Adventist Review associate editor Gerald Klingbeil recently spoke with Julie and Scott Griswold about the relationship between preaching the gospel and serving the needs of people.
Scott and Julie, tell us about ASAP ministries.
SG: ASAP Ministries stands for Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted. It’s an organization that has been going strong for more than 25 years and started out of the refugee crisis in Southeast Asia.
JG: Judy Aitken, the founder of ASAP Ministries, served in the refugee camps, helping with all kinds of needs. Hundreds were baptized. Judy returned to America and became an advocate for the refugees moving to North America, helping them survive and find a home church. She continued going back and forth to Southeast Asia, helping the unreached peoples in those areas where the church was still very small. She raised funds in North America to help with planting churches, with medical missions, and with schools.
SG: The work has grown under the new director, Julia O’Carey, Judy’s daughter, so that now ASAP Ministries supports 80 different schools with about 5,000 at-risk children. There are more than 600 funded workers, including Bible workers, medical workers, and teachers.
What is your involvement with the ministry?
JG: I’m working with ASAP Ministries as outreach coordinator for Reach the World Next Door in Houston, Texas.
SG: We took the opportunity to come here because the Texas Conference had a real heart for unreached people groups. They were willing to partner with us and with ASAP Ministries to do outreach, specifically for refugees, immigrants, and international students. We had previously worked with ASAP Ministries in Michigan, and before that in Thailand and Cambodia for 16 years as missionaries.
You mentioned schools and children and reaching people wholistically. What is the relationship between sharing the gospel and serving people in their daily needs?
SG: We usually slide to one extreme: we’re all about preaching the gospel and doing evangelistic meetings, or we’re all about social action. Jesus combined the two perfectly. For sure, the good news centers on Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it’s also about God’s love, and that’s often best seen by helping someone in need. Some people say that’s like using a hook, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We should truly care about someone’s need, someone’s pain, and help them, even if they don’t want the spiritual side. Jesus helped a lot of people like that, but He was always working trying to reach their hearts as well.
JG: As an ASAP worker, whether you’re a teacher, a medical missionary, or a church planter, each one is equipped to care for the whole person. The church planter knows how to do a charcoal poultice, and the teacher knows how to make a gospel presentation.
Based on your own experience in Southeast Asia, what do you consider the most effective way of preaching the gospel in a non-Christian context that is vastly different from North America?
JG: I relied on the Holy Spirit to know where to begin. Our hearts started going out toward the widows, the children. All around us were beggars. There was a squatter village by the railroad tracks. We would give them microloans to start a small business, like with a cart to sell noodles or fruit, or to connect them with different organizations that would sell things they made.
SG: We taught simple sanitation so that their babies wouldn’t die of diarrhea. In the beginning I started with the gospel, and it seemed to just go over their heads. There were too many desperate needs. As we helped them, it was beautiful how they started asking questions and we started praying with them. “God, please bless their children. Help them go to school, and to get well and to make a living.” Pretty soon a small group of the people we were helping became Christians. We called it the Water Lily church.
Scott, tell us about Reach the World Next Door.
SG: Right before moving back from overseas, we visited Houston, Texas, for a youth convention. The city was full of people from around the world. As the young adults were going door to door, we heard such statements as “I met a Muslim lady and I didn’t know what to say” and “I had nothing to give the lady who only spoke Vietnamese.” I said to Julie, “We have to find a way to train people here for cross-cultural missions right in America.” That became: Reach the World Next Door.
How many people originally from Southeast Asia are living in the United States as either immigrants or refugees?
SG: About one third of the world is part of what we call an “unreached people group,” those who have basically never had a chance to know Jesus. There are between 4,000 and 7,000 unreached groups, depending how you count them. In North America we have people from more than 300 of those groups, right where we can help them and share Jesus with them.
Tell me a story that illustrates well the interconnectedness between preaching the gospel and serving people?
SG: We were here a few months when Hurricane Harvey hit the coast really hard. We were two hours away from a Cambodian community. A friend called and said, “We have three feet of water in every house. These people are devastated. Can you come down and bring some volunteers?” We spent the next weeks helping tear out moldy drywall and starting to rebuild. The people were so grateful. We would go house to house and say, “How are you doing? Are you getting help? Is anybody sick?” The Buddhist temple let us teach health classes on its grounds. They even let us do a program to share the meaning behind Christmas. Soon people were saying, “We never really thought much about Christianity until we saw it was mostly Christians who kept coming to help. That touched us. We want to know more.” One man named Phaly, from the country of Laos, wanted to study the Bible. We took church members there and just shared the main Bible stories. He knew nothing about the Bible.
JG: In one of the local churches we met a newly baptized young man named Dylan who was also Laotian. We asked him if he would come with us to meet Phaly. They were talking back and forth and asking, “What province do you come from?” “Oh, really? That’s the same province that my dad came from.” “What village did you live in?” He named the same village that his father was from. Can you believe that? They were best friends growing up, drinking buddies, and now Phaly has thrown away his alcohol, just got baptized, and may be the very one God uses to help Dylan’s father, whom he has been praying for constantly to stop drinking. That’s the beauty of how Jesus works.
You can find out more about ASAP Ministries and Reach the World Next Door at asapministries.org and reachtheworldnextdoor.com. If you want to connect with different people and language groups in your region but wonder about language resources, visit mylanguagemylife.com to find resources for more than 150 languages.