Five-year reports highlight mission in South Pacific, Southern Asia

Five-year reports highlight mission in South Pacific, Southern Asia

Business Meetings | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | Edwin Manuel Garcia/ANN

Mission drives region, Australia-based leader says; success among challenges in Asia sub-continent

An Adventist Church member and his daughter help represent the church's Southern Asia Division on stage during the region's report to General Conference Session on Thursday.
An Adventist Church member and his daughter help represent the church's Southern Asia Division on stage during the region's report to General Conference Session on Thursday.

Two members of the Adventist Church in Southern Asia on stage Thursday. Leadership presented it's five-year report, highlighting church growth in the region despite challenges.
Two members of the Adventist Church in Southern Asia on stage Thursday. Leadership presented it's five-year report, highlighting church growth in the region despite challenges.

The missionary spirit that brought Adventism to Australia more than 100 years ago is alive and well today in the South Pacific, as the Seventh-day Adventist Church expands into islands that were previously unreached.

In Southern Asia, meanwhile, where Hindus and Buddhists dominate the religious landscape, the Adventist Church has succeeded in starting new congregations, especially in the region's smaller countries.

Both regions continue to rely on missionaries and, most recently, on evangelistic campaigns from North American preachers to spread the gospel, which is boosting membership, according to reports presented to thousands of delegates, their family members and other Adventists gathered at the Georgia Dome on Thursday evening.

"We are your division that is committed to mission," declared Barry Oliver, president of the South Pacific Division, standing on stage with dozens of church members, many dressed in traditional attire. "We are thankful to God that He has planted a missionary heart."

Covering 19 countries with 5,000 churches and companies, the South Pacific has 420,000 members in places such as Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, French Polynesia and the Solomon Islands.

Just two years ago, the church made major inroads by entering the French-speaking Wallis Islands, which was previously "impossible" to enter, according to regional leaders. An evangelistic family entered in 2008, which led to six baptisms.

Over the past five years, hundreds of people have become Adventists, and more than 40 churches have been strategically planted in big cities and remote islands, both of which are challenging places to spread the Word of God.

Some 46,000 students attend 332 Adventist schools in the region, and Fulton College in Fuji was recently relocated to a more easily accessible location.

Thanks to the Sanitarium food line, the church enjoys a popular image in public -- the company's Weet-Bix is Australia's top breakfast cereal, and So Good soy milk is the most popular in Australia and New Zealand.

The division's video report included a clip of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who applauded Sanitarium for its corporate responsibility in giving back to the community.

In the Southern Asia Division, which covers India and the smaller countries of Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, the church has grown by about 100,000 members a year, bringing the total to about 1.5 million, according to local records.

The work of the church hasn't been as easy there as in other regions. India, which has a population of 1.2 billion, is nearly 81 percent Hindu and about 14 percent Muslim.

India also has seen violence targeted at the religious minority: A 48-year-old Adventist pastor, Samuel Naik, was murdered in 2008, allegedly by a mob of Hindu extremists. More than a dozen other Adventists also have been killed, victims of religious violence.

Christians are not safe worshipping in public places, Naik's widow said in the video. "Religious extreme groups have destroyed everything."

The division has had its share of success stories, though. The church in Nepal has operated a hospital in Kathmandu since 1960. New outreach to other people groups has led to the baptisms of three Tibetans. Bhutan, a country unaltered before 2005, now has 502 worshippers in seven organized churches and 25 congregations.

In the island Republic of Maldives, south of India, a few Adventists have entered the country in preparation for the church work to be done there.

As in other areas, the division relies heavily on evangelism from independent groups such as Gospel Outreach, ShareHim and ASI. Maranatha Volunteers International has constructed more than 800 church buildings across India over the past five years.

"We want to thank the world church for the valuable support and praise," said Southern Asia Division President John Rathinaraj.