The conversation about Global Missions continued on Friday with a panel discussion by members of Adventist Services International, an organization active in creating centers of influence around the world. The title “Urban Centers of Influence (UCI)” is one that comes from Ellen G. White. She envisioned them connecting the church to the community. The Office of Adventist Mission is working to revitalize the concept and to establish a network of self-sustaining UCI’s in key urban areas around the world.
For those interested in establishing a UCI, Jeff Scoggins detailed the new process, which he said they would be tweaking to make it work. Research comes first, and is being newly emphasized in the choosing of a city or region with few or no Adventists. That idea is then to be shared with the Office of Adventist Mission to see if fits with their priorities. Next the Mission office will respond with the potential for funding. Establishing a service that meets a community need follows. There relationships are built, and new groups can be started. For people with a secular mindset, a church is off limits, it was pointed out. But secular people will respond to something for a specific need such as a health program. The hope is that they will go from being interested in a health program to being interested in other spiritual things. But the big question remains, how will the gap be bridged between offering services and establishing new groups of believers. Think about it. Work on it, the audience was told. “We don’t necessarily know the answers.”
As to the finances for the UCI, which are intended to be self-sustaining operations, currently the Office of Adventist Mission is able to offer up to 60% of project costs, up to $150,000. Divisions, unions, and conferences have to find at least 40% of the cost for an urban center of influence.
During the question and answer session following the financial presentation by Jeff Scoggins, Dr. Neil Nedley of Weimar Institute went to the microphone and said that Weimar has been studying that question of how the jump is made from specific-need programs to church programs. He said that when they treat patients for health needs they also talk with them about spiritual needs and they have come up with ways to bridge that gap.
The rest of the morning was taken up in a discussion of Ellen White’s vision for the cities. Did she offer conflicting advice, asked David Trim, the director of the Office for Archives, Statistics and Research? “Out of the cities, out of the cities, this is the message that the Lord has given me,” he quoted her saying in the sermon that marked the opening of the health work in Loma Linda, California. But she also said, in 1909, that work in the city is the work for the end times. “There is no change in the messages that the Lord has sent me in the past. The work in the cities is essential work for this time.” Trim maintained that these are not conflicting views. At times, in her writing, she is setting out principles, but at other times she is addressing a particular set of circumstances. He urged studying her holistically, in the round, and not proof texting her. Circumstances change the relations of things, she said.
President Ted N.C. Wilson also spent much of his time at the close of the conference addressing this issue. It has been a confusing item for many years, he said. All of you need to do in-depth study. “Ellen White does not contradict herself. There is an in concept and an out concept and they will merge. The time will come when the Lord himself will tell people when to move out of the cities, but it will be the Holy Spirit that tells them, not a proclamation from this headquarters. When the Sunday laws come, you will know it is time to leave the cities.”
He reminded the audience of statistics that had been shared earlier, that now, over 50% of the world population lives in metropolitan areas and by 2050, it will be 70%. That means it will be harder and harder to find rural areas. “I lived in a 10th floor apartment in Moscow, I know that life. But that is not God’s ideal,” he said.
GC Secretary GT Ng upped Ted on his apartment story and got a good laugh. “While Ted lived on the 10th floor in Moscow, I lived on the 25th floor in Singapore. When Jesus comes, I’ll go to heaven first.”
Ted said that would be okay with him. He just wants Jesus to come.
He also previewed the coming days saying that his Sabbath sermon would also be on the cities. And looking to the rest of the meeting, he said, “I don’t want you to leave Annual Council thinking that one particular session had precedence over another. We are going to have a challenge before us on Monday afternoon. Pray for the Holy Spirit to be here to unite us for mission and bring a sweet spirit. But I don’t want that to be what you take away from Annual Council. I want you to take from this place the enormous challenge to the SDA church.
That the instructions in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy are all things that God wants us to understand are achievable not through our own power, but our God is able. He wants us to reach the cities. . . The huge challenge remains.”
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
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