Let's Talk About Mission

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Gary Krause, an Australian born to missionary parents in Fiji, is director of the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference. His office funds mission work and prepares mission quarterlies, Adventist Mission DVDs and other communications about the mission work of the church.

Mission, always an integral part of the Adventist church and ideology, is also a concept that must evolve and change. Spectrum asked Krause about his definition of mission and his goals for the GC's mission office.

Question: How would you define the Adventist “mission”?

Answer: I think our mission is to participate in God’s plan to show His saving love and grace to the world. (I like the way an angel tells the apostles in Acts to “tell the people the full message of this new life.”) We have good news to share. God is our Creator. Life has meaning. Pain, injustice, cruelty — all will end one day.

And while we’re waiting for that day, we’re called to live ethically, compassionately, and critically. We’re to minister to people physically and spiritually.

We’re part of a prophetic tradition that proclaims this world is not our home, we’re just passing through. We don’t accept all the world’s values, but instead fix our eyes on what is “unseen” — to use Paul’s words — and help others to do the same.

It’s difficult to go past Micah’s words: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”

Our mission is to lead people to worship the true God of love, “give glory” to Him, and live in a way that’s faithful to Jesus.

Question: How has the work of missionaries changed since the Adventist church first sent out missionaries? Are missionaries now defined differently?

Answer: I think there’s a greater emphasis today on training local people for ministry within their own cultural context. In many parts of the world we have a growing indigenous Adventist Church that’s increasingly taking leadership in their own territories.

But there are huge geographical areas and hundreds of people groups where the Adventist Church is making no impact. We still need “frontline” cross-cultural missionaries — thousands of them — all over the world.

I think we’re better focused these days on training missionaries for living and working in different cultural settings. Our schools are increasingly sensitive to this, and the General Conference’s Institute of World Mission based at Andrews University does an excellent job in training missionaries.

Of course many of our early missionaries “contextualized” almost instinctively. When Drs. Harry and Maude Miller graduated from what is today Loma Linda University in 1902 they went almost immediately to China. With them were another young doctor couple and two nurses. When they arrived in China, Dr. Miller and the other male doctor shaved their heads and started growing pigtails in the style of Chinese men. They didn’t learn that in medical school.

But we can still see in places the legacy of Adventist missionaries who carried perhaps a bit too much of their own culture with them. Today if you preach Sabbath morning in some countries, for example, don’t think you can get away with not wearing a coat and tie. Despite searingly hot temperatures and high humidity, the church leaders will have a rack of ties and coats in the back room for you to choose from — whether you like it or not. And that’s fine. But let’s see it for what it is — a cultural preference, not a moral principle.

Today, unfortunately, the word “missionary” is a pejorative term in many places. Popular books and movies such as The Poisonwood Bible, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and Mosquito Coast have made it almost a dirty word. They’ve painted missionaries as cultural imperialists, riding roughshod over local peoples and their customs. And of course we have to admit that at times we have been insensitive to local cultures, and preached a Western gospel. But let’s not forget the wonderful things that missionaries have done as well.

In the Adventist Church today we tend to define the term “missionary” fairly broadly. We have “student missionaries,” “short-term missionaries,” “volunteer missionaries” and paid missionaries who work in other divisions of the world church, or in different countries within their own division. The church currently sends out more than 800 inter-division missionaries who come from all over the world including Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Europe, and the United States.

We also have “tentmakers” — self-supporting lay people who work in a certain area — but who have a larger goal to be a witness in their community and establish a group of believers. And given the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, we rightly say that each of us is called to be a missionary where we are.

Question: Would you say the primary job of the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference is to share the stories of mission workers and the stories of those whose lives have been touched by the mission of the Adventist church?

Answer: That’s certainly an important part of what we do. We have two purposes.

First, to continue the Global Mission initiative that was voted at the General Conference Session in 1990. Its purpose is simple: to start new groups of believers in new people groups and geographical areas (ranging from entire countries in some parts of the world, to new areas in large cities here in North America). Global Mission Study Centers help equip the church to do this more effectively. And Global Mission pioneers, indigenous church planters, receive most of our funding. They receive a small living stipend and live among the people at the same socio-economic level, understand the culture, eat the same food, speak the same language. It’s an incarnational ministry.

