October 21, 2013

It's Personal ASI Feature

An organization grows for reasons as varied as the people who are part of it. Yet there always seems to be a common theme—some overarching value that draws unique individuals toward a common goal. In business, it’s profit. In entertainment, it’s fame. 

But why do some people embrace a calling that promises neither? For ASI members and leaders, the answer to that question is very personal. Each one has a story to tell about what God has done in their lives. Their stories motivate them and draw them together with ties that bind.

True to Purpose

ASI started small when a few mission-minded leaders of health and educational institutions started gathering together once a year to share ideas and encourage one another. In 1947 they officially formed the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Self-Supporting Institutions, or ASI. Most were graduates of Madison College near Nashville, Tennessee.

BUSINESSMAN FOR CHRIST: Jesse Johnson chose a farm in Missouri to raise his family, run his business, and witness for Christ.Back then “self-supporting” meant innovative, with more emphasis on “supporting” than “self.” Everyone did what was needed to survive and carry on the work to which they were called. Often, that calling meant forging new paths under challenging conditions. It was natural to want some company every now and then. 

It still is.

Today ASI members still gather together once a year to share ideas and encourage one another at the annual ASI International Convention. They are a much more diverse group than they were in the 1940s. They include not only leaders of self-supporting institutions, but also Adventist business leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals from around the world.  At some point each has decided that the things of earth have grown strangely dim, and that being about their Father’s business is the only pursuit that matters.

The name of their organization—Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries—was eventually altered to reflect that diversity, but the collective purpose is more focused than ever: to share God’s love with a perishing world. The ASI movement has grown to embrace laypeople generally, whether as members or supporters. ASI’s official motto is “Sharing Christ in the Marketplace”—sharing a personal knowledge of Christ with those you encounter in your daily life and work.

ASI now has chapters on every populated continent and in many countries. Europe alone has at least 17 chapters under the umbrella of ASI Europe, with ASI Serbia being the newest chapter. Members and leaders of those chapters recently convened in Portugal to elect new leaders and reaffirm an old vision—that everyday people who have experienced God’s goodness should be encouraged and equipped to share that personal experience with others.

ASI Around the World

Angel Duo, an entrepreneur from Spain, served for five years as president of ASI Europe. He remembers thinking that the idea for an ASI-like organization was his own.

“In 1995 I was in Argentina with my family, supporting an evangelistic campaign as a Bible worker,” he recalls. “[I shared with a church leader] a dream I had as an entrepreneur to build an organization with other business people in Spain to work hard in evangelism, using our own resources. He answered me that this already existed, and [that it] was called ASI.”

When Duo returned home, he discovered others who shared the same vision. Together they organized an ASI chapter “to encourage, nurture, and equip lay-people to be active in evangelism, sharing the three angels’ messages in Europe.”

A similar story is told by Themba Sirayi, president of an ASI chapter in Southern Africa.

“In the late 1980s I got imbued with the idea of Adventist businesses and professionals organized for service to God and their fellow men,” he says. “The idea crystallized during my yearlong research fellowship in the United States, which enabled me to visit the General Conference and North American Division offices.”

Like Duo, Sirayi discovered that the organization he envisioned already existed. In 2008 he was chosen as the first president of the newly formed ASI chapter in Southern Africa, which encompasses South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia. 

Together to serve: Up to 1,200 members and visitors attended the Porto ASI Europe Convention that was held from July 3-6, 2013.Sirayi believes that ASI exists for the purpose of transforming Adventist organizations, businesses, and professions “so they fulfill their unique role as God’s helping hand and agents of God’s end-time mission.” He thinks that Adventist individuals and entities should embody “God’s values, principles, and ethics.”

He was especially inspired by Ellen White’s statement: “When men of business, farmers, mechanics, merchants, lawyers, etc., become members of the church, they become servants of Christ; and although their talents may be entirely different, their responsibility to advance the cause of God by personal effort, and with their means, is no less than that which rests upon the minister” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 469).

