At its annual convention, ASI in North America celebrates God’s leading in its scores of supporting ministries. On the next few pages we share a fraction of its many stories.—Editors.
Johnny Stricker grew up in a Christian home. In spite of that, Stricker grew up ignorant about what it meant to truly live as a Christian.
When Stricker was 5, his family moved to Belgium to do mission work. When they returned to the United States three and a half years later, they were on fire for the Lord. They wanted to get their home church involved in evangelism.
But by the time he was in high school, Stricker had stopped studying the Bible. Instead, he spent his time reading other material, watching movies, playing video games, and listening to music that wasn’t good for him. He eventually questioned what he believed. “I believed in the Bible and had heard the prophecy seminars, but what do I believe?” he asked himself.
He had many friends, but instead of leading him in the right direction, they were a bad influence. He was getting depressed, but he didn’t want to admit it.
Stricker decided to experience all the pleasure he could find. He started using drugs and got into partying. When he got in trouble at school for using drugs, he had to go to an intensive outpatient program. No matter how much information he heard, he lived life as he pleased.
Stricker’s mom prayed for him, because she knew something was wrong. His parents soon learned that Stricker had depression and suicidal thoughts. They began talking to different church members, and one of them suggested Dr. Neil Nedley’s Depression Recovery program. “My parents were desperate, so they wanted me to try it,” Stricker said. But he had no intention of honoring their request.
Yet the Lord had different plans. “The Holy Spirit was working,” he said. “A week later I woke up and thought that maybe this program does have something for me.” So Stricker called Weimar and took the survey for the program. “When I was told I couldn’t take drugs while at the program,I said, ‘OK, sure.’ I thought to myself, I won’t do drugs for 10 days so that when I get back home I can get twice as high.”
Then Stricker’s parents dropped him off at the Depression Recovery program. His mom left a Bible beside his bed, embraced him, and said, “You’re in the Lord’s hands now.”
He thought, I’m going to do the best I can. If it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to drugs.
Soon after the program started, Stricker’s mind cleared up, and he started to think clearly again. He hated it, because all the old questions about religion started coming back. Each morning he had to go to lectures. Because he often felt like crying, it was hard for him to get through them. After one lecture Stricker went back to his room, opened the door, and started weeping. He picked up the Bible his mom had left.
“I opened my Bible, but I didn’t know where to read,” he says. “So I randomly pointed at a verse, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I thought maybe the New Testament had something for me, so I started reading some of what Paul had written. Again, it didn’t apply to me or make any sense.”
Then he thought, Maybe I should pray. He prayed, “God, I don’t even know if You’re real. If You are real, and if You care, show me what I can relate to in this Book.”
Stricker continued to do the program; the hydrotherapy, the exercises, and the lectures. Dr. Nedley presented one lecture on pride, and how pride can lead to depression. He gave two examples. After hearing the second example, Stricker knew that God was real.
The person Nedley spoke about was a drug addict, also addicted to pornography and alcohol, with suicidal thoughts. God helped him to change to live a happy, fulfilling life. “If there was any guy in the universe who could relate to me, it was this guy,” said Stricker. “I knew God was real after that.”
As Stricker continued the program, he saw the care that each person gave him; he saw their love for him. He saw Christ through them. He started to change. He started reading his Bible and realized that God was asking him to give up his friends. “I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to give up my friends.’ I wanted them to have what I had.”
Stricker prayed as he never had before. He prayed that his friends would have the same experience he had had. Stricker knew he had things he had give up too. He called his parents and asked them to throw away the things he wouldn’t need anymore. “They didn’t see that coming,” he said. He was at peace; he was happy. He had become a new person.
Stricker wanted to attend Weimar College, but he wasn’t accepted. He attended a HEALTH program instead. Afterward he finished the prerequisites to get into nursing school. He applied for the Weimar Institute nursing program and was accepted. He is eager to see how the Lord can use him in this ministry to reach a hurting world.
He claims the promise: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me in my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Lindsay Philpott is a student at Weimar College.
Shimpei Suzuki grew up in Japan. When he was ready for college, he decided to study in the United Sates. He wasn’t a Christian. In Japan only 1 percent of the population are Christians.
Suzuki’s first stop was in the San José, California, area for a six-month course to learn English. During that time his next-door neighbors were Christians who invited him to attend church. “I was afraid of religion,” he said. His mother had told him he should never get involved with religion because he wouldn’t be able to get out of it. “She told me it would mess up my life.”
