Michelle was really late for work. Her 35-minute drive seemed like an eternity to her, but she made it on time for work. The work day went off as usual, but as she was starting for home, the car’s low fuel warning light came on. She made it to the nearest gas station, but her eyes almost popped out when she realized she had left her wallet at home. No cash, no credit or debit cards. She took out her phone and posted her desperate status on Facebook: “I still got some 30 miles to go and the low fuel warning light is already on. Do I have enough fuel to make it home?”
Enough fuel for a daunting task
Like Michelle, Christians are driving a vehicle, called witness to the world. As this vehicle makes its journey to many points in the world, the time has come to raise the question: Do we have sufficient fuel left to propel the gospel vehicle to reach every unreached area or population segment in the world?
Consider the current world population’s allegiance to various religions. Of the total world population, Christianity still claims the most adherents with more than 2 billion (strong and nominal) believers—and this is still a minority, with only 33 percent of world population. Islam comes next with about 1.5 billion (21 percent of world population). Hinduism claims 900 million believers (14 percent). Over 370 million are Buddhists (6 percent). The remaining 24 percent of the world population belong to other smaller religious persuasions, secular, nonreligious, animist, atheist, or agnostic groups.1
Just the varying religious groups, each one with millions of people, constitute how far Christian witness has to go to reach the world. Add to this daunting task another dimension: it is estimated that 42.1 percent of some 16,000 people groups in the world have not yet been reached with the gospel,2 and about 2,000 language groups do not have even one verse of Scripture.3 The task is staggering.
The idea that other religions are just as good as Christianity or even better (and that trying to convert people from other religions to Christianity might be unnecessary or even an absurd interference in their private lives) is not new4 and is gaining more adherents than ever. Some argue that “there are nine thousand and nine hundred distinct and separate religions in the world, increasing by two or three religions every day.”5 As the Seventh-day Adventist Church drives on the highway of mission, do we, as a church, have enough fuel to finish the task that was given to us?
Fueling the hearts
The Seventh-day Adventist message is now being proclaimed through the written and spoken word in at least 914 languages and dialects, and the church has been adding more than one million people to its membership every year for ten years in a row. Some 125 people join the church every hour.6
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized in 1863 with 3,500 members. In 1979, 116 years later, worldwide church membership was only about 3.5 million. The next 30 years would see the church’s member-ship jump from that number to roughly 16.9 million in 2010, which means that during those three decades, the church received five times more members than in the rest of its previous history. From the time the church was organized in 1863 to the present, Adventists have given over US$60 billion in tithe and offerings to advance the mission of the denomination.7 I cannot help but praise the Lord for the blessed hope that has fueled the hearts of so many people and has made it possible for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to reach so many people from all over the world.
A little more fuel for our car
But not everything is bright and nice in our mission endeavors. Sometimes we find ourselves a little too busy running the church, and we forget about mission. Russell Staples suggests that this should not be a surprise because expansion and other circumstances often cause agencies and institutions of different sorts to slowly deviate from the original purposes for which they were established.8
In 2011, when G. T. Ng presented his General Conference Secretary’s Report to the Annual Council, he explained that as the church grows, it tends to become institutionalized and to spend more resources on baptized membership than on mission, and while “mission is not forgotten,” it is “sidelined amidst pressing demands of programs and institutions.”9
Adventists are not alone in this trend, however. For example, it is esti-mated that 73.1 percent of foreign missionaries of all denominations are being deployed to places with access to Christian witness and where most people would say they are Christians; another 24.5 percent of missionaries are sent to places where people have access to Christian witness although many have not decided to become Christians; only 2.4 percent of missionaries are serving in places where most people are not Christians and do not have access to a Christian witness. Simply put, only 2.4 percent of the missionaries who are being deployed to foreign fields are actually working among the 1.6 billion people who have not had a chance to hear the good news of the gospel.10 Could it be that we need to stop for a moment and drive to the nearest gas station to get a little more fuel for our mission endeavors?
Enough fuel from the Olivet
Without knowing it, the disciples “drove” to such a “gas station” in the Olivet some 20 centuries ago. And they desperately needed this. Jesus, their beloved Master, had been crucified. And they thought that all their hopes had also been nailed to the cross with Him. Although their faith came back to life when they realized Jesus had defeated death and rose from the grave, He was soon to break their hearts again because He was about to leave them and go to heaven.
After Christ’s ascension, two of the most exalted angels were sent to bring comfort to the brokenhearted disciples. “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ ” the angels said, “ ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:11).11
When the disciples went back to town, the people in Jerusalem expected their faces to appear downcast and ashamed after all they had gone through. But they were not filled with sorrow and defeat. In their hearts were only gladness and triumph. “Their faces were aglow with a happiness not born of earth. They did not mourn over disappointed hopes, but were full of praise and thanksgiving to God. With rejoicing they told the wonderful story of Christ’s resurrection and His ascension to heaven, and their testimony was received by many.”12
The message they heard from those two angels changed the way the disciples looked at Jesus’ departure. They knew their Master had been separated from them and that they were surely going to have a hard time struggling with the trials and temptations of the world, but the Bible says they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52, 53). The good news that one day Jesus would return became a most effective fuel to energize the disciples as the Lord used them in fulfilling the Great Commission. This blessed hope also fueled early Adventists into fulfilling their God-given mission.
