JJ ason was a university student focusing on anthropology and foreign languages in the Western United States. As a committed Seventh-day Adventist, he spent his time on the university campus mingling among the diverse student body, connecting with people of various backgrounds and sharing his faith.
After a time, he began looking for witnessing materials to share Adventist teachings with some of his new friends from non-Christian backgrounds. With his trained anthropologist eye, he immediately noticed that most sharing literature was produced for people who already had some knowledge of Christianity and some profession of belief in Jesus. He struggled to find anything that could be shared with people of non-Christian backgrounds who came from a very different theological and cultural perspective.
Seventh-day Adventists have long taken literature ministry quite seriously. From the very beginning, dedicated pioneers such as James White had a bold vision for a publishing ministry and made huge sacrifices to produce a small newsletter to circulate among early Adventist believers. This ministry grew into a publishing house in Battle Creek, from which a number of important books were circulated.
Not long after, early Adventists came to realize that their books contained valuable information and could be sold in order to fund additional ministries. Other publishing houses sprang up around the country and, eventually, various parts of the world. James’s wife and Adventist Church co-founder, Ellen White, wrote that our publications should be “multiplied and scattered like the leaves of autumn.”[i] She referred to the books and pamphlets as “silent messengers” that could reach hearts and minds in every country and region.
It is true that most of the literature that the Church has produced is from a Western, Christian perspective. Western Christians have taken the teachings of Jesus and applied them to their own cultural setting, using them to share with their friends and neighbors. There is no doubt that, with God’s blessing, these materials have made a significant difference both at home and around the world!
Adventism came of age in the United States but did not remain there. We can praise God that the Church has taken root and blossomed in many other parts of the world. However, when missionaries carried the gospel in the context of the Three Angels’ Messages to these lands, in many cases they also took American cultural expressions, hymns and evangelistic approaches along with the gospel that was shared. In some cultures, this is not a problem, but others reject the message of the gospel because of its Western trappings.
In preparing the I Will Go strategic plan for the next five years, Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership has recognized the need to intentionally make the Everlasting Gospel more accessible to world cultures who have been resistant to Christianity.
It is important that we frame our distinctive, biblically faithful message in language, expressions, illustrations and order that people in unreached cultures can readily receive. This is not changing the message; rather it is us, as faithful followers of Jesus, seeking to give unreached people the best opportunity to receive Him as their Savior and to be prepared for the dramatic events of these last days.
In fact, this is exactly what Jesus did for the human family. He became a man and spoke to us in a language we understand. For His hearers in the first century, this meant that His teachings, stories and illustrations, though they were timeless, were specifically directed to people living in first century Palestine.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus and recognizing the urgency of the need, the Church’s incarnational approach is succinctly phrased: “To make developing resources for mission to non-Christian religions and belief systems a high priority.”
As the Church and its institutions seek to package the unchanging, life transforming message of Jesus in ways that can be more readily received, the following key progress indicators (KPI’s) have been put into place to help assess whether we are keeping step with this vision:
Each division, in cooperation with its organizational units and with the assistance of the Global Mission Centers and GC Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, undertakes interfaith dialogues.
Global Mission Center directors present progress reports on dialogs to the 2023 and 2025 meetings of the Global Mission Issues Committee.
Global Mission Centers report yearly to Annual Council on approaches to, and progress in, reaching world religions and belief systems.
General Conference departments, such as the Global Mission Centers, are an integral part of this work. These departments are led by a diverse team of individuals focusing on major areas of mission focus, including East Asian religions, South Asian religions, Islam, Judaism, secular/postmodern people and the major urban population centers of the world. These Centers are engaging with adherents and thought leaders within a wide variety of world religions, and seeking to empower the witness of Seventh-day Adventist members through understanding how we can intelligently and compassionately engage with these groups.
While you may not be publishing or writing literature, you can still get involved. First, approach your non-Christian friends with a spirit of humility and a willingness to learn instead of as someone who thinks they have all of the answers. Second, be willing to ask questions, and learn which questions about life and society your non-Christian friends are asking. Third, when you get a sense of where your non-Christian friends are coming from, prayerfully ask God to lead you to passages of Scripture that speak to those needs. Fourth, consider reaching out to a relevant Global Mission Center to find resources and perspectives that you may not have considered when sharing your faith. For those who enjoy connecting with others and learning from diverse cultures, this will be a satisfying and rewarding ministry.
[i] The Review and Herald, November 21, 1878.