July 28, 2009

Working Witness

2009 1521 page24 cappace is tight. Hot, humid Philippine air fills the room as the meeting begins. This is no ordinary evangelistic meeting. It’s taking place in a small living room on the outskirts of Manila.   There’s no pastor, only a small team of laypeople. They’ve invited a handful of friends and neighbors to tonight’s meeting. But in the tiny room, it’s a capacity crowd.

To start the meeting, one of the team turns on the television and drops in a DVD. It’s a Tagalog-language New Beginnings DVD. As the speaker moves through his presentation, the DVD provides colorful, attractive slides with Bible verses, imagery, and other content to complement the sermon.
A short time before, an evangelistic training team of ASI members had arrived in the Philippines. During their stay they trained hundreds of local laypeople on the basics of home-based evangelism, utilizing the New Beginnings DVDs and correlating sermon outlines.
Trainees received a brand-new DVD player, a full set of DVDs, and a supply of sermon outlines. Working in groups of three or four, these laypeople held small evangelistic meetings in their homes, inviting friends, family, anyone who would come.
2009 1521 page24From the hard work of these teams, thousands of people were baptized at a large evangelistic campaign in Manila some months later.
Different Places, Similar Stories
This story is not unique. In fact, similar stories can be found all over the world. Since 2005 teams of ASI members have traveled to numerous countries—at their own expense—training and equipping laypeople for evangelism. To date, more than 20,000 people have been trained. And through their efforts hundreds of thousands have been baptized around the world. ASI was also instrumental in developing the New Beginnings DVDs in cooperation with the television ministry of It Is Written.
But ASI’s mission of sharing Christ doesn’t stop there. Each year dozens of outreach-oriented projects receive support from the ASI Convention Special Projects Offering.
These projects include evangelistic, construction, media, and other efforts carried out by both supporting ministries and Seventh-day Adventist Church entities. All are aimed at furthering the mission of the Adventist Church.
The sacrificial giving of ASI members through the Special Projects Offering provides essential support for these efforts. Over the last five years, a total of $16,740,263 has been given through the ASI Convention Special Projects Offering, almost all of it pledged or given at the annual event.
Today ASI is made up of approximately 1,000 organizational and individual members, mostly from North America. It’s a unique and diverse group ranging from business owners to individual professionals to supporting ministries.
ASI organizations have also been formed around the world as part of numerous Seventh-day Adventist Church divisions and union conferences. These include ASI Europe, ASI Inter-America, ASI South Africa, and more. (To find out about these and other international ASI organizations, visit www.ASIministries.org.) In each of these regional groups, ASI members are enthusiastic about actively participating in the Adventist Church’s worldwide mission, often through unique programs that target needs in those regions.
An Idea Grown Large
ASI’s history is rooted in Madison College, an Adventist self-supporting institution established in 1904 near Nashville, Tennessee, by E. A. Sutherland and Percy Magan, formerly leaders at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University). As Madison expanded, its graduates planted satellite schools and institutions around the country. In 1947 these self-supporting entities formed the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Self-Supporting Institutions, or ASI, in cooperation with the General Conference headquarters.
At the time, ASI members were mostly educational or health ministries. Over the years, however, ASI membership began to include businesses and Adventist entrepreneurs and professionals. The expanding membership base and varieties of organizations resulted in a name change in 1979 to better reflect ASI’s diverse membership: Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries.
Today ASI is perhaps best known to church members for its annual convention. One of the largest Adventist gatherings in North America, the ASI Convention takes place in early August at different cities around the United States.
Often laughingly referred to as “camp meeting on steroids,” the annual convention features three days of main meetings, seminars, and hundreds of exhibits. Full programs for children and teens are also offered.
Convention attendees especially enjoy the encouragement and inspiration of networking with other ASI members. “When you’re at [an ASI Convention], it’s just recharging to see everyone who’s on fire for sharing the good news,” says Daryl Oft, a business owner and ministry leader from Arizona. “Everybody is so passionate about Jesus.”
In addition to the annual convention, each ASI chapter—found in eight of the nine unions of the North American Division—holds its own chapter meeting. These meetings offer smaller-scale opportunities to connect with ASI â?¨members and ministries in each region.
Building the Kingdom
ASI is also intimately involved in several large-scale projects, including the aforementioned Train Them Now DVD evangelism project, ASI Youth for Jesus, the Happiness Books, and the One-Day Church.
This year, ASI member Train Them Now teams are conducting New Beginnings DVD evangelism training in more than 40 countries, including Latvia, India, Zambia, and Papua New Guinea, as well as in the United States.
2009 1521 page24ASI Youth for Jesus is a monthlong, youth-led evangelistic campaign that occurs each summer in the city hosting that year’s ASI Convention. The approximately 40 participants are involved in door-to-door outreach, Bible studies, evangelistic meetings, and one-on-one witnessing. They also receive training from professional evangelists and Bible workers.
It’s a powerful experience for the young people. “Being in Youth for Jesus, I rediscovered that first love I had with God,” says Katie Hickman, a 2008 Youth for Jesus participant from Idaho. With Youth for Jesus Katie experienced a life-changing moment when she led her first Bible study.
