|he roots of ASI—and its vision for outreach—can be traced to a shady spot in Tennessee where Madison College once stood. More than a century ago church cofounder Ellen G. White urged the Seventh-day Adventist Church to expand its outreach efforts to the southern United States. The Nashville Agricultural and Normal Institute was established in 1904 in response to that commission. The institute eventually blossomed into Madison College, a modern full-service training institution for health professionals.
Although Madison College was a self-supporting institution from the start, its philosophy and mission were always to support the mission of the Adventist Church. Numerous Madison College graduates established similar health ministry institutions worldwide, each operating on the original Madison College model. Many of those ministries and individuals later banded together to form ASI, originally an acronym for Adventist Self-supporting Institutions.
ASI membership gradually broadened to include ministry-minded entrepreneurs and professionals, and ASI became Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries to reflect the new membership blend. Today ASI is a unique family of individuals, ministries, and professionals who pool their energy, ideas, and financial resources to support the organized work of the Adventist Church. Their motto is “Sharing Christ in the Marketplace.”
ASI’s most visible activity is its annual convention, held each August in a different region of the United States. Each year thousands of ASI members and supporters, including many church employees, gather to listen to inspiring testimonies and sermons, attend practical ministry seminars, and wander through an exhibit hall filled with hundreds of Adventist ministry booths. The 2010 ASI Convention will be held in Orlando, Florida.
ASI convention programs are broadcast each year on both the Hope Channel and 3ABN, which allows ASI to impact and bless a worldwide audience. In fact, the idea of establishing a nationwide Adventist television network was first presented at an ASI convention in Big Sky, Montana, 25 years ago. An ASI member gave the seed money for that project, and 3ABN was born.
Convention programming always includes a diverse mix of well-known speakers and lay presenters, as well as a wide variety of seminars addressing every aspect of both personal and public evangelism. “Members in Action” interviews allow ASI members to share how the Lord has been working in their lives, as well as how they are witnessing to others—in their local communities and throughout the world. Simultaneous programming for children and youth ensures that each ASI convention is a family experience. The various youth and children’s divisions offer a variety of powerful learning and outreach activities.
For the past 10 years many ASI youth have gathered each year to do Bible work and hold a number of evangelistic meetings in the city where the convention is held. The youth who participate become better grounded spiritually, and their efforts consistently result in many baptisms. This movement—called Youth for Jesus (YFJ)—inspired one donor to gift ASI with the means to establish LIFE (Lay Institute for Evangelism), a training center for young evangelists near Orlando, Florida. LIFE will host and organize this year’s YFJ program in Orlando.
Each spring regional ASI chapters hold their own rallies and conventions. Those events mirror the national convention on a smaller scale, including member interviews, seminars, and opportunities for ASI members and prospective members to mingle with and encourage one another.
Face to Face With Opportunity
During ASI conventions individuals come face to face with mission opportunities they might never have considered otherwise. When Merlin and Bruce Fjarli heard Garwin McNeilus and Robert Paulsen tell about a large evangelism and church-building project in Ongole, India, they said to each other, “If they can do it, so can we!”
As real estate developers in southern Oregon, the Fjarlis had extensive experience managing large construction projects. Inspired by their new vision, they coordinated with Maranatha Volunteers International to begin a church-building program in India. Six years later approximately 800 churches had been built, and hundreds of thousands of new believers had been baptized in India. Evangelistic series were being conducted twice a year—in February to avoid the monsoons and in October to avoid the high temperatures—in a central location, with locals being trucked in nightly from various villages. Fifty volunteers preached, visited, and prayed with thousands of attendees, many of whom were Dalits or of the formerly untouchable class.
ShareHim, a ministry of the Carolina Conference, regularly recruits lay evangelists at ASI conventions for short-term mission trips to developing countries. In recent years ShareHim has begun emphasizing the increased need for evangelism in developed countries, with mission opportunities abounding.
At each convention ASI collects a “special projects offering” to sponsor 30 to 40 preselected Adventist ministries that have applied for financial assistance. ASI members have consistently demonstrated generosity in supporting these specially chosen projects.