A commitment to  becoming “servants of Christ” drives the men and women who have joined ASI over the years. Jesse Johnson once owned a medical imaging support company in San Diego, California. The business was massively profitable when he decided to sell it and develop an online Web platform for Adventist individuals and entities to use in spreading the gospel. What emerged was the netAdventist Web site program, used with remarkable ease and at little or no cost by many churches and ministries around the world today.

Johnson now lives with his family on a farm in Missouri and operates netAserve, a company that provides technical support to netAdventist users. There’s little profit in it, but that doesn’t matter much to him.

“I’m happy doing it because this is what I’m supposed to be doing as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian,” he says. “Not specifically technology, but giving—giving of myself. Giving for what I believe in.”

Johnson, who now serves as president of the ASI Mid-America chapter, has a unique understanding of what giving means.

“God recognizes that we will have certain things we value—like time with family,” he notes. “But we’re not to value any of those things more than we value Him. So my wife and I are committed to giving our time and resources to God in ways that are most effective.”

“Most effective” means committing to those things that will bring more people into God’s kingdom.

“ASI doesn’t need to grow for ASI’s sake,” he says. “It needs to grow only if it means more people in the kingdom. When it comes down to it, that’s what we’re all about.”

Johnson’s single-mindedness doesn’t squelch the proliferation of new ideas for which he has become well-known. Since he now finds himself in the business of farming and ranching (in addition to his technological pursuits), his latest venture is to establish an ASI special interest group for farmers and ranchers. He wants to create opportunities for ASI members who are farmers and ranchers to support and mentor one another.

It’s Always Personal

Many ASI members have stories of initial reluctance. German businessman Gerhard Padderatz became involved in ASI when one of his employees—Christiane Theiss, now president of ASI Switzerland—told him about it and urged him to become involved. In the past he had worked in Adventist publishing in Africa, but, following a divorce, had resigned from church work and immersed himself in the business world. He now lives near Munich, Germany, and owns a corporate consulting firm, as well as operating a business in Farmington Hills, Michigan. For 20 years, he says, he was disillusioned with life and with the church. But in his business excursions, his conversations with fellow travelers often turned to spiritual matters, and he couldn’t forget what he knew.

“For seven years I crossed the Atlantic every three to four weeks, and each time I was spending about eight hours on a plane,” he says. “I developed a hobby of talking to people about God and religion. I did the same when I was driving through Germany, picking up hitchhikers, mostly university students or people who had lost their jobs. Through those dialogues I realized how much you learn by going through the school of hard knocks, and I realized how good and gracious God is. My witnessing experiences sharpened my sense for how precious the message is that we have.”

Padderatz wrote about his experiences in a book called The Gospel Flies by Night.1 The book has sold more than 300,000 copies in countries where the German language is spoken, and is now in its eighth printing. In it Padderatz shares a conversation he had with an unbelieving woman during an all-night flight from the United States to Frankfurt. They explored answers to basic questions of life, such as, Why are we here? Where are we going? and If there is a good God, then why is there so much pain and suffering? It’s all about Satan’s original challenge and God’s response.

“I’m so grateful that we as Adventists have such a deep understanding of the great controversy and how it relates to the gospel message and everyday life,” says Padderatz, who has served for 10 years as president of ASI Germany.

There are hundreds of stories like these among ASI members and leaders. There’s Dosung Kim, who sold his lucrative dental practice and took his wife and sons to Bolivia to build a medical missionary school and lifestyle center from scratch, using wood, sand, and water from the large piece of property they miraculously acquired. Like George Müller, they’ve never had to seek financial support. God has always provided for their needs. Dr. Kim plans to establish an ASI chapter in Bolivia.

To really understand what ASI is about, you have to talk to its members and listen to their stories.  Their journeys are unique, and their personal convictions run deep. The Lord who binds them together is stronger than racial divides, cultural differences, and language barriers, for “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, NRSV).2

  1. Published by Stanborough Press and available through the Adventist Book Center.
  2. Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.