Top regional leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist world church heard urban evangelism updates and examples of creative outreach yesterday during the Council on Evangelism and Witness report to Spring Meeting.
During a presentation led by Mike Ryan, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, and David Trim, director of the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, several division presidents offered updates on the Mission to the Cities initiative.
Trim noted that there are 396 people per Adventist worldwide. That ratio, he said, jumps to 547 people per Adventist in urban regions. Some cities of a million or more fare much worse, while Lusaka, Zambia is a bright spot, with the best population-to-member ratio of any large city worldwide—one Adventist per 19 people.
Paul Ratsara, president of the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, which oversees Zambia, said small groups are the key to evangelism in the region. “If we are not reaching the grassroots, then we are just talking to ourselves,” he said.
The church’s South American Division, under the leadership of President Erton Kohler, is taking a similar approach. The region’s goal is to plant an Adventist church in every one of nearly 7,000 neighborhoods in major cities. Currently there are 2,000 Adventist churches established in these neighborhoods.
In Europe, the Adventist Church is focusing on Geneva. While the city isn’t home to millions, it is influential in the eyes of the international community, said Bruno Vertallier, president of the church’s Inter-European Division. A team of Adventist young people is working in Geneva in what Vertallier said he hopes becomes a model of outreach for the region. The group has already planted a church attended by 60 new believers and former Adventists.
Ryan steered many of the presentations toward planning and accountability. The Adventist world church, he said, pledged to carry out an evangelism plan in every city with a population of over a million, and results are mandatory. “We want to track progress intentionally,” he said.
Blasious Ruguri, president of the church’s East-Central Africa Division, told the story of an Adventist pastor in the region who was beaten for his faith and hospitalized. The pastor’s first move post-recovery, Ruguri said, was to visit the man responsible for the attack and forgive him. The man, then a clergy member of another faith, was so impressed by the pastor’s spirit of reconciliation that he accepted an invitation to study the Bible. Later the man accepted the Adventist faith. He now directs an inter-faith ministry in Nairobi, Kenya, Ruguri said.
In Korea, a growing number of Adventist churches are launching nearby vegetarian restaurants—ideal settings to spur conversations about health, wellness and ultimately spiritual wholeness, said Jairong Lee, president of the church’s Northern Asia-Pacific Division.
Elsewhere in the region, Lee said, a fledgling chain of pizza restaurants is doubling as a gathering place for Adventist believers. “During the week, this is a pizza restaurant, but on Sabbath, this is a church,” he said, gesturing to a picture of the flagship restaurant. The restaurants employ Adventist young people and serve as centers of influence. At least 50 people worship in one location every Saturday.
Dan Jackson, president of the church’s North American Division, offered a new perspective on the 10/40 Window, a region spanning Northern Africa, Middle East and Asia where less than 2 percent of the population is Christian. “[The 10/40 Window] just moved next door,” Jackson said, referring to a massive influx of immigrants and refugees to some American cities. Now home to 90,000 refugees, the southern California city of San Diego is considered the refugee capital of the world, Jackson said.
There, the Paradise Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church counts members from 51 nationalities. While worship services are conducted in English, headset translations and Sabbath School classes are available in Arabic, Laotian, Tagalog, Nepalese, Swahili, French and Spanish. The church’s refugee ministry also serves food to some 500 people every week, at church and through a delivery service led by a former Buddhist priest who accepted Adventism. A bus from Paradise Valley makes Saturday morning stops in local refugee communities to pick up residents who want to attend church but don’t have a means of transportation.
Will James, senior pastor of the church, said refugees often battle feelings of isolation and loneliness. “Our church has become the loving, caring community that they crave,” he said.
Spring Meeting delegates also watched the trailer for a film that dramatizes the life of evangelical theologian Edward Fudge and debunks misconceptions about the character of God and the eternal destiny of unbelievers.
Top church administrators endorsed “Hell and Mr. Fudge” (LLT Productions) and called on regional church leaders to distribute DVDs of the film, host church-sponsored screenings in public venues and share copies with family and friends.
“This is a powerful evangelistic tool,” said Mark Finley, special assistant for evangelism to Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson.
Another resource church leaders plan to use for outreach—especially in 2015—is a book on comprehensive health outreach edited by Finley and Dr. Peter Landless, director of the Adventist world church’s Health Ministries department. “Health and Wellness: Secrets That Will Change Your Life” (Review & Herald Publishing Association) offers simple ways to avoid chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
But “resources without the Source are not enough,” Landless said, referring to the spiritual component of wholeness. With chapters on topics such as forgiveness, relationships and mental health, the book covers the spectrum of holistic living.
Wilson closed today’s Council on Evangelism and Witness with a call for outreach that finds expression beyond the margins of plans and PowerPoint presentations.
“I want to encourage all of you not to just talk about evangelism, but to participate in it,” Wilson said. “Be a visible leader in evangelism in your church and in your community.”