A young African mother-to-be awaited the arrival of her first child in a public hospital in Arua, Uganda. She had experienced a long, hard labor. Lying on her hospital bed, she could only whisper, amid the contractions, “God will help.” Nearby stood Seventh-day Adventist missionary Kristina Muelhauser—patting her arm, encouraging her. Finally, they took the mother-to-be away for a Caesarean section.
Kristina lives in Arua with her husband, Darrel, and their youngest child, Harmony. Darrel directs ministerial training for the Adventist Church in south Sudan. Kristina home-schools Harmony and helps as a midwife in the local community.
In the evening, Kristina returned to the hospital to check on the baby. Family members—all Muslims— surrounded the happy young mother.
The next morning Kristina returned to check on the mother and was shocked to discover that the baby had died during the night.
“The mother lay still in the bed with her eyes closed, shutting out the other 40 women and their babies who were in the same room with her,” says Kristina. “My heart felt like lead.”
Kristina rushed home and found a soft little white hat with yellow tulips that she had knitted many years earlier—part of a hospital project for mothers whose babies had died. She had kept it for that purpose, and now the moment had come.
She tucked the little hat in her bag and rode her bike to the hospital. The baby’s grandmother stood, sadly, at the end of her daughter’s bed. She spoke no English.
Kristina told the nurse the hat was for the baby. The nurse was surprised, but explained to the grandmother what Kristina wanted to do. Women in other beds and student nurses quietly watched.
“The African Muslim women here cover their heads, but not their faces,” says Kristina. She continued, “I could easily see the tears flowing down the cheeks of the dear grandmother as she uncovered the baby’s head. Together, Muslim and Christian, we put the little hat on, our hands and hearts touching.
“The mother had not moved or opened her eyes through all of this,” Kristina adds. “She lay still in the bed, silent in her grief and pain. I asked the grandmother to bring the baby for the mother to see her one last time. The mother opened her eyes. Tenderly I patted the round little cheeks of the baby, and then the mother’s, as we all wept quietly together.”
Hands and hearts touching
God didn’t sit in heaven, flip a switch, and send us hope. He didn’t do it by celestial remote control. He personally brought hope to us. God didn’t just send instructions from heaven. He came among us. Like a true Shepherd (Pastor), Jesus lived among His sheep. He had human skin, breathed air, walked our earth.
Today, Seventh-day Adventists share their message through the Internet, television, radio, and mass public meetings. These are all worthy means of outreach. But they don’t come close to the power of the personal touch of another human being. That’s why our communities still need pastors. That’s why our world still needs missionaries of compassion, who have the pastoral touch.
At times Jesus ministered to large crowds. But just as often He met alone: with Nicodemus at night, or with a woman in a Samaritan village. “He went journeying from town to town and village to village, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1, NEB). After He left, His message spread rapidly through personal contact.
A tradition of mission
Today Adventist missionaries are widely disbursed: Brazilians in Burkina Faso, Hungarians in Kuwait, Filipinos in Swaziland, Canadians in Madagascar, Pakistanis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentinians in Bangladesh, Australians in India, Americans in Indonesia. In fact, the Muelhauser family working in Uganda and south Sudan, and nearly one thousand other Seventh-day Adventist overseas missionaries (including spouses), demonstrate a long tradition of commitment by the Adventist Church to international outreach.
The first official Adventist missionary, J. N. Andrews, found his mission field in Europe in 1874. But before him there had been other “unofficial” Adventist missionaries—lay people who, on their own initiative, headed overseas to share the good news about Jesus.
Abram La Rue, a shepherd and woodcutter from California, had a burning ambition to take the good news to China. He wrote to the General Conference but was told that at 65 he was too old. Moreover, they didn’t have the money to send him. Not discouraged, La Rue negotiated his way onto a ship where he could work his way to Hong Kong. He arrived there in 1888 and began preparing pamphlets for distribution. Fourteen years later the first official Adventist missionary, J. N. Andrews, arrived. La Rue witnessed the first six people baptized in that part of Asia, and he died one year later.
The honor roll of distinguished Adventist missionaries is long. Consider, for example, Harry Miller, best known for inventing commercially viable soy milk, and his wife, Maude, both Adventist doctors in their early 20s, who headed to China in 1903, turning their backs on prestigious medical careers in the United States. Harry was such a prodigy that John Harvey Kellogg traveled by train to Chicago to try to talk him out of leaving America.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact Miller made in China. Clarence Hall, senior editor of Reader’s Digest, compared Miller with David Livingstone, “whose dedicated skills indelibly marked the maps with Christian humanitarianism throughout the world’s far places.”1
According to Dr. Raymond Moore, “He treated nearly every important ruler of China from the founding of the Republic, not to mention unnumbered ambassadors, senators, and princes of invention and industry around the world. Yet he regarded these accomplishments simply as doorways to greater service—the uplift of the underprivileged, the feeding of the famished, and the tender healing of the unfortunate sick.”2
Stereotypes of mission
Today there is widespread cynicism about missionaries, and not without some cause. At times missionaries have been insensitive to the local culture. Popular books and movies such as The Poisonwood Bible and At Play in the Fields of the Lord promote the stereotype of missionaries as cultural imperialists, riding roughshod over local peoples and their customs. What right do we have to impose our views on other people? Respect their cultures and their religions.
