February 23, 2006

Myths of Adventist Missions

1506 page5 capor older Seventh-day Adventists, growing up in the church was inseparable from stories of missions and missionaries. Eric B. Hare, reports in the Review, the Sabbath school mission stories, real-live missionaries in exotic garb--they brought excitement and wonder at the progress of ?the message? into all the world.

But what of Adventist missions today? A silence regarding mission has descended on many Sabbath schools and camp meetings. And out of this silence, myths have taken root:

Myth 1: The era of Adventist missions is past.
Adventist mission is alive and well. A total of 982 overseas missionaries called by the General Conference are serving the church. In addition, many thousands of volunteers leave their homelands to serve abroad, some for short periods, others longer.

1506 page5While many missionaries still come from North America, an increasing number derive from other divisions, such as South America or the Southern Asia Pacific region. Modern Adventist missions truly reflect the ideal: ?From all the world, to all the world.?

Myth 2: Most Adventist missionaries today are sponsored by supporting organizations such as Adventist Frontier Mission.
Not so. Adventist Frontier Mission currently sponsors 46 missionaries. The work is big, and I applaud all individuals or organizations that get involved, but we need to keep the multiplicity of organizations and efforts in perspective. The truth is that the organized church--that is, the General Conference--is by far the largest sponsor of missionaries.

Myth 3: Only private Adventist organizations send missionaries to open up work in unentered areas.
Wrong again. Some supporting organizations focus on unreached people groups--may the Lord multiply their efforts--but the church through its long-standing missionary programs is by no means absent in these endeavors.

The needs of a fast-growing world church call for expatriate workers in a wide variety of fields: medical, educational, and technical; much less administrative than in the past, as national leadership has taken the reins. Among the 982 missionaries sponsored by the General Conference, some serve in reaching out to unreached people groups, in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the 10/40 window.

Some months ago the Adventist Review carried a moving article by James Appel (see ?Where God Led Me,? May 12, 2005). Dr. Appel answered the call from the General Conference to a rundown Adventist hospital at a remote location in Tchad--so remote that the ?facility? wasn?t even listed among Seventh-day Adventist medical services worldwide. The good doctor and his wife labor in the face of daunting conditions to provide the ministry of healing to a population in great need.

Myth 4: The ?mission offering? in Sabbath school isn?t important anymore.
Most people give to specific projects.

Giving to overseas missions through the Sabbath school mission offering hasn?t kept up with Adventist giving in general. The total raised worldwide in 2004 was about $50 million, a hefty amount, but actually a decline from the $62 million (adjusted for inflation) in 1991. And as a percentage of tithe, the mission offering has been declining for many years: from 64 percent in 1930 to less than 4 percent in 2000.

It isn?t difficult to figure the reasons for the decline in giving through the mission offering. If Sabbath school leaders don?t give missions a place in the program, members will have less motivation to give. But, according to Gary Krause, director of the Office of Adventist Mission, the church desperately needs funding for more missionaries--there is such a need. In fact, most projects, whether by supporting ministries or the church, would not be viable if it weren?t for the ongoing network and support provided by mission offerings.

The mission offering is important to the worldwide work of the church. All those missionaries sent out by the General Conference--it?s possible only because of the mission offering. That offering funds James and Sarah Appel, just as it funded Noelene and me when we left our homeland to serve in India.

So many myths about Adventist mission! It?s obvious that the church needs to do a better job at telling the story of modern missions.

Which includes us at the Adventist Review. Look for exciting developments in the near future.