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Surfer pastor, clinics, literature outreach are evangelism highlights this year

Annual Council delegates hear creative projects during Council on Evangelism and Witness

Surfer pastor, clinics, literature outreach are evangelism highlights this year

Evangelist Mark Finley holds a blood-stained Bible that reminded a man in Colombia of his religious roots. The anecdote was one of several stories told on Friday night and Saturday afternoon during the Council on Evangelism and Witness, which is a subset of Annual Council at the denomination's world headquarters. [photo: Ansel Oliver]

Church representatives from across the globe on Saturday shared their region’s most successful and unique initiatives to reach non-believers in the world’s largest cities—ranging from a pastor who witnesses on his surfboard, to a health clinic attended by thousands.

The initiatives were part of the Council on Evangelism and Witness report presented to delegates of the 2014 Seventh-day Adventist Annual Council.

Many of the evangelism efforts included a common theme from the past year: How to spread the gospel in cities and metropolitan areas populated with millions of unbelievers.

“We have huge, huge challenges in our divisional territory, but we strongly believe this is the Lord’s work,” said Jairong Lee, president of the Northern-Asia Pacific Division. The Asian continent, he said, has 60 percent of the world’s population, yet it’s only 4 percent Christian.

In the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, home to cities such as Cape Town and Luanda, the church hosted evangelism programs at 1,682 sites, and 500 of those were led by children, some as young as six years old. As a result, 686 new churches were planted, and high-ranking government officials began to embrace the health message.

Representatives from the United States told about efforts on both coasts, including the large-scale NY13 effort in New York, and a major health ministry in California.

NY13, a multifaceted outreach effort, resulted in 64 new church companies in New York City. A similar effort will extend into the Southern New England Conference and Northeastern Conference next year for an initiative called Compassion Boston.

North American Division President Dan Jackson, in a video presentation, summarized Bridges to our Community, a 3-day health fair in San Francisco and Oakland, two cities in California, United States, connected by a well-traversed bridge. The health fair served nearly 3,000 people and drew volunteers from across the country.

Planning is now underway for health evangelism in the Southwestern Union of the United States in preparation of the 2015 General Conference Session which will be held in San Antonio, Texas.

The Southern Asia Division has emphasized outreach by encouraging laypeople to take two to three months to become literature evangelists in their own neighborhoods.

In South America, a novel effort features a surfer-turned pastor who spreads the gospel on a beach in the São Paulo state of Brazil, hosting studies while lying on his surfboard—reading from a waterproof Bible.

Not all evangelism efforts involved in-person outreach. In Romania, Norel Iacob, editor of Semnel Timpului, that country’s Signs of the Times magazine, explained the best way to reach a mainstream audience is to “write about the most important news stories and events from a Biblical perspective.” The magazine’s website, he said, has become extremely popular, and among its readers is a former president of Romania.

Leaders in East-Central Africa have focused on public outreach by talented youth staging concerts on the streets of large cities, which draws huge interest from passersby, said Blasious Ruguri, the regional president. People stop to listen, he said, then inquire about who the singers are. “Then the young singers share a book like ‘Steps to Christ’, ‘the Great Controversy’, ‘Desire of Ages’, and become friends,” he said, referring to titles authored by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White.

Recent campaigns in that region have led to nearly 34,000 baptisms and 104 new churches in places such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.

Outreach in Ireland centered around filling people’s needs in their neighborhoods, said Janos Kovas-Biro, evangelism coordinator for the division in Northern Europe. “We found out there were family needs, financial needs, health needs, and intellectual needs, and also needs in taking care of children.”

In between the evangelism presentations, Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference president, used an anecdote to encourage regional leaders to keep the faith.

Holding an old, brown Bible, Finley told of a small group meeting 70 years ago in Bucaramanga, Colombia, when assassins entered the home to kill the Adventists. A husband and wife were targeted. After the husband was killed, the wife took their son to a window and handed him off to someone else. The wife was then killed.

When the boy grew into a man in his 70s he became curious about his past and went to an evangelistic campaign featuring Robert Costa of the “Escrito Está” television program. The man got baptized.

Also in attendance at that campaign was the son of the killer, and he has since been baptized.

The men have pledged to persuade their own families to join the Adventist church. That initial group of 15 Adventists meeting in the home in Bucaramanga has blossomed into a church community that is 20,000 strong in the region, said Finley, who told the story while clutching the blood-stained Bible that belonged to the man's parents 70 years ago.