Adventist Study Centers Build
Understanding, Fuel Outreach
From Postmoderns to Unreached Groups, Message is Made Relevant
BY MARK A. KELLNER, Adventist Review News Editor
hen Mirsolav Pujic meets a stranger on an airplane, the conversation often turns to what he does for a living.
“I travel,” he tells inquirers, “and I talk to people about life and the quality of life.”
Of course, since the days of James White, J.N. Loughborough and J.N. Andrews, Seventh-day Adventists have traveled the globe and talked with people about life issues. But while the pioneers may not have used those terms, Pujic, who heads one of the world church’s “study centers,” uses language that reaches people living in today’s spiritual-but-not-necessarily-Christian world.
Director of the Center for Secular & Postmodern Studies, Pujic is charged with leading efforts to reach the millions of “postmodern” people who are unchurched, but may be interested in spiritual matters. Estimates say one-third of Americans, or 100 million people, fall into that category, along with 82 percent of Canadians, 94 percent of Europeans and 92.5 percent of Australians.
UNITED IN OUTREACH: Directors of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s world religion study centers meet in Silver Spring, Maryland. From left, pastors Miroslav Pujic, Jerald Whitehouse, Richard Elofer, Scott Griswold and Mohan Roy. [Photo: Mark A. Kellner/AR]
“The Church has an enormous territory that we are not touching at all,” Pujic said. His study center can “bring awareness” of the opportunity to the rest of the Church, as well as prepare resources to use in reaching postmodern people, such as the LIFEDevelopment (STET) Web site, www.lifedevelopment.info
and related materials.
So far, he said, the church has started 48 centers to minister to postmoderns in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. The goal, he added, was to launch 100 such locations.
Pujic was one of five study center directors who met for a semi-annual discussion in March at the world church headquarters. The other study centers focus on Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism; these have been established to assist the church’s 13 world regions and equip members and pastors to “reach the unreached,” said Dr. Ganoune Diop, who coordinates their activities from the world church headquarters.
In India, said Mohan Roy, director of the Hinduism Study Center, the opportunity exists to reach the upper levels of society, the so-called top three castes. While many Hindus reject Jesus as “European” and Christianity as a “Western religion,” Roy posits that Jesus’ Mideast birth and life makes him an Asian, and that Thomas, one of the disciples, is believed to have brought Christianity to India in 50 A.D.
Since 2004, he said, such efforts to contextualize Christianity and the Adventist message have resulted in the establishment of more than 35 congregations for the “upper caste” of Indian society and the baptism of 12,000 believers.
For Buddhists, said Scott Griswold, whose center is based in Thailand, “love softens the way” for acceptance of the gospel. “The majority of Buddhists have a sense that they have a good religion already; Christianity is Western and foreign” to Buddhists, who also view the faith as “not very spiritual,” he said.
In reaching for a point of commonality with Buddhists, Griswold said, he will often start with the Sabbath, stressing that rest and cessation from striving for material success as something they can relate to. Inviting Buddhists to share something – a meal, a time of fellowship – is a way to build bridges, he said.
Results among Buddhists are slow in coming, he said, particularly since Buddhism doesn’t have the concepts of sin that are common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, inroads are being made, particularly in societies where social and economic unrest cause people to search for greater meaning.
Similar dissatisfactions can be found in the Muslim world, also creating opportunities for the careful sharing of the Adventist message, says Jerald Whitehouse, who heads the Islamic Study Center.
“There is a lot of unrest in the Muslim world,” Whitehouse said. “The average Muslim is in turmoil over the ‘Islamic Umma’ (or global Islamic community) and wonder why isn’t it the leading light in the world today. Why is the world dominated by a Christian, western power?”
Such questioning leads to spiritual investigation, Whitehouse said, but Christian faith must be presented in different garb: “If Western Christianity has no appeal [to Muslims], don’t wear those clothes,” he said.
As might be imagined, gaining results in Islamic nations is a difficult process. Friendship evangelism, he said, is often successful, as in the case of an Adventist woman who befriended an Islamic woman who’d just learned of a cancer diagnosis. The two are now praying and studying together.
“If you say we’re more true than your belief,” Whitehouse said of witness to Muslims, “then you’re dead in the water. Once you capture the heart, there is a sense of need. Then you’re on a spiritual path, a heart-bond is being developed.
Although the estimated 15 million Jews in the world are dwarfed by numbers showing a billion Muslims and another billion Hindus, both the Bible, in verses such as Romans 1:16, and the writings of Ellen G. White, a pioneering founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, commend Jewish outreach, said Richard Elofer, who directs the church’s World Jewish Study Center, headquartered in Jerusalem.
Among many statements by Mrs. White on the subject is this sentence found in Acts of the Apostles, page 380, “In the closing proclamation of the gospel, when special work is to be done for classes of people hitherto neglected, God expects His messengers to take particular interest in the Jewish people whom they find in all parts of the earth.”
In recent months, Jewish-oriented Adventist congregations have been planted in Minnesota, Seattle, Argentina, and the Netherlands, Elofer said. Adventists in France, home of the third-largest Jewish community in the world, are seeing a “new awareness” for such outreach.
“There has been a lot of misunderstanding in the church” about the need to present the message to Jewish people, Elofer said. “The church and Israel need to be reconciled. And, since we have quite a number of Jews in the church already, we need to provide a place where they can worship in the context of their culture and be comfortable in worshipping Jesus.”
More information on the study centers can be found online via Adventist Mission’s Web site, where contact information and Web links are supplied.