Travel with me, in your imagination, to the ancient city of Troas. It is the middle of the night. Completely exhausted from long days of difficult travel, the apostle Paul is sleeping soundly. Suddenly, he awakes with a start. He sits up and looks around. No one is there. Was it only a dream? he wonders. He lies down again, trying to reclaim his interrupted rest, but sleep evades him. Instead, he wrestles with swirling thoughts of the dream, its meaning, and what personal actions he will take.
Paul had recently finished his first missionary journey with Barnabas through what is now southern Turkey. Upon Paul’s return to Antioch, the leaders of the infant church realized that heresy was creeping into some of the newly established congregations and asked him to return and encourage the believers in the truth.
As Paul and his new traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, went from town to town along the now familiar route, they shared with both Jews and Gentiles the beautiful message of Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection; their own personal testimonies of how He changed their lives; and teachings from scripture. As a result of their labors, the Bible says that churches were “established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).
Now, as Paul slept soundly in Troas, a man suddenly appeared to him in a vision. His pleas punctuated Paul’s peaceful sleep: “Come to Macedonia and help us!” His words were not a suggestion but a desperate call for assistance from outside their original plan. Could it be that God was calling Paul and his companions to change their plans and take the gospel into new territory, with new people, languages, and customs and, certainly, new challenges?
As the Seventh-day Adventist Church considers its strategic plan for the next five years, the unnamed Macedonian man’s words still ring in our ears. While we are sometimes tempted to cover the same ground, tracing the same roads to the familiar places where God’s work is firmly established, the cry of desperate need from unentered territories calls for our attention.
Today, 41.6 percent of the world’s population is considered unreached. This means that there is no Christian presence and there are no Christian resources in the area. Another 27.2 percent of the world’s population is not Christian, but they have access to resources. Combined, that means that nearly 70 percent of the world has yet to be touched with the message of Jesus and His love.
The second objective of the church’s strategic plan is “to strengthen and diversify Adventist outreach in large cities, across the 10/40 Window, among unreached and under-reached people groups, and to non-Christian religions.” While the church has always had a strategic emphasis on mission, there is always room for improvement and growth.
Unfortunately, the trend across the Christian world is that the majority of resources generated through tithes and offerings are reinvested in territories where God’s work is well established and not the neediest places where the gospel has not yet penetrated.
If we aren’t intentional, it is easier for us to invest resources to strengthen established churches in places like North or South America, or sub-Saharan Africa, while places like North Africa, the Middle East, and the densely populated countries of Asia suffer from a lack of financial and physical support. This second objective calls us away from our area of comfort and challenges us to pioneer new work among unreached people groups who are still waiting to hear about Jesus.
To determine how successful we are at accomplishing this goal, church leaders have prayerfully set 11 key progress indicators (KPIs) to help us evaluate our progress in this critical work. These KPIs include
planting worshiping groups of believers in each country within the 10/40 Window where there is currently no Adventist presence (KPI 2.1)
establishing at least one Center of Influence to minister to the needs of people in urban areas of one million people or more (KPI 2.4)
challenging each of the 13 divisions of the General Conference to identify all significant immigrant and refugee populations in their territories and put in place initiatives to reach them with the saving message of Jesus (KPI 2.7)
developing for each conference and mission a five-year plan to increase the number of primary and secondary schools, giving more children the opportunity to receive a Christ-centered education (KPI 2.10)
This broad series of initiatives harnesses the energy and creativity of Life Hope Centers, or Centers of Influence, that minister to urban populations through physical and spiritual health and wellness education; “tentmakers” who, like Paul, use their business and trade skills to live and work in unentered territories in order to meet new people for Jesus; and other creative frontline missionary endeavors that create new opportunities to connect with people who have not heard the end-time message that Jesus desires His people to proclaim to the world.
How did Paul respond to the vision? The Bible tells us that he and Silas immediately set sail from Troas, bound for Macedonia. Arriving at Philippi, the capital city, they stayed for several days. One Sabbath morning, they went down to the river, where a small group of spiritually minded people met to pray. There they met Lydia, a woman of means and influence. As God opened her heart to the gospel message Paul shared, Lydia accepted the message, and she and her entire household were baptized. As the first convert to Christianity in that region, Lydia helped lay the foundation for the European church.
What if Paul had brushed off the Macedonian call? Lydia may never have heard the life-changing message of Jesus and His power, and the growth of the fledgling church in that region would have been delayed.
So, what part will you play in this bold I Will Go initiative? Would you prayerfully consider how you can connect with others in your community? You don’t have to travel abroad. There may be immigrants in your neighborhood who come from non-Christian countries—you can find creative ways to reach out to them! You can support Christian education so that young people around the world have an opportunity to learn about Jesus in a safe environment. You can allocate your offerings to urban ministries, to Global Mission for the 10/40 Window, to frontline missionaries who go into dark, unentered regions. Do you have a business or a trade? You can use those skills to go on a new adventure with Jesus, touching lives for eternity.
As He did with Paul, the Holy Spirit will disrupt our plans, place a burden on our shoulders, and help us redirect our energy to bless people we might be overlooking. When He calls, will you be as willing as Paul to respond to His appeal? By God’s grace, we will respond: “I will go!”
If you would like more information on the I Will Go strategic plan, visit IWillGo2020.org. The following resources may also be helpful:
Global Mission website: global-mission.org
Mission to the Cities website: missiontothecities.org
Urban Centers of Influence website: urbancenters.org