The annual international gathering of Adventist-laymen's Services & Industries last week drew a large attendance of generous participants who reached deep into their pockets to surpass the organization's fundraising goal.
More than 3,100 people packed into the Sacramento Convention Center on Sabbath morning, August 6, the final day of the 2011 ASI International Convention. They worshiped with sacred orchestral music, listened to member and ministry testimonies, and shouted amens during a sermon by Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N.C. Wilson, who lauded the program's theme, "Inspired to Finish Strong!"
The audience was clearly inspired to give: More than $2 million was collected in the special offering to fund 47 mission projects -- surpassing the goal of $1.5 million.
"The crowd and the offering exceeded our expectations," said ASI General Vice President Donna McNeilus, beaming at the conclusion of the four-day convention. "I think people realize the times we're living in, and even though the economic situation is extremely volatile, people really are serious about wanting to give their all for Jesus, and it showed here."
ASI, which traces its roots back to 1947, is an organization of lay ministries, professionals, business leaders and other laypeople committed to actively participating in the worldwide mission of the Adventist Church.
The convention featured general sessions led by numerous speakers, including Ivor Myers, David Kulakov, Doug Batchelor, Lyndi Schwartz and Matt Parra.
Myers, director of Power of the Lamb Ministries and church pastor in the Central California Conference, kept the Friday evening audience gripped by moving through all major Adventist doctrines and Biblical prophecies in a rapid-fire 40 minutes.
Upwards of 2,000 people registered for the convention, and many attended some of the 20 seminars in five tracks: evangelism, spiritual growth, health, nonprofit and business, and "Finishing Strong."
At a Friday health seminar, Diana Fleming, co-author of The Full Plate Diet, explained the top reason why people fail to lose weight. "They don't know how," said Fleming, whose book promotes weight loss by eating more natural fiber-rich foods.
Children and youth participated in daylong, age-appropriate programming that included community service and evangelism in the local region.
At the exhibit hall, some 340 organizations from around the world -- a wide variety of independent and church-sponsored ministries ranging from 1000 Missionary Movement North America to Your Story Hour -- showed their wares, promoted their programs and offered their services.
Jewish-Adventist Ministries shared information on how to reach Jewish friends and neighbors. Orphans International Helpline sought $25 monthly sponsors to support children in Haiti. Kids in Discipleship offered training on ministering to children.
Hope for Bangkok encouraged convention goers to "invest in eternity." Fountainview Academy of British Columbia, Canada, sold recordings of its student musicians who performed at the convention. Changing People's Lives International Ministry invited Adventists to take mission trips to communist countries.
The exhibit hall at ASI conventions is well known for connecting laypeople with ministries, which provides opportunities for unique and otherwise unlikely collaborations.
That's what Paul Karmy of suburban Dallas, Texas, experienced.
Karmy, president of Liquid-Stone Concrete, attended his first ASI convention in 2004, when he visited the Adventist World Aviation booth. A pilot himself, he joined the group and helped raise money for a mission plane, and eventually served on the organization's board of directors.
At another ASI convention, while staffing the Adventist World Aviation booth, Karmy became interested in learning more about a television ministry being promoted from a nearby exhibit. That interest led to his next venture: Karmy and his church in Crowley, Texas, now run two Good News TV stations for the Dallas-Forth Worth area, one in English, one in Spanish.
"Paul Karmy's story is a great example of the ministry-minded networking that goes on at every ASI gathering," said Conna Bond, communication director for ASI, which is based at the church's North American Division headquarters and has a handful of employees and hundreds of volunteers.
"Some people come with money, some people come with ideas or expertise. Everyone comes with vision. ASI conventions are great places for people to pool their resources together and really make big things happen," Bond said. "God's hand is in all of it."
A major highlight of the convention was the Sabbath offering designated for 47 projects from around the world that were vetted by ASI and promoted in the convention magazine and from the stage.
About half the projects are in the United States, and one is in South America, a medical mission called Amazon Lifesavers Ministry, which needs a faster boat to travel to remote fishing villages in Brazil.
The ministry was started by Tennessee nurse practitioner Brad Mills and his wife, Lina, a registered nurse, and Brazilian locals. Mills had dreamed of becoming a missionary and doctor since age 3. He was further inspired by three mission trips with Maranatha Volunteers International while attending Madison Academy near Nashville.
In 2007, the couple felt called by God to provide health services, lectures, evangelism and church construction in remote areas along the Amazon River.
ASI is helping to expand their mission field.
The $20,000 ASI offering will allow the ministry to build an aluminum boat with outboard motor that can transport volunteer doctors to faraway destinations in one day, as opposed to the three days it now takes on slower boats.
"I am very excited by the donation," Mills said. "We truly are thankful to everyone who made this possible, and to God, who is still working in miraculous ways to financially provide for His work to advance."
Because convention donors met the $1.5 million offering goal, every project was fully funded, and then some. As was previously arranged, three ministries will divide the "overflow" offering, which is more than $400,000. The beneficiaries are: The Ellen G. White Estate; New Beginnings, a DVD evangelism training project; and The One-Day Structure Project, a joint effort between Maranatha and ASI.
In a separate gift, Adventist Development and Relief Agency President Rudi Maier presented Maranatha President Don Noble with a $1 million check for One-Day Schools.
Next year's ASI international convention will be August 8-11 in Dallas, Texas.