After Suzuki was done with his language course, his next-door neighbors again invited him to church. This time he knew more about American culture and Christianity, and he wanted to know more. So in the summer of 2013 he agreed to go to church with them. As he started to attend church and Sabbath School, he started asking questions regarding how life should be and what truth was. “I was craving the truth, and the Bible was an answer to my questions.”
While Suzuki was learning English, he had plans to study philosophy. But after he started going to church and learning about the Bible, he decided to study theology instead. He started Bible studies with two Adventist pastors, one Japanese and one American. The Bible studies were in both Japanese and English. Six months after he started Bible studies he was baptized on his birthday, July 19.
Suzuki had heard through a Japanese pastor about Weimar Institute. He visited the campus a couple times and knew that it was the place for him. He liked the smallness, uniqueness, and Weimar’s spiritual environment. He also liked the practical applications that Weimar offered along with education, such as agriculture and construction. He also appreciated that Weimar’s medical missionary focus involved every student, even theology students. The Lord made it clear to him that he should go there.
As he started his education at Weimar, Suzuki found it difficult at first. Not only was the English language a barrier—he didn’t know anyone, and he also was a new Christian. He still didn’t know much about the Bible, so he had to catch up. As he moved forward, he started to understand the Bible better, he appreciated the love of God, and learned more about theology.
“I like the environment of the theology program,” he says. “There are no worldly distractions here, and I can focus on studying. If I were constantly distracted by worldliness, I wouldn’t have had the same spiritual growth.”
Not only is the theology program helping Suzuki grow in his knowledge and understanding of the Bible—the program has helped him academically, and with his writing skills as well.
Being a theology student has helped him to realize the need for spiritual leaders on campus. The program strengthened him to be a spiritual leader and prepared him for ministry.
Lindsay Philpott is a student at Weimar College.
As the predawn glow edged the Sahara sand dunes, Abdullah knelt on his prayer rug outside his humble home—a cement slab ringed with chicken wire, sheltered by a blue tarpaulin tent and furnished with a few threadbare rugs. He was saying his Fajr, the first of five daily Muslim prayers.
Suddenly his mind was flooded with a vision of Jesus Christ in heaven. Jesus said to him, “I want to live in a home in Africa.” The vision ended as suddenly as it had begun, and Abdullah was left to ponder its meaning. Maybe Jesus wanted to live in his home.
Abdullah set off on a quest for truth that would consume his life for the next seven years. He approached many Westerners, pleading for a Bible, but nobody would give him one for fear of Al-Qaeda, which is very active in that country. He even went to the airport to plead with departing Westerners for their Bibles. Finally someone gave him a New Testament. He rushed home with his prize and started reading it with his wife. As they read, they fell in love with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit convicted their hearts of their need to become His disciples.
But how? In this country there are no Christian Web sites, broadcasts, bookstores, or churches. Under Sharia law it is illegal to convert to Christianity. If the government doesn’t imprison you, Al-Qaeda will kill you. So Abdullah began praying that God would send someone to guide him.
This is where God brought me into Abdullah’s story. Early one morning I found myself seated on a rug in Abdullah’s tent on the edge of the Sahara. He had many twins in his family, and I am a twin, so we discussed the most famous twins in history—Esau and Jacob—and God’s promise to Abraham. Abdullah shared how the Holy Spirit had been convicting his heart every time he read his Bible, which he kept in a secret place.
“When I pray my Muslim prayers,” he said, “they are dry like the bones in my arms. But when I pray to Jesus Christ, it is like living marrow in my bones!” He pointed at his skinny arms with joy on his face. “How can I learn more about Jesus? Can you help me?”
How could I help him? I thought back to my shelves at home, laden with a rich banquet of spiritual literature. And here was Abdullah pleading for just a few crumbs. We prayed; then I had an idea: I would send him a Kindle loaded with digital books written in Arabic. He could keep an entire library on it, and nobody would ever know. Abdullah was overjoyed.
We passed the day in happy communion. As the sun began to dip toward the Atlantic Ocean, a cool breeze sprang up, and mice scampered around the edges of the tent. Abdullah gently shooed them away as our conversation continued to the ultimate question on his heart. “Will you please baptize me?” he asked. “I want to accept God’s gift of grace and eternal life by faith.”
I thought for a long moment, my heart torn. “Abdullah,” I finally said, “if I baptize you alone, you will be killed. However, when your entire clan is ready to stand together for Jesus, I will return and baptize you.”
Abdullah’s face lit up. “Yes!” he said. “I will start sharing my faith with my extended family this very evening!”