To a certain extent this attitude has infiltrated the church. Many have lost their vision for the difference Jesus can make in the lives of people. They’ve lost sight of the mandate Jesus gave His followers to help people physically and spiritually. While we should always treat others who think differently from us with respect and Christian charity, we have a commission and privilege to share the love of Jesus. It must be done with care and cultural sensitivity, but it must be done.
People all over the world have become “new creatures” through the power of Jesus. He casts out fear. He brings hope. He gives a new reason for living. He changes the way we treat each other. He brings love into our families.
In Indonesia a man used to join his fellow tribesmen in beheading their enemies. Today he and his family have the peace and love of Jesus in their hearts and are working as Global Mission pioneers. Jesus makes a difference.
In South Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea, Adventist villages stand out. These “seven-day” villages are known for having no pigs and for being neat and clean.
Travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux describes paddling his kayak among the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea and arriving at a village. “What distracted my attention was the good health of the villagers, in particular their good teeth,” he wrote.
“One of the villagers invited him to stay in their village: ‘The missionary will show you a place.’
“‘Where is the missionary?’
“ ‘I expected to see a dim-dim [white man] in a black frock, but instead I was greeted by a Trobriander in a T-shirt and bathing suit.’
“ ‘I am the missionary,’ he said.”
Theroux, a religious cynic, later listened to John (the missionary) give his testimony.
“ ‘I was blind. I spent many years as a blind man,’ he said. ‘Then I became a Seventh-day Adventist and I learned to see. Paul, would you like to learn how to see, like your namesake, on the road to Damascus?’
“So they were Seventh-day Adventists. That obviously explained their good teeth. They did not smoke or drink. The younger ones did not chew betel. No pig-eating.
“ ‘Do you want to convert me?’
“ ‘Yes. I do.’
“ ‘I’ll have to think it over, John. It’s a pretty big decision in any person’s life.’ ”3
Jesus still makes a difference in people’s lives. When you visit villages where animism holds sway, you get a taste of the extent to which fear dominates the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
These people live in trepidation of the spirits and spend their energies trying to appease them. The good news about Jesus turns their lives around, bringing peace, hope, and the joy of salvation.
A worldwide commitment
The Seventh-day Adventist Church finds its strength in mission. Its commitment includes a worldwide humanitarian work, an international volunteer program, satellite television and shortwave radio blanketing the globe, a huge publishing program, thousands of schools, a large network of hospitals and clinics, the Global Mission pioneer program, and hundreds of overseas missionaries.
Through the years, Seventh-day Adventists have generously supported missions through their tithes and mission offerings because they believe the gospel commission. They believe we’re called to help the less fortunate, the poor, the sick, and those who don’t know about Jesus.
Unfortunately, giving to mission offerings has declined. It seems that those who gave a dollar into the offering plate 15 years ago still put a dollar in today. In the 1930s, when Seventh-day Adventists gave ten dollars tithe, they also gave six dollars to mission offerings. Today, we give just thirty-eight cents for every ten dollars tithe. At the same time, giving to one’s local church has risen to nearly four dollars for every ten dollars of tithe.
For decades now, Adventists have talked longingly of “finishing the work.” But declining mission offerings prevent the church from starting new work in new areas, reduce the number of foreign missionaries, and restrict the mission we’ve been called to accomplish. In a sense, mission is expensive. But it’s not an optional extra if we’re serious about going into all the world.
Of course the dynamics of mission have changed over the decades. Today, indigenous believers have taken increasing responsibility for mission in their territories. But the experience and gifts of missionaries from other parts of the world are still vital in helping to provide direction, skills, and training in areas where the residents are still relatively new in the faith.
The joy of service
The story of Adventist Mission around the world centers not on the story of highly educated super-Christians performing exceptional feats. It’s the story of everyday people such as you and me who answer the call to touch the lives of others in the name of Jesus.
Kristina Muelhauser says she and her family are just ordinary people. She never had any great desire for overseas mission service. She didn’t have any desire to leave their family and cozy home in northern Maine, United States. But all that has changed in the joy of service. “I can say that I have given up nothing in coming to Africa,” she says, “but have been more blessed than anything that I could have given.”
1 Quoted in Richard A. Schaefer, Legacy: Daring to Care, <www.llu.edu/info/legacy>.
2 Raymond S. Moore, China Doctor: The Life Story of Harry Willis Miller (Harper and Brothers, 1961), xii.
3 Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceania (Ballantine Books, 1993), 116–118.