“As I started sharing the texts and moving through the lesson, I could feel that I was not just there alone, that it wasn’t just me speaking,” she says with a beaming smile. “God was literally using me to reach this person with His truth.”
Launched in 1983 with the introduction of Happiness Digest, the Happiness Books became an ongoing, ASI-managed project in 1988. Happiness Books are affordable, attractive editions of Ellen White books ideal for witnessing. These books are sold individually through Adventist Book Centers or by the case through the Pacific Press Publishing Association. Available at very low cost, the books can be generously distributed to friends, neighbors, coworkers—anybody. To date, more than 5 million Happiness Books have been sold or distributed, and the project continues to grow. Happiness Books sales in 2008 were the highest ever.
Witnessing tools, youth-training events, truth-filled literature. But what about the needs of church members who have no place to worship together? Around the world some 100,000 Adventist congregations are homeless, without a church building of their own. They worship under trees, in ramshackle structures, or in inadequate rented facilities.
Building Believers
The One-Day Church, a cooperative project between ASI and Maranatha Volunteers International unveiled last year, aims to solve this predicament. It’s a galvanized steel frame and vented roof structure measuring 20 by 35 feet when assembled—large enough to seat 150 people. The local congregation is responsible for finishing the walls and providing the furniture. Where necessary, the structure can be adapted to serve as a Christian school or even a dwelling for a church worker.
Arriving in a preassembled 1,300-pound kit, a One-Day Church can be built by a team of four in one day.
Since the project’s introduction last year, hundreds of One-Day Church kits have been sent to congregations in Ecuador, Mozambique, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Swaziland, Chad, and Haiti. Dollar-for-dollar matching funds are available through ASI for the first 4,000 One-Day Churches.
ASI members are a diverse group, representing Adventists from every walk of life. Large businesses and mom-and-pop shops, major nonprofits and small local ministries, even individual professionals—they’re all included in the expanding ministry of ASI.
Why do they join ASI? What’s their experience like? And how are they sharing Christ in the marketplace?
Ron Oliver is a certified public accountant from Vancouver, Washington. He and his wife, Virginia, are longtime ASI members and have attended almost every ASI Convention for the past 25 years. He discovered that ASI provides encouragement to do things for God that he never thought he could.
“One thing I never thought I’d do was preach in an evangelistic series,” Ron says.
But shortly after hearing a layperson at the ASI Convention share their story of leading an overseas evangelistic series, Ron and Virginia got a call to lead one themselves.
“I would never have said yes if we hadn’t had the exposure, through the ASI Convention, to other laypeople doing things that they didn’t feel they were prepared for,” Ron says, his voice choked with emotion. Ron and Virginia have also enjoyed the fellowship with other ASI members who, despite not being eloquent speakers or feeling they lack great ministerial gifts, have chosen to be active participants in God’s work.
“Just getting that encouragement that you can still do things and God still blesses, that’s the difference I see at ASI,” Ron says, a big smile escaping through his white beard.
Judy Aitken is director of Adventist Southeast Asia Projects (ASAP), a supporting ministry based in Berrien Springs, Michigan. She describes the benefit that ASI brings her organization and other supporting ministries.
“First of all, I see the value of ASI professionally,” she says. “Supporting ministries like us can network with other businesspeople, other Adventists, and other organizations. And we support each other with the common goal of advancing God’s kingdom.”
2009 1521 page24Judy also describes a less tangible but no less important aspect of ASI. “I am personally so blessed by ASI,” she glows, adding that the strong spiritual elements of faith and prayer within ASI are so valuable to her and to ASAP. “[Faith and prayer] are a very important part of our ministry. And being at ASI with people who have the same focus and same belief in prayer—praying together with them is a blessing.”
Dr. Phil and Sherry Mills, ASI members from Grants Pass, Oregon, represent both the for-profit and nonprofit aspects of ASI membership. Phil is a dermatologist, and he readily explains the benefits ASI membership has provided to his professional life.
“ASI is wonderful because you have a network of people from all sorts of business backgrounds—professionals, lawyers, physicians, businesspeople,” says Phil, who enjoys the variety of ideas and resources found among ASI members. ASI membership has also changed the way he approaches his career, Phil says. “I now pray with my patients before surgeries. And through ASI I’ve found materials to use in Bible studies with others, and better ways to give Bible studies to my patients.”
Phil and Sherry also run My Bible First, a ministry that produces children’s Bible stories and materials. After attending their first ASI Convention in 2000, Sherry was inspired. On the way home she told Phil, “We need to pray for a wider ministry.” Not long after, they started My Bible First.
The My Bible First ministry is a regular exhibitor at ASI Conventions, joining an amazing array of creative and effective ministries driven by the faith and energy of Adventist laypersons.
Join the Family
There’s room for you in the ASI family. And there are numerous opportunities to find fun, fulfilling ways to obey your personal gospel commission. Evangelism, health ministry, service projects—close to home, overseas, long-term or short-term—all powerfully illustrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of thousands of church members.
Make plans to attend the annual ASI Convention or a local chapter meeting. Experience the inspiration that so many thousands of others have found. Step out of your comfort zone and into the supportive fellowship of men and women trying to live as faithful witnesses to the power of Jesus Christ. 
Steve Hamstra was communication director for ASI when he wrote this article.