Arm in arm Abdullah and I walked over the dunes back to my taxi, he in his white robes and I in my jeans and shirt. “Brother Conrad,” he said, “do you believe that Jesus is in heaven now, preparing a home for all who believe in Him?”
“Yes,” I replied. “He said that in John 14:1-3, a most beautiful promise.”
Abdullah continued, “When Jesus returns and takes us all to heaven and gives us new homes, can we be neighbors?”
My heart skipped a beat. Nobody had ever asked me that before. I was humbled by this man’s profound faith. “Abdullah,” I said, “it will be my privilege and joy to be your neighbor in heaven.”
We prayed together before parting, and Abdullah kissed my cheek. As I pulled away in my taxi, I watched him turn and walk back into the Sahara until he disappeared among the dunes.
God taught me a powerful lesson that day. When I view the world through Western eyes, I see Islam as a rising existential threat to civilization. But when I see the world through God’s eyes, I see men and women who are sincerely seeking the Savior.
God challenged me that day to pray
for the salvation of my Muslim neighbors, and to love them as He does. Although Abdullah and I live in different countries, we both live in God’s kingdom of grace. I look forward to being his neighbor in heaven.
Conrad Vine is president of Adventist Frontier Missions, which establishes indigenous Seventh-day Adventist church-planting movements among unreached people groups. To learn more, visit www.afmonline.org.
In Harrison, Arkansas, someone left a copy of the book The Called . . . the Chosen, by Ken McFarland, on a table at the post office. A woman picked up the book and laid it on her coffee table at home, intending to read it. A friend read the book and called the local Adventist pastor, asking if she could visit his church; she was eventually baptized there. In Florida a stranger handed the book to a woman, which led her to be baptized also.
Stories like this keep coming to Alice Scarbrough, publisher and promoter of The Called . . . the Chosen, in spite of the fact that her phone number is unlisted. Somehow people manage to track down her number, calling to say thank you, to ask how they can get more books, to inform her they are using the book in their study group, to ask for a translation into Urdu or some other language, and to express their conviction that the book should be read by every Seventh-day Adventist.
The Called . . . the Chosen was written specifically for new church members to give them an overview of the story of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: how God led in the birth and growth of the church, and how He will continue to lead to the very end. Even though the book was designed for new members, the stories that are pouring in show that God had an even broader idea for it, including helping to restore the faith of former and inactive members, and even bringing new people to the church.
The Called . . . the Chosen has grown to be more than just a book. With Scarbrough’s tireless dedication and support, the book has become an entire ministry. Commissioned by Scarbrough’s late husband, Hollis, in 2006, The Called . . . the Chosen has been printed and reprinted numerous times and in several languages. To fulfill her promise to her husband, to whom this project meant so much, Alice has continued to publish and promote the book. Nearly 700,000 copies have been printed in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Romanian, and Swahili. In process are editions in Polish, Korean, German, and Tamil.
Scarbrough has been a member of ASI for 23 years, and has attended all but one of the ASI national conventions during that time. Alice, or someone else involved in this ministry, is often found at one of the booths taking orders for The Called . . . the Chosen. And why wouldn’t people order them—by the case, even? The books are free. The only cost is for shipping, and they are yours to use to bless others.
For more information, visit www.thecalledthechosen.com. To order single copies, visit www.adventistbookcenter.com. To order bulk copies, call Pacific Press, 800-600-7197.
Jeff Scoggins planning director for the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference.
Who doesn’t remember picture rolls? The New Beginnings picture roll concept resonates with many church members.
In the hallways of my own church someone said, “That reminds me of going to Sabbath School in Samoa” (most likely a reference to the Sabbath School Picture Roll sponsored by ASI years ago).
The New Beginnings picture roll, however, is not intended primarily for church use, but for public evangelism.
In 2016 of the many baptisms obtained through evangelism meetings in Rwanda, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of new believers were converted at sites where there was no electricity. New Beginnings sermon manuals in the Kinyarwanda language, along with the Bible, were the only materials used. So when the East-Central Africa Division planned for meetings in the late spring of 2017 in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, they asked for picture rolls with evangelistic content.
ASI Missions, Inc., had made producing a picture roll based on 26 sermon subjects of New Beginnings a major priority. At its February 2017 board meeting, members pledged $500,000 for printing the first of 10,000 sets of picture rolls (approximately $100,000 had previously been raised for creating and developing the rolls).
Under the evangelism portfolio of ASI a group was assembled in January 2017 to create the evangelism picture roll. A horizontal format of four feet wide by three feet high was chosen for high visibility in outdoor or low-light settings. Seven Bible pictures plus one health poster make up each of the 26 presentations.
