Missionary Impulse Stirs NSD Adventists
Hundreds commit, saying, “Here am I, send me!” during Jeju Island event.
Lots of Christians talk about missions and the imperative to reach a lost and dying world.
Then there are those who actually do something about it, and the Seventh-day Adventists of theNorthern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD) are firmly in that category. I discovered this recently at an event entirely focused on mission.
It’s impossible to conclude otherwise, frankly, after witnessing the enthusiastic participation of approximately 4,300 Adventists in a four-day International Mission Congress held August 28-31, 2013, in one of the most picturesque spots in the world, the Republic of Korea’s Jeju Island. The people who came weren’t there for sightseeing, however; they came to share their experiences of mission, and to become motivated in the process.
Countries in the NSD contain 1.6 billion people, with the People’s Republic of China, at more than 1 billion, the most populous. An estimated 800 Seventh-day Adventists from China attended the event, at their own expense. Given that the average per capita income in China in 2012 was US$6,091*, the hundreds of dollars such a trip cost represented a deep commitment by these participants.
At the same time, Jairyong Lee, NSD president, said the Chinese Adventists with whom he spoke—many for the first time meeting other Seventh-day Adventists from outside their nation—were anxious to come again should the meeting be reprised.
“For many decades they have been isolated in their own country setting. Now they have come out of their country, [and] they see thousands of people from different parts of the world, worshipping together, talking about the mission together, and this is the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Lee said in an interview with Adventist World. “I think that is an eye-opening experience to many of them. They shed a lot of tears. This is God’s church. In China they thought it was a small church. They see that this is God’s church and that God is working through this church all around the world.”
He added, “When they went back to China, I’m sure they shared this story with hundreds of church members. [Those] 800 will multiply, and many people will share the same excitement.”
Every aspect of the congress was attuned to outreach: Fifty-three exhibition booths representing educational institutions, gospel missionary work, publishing ministries, health-care institutions, and food factories displayed various mission resources. Colorful banners formed a “Welcome Arch” at the entrance to the Jeju International Convention Center venue, and hundreds of beautifully decorated banners on light posts greeted guests on the streets of the surrounding area.
In his opening remarks Siyoung Kim, the International Mission Congress’ chief director, declared,“We are here to renew our vision of mission to accomplish the great commission.” Kim’s work in organizing the event was widely praised for its symmetry and success.
Against a backdrop of 600 LCD video screens merged to form a giant display, a virtual “choir” comprised of videos of individual Seventh-day Adventists in the region singing “My Lord Is Coming Soon” blended to offer a hymn of commitment. Besides this music, the division’s heavenly sounding choir, the Golden Angels, were frequent participants in the event, backed by a mass choir of Adventists from throughout the NSD.
In a region encompassing “one quarter of the world’s population, we have a responsibility to spread the gospel,” a slide at the beginning of the two-and-a-half-hour opening ceremony read. Subsequent slides, in English, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, then noted the countries under the division’s aegis, reflecting that “the tears of North Koreans, God remembers,” as that country’s images were shown. Korean Adventists, and thousands of additional participants, were captivated by women wearing traditional Korean costumes and waving fans in a traditional folk display, the first of the evening’s cultural elements.
For China, that nation’s prosperity was noted, along with the comment that Christians have a “heavier” burden of “carrying the cross” in a nation of booming economic prosperity. Chinese Adventists performed a song, which included use of a traditional flute, as their cultural contribution.
Japan, whose Adventists enthusiastically participated in the opening ceremonies, was dubbed “the land of the god of money—Mammon,” where “secular men have closed their hearts.” Notwithstanding, leaders from the Japan Union Mission wore T-shirts emblazoned with “Jesus@Tokyo” as emblematic of their October 2013 effort to reach one of the world’s largest cities. Members of a male singing ensemble sang an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” as part of Japan’s cultural element.
Participants from Taiwan and Mongolia were heartily welcomed, particularly by the hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists from the People’s Republic of China who were seated right in front of the convention center’s main stage. The NSD presentation noted the “wilderness” nature of much of Mongolia, while in Taiwan the need for growing “the root of faith and Christian culture” was emphasized.
G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the world church, was the opening evening’s principal speaker, and he reflected on the program as he took the platform: he noted Luke 15 presents “three experiences of lostness”—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost, or prodigal, son—because “Jesus wanted to emphasize the lostness of humanity.” He spoke of the need to reach those without the gospel: “It’s no fun to be lost,” he declared.
“Mission Live” programs featured video reports and testimonies of the Mission to North Korea, Pioneer Mission Movement, and the 1,000 Missionary Movement—all unique outreaches of the NSD. Missionaries BaekTo Jung and Grace Lee shared their mission stories from the lepers’ villages in China where they have cared for 2,500 lepers in 49 leper villages, resulting in 677 baptisms.