The hope that fueled mission among early Adventists
When his friends started questioning the 34-year-old former deist William Miller right after his decision to follow Jesus, he suddenly found himself with his back against the wall.
“How do you know there is a Savior?” they asked him.
“It is revealed in the Bible.”
“But how do you know the Bible is true?”
Though perplexed, Miller decided that he would not give up. He would rather study the Bible thoroughly and do his best to harmonize all of its apparent contradictions.
William Miller’s famous two-year journey through the Scriptures might have first been propelled by peer pres-sure. But at the end of that period, the farmer came to a conclusion that was far beyond his initial expectations and would stand the fiercest opposition: by 1818, he had concluded “that in about twenty-five years from that time all the affairs of our present state would be wound up; that all its pride and power, pomp and vanity, wickedness and oppression, would come to an end; and that, in the place of the kingdoms of this world, the peaceful and long-desired kingdom of the Messiah would be established under the whole heaven.”13
Through the blessed hope of Jesus’ second coming, God touched the heart of that humble farmer and invited him to share his convictions with others. “For weeks, months, yes, for years, the command, ‘Go tell it to the world,’ had been impressed more and more deeply on his heart.”14 But William did not want to do it, and he had many reasons for his decision: he was not a trained preacher, he was not quite ready, he was slow of speech, and the conclusions of his study might be wrong after all. So he studied and studied the subject for another thirteen years until it all seemed clear in his mind, and he found no workable objections to his own theory. But by 1831, Miller had another reason not to preach; he was too old.
One Saturday morning, as Miller was studying his Bible, he felt God’s voice talking to him with greater urgency than ever, “Go, tell it to the world.” In an effort to calm his dis-tressed conscience, he promised God that if someone would come and invite him to preach, he would go. His burden seemed to go away immediately. After all, he had never received an invitation to preach, and who would invite a 50-year-old, slow-of-speech farmer to preach?
But the test to his promise would come almost right away as his nephew, Irving, arrived with a message: there was no preacher for the next day in their church, and Irving’s father wanted Miller to share with the small congregation what he had been studying about the second coming of Jesus.
William Miller was flabbergasted by this sudden invitation. “Surprise gave way to rebellion. And rebellion quickly ripened into a determination to break his covenant.”15 But without answering a word, he turned his back on the boy. After about an hour struggling with God, Miller decided to go preach. The 16-mile ride to that small church would be the first of William Miller’s many preaching appointments. Some have said that he gave at least 3,200 lectures between 1832 and 1844. He faced tremendous opposition, but he kept up with his God-given mission, not dismayed because of it all but fixing his mind on the blessed hope, “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Just like Miller, plenty of others in the Millerite movement gave up everything they had for the sake of mission. These God-fearing people who came from different religious backgrounds saw themselves as participants in a prophetic movement whose task was to prepare the world for Christ’s return.16 Even after the great disappointment in 1844, a faithful remnant emerged from the scene and came to be known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church.17
Enough fuel to make it home
It was the blessed hope that ener-gized the disciples in the fulfillment of their God-given Great Commission. It was the blessed hope that has fueled the efforts of so many dedicated leaders in Adventist history, taking them to the ends of the earth to bring God’s end-time message of hope to all peoples of the world. And it will be the same blessed hope that will encourage Seventh-day Adventists in our days to reach and disciple some three billion individuals who have no fair access to the gospel.
We have a way to go to fulfill our mission, and the low fuel warning light already glows. May God fill our hearts with the wonderful fuel of His promise: “ ‘Yes, I am coming soon’ ” (Rev. 22:20).
1 See Adherents.com, “Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents,” accessed December 10, 2010, www .adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html; David Van Biema and others, “Should Christians Convert Muslims?—Religion: Missionaries Under Cover.”
2 Joshua Project, “All Progress Levels,” accessed March 26, 2013, joshuaproject.net/global-progress-scale.php.
3 Paul Eshleman, “World Evangelization in the 21st Century,” October 22, 2010, joshuaproject.net/assets/media/assets /articles/essential-elements-of-great-commission.pdf, 5.
4 See “The American Board: Eighty-Eighth Annual Meeting at New Haven,” Christian Work: Ilustrated Family Newspaper 63, no. 1601 (1897): 654.
5 See Jorge N. Ferrer, “Spiritual Knowing as Participatory Enaction,” in The Participatory Turn, eds. Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008), 135.
6 2014 Annual Statistical Report, in documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2014.pdf, 2.
8 Russell Staples, “Maintaining the Adventist Mission,” Ministry, February 1997, www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1997/02 /maintaining-the-adventist-vision.
9 G. T. Ng, “Membership Dilemma: Promise and Peril, Secretary’s Report to the Annual Council,” slide 33.
10 Global Frontier Missions, “State of the World—the Task Remaining,” accessed March 27, 2013, www .globalfrontiermissions.org/stateofworld.html.
11 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is from the New International Version of the Bible.
12 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2006), 832.
13 Paul A. Gordon, “William Miller: Preparing to Preach,” Adventist Heritage Ministry, www.adventistheritage.org/article/50 /resources/pioneer-stories/william-mller-preparing-to-preach.
14 Matilda E. Andross, Story of the Advent Message (Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1926), 9.
16 See P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).
17 See Andrew Gordon Mustard, “James White and the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Organization, 1844-1881” (PhD diss., Andrews University, 1987).