Dawna Sawatzky, a health educator, was primary scriptwriter for the health talks. Pat Arrabito, of LLT Productions, served as editor. Artwork was provided by the Justinen Creative group, illustrators of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, Our Little Friend, and Primary Treasure. Contributions were also made by Health Education Resources. The result is one of the highest quality sets of health materials ever produced within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Jim Wood of LLT productions, a former missionary in Africa and scriptwriter for Faith for Today, renders the New Beginnings in a style suitable for presenting with the seven pictures for each subject. Early samples were vetted by Adventist evangelists. Based on their feedback, the scripture content was enhanced, and for each sermon there is now a complete list of scriptures to track with the actual New Beginnings sermon scripts.
To ensure that the pictures are the best available to accompany the Bible stories, ASI evangelism leaders met in Sacramento, California, in June 2017. Picture by picture the group evaluated possible images from Goodsalt, Sermon View, It Is Written archives, Nathan Greene artwork, and other sources. Painstakingly, prayerfully, and often with vigorous discussion, each picture was selected. Once selected, Joe Garza, a contract employee of ASI, began rendering the images in a high-resolution format for printing.
Printing of the rolls is likely to occur in Asia. Two rolls, each containing 13 sermon sets, will be included with accompanying health posters. The two rolls, along with the evangelism and health scripts, will be encased in large, waterproof tubes. The scripts are written in simple English, making it easy for appropriate translation to occur in the field. A single person can carry a roll to remote sites.
Truly we are almost home as we see the gospel being preached in the ends of the earth through something as simple as a picture roll.
Norman Reitz, a former president of ASI, is an attorney, lay evangelist, and vice president of evangelism for ASI.
Sheik Hanif* was a devout and respected leader who prayed five times a day. In the prime of his career he was responsible for organizing communities and building new mosques in his native country.
Yet he had a deep longing for certainty about his status with Allah (God). He was troubled by the violence emerging in his country, and the lack of compassion he saw. He had many questions but few answers about life’s struggles.
One night he was awakened by a dream, a dream that offered him hope. In his dream a handsome, graceful Man with a shining face addressed him by name. He wanted Hanif to serve Him; He also issued a warning that Hanif must obey all His instructions.
Hanif asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Isa al Masih [the Quranic term for Jesus the Messiah], and if you obey Me, you will receive what you have longed for all your life.”
“What shall I do?” Hanif asked.
He was shown a familiar place in the city, as well as the face of a man. “Find this man, and he will show you the answers to all your questions about God.”
Hanif arose before dawn to arrive at the location he was shown. For years he had prayed for God to show him the right way; he would not miss this opportunity. Through the long day he looked at every face of every person who passed on the busy road. Finally, at the close of day he saw the man he had seen in his dream.
Walking with two young men whom he was mentoring was Wafi,* the leader of nPraxis’ work in the country. Wafi also had a dream in which God told him, “I will give you a sheik.”
In his anxious delight Hanif ran to Wafi. “My friend, Isa al Masif, Himself, requires that you answer my questions tonight.”
After months of study, prayer, and rejoicing, Hanif and his family were baptized. He has shared his newfound faith and has planted seven new home churches. He has also mentored two new leaders, who are now planting churches in other areas of his country.
The “underground” work among Muslims in some of the most closed countries in the world is one of three primary focuses of nPraxis International. There is also a rapidly growing work among Hindus, and an amazing, expanding tribal work among animist groups. nPraxis now operates in 40 countries with indigenous workers, who work in their own homelands for their own people. Their average stipend is US$150 per month.
God has used visions and dreams, miraculous healings, and unexpected personal encounters to build a ministry of more than 50,000 house churches, each with eight to 15 believers studying and sharing their faith. They are supported by more than 300 indigenous workers who are dedicated to empowering new followers of Jesus through training in effective (and safe) methods of witness.
The need is great for more workers. We have requests for more than 350 more workers right now. We believe the number of house churches—and followers of Jesus—could be doubled in about three years.
nPraxis provides Bibles and other materials to new believer groups in some of the countries of the world that are most closed to Christianity. We have an urgent need for 45,000 Bibles in one country where thousands of believers have embraced Bible truths but must share a single Bible among dozens of families.
To learn more about the work of nPraxis International and read more stories of God’s Spirit in Action, visit www.npraxis.org.
*Names in this article are pseudonyms.
Donald Self is retired after directing development campaigns for many non-profit organizations.