A camp meeting of 1,000 Ghanaian Adventists in a small Dutch town indicates that Adventism is thriving in Europe through a phenomenon called “reverse mission,” when people who became Adventists through the efforts of European missionaries are bringing the gospel back to an increasingly secularized Europe.
The 22nd annual Euro-Ghanaian camp meeting, held in Stadskanaal, the Netherlands, from Aug. 15 to 21, is a result and catalyst of reverse mission, organizers said. Although little research has been conducted on reverse mission in Adventism, scholars are watching closely as this phenomenon unfolds among Adventist immigrants in Europe and North America.
Some people may not agree to the term “reverse mission,” arguing that mission is from everywhere to everywhere, but the Ghanaian Adventists who converged on Stadskanaal from across Europe are bringing the gospel back to the continent. In an example of this, young adults from the camp meeting set aside the afternoon of Aug. 17 to share their faith through music and religious literature in Stadskanaal.
“The leaders wanted to encourage the youth in outreach,” Stephen O. Bimpeh, a Ghanaian pastor in Amsterdam and outreach coordinator for the camp meeting, said in explaining the initiative.
Last year, several visitors showed up at the Ghanaian camp meeting after the outreach day. Among them was a young man who was so impressed by the Adventist street music that he decided to attend the evening program, Bimpeh said.
Ghanaian immigrants worked together with European Adventists to spread the gospel during the camp meeting, and they are engaged in the outreach across Europe.
Here are three stories of how Ghanaian Adventists are sharing Jesus, and a fourth story of a Dutch family that is working with the immigrants.
A Dutch father and son duo, Bob and Allard Huizinga, drove 85 miles (140 kilometers) across the Netherlands to bring a “Sabbath sofa” to the Stadskanaal camp meeting. The pair learned about the sofa, a project started by young Adventists in London, on YouTube and decided to replicate the effort in the Netherlands.
En route to camp meeting, Bob and Allard Huizinga dragged the sofa from one town street to the next, inviting passersby to take a rest on it. When met with a flurry of questions, the two explain that the sofa gives an opportunity to rest. They then speak about the rest offered by the Sabbath.
Bob Huizinga said he wanted everyone to know about the Sabbath. He hopes fellow Adventists will repeat the initiative widely.
The Sabbath sofa is a simple project that for some reason compels people to open up, Huizinga said. He and his son once placed the sofa beside a traffic jam and then watched in amazement as people waited patiently in line just to sit down and talk about their problems.
“It is crazy, but in five minutes, they tell their whole life story,” Huizinga said.
The sitting time of about five minutes is usually too short to say much about the gospel, but Huizinga said it was long enough to invite people to the nearest Adventist church.
His son, Allard, 17, spoke enthusiastically about the sofa.
“It is an easy way to talk to people,” he said. “For me as a young man, it is impressive to talk to people and to listen to their life stories.”
He said he learns more about the sofa guests in five minutes than he knows about his own friends.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s God’s work, and that is what we have to do.”
Jenny Simpeh, 21, a Ghanaian immigrant living in Rotterdam, struck up a conversation with a 12-year-old Dutch girl on the Sabbath sofa in Stadskanaal.
Simpeh first shared a little about herself and asked the girl what she thought about a Ghanaian choir singing nearby. Simpeh then asked whether the girl believed in God. The girl voiced doubt, saying she was being taught human evolution at school in Belgium, where she lives. The girl also identified herself as a member of another Christian denomination and said she, like her parents, did not attend church.
At this point, Simpeh felt impressed to present the girl with a Dutch abridged copy of The Great Controversy by Adventist church cofounder Ellen G. White. The girl took the book, gave it to a relative standing nearby, and returned to the sofa to thank Simpeh for her kindness.
“Basically she liked it, and I am glad to do the work of God,” Simpeh said.
Simpeh said she would return to Rotterdam with new enthusiasm for sharing Jesus with her Dutch, Muslim, and Asian friends, as well as with strangers.
Isaac K. Donkor, pastor of the Ghanaian Adventist Church in Dusseldorf, Germany, said the main way of witnessing in his church is through home visits. Members are encouraged to visit the homes of both members and non-members. Non-members are invited to church.
When non-members visit the church, they receive gifts of religious literature and are signed up for Bible correspondence courses. A graduation ceremony is held at the completion of a course. In time, people are baptized.
Mostly the new converts are Ghanaians because Twi is the language used in the church. But Donkor said the church also receives inquiries from native Germans, and it directs them to the pastor of the German church in Dusseldorf.
Richard Opoku Atakora, who lives in Italy, distributed invitations for Bible correspondence lessons in central Stadskanaal during camp meeting, an outreach effort that he said he has not been able to participate in back home. Atakora said he engages in a different kind of witnessing at his workplace: living by example.
Coworkers often ask him why he acts in certain ways. For example, Atakora once declined an invitation to attend a social event on Friday night. When Italian coworkers asked why, he explained that the Sabbath is his time to worship God and to rest. This came as a surprise to his coworkers.
“Why would a young man decide not to go out on a Friday and instead go to church?” one coworker after another asked him.
They wanted to know more. This gave Atakora the opportunity to tell them more about the Sabbath and need to worship the One who created the world.
Perhaps the desire of Atakora and other camp meeting attendees to share Jesus in Europe was best summed up by Allard Huizinga, the teen who helped his father bring the Sabbath sofa to Stadskanaal.
“I like it,” he said of witnessing. “It’s God’s work, and that is what we have to do.”
Chigemezi N. Wogu is a research assistant at Friedensau Adventist University in Germany.