One ASI project involved printing Picture Rolls to be distributed worldwide. I remember seeing one such Picture Roll in a Sabbath school room in Cebu, Philippines. The room had wooden benches but was otherwise bare. At the front of the room was a single Picture Roll hanging from a nail. The following message was inscribed at the bottom of the cover page:
Countless people, literate and illiterate, have come to know Jesus through these Picture Rolls in out-of-the-way places. They will be our neighbors in heaven.
Another ASI project was to provide metal roofs for church buildings in Africa. Local church members normally can lay a church foundation and floor, as well as fabricate walls. But the cost of a metal roof generally is beyond their means. In response to this need, ASI supplied the cost of the metal roof to congregations that had done their part. Thousands of churches have been completed in Africa as a result of this partnership between ASI and hardworking church congregations.
The Happiness Digest program, a project partnership between ASI and Pacific Press Publishing Association, involved printing the Conflict of the Ages Series in a low-cost paperback format. Pacific Press printed the books nearly at cost with seed money provided by ASI. Those funds have since been recouped, and the publishing project has become self-sustaining.
ASI’s most recent project is the One-Day Church, a prefabricated church structure kit manufactured and packaged in Dodge Center, Minnesota. An industrial-scale production line allows dozens of kits to be assembled each day. Each kit can be shipped worldwide at a reasonable cost, and constructed on-site in a day or so by local workers. The supply is slowly catching up to the huge demand for these church structure kits. They also are being used to build schools, orphanages, and other ministry buildings worldwide—in time to prepare thousands of people to meet their Lord.
In response to an ever-increasing emphasis on evangelism, the North Pacific Union and It Is Written Television collaborated to create New Beginnings, a set of DVD evangelistic programs that has since been translated into 40 languages. Thousands of lay evangelists have been trained to use the New Beginnings DVD series to present evangelistic series in their own countries and in their own languages, with tremendous results.
A corresponding DVD health evangelism program called Abundant Living has also been prepared, including more than 24 programs in separate formats for Western countries and developing country venues. The Abundant Living series can be used to pave the way for doctrinal presentations, or simply to share life-preserving health principles on such topics as the importance of drinking enough water, reasons to stop smoking, and how to avoid and eliminate parasites. Counsel from Ellen White makes it clear that health evangelism is the right arm of the gospel message, and its effectiveness has repeatedly been shown. When ASI member Vern Erickson, M.D., presented a talk on community sanitation to a group of Masai people in Kenya, the village elders determined to dig a latrine for their village—the first time such a thing had been done in that region.
The Sow One Billion program was another brainchild of ASI leadership, in conjunction with members of the General Conference Executive Committee. That project resulted in
1 billion Bible study invitations being placed into the hands of individuals throughout the world, ultimately leading to substantial church growth.
ASI and the Church
The Adventist Church highly values the contribution of ASI to its organized efforts. It’s a partnership that makes a difference, fostering the effectiveness of combined outreach efforts worldwide. ASI grants membership to ministries and individuals based on requirements laid out in the ASI constitution. ASI members must be church members in good standing who actively demonstrate support of the Adventist Church’s evangelistic mission.
Evangelism schools such as the Amazing Facts College of Evangelism (AFCOE), ARISE, and LIFE have trained hundreds of laypersons who now serve as Bible workers and pastors throughout North America, as well as in other parts of the world. It’s encouraging to see these schools represented at ASI conventions alongside formal educational institutions, such as Southern Adventist University and Union College. All have a role to play in educating individuals to “finish the work.”
From an initial core group of health ministries ASI membership has expanded to include media ministries such as It Is Written and Amazing Facts, gospel ministries such as Gospel Outreach and Adventist Frontier Ministries, evangelistic ministries such as ShareHim and Quiet Hour, and publishing ministries such as Light Bearers. Other countries have formed their own ASI organizations, including ASI Europe, ASI South America, and ASI Asia. These groups share the same mission and objectives as ASI in North America. The various ASI organizations ultimately bring a large family of like-minded ministries and individuals together to carry out a common goal—to prepare the world for Christ’s soon return!
Visit the ASI Web site—www.asiministries.org—to see how you can become involved, either as a member or supporter of ASI. There is a place in the ASI family for any member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who is sincerely interested in sharing the gospel. Additional ASI activities will be featured in upcoming issues of the Adventist Review.
Norman Reitz is a practicing California attorney and president of ASI. He holds an undergraduate degree in physics and is an active lay evangelist. This article was published March 17, 2010.