100 Years of Mission Giving
Making a World of Difference
By Gina Wahlen
What would you do with more than US$2 Billion? In the United States the U.S. presidential candidates are estimated to have spent a total of $2.5 billion on their campaigns this year.1 The cost of NASA’s Curiosity space rover mission to Mars was more than $2 billion.2 Two and a half billion dollars represents a small stake in Facebook,3 and also represents the loss of Microsoft’s Online Services Division in 2011.4
But $2 billion can do much more than this. Seventh-day Adventists have learned that it can build a worldwide system of spreading the gospel and ministering to millions, meeting the spiritual, physical, mental, and social needs of countless individuals and communities around the world.
Over the past 100 years Seventh-day Adventists have sacrificially given US$2.2 billion in mission offerings,5 making an enormous impact on the world in which we live. That’s rounded to $13.3 billion in today’s U.S. dollars.6
First Mission Project
In 1885 the first Sabbath school mission offering was collected by the Upper Columbia Conference, a territory covering a portion of the northwestern United States. The offering was used to send missionaries to Australia.
The following year the General Conference promoted the first churchwide Sabbath school mission project—building a mission boat named the Pitcairn to sail to the tiny island in the South Pacific where the islanders were waiting to be baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist Church.7 After its mission to Pitcairn, the boat sailed on to Tonga, the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Fiji, continuing its missionary work for several years.
Children were some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this special mission project. One boy helped his mother pop popcorn over the family’s wood-burning stove to make hundreds of popcorn balls to raise $15 for the Pitcairn fund—that is $365.85 in today’s dollars! Working together, young and old raised $12,000 for this first Sabbath school mission project.8
Average amount given to missions per member each year.New Plan
Following the Pitcairn project, Sabbath school mission offerings continued to increase. On Sabbath, January 6, 1912, Sabbath school members were introduced to “a new plan” through a small eight-page pamphlet that would later become known as the Sabbath school Missions Quarterly, published by the Sabbath School Department of the General Conference.
“Our Sabbath-school offerings have increased so splendidly that it is thought we may now have a special object for which we may set apart the gifts of one Sabbath in each quarter,” announced the cover page. “The General Conference Committee has voted to allow us to select the last Sabbath in each quarter as a day when we may donate to a special object.”
Thus, the special Thirteenth Sabbath Offering program was begun, along with the mission quarterly, helping to focus the attention of the church on the specific regions and projects that would benefit from the quarterly Thirteenth Sabbath Offering. This, of course, was in addition to the regular mission offerings that were collected each Sabbath and sent to missions around the world.
Members were encouraged to mingle prayer with their gifts. “By intelligent, prayerful, cheerful giving, our gifts may be multiplied as were the five loaves and two fishes, and a multitude blessed thereby,” urged the first Missions Quarterly. “Pray as you give. In every Sabbath-school on that day [Thirteenth Sabbath], let there be a season of prayer in behalf of the cities of India.”9
The cities of India were selected to be the recipients of the first Thirteenth Sabbath mission offering. For nearly a year J. L. Shaw, “superintendent” of the India Union Mission, had been writing letters to the Mission Board: “At the last General Conference we pled for a minister for that great metropolis of Calcutta. The board made an effort to answer the call; but as you know, no help has yet been sent. Many prayers, letters, and appeals for the work in Calcutta have since been written, and still no help has come. I am hoping, praying, and believing that help will soon be sent to India.”10 In another letter Shaw wrote: “The great Lord of the harvest surely somewhere has men and means to pioneer the way.”11
Shaw’s prayers were answered when more than $7,500 was given for evangelistic work in the large cities of India in the first Thirteenth Sabbath Offering, and George W. Pettit and J. M. Comer, along with their families, were sent from the North Pacific Union Conference to work in India. Today approximately 900 ordained and licensed Seventh-day Adventist ministers work in nearly 4,000 churches throughout India.12
Other special mission offering projects in 1912 included a new mission station on the Selukwe Reserve in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), homes for missionaries in China, India, Korea, and Africa, a school in Argentina, known then as River Plate Academy, and the Púa Training School in Chile.
