I Want This City offers an unflinching look at the correlation between mission offerings and what happens on the front lines of mission.
In 1930, Adventists gave $6.45 to the mission offering for every $10 they returned in tithe. By 2008, that number had dropped to 36 cents for every $10 given in tithe.*
In response to this steady decline, the Adventist Church produced I Want This City, a 13-part television series unlike any you’ve ever seen. The reality-style show follows Adventist missionary Pastor Doug Venn for nine months in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, one of the most unreached cities in the world.
“This TV show will make people upset,” says Pastor Doug, who now oversees mission outreach to the world’s cities as the director of Global Mission’s Urban Center for the Adventist world church.
“Some people have expressed concerns about the TV show, asking, ‘Is this really the face of foreign mission that we want to show church members?’
“I tell them, ‘Yes, it is.’ The World Mission Fund offering, the mission offering collected during Sabbath School, has plummeted.”
Recently, Pastor Doug was interviewed by Adventist Review in his office at the Adventist world church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss the television series and his passion for mission. He wept as he spoke about his longing to share Jesus in the world’s cities and his desire for members to contribute more for mission offerings.
Below are several excerpts from that interview.
Why should I watch this TV series?
As Adventists, we believe that because we have received Jesus’ amazing gift of grace, we should share it with the world. An important way to do that is to give to the mission offering. But to some people that can feel like putting money into a black hole. They’re not sure where it goes, who it supports, or what it achieves. This TV show explores how our giving and lack of giving actually affects frontline mission.
How did the show come about?
I Want This City was commissioned by Gary Krause, director of the Office of Adventist Mission for the Adventist world church, in cooperation with Adventist filmmaker Jon Wood. They wanted to document the correlation between mission giving and what happens on the front lines of mission. From the United States, they reached out to me in Thailand, where I was working as a missionary.
Initially, I didn’t understand the premise of the TV show. I was just trying to do my job as a frontline missionary, planting churches in Bangkok. I wondered why Jon kept asking about money when I was trying to do my work with impoverished people in the slums or the affluent in a mall. Jon was like a mosquito buzzing in my ear, asking, “Why don’t we have money for this literature?” or “Why don’t we have money to work in that area?” As the months passed, I gained an understanding of Jon’s pointed questions.
Will I want to give money to Adventist Mission after watching I Want This City?
If you watch this, I think you’ll be troubled. You’ll feel proud watching some episodes about what our church is doing. But in other situations you’ll see that the work is truly languishing.
In Bangkok, I met a community of 80 families of trash pickers. They would go get plastic, paper, and aluminum cans to earn their rice money for the day. Then a flood came. Church members gave a mission offering for flood disaster response. We were able to directly impact that community of 80 families. As a result, the community leader later accepted Jesus and was baptized. That led to us opening an Urban Center of Influence, a Sabbath afternoon Bible club for children in the neighborhood. This experience was a highlight—to see that lives are changed when God’s people pour out the money. I didn’t even ask for that money.
This TV show allows viewers to see how the gospel and the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 impact neighborhoods. But then you’ll also see that church plants are being closed and publishing is closing because of a lack of money. The camera is in my face every day—both on the good days and the not so good.
After watching, we could pause to reflect on how God emptied heaven to give us grace and the three angels’ messages, and then say, “What can we do?” We are told by Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White that when we invest in foreign mission, we receive a blessing not only individually but also corporately as a world church. We need that blessing now.
Ellen White speaks about this in her book Testimonies for the Church, volume six, page twenty-seven, where she says: “The home missionary work will be farther advanced in every way when a more liberal, self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit is manifested for the prosperity of foreign missions; for the prosperity of the home work depends largely, under God, upon the reflex influence of the evangelical work done in countries afar off. It is in working actively to supply the necessities of the cause of God that we bring our souls in touch with the Source of all power.”
How did your experience in Bangkok affect you personally?
It was thrilling to share hope with Buddhists in Bangkok. But I didn’t realize at first that the church as a whole is facing a major challenge because of declining mission giving.
You might say mission offerings are just numbers and everyone is doing what they can. But as a frontline missionary, I don’t see numbers. I see lives (Pastor Doug gestured toward a large photo of Bangkok’s cityscape in his office). When I look at this, I see a city where mission giving propelled us into new communities.
How can viewers contribute?
The television series was commissioned by Adventist Mission, and people can go to Giving.AdventistMission.org to make a secure online donation.
You can support mission offerings during Sabbath School in your church every Sabbath.
Sometimes people want to see a compelling video or learn about a specific project before giving. We’ve lost sight of that ongoing sacrificial lifestyle where we exclaim, “Wow, I have received God’s grace, and now I can share it through my giving!” We need to return to something that was called “Sister Betsy” in Adventist history: systematic benevolence. We’ve lost her.
I’m convinced that Christ’s coming is sooner than we expect. Many Adventists and people in the greater Christian community mistakenly think that we are done with missions. But that’s not the case. Foreign mission and home mission have such a great need right now. If we can break through that misunderstanding, I think we will receive greater joy. We will get to see lives changed—like those trash pickers in Bangkok.
* 2008 Annual Statistical Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The latest Annual Statistical Report, 2016, reveals that members gave 39 cents for every $10 given in tithe in 2014.
To learn about where your mission offerings go, please visit AdventistMission.org.