James, Bruce, Andrew, Alistair. Dianne, Carol, and Mesha.
The first names of people willing to chat, be prayed for, and accept a copy of The Great Controversy start to pile up as the I Will Go Ride team pedals their way up and down the backroads of the Shetland Islands, the United Kingdom’s northern frontier. All those names are included in a list of people the team vows to start and keep praying for.
The team of cyclists includes several Scottish Mission pastors and two General Conference leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church — associate ministerial secretary Anthony Kent and health ministries associate director Torben Bergland. Together, they are set to cover significant parts of the islands, stopping when they see someone in their garden, in a store, or just walking down a path.
Witnessing in the Wind
What began with uncertainty after a reconnaissance mission a day before has now turned into an outstanding witnessing opportunity. Despite a relentless northwest wind, which makes part of the cycling journey dangerous and every stop painful, by the end of the ride, there are more than 30 names in the prayer list. The population of Shetland’s Mainland Island is under 18,800, which means that approximately 1 in 600 people has been personally contacted in just a few hours.
They come from all walks of life. A seasoned trucker. A man fixing his stone wall as he tries to protect himself from the wind behind the rocks. A couple stopping by a lonely, simple-looking gas pump by a country convenience store. A young woman walking around a bend in the road. An old man working on his tractor. All of them engage in courteous dialogue and seem to be intrigued by the initiative, which includes an invitation to attend weekend meetings at a hall in Lerwick, the archipelago’s capital.
When a person shows interest and seems open, a member of the team offers to pray for them. Most people accept.
Even though the Reformation reached Scotland in 1560 and around 30 percent of the population still identifies with the Church of Scotland, most people hardly ever read the Bible or pray. Generally, the I Will Go Ride team member’s offer to pray includes an invitation to delve more into Bible study. Together with The Great Controversy, the team is distributing Arthur S. Maxwell’s Your Bible and You to those who express a desire to know more about God’s Word.
Challenging, but Encouraging
“Doing mission in Scotland is challenging, as there are less than 800 Adventist members in a population of more than 5 million,” explains Wilfred Masih, recently appointed pastor of the Inverness and Highlands Seventh-day Adventist Church. “Scotland is actually a big mission field,” he says.
But Masih, who is privileged to pastor the northernmost Adventist congregation in the United Kingdom, believes that despite the challenges, there are opportunities. “People are kind and seem open to discuss spiritual topics,” he says. Several cycling team members point out how many people are willing to be prayed for, even though the pastors can tell they are not acquainted with prayer or haven’t prayed in a long time.
For Masih and others, the regular challenges Scotland presents to Adventist mission work are compounded once you get to the Shetland Islands. “For one, there are not many [residences] to stay [in],” he explains. “The unforgiving weather, the isolation … all that makes any outreach initiative difficult. And of course, another challenge is the fact that, as far as we know, there are no Seventh-day Adventists” in the archipelago.
But again, Masih emphasizes, “people are very friendly, very approachable, and quite open to have spiritual conversations.”
After a light lunch by a side road, the team of cyclists trudges up an apparently endless climb with difficulty. The wind hasn’t stopped, and an occasional icy drizzle makes the journey even more laborious as the cycling gear gets soaked. “There’s no such thing as fully waterproof cycling jerseys,” Kent says. “When it rains, you eventually get wet.”
The cold makes things worse. The less the cyclists stop, the better, as for some, taking a break means they will start shaking uncontrollably. Still, they press on, looking for more people with whom to share the good news about God’s plan for this world.
“I love a good challenge, and I love being a witness,” retired pastor Paul Tomkins says. Tomkins keeps riding by people years younger than him until they get to Scalloway, Shetland’s old capital. Only then he decides to call it a day.
The Power of the Wind
Meanwhile, the list of people to pray for gets longer and longer: There’s an Angus and a George. There’s a Matty, a Barry, and a Beryl. There’s also a Stephen and a Dave.
“Just think that one of them could become part of the first core group of church members in the Shetland Islands,” one of the pastors says, seeing with the eyes of faith. “God might be already working in their hearts,” he adds. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Like the unrelenting wind, Adventist missionaries hope that the message they are spreading in the Shetland Islands will soon engulf the archipelago and render fruits for the Kingdom that will know no end.