Second, our purpose is to raise awareness among church members of the mission work of the world church. In the past we’ve done a poor job giving a clear report on what happens with Sabbath school mission offerings. These offerings don’t just disappear into a black hole. They are essential for the worldwide mission of the church and support clinics, hospitals, schools, frontline church planting, humanitarian work and so on — and make it possible to send missionaries internationally.

Question: Gathering mission stories from around the world is a huge task. Can you explain how your office goes about it? How large is your staff?

Answer: I like the way Charlotte Ishkanian, the editor of Mission magazines for adults and children (otherwise known as “the mission quarterlies”), describes what she does — she calls it “a report to the stockholders.”

We have seven of our staff devoted full-time to communication. That may seem a lot of people, but we do a lot — two websites (www.AdventistMission.org and www.Global-Mission.org), a TV program, a quarterly Adventist Mission DVD, Mission magazines, Inside Stories — a mission segment in the weekly Adult Bible Study guide — monthly mailings to Global Mission supporters, a Mission Week program for schools, mission programs and rallies, magazine articles — the list goes on. (Despite this, many Adventist still have little idea of the mission program of the church, and are surprised to hear that we still send missionaries.) And the budget and staff we have for promoting the mission work of the entire world church is far less than some supporting ministries have to promote their work.

We gather some stories by actually going into “the field” and finding them, and others are sent to us.

Question: The stories shared by your office on your website and in the regular mission quarterlies are overwhelmingly positive, focusing on miraculous conversion stories and lives turned around after an encounter with Adventism. Surely there must be plenty of stories of people who leave the church for a myriad of reasons, or have other less-than-positive experiences. Do you feel your coverage is unfairly slanted – ignoring the negative to focus on the positive?

Answer: Yes, we do focus on the positive — and I think that’s what we should do. We want to inspire church members with some of the good things God is doing in this world, despite the odds.

We’re working on finding the right balance. I think the book of Acts gets the mix right. But even there, Luke just gives us the highlights and at times makes it all look a bit easy. I mean, is there a chance that Phillip may have at least worked up a nervous sweat when he ran up to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch?

But we do try to honestly feature setbacks and remaining challenges. One of my favorite mission stories, which the Adventist Review ran for us, was of a Russian Global Mission pioneer working in a new city. He arranged to present a series of public meetings. On the opening night not one person came, but he got up anyway and, to use his words, “preached to the angels.”

We want to continue erring on the side of the positive, while acknowledging the remaining challenges and that mission mixes joy and disappointment.

Question: Your website has a blog page, where missionary families write about their experiences. Do you censor these blogs in any way or edit the material before it is published on your site?

Answer: They are edited like any magazine editor would work on an article — for spelling, grammar, length, clarity. We delete comments that could be seen as pejorative of other denominations or religions, or which could put someone’s life in danger. If the writer is critical of something we did, we leave it. But that’s it.

Our staff members are perhaps overly generous in checking with sources and writers to make sure they’re happy with any edits we make.

Question: Your writers are told stories by many different people. How do you verify that the stories they are relating are true and accurate?

Answer: We’re pretty thorough on checking stories:

1. Usually people in “the field” who share stories go through their pastor or local field/mission/conference/union. Usually someone from these levels recommends the person.

2. If we have any questions about a story, we try to find out what it is that doesn’t seem right. If we can’t get a satisfactory answer, we don’t run the story.

3. We usually send edited stories back to the field for their approval.

As one of my staff said to me, “I feel I’ve won confidence with every division, and I’m not about to lose it because of sloppy reporting.”

When I was growing up my friends and I jokingly referred to any unbelievable story as “a mission story.” Our staff’s commitment to a thorough process of checking and re-checking is an antidote to that type of cynicism.

Question: Adventists from around the world have different customs and differing levels of conservatism. How do you decide what audience to pitch your stories to? For instance, a story from a conservative Adventist area might refer to rock music as “the devil’s music”, while that point of view would not necessarily resonate with younger North American audiences. How do you gauge your audience when choosing and editing stories?

