September 29, 2013

Statistics Reveal Massive Adventist Missions Challenge, Leaders Say

Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church has reduced its ratio to world population from 1 in 360,000 at the movement’s founding to 1 in 396 today, massive outreach challenges remain in many countries of the Middle East, East and Southeast Asia, church officials were told Sept. 29, 2013, during the movement’s Urban Mission Conference ongoing at the Silver Spring, Maryland, headquarters.

Citing the lack of Adventist penetration in many of the major cities of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) area, China, India and other parts of the “10/40 Window,” Rick McEdward, director of the Church’s Global Mission Centers, said “There is a tremendous geographical problem we have” in the region.

Among Christians, the “10/40 Window” is defined as a geographical rectangle in the eastern hemisphere between the 10 and 40 northern lines of latitude, where more than 60 percent of the world's population live, most of whom have not yet been reached with the Gospel message. Of the 500 world cities with more than 1 million population, 236 are in this area.

Delegates to the meeting, which includes leaders from each of the General Conference’s 13 world divisions, were told by David Trim, director of the Church’s Archives, Statistics, and Research, there is one Seventh-day Adventist Christian for every 65,000 people in the MENA area, currently one of the highest ratios in the world.

McEdward said there are 126 urban areas with a population of 1 million or more where there are 125 or fewer Adventists in each area; in 33 of these urban areas, there are no Seventh-day Adventists. And among the world’s least-reached cities with a population of 5 million or more, they all share the same religion, Islam.

The statistics came during the Sunday morning session of the Urban Mission Conference, an event organizers said was designed not as a “show-and-tell” of self-congratulation, but rather as a strategy session on how Seventh-day Adventists can complete the task of world evangelization. With more than half the world’s population residing in cities since 2007, a share expected to rise to 66-percent by 2050, the need is apparent, said Michael L. Ryan, a general vice president of the world church who oversees the Office of Adventist Mission and a principal organizer of the conference.

“We will not come up with methodologies” during the three-day session, Ryan said, “but we can agree on a common vision.”

The presentation of statistics came first with a demographic overview prepared by veteran Adventist researcher Monte Sahlin, but presented by daughter Stephanie Sahlin Jackson, who substituted for her father.

“The mission given to us by Jesus requires us to go where the people are,” Sahlin Jackson said, noting the massive shifts to the cities that are continuing worldwide, as well as the present-day concentration of 828 million people globally in slum areas of the big cities.

Gerson Santos, coordinator for Urban Mission Centers, said outreach “can no longer be called an option, but a commission to the [Adventist] Church,” adding “God did not send a Twitter [message], He came himself” in the person of His Son, Jesus.

Reaction to the statistical presentations was deliberate: Delbert Baker, also a general vice president of the General Conference, urged participants to develop “a theology of how we wrap our minds around the challenge” of reaching so many people, and people groups.

Southern Africa-Indian Ocean division president Paul Ratsara said he viewed the reports with “mixed emotions,” saying his overwhelming feeling was “how are we going to do this?” Ratsara also quoted a French proverb that “a problem well stated is half-solved. We should not be discouraged.”

Jonathan Duffy, president of ADRA International, the church’s relief and development arm, suggested his group’s humanitarian work “can open areas where it is not open [to evangelism] at the moment.”

And Samuel Telemaque, Adventist Mission coordinator for the Inter-American Division, urged Adventists from “high areas of receptivity” to the Church’s message to go as missionaries “into the areas of low receptivity.” In response Ryan pointed out this is being done by students at River Plate Seventh-day Adventist University in Entre Rios, Argentina, many of whom are volunteering for missions in Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked central Asian republic, as well as in the Middle East/North Africa Union.

Williams Costa Junior, communication director for the world church, noted the movement’s efforts to increase Internet availability of the Adventist message in many places, while Jim Ayer, Adventist World Radio vice president for advancement, noted the massive numbers of Arabic-language AWR podcast downloads in Saudi Arabia, as well as Mandarin-language programming in China.

General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson said that while he was “sobered and overwhelmed” by some of the statistics presented, he was encouraged by the attention being paid by world church leaders in these discussions.