Jeff Scoggins, a U.S.-based pastor and the son of missionaries, received a call to the Euro-Asia Division, a vast territory that encompasses Russia and many of the other former Soviet republics.
Eight months later, he was flying with his wife, Becky, to Moscow to serve as field secretary in charge of Global Mission projects and strategic planning at the Euro-Asia Division.
Scoggins took one month of Russian-language lessons in preparation for the trip.
This scenario for becoming a missionary, which has repeated for decades in the Adventist Church, will expand under a plan approved by the General Conference’s Mission Board on Oct. 5. Rather than only following the traditional method of identifying a job opening in a foreign country and sending a missionary to fill it, the Adventist Church will also seek opportunities among people groups unreached or under-reached by the gospel and deploy teams of specially trained missionaries to establish new work.
“This is a new era,” G.T. Ng, executive secretary of the General Conference, said in presenting the plan to the Mission Board, comprised of dozens of church leaders from around the world.
“This is exciting,” Ng added. “This is super exciting because we have come to a new phase of the missionary program.”
As a test case, the first city chosen for this approach will be Tokyo. Japanese church leaders, with assistance from the General Conference and the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, whose territory includes Japan, will carry out a needs assessment in Tokyo. After the needs are identified, work will begin to assemble a missionary team. The team members will receive in-depth Japanese-language training “so they can better relate to the Japanese people in their heart language,” Ng said.
The mission team members — who will be chosen by Japanese leaders — could include an administrator, a Global Mission church planter, a trainer, language teachers, a medical doctor, a dentist, a tentmaker (a self-supporting businessperson), volunteers from Adventist Volunteer Service, and possibly a worker from Adventist Frontier Missions or another supporting ministry, he said.
“We would like to take a team approach,” he said.
Ng would like to see a mission team of young people in Japan.
“These missionaries should belong to the Millennial generation — young people reaching young people,” he said.
But the final decision will be up to the Japanese leaders, he said.
Financing for the program will come from existing funds earmarked for foreign missionaries. Currently, the General Conference distributes funds for foreign missionaries to each of the 13 world divisions, and the divisions use the funds to call missionaries. The South American Division, the Trans-European Division, and the Inter-American Division have offered a total of ten of their unfilled budgets to be used for the Tokyo project and other projects yet to be identified.
Members of the Mission Board — who on Oct. 5 unanimously approved the Japan plan as well as research into a similar effort in the Middle East — spoke enthusiastically about the initiative.
“On behalf of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, I would really like to extend our great thanks that the General Conference chose this great city of Tokyo,” said Si Young Kim, president of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division.
Tom Lemon, a general vice president of the General Conference, said he especially appreciated the renewed emphasis on direct-contact mission.
“This takes us back to the reason we exist as a people,” Lemon said.
Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, education director at the General Conference, recalled that her Japanese father became an Adventist because of direct contact through Adventist education.
“When I hear this report, my heart is full,” she said.
Scoggins, who served as a missionary in Russia for three years, is excited about the expanded mission work. He now works as planning director for Adventist Mission, and part of his job is to map out and identify unreached areas and to send Global Mission pioneers to plant churches.
Scoggins said the new program could fundamentally shift the church’s missionary work to reach many more people in places that are unreached or under-reached by the gospel.
“The bottom line is to get more church-employed missionaries back into direct contact situations, establishing new work,” he said.