Answer: We tell the story as it is and let the reader make the value judgments. If someone testifies that they gave up “the devil’s music,” then that’s their experience — their conviction. But I think we would like to emphasize the bigger strokes of building God’s kingdom in various ways, and steer clear of centering stories on divisive issues.

Question: Your website has a number of resources for churches, missionaries, and potential volunteers, and includes many stories of people working around the world. How many people use your site as a resource? Can you compare that to the printed material you send out?

Answer: We¹re working to try to get a better handle on this sort of information. According to our statistics, in August we had 13,888 unique visitors on our websites — and we tend to get fewer “hits” during the summer months. On a typical Friday night we can have more than 1,000 visitors. And in the unlikely event you’re interested, the average person has 4.68 pageviews and spends 4 minutes and 48 seconds per visit.

We think it's a good start, but hope we can build this up significantly. We want it to be a place where church members and leaders come automatically to find information, resources and stories about mission.

Mission magazine may well be the most widely circulated publication in the church. Review & Herald prints nearly 53,000 of the adult/youth edition, and nearly 24,000 copies of the children’s edition for North America. Many other publishing houses in dozens of countries throughout Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and the South Pacific translate it and print their own.

How many of these are actually used, I don’t know. I suspect it’s a fairly high percentage.

On top of this we send out monthly mailings to Global Mission supporters. The print-runs range up to 15,000 copies.

Question: You will send out free Mission DVDs for the asking. How many of these do you send, and how is this resource funded?

Answer: The General Conference fully funds the production of the DVDs — and starting first quarter next year, that will include their translation into French, Spanish and Portuguese. The North American Division pays for their distribution to every church in North America, the South Pacific Division funds their distribution to every church in Australia and New Zealand. We send it to all the other divisions as well, which have varying distribution methods.

We also offer individual subscriptions through www.AdventSource.com

The pieces on the DVD range in length, including two-minute pieces that can be shown in a worship service.

Question: You are the author of the third quarter 2008 Sabbath School Quarterly, titled God’s Great Missionaries. Can you give us an insight into how you decided what stories to include and what overall message you are trying to get across?

Answer: I guess I just chose some of my favorite Bible characters, and those I thought best modelled the theme. Obviously Jesus and the apostles had to be prominent. I would like to have had more than one week on women, but my source material was limited — women missionaries of the Bible tend to be on the sidelines of the narrative.

I love the Old Testament prophets — so I chose Isaiah and Daniel (and his friends). I’m struck by Isaiah’s message of salvation for people from all races and cultures, and for his view of religion as something you do rather than just argue about in Sabbath school class. Caring for widows, orphans and “aliens” is elevated to a spiritual duty — just as important as Sabbath-keeping or prayer. And of course John the Baptist is firmly in that tradition. I like him a lot — his bravery and his vulnerability and loneliness, his distrust of tradition and willingness to speak out against corruption.

If there’s an overall message it’s probably the need to make our witness to the love of Jesus authentic, credible, wholistic, and attractive to people in different contexts and cultures.

Question: What are the greatest challenges faced by modern-day missionaries? How can missionaries make sure that people truly convert and change their lives – not just decide on baptism because a friend decided on it, while retaining non-Christian practices and beliefs?

Answer: I think one of the challenges missionaries face is finding apathy and disinterest back home. They’re on fire with stories of what they’re doing and what they’re seeing happen, and sometimes they’re met at home by some pretty jaded Adventists — many of whom are almost inoculated against interest in mission stories.

Overall the challenges probably haven’t changed too much since the days of the apostles: How do they make the story of Jesus meaningful and attractive to people from so many different cultures, religions, backgrounds? How do they “translate” the message through word and actions, and empty their witness of the cultural baggage we naturally tend to carry with us? And how do they cope with the distance from friends and family?

I’d probably list three major mission challenges we’re facing:

1. The growing urban areas of the world, where we hardly have “a presence.”

2. The 10/40 Window where most people have never even heard of Jesus.

3. The growing number of secular people who are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, and also the growing number of postmodern people who can’t relate to our church in the way we traditionally present it.

