God’s Easiest Challenge

The first thing that hits you is the heat. I am walking through a foliage-filled clearing on an unkept path, palm trees on your sides stretching up into the sky, with multiple carabaos grazing so close you can almost reach out and touch them. Currently, two other missionaries and I are making our way to a Visayan community, filled with people who have yet to hear the Gospel. How did I even get in this situation?

As an 18-year-old student fresh out of high school, being a missionary sounded like a pipe dream. I felt it would look good for university––it meant helping people—and as an aspiring medical student I thought any opportunity to help others would be great. However, when I decided to take a gap year in order to volunteer with the 1000 Missionary Movement in Silang, Cavite, Philippines, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Reading all those Guide Magazine books about Adventist missionaries and the miracles they experienced did little to prepare me for the harsh reality of working for God.

As soon as I landed, I was introduced to two other missionaries: Choi and Zoe. Both of them had undergone strict training at headquarters (which I missed due to waiting for exam results), and I felt the only thing I could do was watch and learn, literally. Our pastor in charge of the district gave a short explanation of our duties, including going door-to-door, giving basic medical care, and listing those interested in Bible study. After this short orientation we were immediately thrown into the surrounding area, a barangay[1] called Pinagkurusan. Choi and Zoe both had experience as missionaries, while I had none at all. It was completely different from what I had imagined.

Thankfully, I gained a rough idea of what it was like after a few days of going door-to-door, creating a schedule, talking to people, supplying basic medical care, and introducing ourselves as medical missionaries. Still, I couldn’t shake feelings of anxiety, doubt, and confusion, what with my Tagalog being rough and all. I had no idea how to start a conversation with people, let alone take their blood pressure using a manual sphygmomanometer[2]. However, I decided to claim the promise in 1 Peter 5:7, stating: “Cast all your anxiety onto Him, because He cares for you” (NIV). As I followed both missionaries everyday, I started to realize how important faith was. Daily prayer and Bible study were a necessity, and I realized that being a missionary doesn’t only help others get closer to God; it transforms the missionary too.

One thing that stuck with me was their dedication. Every day from 9am to 4pm we would go out and visit people we had gotten to know and actually talk to them instead of forcing Adventist doctrine down their throats—some people seem to think that the job of missionaries is to debate about whose theology is right or wrong to prompt conversions. But we would visit multiple patients with strokes, and I would learn as the two missionaries used hydrotherapy (a sauna-like process that warms the body by using steam from boiling water) and massages to ease their pain. However, I also learned that not everything was so simple. We were supplied with very little budget for housing (they stayed in a small one-bedroom building), food, and water, and basic necessities. Usually we would buy food from the market using money the missionaries had saved, but I remember being in such a dire food situation that we had to pick up coconuts from the side of the road in order to have something to eat with our rice. But I never heard them complain. Both men were islanders who had lived their lives in the jungle, so they knew which plants were safe to eat. Although it was a struggle at times, I really enjoyed being with both of the missionaries, and seeing some of our stroke patients start walking and talking after a few months was something I will never forget. Some of the people we visited ended up attending church, and as of writing this article a church building is currently under construction in Pinagkurusan.

Through my experience, one thing became clear: Mission in the Philippines is alive and well. Being from the UK, I was never exposed to the work of missionaries and always felt that it was easy to go door-to-door and talk about your religion. After my 5 months in the field, however, I thought about how weak and minimal mission efforts are in the UK. In the Philippines, there is a constant need to train and recruit missionaries, yet I have rarely heard of such an opportunity in the UK. This lack of effort in mission is further reflected by the numbers—there are roughly 120 million people in the Philippines compared to about 70 million in the UK, yet there are nearly 900,000 Adventists in the Philippines compared to the approximate 40,000 in the UK![3] 

While the importance of foreign mission cannot be understated, it’s clear that we also need to orient our focus on mission work in Western countries—on average, 4 out of 10 Adventists leave the church.[4] Interestingly, our topic for Global Youth Day this year was “Show Up In The Cities”, yet there are only 15,000 Adventists in London, a city with a population of 13.3 million.[5] Is this due to the challenges of secularism? Or is it because we as believers are becoming too complacent with our faith?

