be simple, practical, and people-based—just like the early models of mission.


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Harold Butler, D.D.S., is director of development and planning at the Office of Global Mission at the General Conference.

November 1992

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