More than 1,200 mission projects completed in last 100 years.
Writing to the secretary of the General Conference, W. A. Spicer, the president of theSouth American Union Conference, J. W. Westphal, explained the dire situation at River Plate Academy: “We are limping along as best we can. . . . In the large schoolroom [the chapel] three classes have to recite at the same time, because the classrooms above are used as living-rooms for the students. One teacher has his classroom in the vestibule [by the stairway], and the others have to help themselves as best they can; and the whole equipment is far from desirable.”13
Through the special Thirteenth Sabbath Offering, River Plate Academy was able to repair and expand its buildings. Today River Plate Adventist University in Argentina enrolls more than 2,500 students per year and offers more than 30 university degrees through its Schools of Business Administration, Education, Health Sciences, and Theology.14
Medical Mission in Depressed Times
In the 1930s much of the world experienced difficult financial hardships during what became known as the Great Depression. Unemployment was high and income low, and yet Sabbath school mission offering boxes were overflowing as members faithfully followed the “60 cents per week” mission offering plan, providing the means to help millions of people in need.
In 1931 Dr. A. Arzoo, who was serving in Sultanabad, Pakistan, told of one such need, which was published in the Missions Quarterly: “Some time ago a young girl was brought to me for treatment. Her throat was in a very bad condition. A dreadful disease was eating its way into the flesh. A prescription was given to her people, and they were told to buy the ampule and come back to the dispensary. They all went to get the medicine, but they never returned. I suppose they could not pay for the medicine, and were too embarrassed to come back. It would have cleared up her condition, and thus she would have been cured and would not have been a source of infection to others. . . . Many are sick who come to us for treatment, but we do not have the necessary equipment and supplies, and we are obliged to turn many away because we cannot go beyond our budget.”15
Sabbath school members responded with a mission offering that year of $2.5 million to help with this and many other needs in the Middle East region, as well as in Africa, India, Burma, and Inter-America.
Telling the Stories
In 2012 the Sabbath school Missions Quarterly, now known as Adventist Mission, turned 100. For the past century this small publication has faithfully chronicled the needs of missions around the world and has inspired young and old to give to the special Thirteenth Sabbath Offering projects.
Schools and universities, hospitals, clinics, and orphanages, printing presses and Better Living centers, churches and chapels, dormitories and evangelistic training centers, libraries and media centers, youth campgrounds, and Bible lesson materials in local languages came into existence through the generosity of those who gave to the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering.
These offerings have helped to send thousands of missionaries and interdivision workers, Global Mission pioneers and lay evangelists, doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers, and pastors to serve in every part of the globe.
POCKET-SIZED: The first mission quarterly from 1912 fits easily into a shirt pocket. Today’s quarterlies are packed with thrilling stories in a colorful magazine format.Special mission offerings have helped to provide materials for evangelistic outreach, radio and television programming, broadcast equipment, satellite broadcast time, literature, books, and video and online Bible studies. More than 1,200 mission projects around the world have been completed because of generous gifts to mission, and many more are still being completed.
Charlotte Ishkanian, who has served as editor ofAdventist Mission since 1993, spends much of her time in the field gathering stories and conducting interviews that will be featured in upcoming issues of the magazine, available in editions for children and for youth and adults. In addition, the Adventist Mission Department offers a companion DVD each quarter, featuring short video segments suitable for viewing during Sabbath school. These and many more resources are available online atwww.AdventistMission.org.
