WORLD CHURCH: Regional Outreach Plans to Tackle Church’s Unfinished Mission
To address the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s unfinished mission, church officials voted at Spring Meeting April 7 to develop creative and financially accountable plans to reach the unreached people groups in their respective territories.
Spring Meeting delegates learned in an April 6 report the “staggering” scope of the work awaiting the church. Since the church in 1990 established what is now known as the Office of Adventist Mission, Adventists are working in 19 more countries. Yet the church has no organized work in 26 countries, including Afghanistan and Somalia. In 2006, while the world’s population—now at 6.5 billion—grew by 95 million, just 1 million people joined the Adventist Church. And there are 2.1 billion more unreached people in the world today than in 1990 when Global Mission was organized.
MEETING OF MINDS: Michael L. Ryan, right, a world church vice president, and Gary Krause, director for the church’s Office of Adventist Mission, discuss the church’s need to accelerate its work among unreached people groups. Ryan, Krause, and other church officials were challenged during the 2008 Spring Meeting to develop creative plans to finish the church’s mission.“Our God specializes in accomplishing the impossible,” said Homer Trecartin, Adventist Mission director of planning. Trecartin cited dozens of “encouraging” statistics—in the past two decades, for instance, the Adventist population in Cambodia has sprung from zero to 8,000, and roughly one out of 12 Jamaicans is an Adventist.
Yet the ratio in Saudi Arabia is far less encouraging, Trecartin said, suggesting that while people with Christian worldviews have historically found Adventism relevant, the church must do a far better job of connecting with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and other faith groups with different points of reference.
Perhaps befriending neighbors and coworkers of different faiths is as crucial as sending missionaries to largely unreached countries, Trecartin said, referencing statistics that say almost 80 percent of Hindus in North America “don’t know one Christian they can call a friend.” Such a local initiative might be as effective, Trecartin said, pointing out “more Muslims live in the United Kingdom than in Kuwait.”
Trends, he said, are comparable in other “free” societies among other faith groups.
“If we can’t get to know them where we live, how will we ever take [the church’s message] to the countries they came from?” he asked. “We desperately need to do more in the difficult regions, the thickets, but how can we hope to be effective there if we’re still stumbling around in the safe places?”
Communication media, such as Adventist World Radio, which the church often relies on in the “thickets,” cannot afford to slacken efforts any more than church members can cloister themselves in largely Christian circles, Trecartin said.
AWR programming is available in only 70 of the world’s 13,540 languages. Other church radio outreach brings the total to 108, but “for 95 percent of the world’s languages, we have to hope that those who speak them also speak other languages. If they don’t, we aren’t reaching them,” he said.
Statistics are also bleak for many of the world’s potential Bible readers. Not so much as a “scrap of Scripture” is translated into 50 percent of the world’s largest languages, Trecartin said.
“If we are people of the Book, what are we doing?” he asked. “We aren’t talking about illiterate people here; we’re talking about people who read and write but have not so much as a piece of the Bible in their language. If they don’t read another language, we can’t share God’s Word with them.”
Mark Finley, a world church vice president, said despite some disheartening statistics, Adventists shouldn’t conclude that finishing the work of the church is impossible or think that redoubling efforts alone will overcome the challenge: “The first [reaction] leads us to despair; the second leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.”
Rather, the morning’s report should spur “more careful, sharp, and strategic thinking” among church leaders. Finley also suggested a refocusing on God and mission would lead church leaders to “readjust finances and renew the church’s priority on mission.”
The bottom line, said Michael L. Ryan, a world church vice president, “is that tomorrow when we walk out of this meeting, we will have the world to tell.”
—by Elizabeth Lechleitner, editorial assistant, Adventist News Network, with AR Staff