One of the missionaries told me that it is easy for us church members to completely forget about the mission God has given us because we are too comfortable at church and essentially gate-keeping our faith, instead of sharing it like the disciples did. Rarely do we talk with our friends about our beliefs; instead, we opt to settle into the habits and lifestyles of those around us. Instead of being a peculiar people, the youth nowadays are assimilating to those around us—our lives at home are privileged and we are spoon-fed. Spending time ministering to a third-world country really showed me the difference between a church in the UK and a church in the Philippines, and how members in the latter area place such a large emphasis on faith and mission. This is what we lack in worldwide mission.

I learned that it is extremely difficult—physically, mentally, and spiritually—to become a missionary. I also learned that it is extremely easy. In cities and more developed countries, we do not need to walk kilometers each day to reach our neighbors. There are other ways of witnessing to people—our example can be enough. Three words became my framework for my faith: Follow Christ’s example. Whenever I was in doubt during my term as a missionary, I decided to do what Jesus would do. This is what will help strengthen our efforts in mission, as we testify according to our faith; a living faith, faith that works, is all that is required to become a Christ-like example to others. Even sharing a verse or two with those around us can go a long way, but it’s important for us to remember that success in mission can only come as a result of constant efforts and prayer.

Mission only works if you have faith, and your faith can be strengthened through mission. In more developed countries we face many worldly problems, and we as believers can be distracted by materialistic thinking. Our faith grows weak because of this—we should live in the world but not become a part of it. If we cannot even let go of all our physical things, how can we witness for Christ? We as believers should get to know Christ first; we cannot talk about someone we don’t know. We need to know Him and apply His teachings in our lives.

I grew up in a British Adventist school. Looking back, I realize there was practically no difference to a secular education, with little emphasis placed on the Bible. In order to increase our efforts in mission, we must start with education, both in schools and in churches. In the Philippines and the US, there are more than 100 Adventist schools or colleges, compared to a measly 10 in the UK! This lack of Adventist education may be a large factor in the lack of mission efforts—schools in the Philippines regularly train students to be involved in mission, which is a far cry from the UK’s relaxed attitude.

Are we, as believers, doing our best to ensure that the importance of God’s mission is taught to our youth? Most of us youth nowadays give excuses, like being too busy to do missions. But we are living in the end times—we need to make time for mission. Those in a senior position in churches and schools should actively encourage the next generation to carry out God’s mission, instead of allowing us to live out our lives like the rest of the world. God calls us to be peculiar people, yet sadly people our age seem to think that being a missionary is ‘out of their depth’. Unfortunately, none of us have time to be thinking these thoughts. Jesus is coming soon—are we really doing our best to spread the Word? Or do we merely have intentions, waiting for the perfect opportunity or a vacancy in our schedule?

Brothers and sisters, we need to educate our youth and make time for mission—it may be a challenge, but it is God’s easiest.

[1] A small town or village. The word Pinagkurusan means ‘cross’ or ‘intersection’.

[2] A machine used to take someone’s blood pressure.

[3] Mandela Thyoka, “Are Seventh-day Adventists a Minority Faith in the British Isles?,” https://adventist.uk, November 2, 2023, accessed April 14, 2024, https://adventist.uk/news/article/go/2023-11-02/1744/#:~:text=Adventist%20church%20membership,population%20of%20England%20and%20Wales.

[4] Lauren Davis, “Church accounts for lost members,” Adventist News Network, October 13, 2015, accessed April 14, 2024, https://adventist.news/news/church-accounts-for-lost-members.

[5] “Meet the Cities,” Adventist Mission, accessed April 14, 2021, https://am.adventistmission.org/360-cities#:~:text=London.

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