Jong Suk Han, a member of the 1,000 Missionary Movement, shared his mission vision along with his testimony of having baptized more than 1,000 people during a year of service in the Philippines.
During daily “Mission Talk Show” segments, several missionaries shared their ongoing evangelistic activities. These included stories of young adults devoting their talents for Internet ministry in China; of pastor Abe serving those who were once in cult movements in Japan, and Yong Sun Lee—a former prison inmate, now a Seventh-day Adventist pastor—working full-time in prison ministries in Korea.
In other parts of the division, service to others took different forms. Jane Lin is executive officer of the Taiwan Adventist Foundation, a registered charity operating on the island and reaching its most-underserved peoples, these include indigenous farmers who are often badly served by larger agricultural firms buying their produce, students in elementary schools of fewer than 28 pupils, and Taiwan’s poor, whose homes are sometimes in great disrepair.
“Our vision is to motivate and empower people in Taiwan society to live a healthier life,” Lin said, reciting the group’s credo. This is done through sponsoring projects aimed at helping those in need. “God has blessed us very much,” Lin said, recalling her first year at the foundation.
For the farmers it means helping them reach consumers directly at outdoor markets, and encouraging them to grow organic produce. This “creates another market” for the farmers, who she says are often “exploited” when selling to larger concerns, she said.
“If the farmers get better pay” for their crops, she said, “it means a better standard of living.” She said the group is also helping the farmers to post pictures of their crops on Pinterest, the Internet-based social network, to help create demand for those goods.
Although Taiwan’s educational system is highly regarded, some students there—as in other parts of the world, including the United States—have fewer resources than their counterparts in larger schools. To help these students, Taiwan Adventist Foundation supplies a “Happy Craft Kit” of various pieces of colored wool. These are then made into small coasters, giving the students a different kind of craft, and a sense of having made something with their own hands. “If the children like to use their hands to make something,” Lin explained, “they will use their hands to take care of others later in life.”
Throughout the International Mission Congress, seminars were presented by missionaries and church leaders serving in various parts of the world. More than 15 mission-related seminars such as “Missionary Family Life,” “Radical Prayers,” “World Mission,” and “Church Growth” were offered.
On the evenings of the second and third days, union conference and mission presidents of the NSD territory, including China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Mongolia, each presented mission reports from their areas.
Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, was a central participant in the proceedings, attending all plenary events as well as meeting privately with NSD pastors. On Sabbath, August 31, Wilson issued a clarion call to mission. “All of this is pointing to God’s call to you and to me, people who accept God’s commandments and the faith of Jesus, to go forward into the harvest field, all through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Wilson said.
“We have had quite a display of human activity and creativity during this congress, and we thank God for the skills and the creativity,” he noted, adding, “but I want to tell you brothers and sisters, none of this is possible without the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In an impassioned address, Wilson discussed the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 and their link to today’s world. He implored his hearers to lovingly and cheerfully share these messages with others to help “call out” those attentive to God’s Word at the end of time.
On Sabbath afternoon a “Mission Dedication” service took place. NSD president Lee focused on the life of Adventist pioneer Abram LaRue, who came to Hong Kong as a self-supporting missionary, dressed in local garb, and died while in service. He told participants, “We must be filled with the Holy Spirit, [in order] to go with the three angels’ messages to the ends of the earth.”
The mission dedication service was filled by a sense of God’s grace, His words, and the praise and prayers of His people. For those present there was a renewed sense of their calling to active mission service. Leaders of the Adventist Church from the General Conference, world church divisions, and NSD unions and conferences were invited to the stage to reaffirm their responses by holding individual red scarves high, each emblazoned with the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet: “Here am I! send me” (Isa. 6:8).
Their actions were mirrored by the congregation, which also held aloft red scarves. As the dedication service drew to a close, each participant lit a candle to express their willingness to share the light of truth around the world.
Lee told me that this appeal was intentional and that he told participants that “we are living in the last days and God has chosen us for a special mission. We are special people because of the mission that He has given us, and that is to finish the gospel work in the world.”
He added, “As our pioneers went out, as missionaries in difficult parts of the world, they really sacrificed their lives. And, now, it is our turn. God is expecting that we take their place. . . . I appealed to them that when they go back to their respective places, we would do the work with the same spirit that our pioneers had.”
Asked if he had a message for other world church divisions, Lee said: “We emphasized the mission of the church—that’s the very reason for the existence of the church. If you lose mission, you lose everything. Mission is an action. Every individual in our church should have a part in the mission of the church. I hope other parts of the world will emphasize mission.”
*according to World Bank
Mark A. Kellner is news editor for Adventist World. The article has additional reporting from the Northern Asia-Pacific Division. Some elements of this article appeared in Adventist Review news reports.