n 1786, a group of Baptist pastors met in Northampton, England. The chair of the meetings, Dr. Ryland, invited the younger pastors to submit questions to be discussed by the larger group. No one responded; perhaps they were a bit intimidated. Finally, William Carey, a cobbler turned preacher, raised his hand and asked whether the Great Commission was still binding on pastors until the end of time.
The chairman rebuked the young pastor. “You are a miserable enthusiast,” he said. “Sit down.” He added, “When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or mine.”
Six years later, Carey, who had long felt a burden for those unreached by the gospel, wrote a pamphlet called “An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” Written at a time when the dominant understanding of the Christian church was that the Great Commission was only for the 11 apostles, it was groundbreaking. The church felt no sense of mission obligation. Carey challenged this viewpoint, writing, “It is thus that multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow-sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.” Carey practiced what he preached and served in India as a missionary for 41 years without furlough. He became known as the Father of Protestant Missions.
Carey’s words “give themselves no concern” haunt me, and I ask the question, what about us today?
A Limited Mission Vision
In Carey’s time, the Christian church desperately needed a mission refocus to look beyond their own world to a world that didn’t know Jesus. In the same way, the early Adventist Church needed to refocus and realize the full extent of its mission.
At first, the little flock of Adventists saw their mission field as only being North America. They saw huge numbers of immigrants coming into the United States and thought, We can reach every kindred, tribe, nation, and people with these people coming into our territory. But in the words of Adventist historian Arthur Spalding, this was just a “comforting rationalization.”
When they finally accepted the need for a worldwide mission, their mission was still limited to reaching other Christians. “A missionary spirit should be cherished by those who profess the Message,” wrote James White in 1856. “Not to send the gospel to the heathen, but to extend the solemn warning throughout the realms of corrupted Christianity.”
During his Sabbath morning sermon at the 1930 General Conference session, William Spicer, General Conference president, said these fascinating words: “When I came back from Europe in 1892, to be secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, I tell you truly we didn’t have much of an idea of going to the heathen. . . . We thought: We will get a few along the edges, and the Lord will come.”
As early Adventist missionaries started crisscrossing the globe, their mission goal broadened to include all peoples. Symbolic of that fresh refocus was a young woman named Georgia Burrus. In her early 20s, she heard a call to go to India. She arrived there in 1895, the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary to that country. Among the many people she led to Jesus was a young woman named Nanibala, who became the first Seventh-day Adventist from another world religion baptized in India.
A Global Mission Vision
A few decades later, the Seventh-day Adventist Church again decided it was time for a mission refocus. Leaders came together to plan, pray, and strategize. They looked at the world map and saw the areas where the church still didn’t have a presence. In 1989, the Annual Council voted Global Strategy, an initiative that gave birth the next year at the General Conference Session to Global Mission. Global Mission refocused the way we looked at mission work. Read these words from the Annual Statistical Report for 1990: “Church administrators of the 1990’s are turning their attention from the usual view of Adventists’ world mission and focusing more specifically on reaching unreached people groups.”
Global Mission was the official initiative of the church to start new groups of believers in new areas and people groups throughout the world. Global Mission helped us refocus from looking only at geographical areas to looking also at people groups. It enabled us to refocus from witnessing only to our brothers and sisters in Christian denominations to also reaching out to our brothers and sisters from other world religions.
We thank God for the growth in the church since Global Mission began. In the past 33 years, the number of churches and memberships has tripled. But is it time for us now to again have a missionary refocus?
In many ways, the world today is very different from what it was in 1990. We have 3 billion more people worldwide. We see the rapidly growing number of secular and post-Christian people, a group we ignore to our mission peril.
And consider the 10/40 Window—home to 60 percent of the world’s population, the non-Christian religions, and the world’s poorest people. This region, where most haven’t even heard the name of Jesus Christ, remains a colossal mission task.
We thank God that since Global Mission began, the church has grown tremendously in this window. We’ve planted churches in cities where we thought we couldn’t plant churches. But a huge challenge still faces us.
A New Refocus
It’s time for us to have another missionary refocus, another global strategy moment when we prayerfully look at our resources, personnel, funds, and goals. It’s time to ask again what more we can do to reach the millions for Jesus. What can we rearrange? What can we recalibrate?
Nearly 140 years ago, Pastor William Anderson went as a missionary to Africa and devoted more than 50 years of his life to service in that great continent. He pioneered new work. He started mission stations, new hospitals, and new churches. On one epic trip, he walked 1,000 miles from Solusi, Zimbabwe, to Zambia, at that time, an unentered country. If he were alive today, how shocked he would be to see that there are some 1.4 million Seventh-day Adventists in that country.
Tragically, his wife, Nora, died when she was just 40. Some years later, he wrote these words: “I have given my money, my strength, my wife, and I intend to give the rest of my poor self to finish the work God has given me to do. I want you who read these lines to ask yourself that question, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ ”
That’s a great mission refocus question. It’s a great mission refocus prayer: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
Outside the 10/40 Window, we have one Adventist for every 136 people. Inside, it’s one for nearly 2,000 people. Outside the window, we have more than 14,000 Seventh-day Adventist ordained ministers. Inside, we have just over 2,000. Outside the window, we have more than 81,000 churches. Inside, we have 11,000. Outside, we have 709 secondary schools. Inside we have just 118. And look at hospitals. Outside, we have 154. But inside, with most of the world’s population, with all their tremendous needs, we have 33. Outside the 10/40 Window, we have 261 clinics; inside, we have 47.