We operate five religious study centers to help us meet some of these challenges:

1. The Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations based in Cyprus (Jerald Whitehouse, director)

2. The World Jewish Friendship Center based in Israel (Richard Elofer, director)

3. The Buddhist Study Center based in Thailand (Scott Griswold, director)

4. The Hindu Study Center based in India (Mohan Roy, director)

5. The Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies (Miroslav Pujic, director) based in England.

Ganoune Diop, based in our office at the General Conference, is the director of the centers.

These centers have the responsibility of developing models, methods and resources for better understanding people from these communities, and for building more effective and meaningful bridges to them within their cultural and religious settings.

Each year at the General Conference we hold a Global Mission Issues Committee where we address challenges people are actually facing on the cutting edge of mission. We’ve discussed everything from polygamy to dual allegiance to contextualization. Many say it’s the most exciting committee at the General Conference (which some might say is no great achievement). We have a range of people serving on it: Missiologists, theologians, administrators, study center directors etc.

As for the last part of your question, making sure “people truly convert” isn’t just a challenge for foreign missionaries. Sure we have a problem with “dual allegiance” in Africa and other places, but we also have a problem here in America. Our dual allegiance is, of course, a bit more sophisticated. We may not cling to fetishes or amulets, but we can hang on fiercely to materialistic lifestyles. So this is a challenge we all face, and we can only deal with it as we engage honestly with God, and focus on discipleship not just on baptismal numbers. It’s not good enough to convince people about a set of propositions. The gospel has to touch our worldviews — that set of assumptions in our “inner-core” that determines how we view reality.

Question: What is your mission background?

Answer: I’m a missionary from Australia to the jungles of North America ☺.

I was born to missionary parents in Fiji, then lived in New Zealand and then back to Australia.

My major interest has been to trying to make Christianity meaningful to secular people who have rejected religion and postmodern people who are more open to spiritual things, but are disenchanted with religion.

I was on the team that re-designed the South Pacific Division Signs magazine to try to better build bridges to these audiences. When I was creative director at the Adventist Media Centre in Sydney, I helped write and produce TV ads with a spiritual message for network TV stations in Australia and New Zealand. And in my local churches I’ve helped produced seeker-style series of programs in Sydney and also here in Maryland.

Question: What do you see as the future of mission in the Adventist church?

Answer: I think Emil Bruner said it well. “The church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church . . .”

Let me mention a few things I think are crucial for the future of mission. I think we need to:

1. Fight the tendency to focus inward. According to the Adventist World Survey of a few years ago, fewer than three out of 10 Adventists are involved in any way in their communities. We need to rip our church doors off their hinges and open ourselves to our communities.

2. Expand our horizons. Walk into any Adventist Book Center and you’ll see that most of our resources are aimed at believers — either Adventists or people from other Christian denominations. The world’s a whole lot bigger than that, and if we’re serious about sharing the good news with all the world, we need a bigger vision.

3. Find a balance between project giving and systematic giving. In the 1930s, when Adventists gave $10 to tithe they also gave $6 to mission offerings. Today when they give $10 in tithe, they give 38 cents to mission offerings. The plunge in support for mission offerings severely curtails the church’s international mission program.

4. Find a balance between the huge needs in our own local communities, and our responsibility to support mission overseas.

5. Rediscover the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and “outreach” as more than a series of events done by professional evangelists in one-off events we construct. We need to see an authentic witness as the natural result of Jesus-loving Adventists from all walks of life around the world engaging people in their communities with compassion and understanding in a variety of real-life, day-to-day situations.





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Sat, 10/25/2014 | Los Angeles Adventist Forum
October Adventist Forum
Ronald E. Osborn, Ph.D., A 2014-2016 Mellon Postdoctoral Fell ow in the Peace and Justice Program at Wellesley College (Boston), and a 2 015 Fullbright Scholar to Burma/Myanmar, Formerly an Adjunct Faculty Membe r in the Dept. of International Relations at USC, and in the Honors Progra m at UCLA. Topic: "Death Before the Fall?: A Conversation with Ronald Osbor n."

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