HY DO THOSE ENGAGED IN SHORT-TERM OVERSEAS MISSION TEND to go to areas of the world where “the work” is already doing comparatively well? Where “the work” is growing more rapidly than in their own area or country? And why the tendency to stay clear of places where “the work” is lagging—like Vardø, Norway, the hometown of (the late) Anne Juliussen, whose story Adventist Review carried in an article by Richard Utt back in April 1999? (Utt wrote movingly about this 83-year-old Adventist worshipping alone in her local church every Sabbath, the sole remaining member of a once-thriving congregation.)
These were some of the issues I tackled in a June 18, 2009, editorial, “What Determines Where We Go?” I made the point that in publishing the Norway piece we’d hoped that some reader, somewhere, would embrace the challenge of taking the gospel to some dying place—even to Vardø. We’d clearly failed, I hinted in the editorial, since Sister Juliussen had now died and the church was sold.
But two responses to my editorial lament demonstrated I hadn’t heard the rest of the story.
The first response came from Howard Williams of Berrien Springs, Michigan. He told how, shortly after giving his life to Jesus, he’d promised God he’d go “anywhere He wanted to send me.” With that commitment, he read a piece in Adventist Review some two years earlier than the Utt article, in which the then South American Division president invited Adventist families “to take up the challenge of going to an unentered area [of his division] and planting a new church.”
“After much prayer and planning,” Williams wrote, he and his wife, Charleen, accompanied by Brian and Laurel Baker of Fortuna, California, “left for Cobija, Bolivia [March 18, 1997] to build up an Adventist church there.” At the time only 15 Adventists lived in the entire province where Cobija is located, he said. “[But] by the time my wife and I left after about 16 months, somewhere over 30 people had been baptized and the church was thriving.” Brian (a registered nurse) and Laurel (a schoolteacher) “continued on with the work we started together, completing two years there.” They built a new church and school and established an Adventist radio station. “Today,” he wrote, “there is a thriving church of over 200 members, and a school which was inaugurated about two years ago with 180 students.”
As he was writing to me, Williams said, he and his wife were “packed and leaving Michigan within a week to pastor the Wrangell and Petersburg, Alaska, churches.” What determines where we go, he said, should be “a willingness to follow God’s leading.”
The second response, more directly related to my editorial, came from Odd-Henrik Olsen, pastor of the Fredrikstad Adventist Church in Moss, southern Norway:
“Here is an update on Anne Juliussen and a sequel to her life story: By the time . . . Utt’s article was published in Adventist Review in 1999, Anne had for health reasons moved from Vardø to live with her daughter, Jill [Jørgensen], in Fredrikstad in the south of Norway. Here she died in . . . 2000. But her witness did not die, because after her mother’s death, Jill started to attend the [Adventist] church in Fredrikstad; and in 2003 she came to the pastor and requested baptism. She had determined to follow in the footsteps of her mother and keep the flame burning, even if not in the town of Vardø. Jill is today a faithful member of the Fredrikstad church, witnessing to family, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members, often quoting her mother: ‘My mother always said . . .’ Anne Juliussen’s witness still lives.”
A wonderful testimony from Pastor Williams, indeed! And a beautiful update from Norway! But only when we gather on the sea of glass will we get a full account of the rest of the story—of the triumphs of God’s grace in the midst of what we sometimes consider abject failure.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.