Trends in Mission Giving
While the amount given to world missions during the past century is impressive, one aspect that might be overlooked is the ratio of mission giving compared with tithe dollars. In 1912, the average per member tithe income was $14.48. Mission offerings that year were an average of $4.47 per member. In 1932 during the Great Depression, the average per member tithe had decreased to $13.08 but mission offerings increased with an average of $5.83 per member. By 2010, the average per member tithe had risen to $127.20, but mission offerings were very close to the 1912 figure, with an average of $4.81 per member. The 2010 level of mission giving was $1.02 lower than in 1932.16
The good news is that in 2011 mission giving was up from the previous year, with an average of $5.01 per member. During the fourth quarter of 2011 the second-highest Thirteenth Sabbath Offering on record was given—a total of $763,660 to help support work among refugees and Native Americans in the North American Division.
Mission Needs Today
Mission needs today are even greater than they were back in 1912, according to Gary Krause, Adventist Mission director at the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.
“There are more people on earth today who are not Adventists than there were a hundred years ago,” says Krause. “Thousands will die in the next 24 hours who have never even heard the name of Jesus. Some 300 million kids will go to bed hungry tonight. So if our mission work is established, it certainly isn’t finished.”
Acknowledging that per-capita mission giving has dropped during the past few decades while the percentage of funds being given to the local church has increased during that time, Krause doesn’t think it has to be a case of “either/or.”
“I know it takes a huge amount of money to run a successful local church program in places such as North America,” he admits. “We must faithfully support our local church, but we can’t forget our needy brothers and sisters around the world.
“If it weren’t for mission offerings, we would have to close down much of the church’s mission program—its medical, educational, humanitarian, and spiritual outreach to the world. Our wholistic mission perspective encompasses the globe, not just our corner. We care about people—irrespective of where they live, their skin color, or the language that they speak.
“Mission is the lifeblood of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Take away the Great Commission, and we become an inward-looking club focused on our own needs and interests. We lose our fire. We forget about the needs of a world that Jesus died to save.”
1 The Center for Responsive Politics, “2012 Will Be Costless Election Yet, With Outside Spending a Wild Card,” available online at www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/08/2012-election-will-be-costliest-yet.html.
2 Casey Dreier, “Curiosity Comes Cheap,” available online at www.planetary.org/blogs/casey-dreier/20120809-curiosity-comes-cheap.html.
3 Sam Gustin, “Social Windfall,” available online at http://business.time.com/2012/02/02/social-windfall-facebook-ipos-billion-dollar-winners/slide/peter-thiel/#peter-thiel.
4 James Woodfin, “Microsoft’s Black Hole Sucks $2.5 Billion for the Year,” available atwww.neowin.net/news/microsofts-black-hole-sucks-25-billion-dollars-for-the-year.
5 Statistics gathered by the author from the Annual Statistical Reports (1912-2011) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
6 Conversion into current U.S. dollars was calculated on August 28, 2012, by using a GDP-per-capita index generated by “Measuring Worth” (www.measuringworth.com). The editors wish to thank David Trim, director, Archives, Statistics, and Research, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, for his assistance.
7 See “The Bounty and the Bible,” Adventist World, January 2009, pp. 16-19.
8 “The First Mission Project,” Adventist Mission—Children, Second Quarter 2012, pp. 4, 5.
9 “Pray as You Give,” Missions Quarterly, January 1912, pp. 2, 3.
10 Ibid., p. 5.
11 Ibid., p. 6.
12 “World Church Statistics,” available online atwww.adventiststatistics.org/view_Summary.asp?FieldID=D_SUD.
13 Missions Quarterly, Fourth Quarter 1912, p. 4.
14 See “Education Without Borders,” Adventist World, December 2011, pp. 18-22.
15 Missions Quarterly, Fourth Quarter 1931, pp. 28, 29.
16 Annual Statistical Reports (1912, 1932, 2010) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Gina Wahlen is the assistant to the editor/publisher of Adventist World. She and her husband, Clinton, served as missionaries at the Zaoksky Theological Seminary in Russia (1992-1998), and at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies in the Philippines (2003-2008). They and their children, Daniel and Heather, have a lifelong love for mission.