By Barnabas Hope (Esther, Mr. Fervent and Brother Servant)
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, but what about Mecca? And how might Jesus feel about Pyongyang, North Korea? And how does Jesus feel about the other 34 cities, with a population of 1 million or more, on our globe that have no Seventh-day Adventist witness living in them?
Here is the list of the 39 “Zero Adventists” cities in our world gathered by our General Conference Missions Department:
China: Hengyang, Jining, Zhuzhou
Democratic Republic of Congo: Mbuji-Mayi
India: Allahabad, Asansol, Dhanbad, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Kanpur, Kota
Iran: Ahvaz, Basra, Isfahan, Meshed, Shiraz, Tabriz, Qom
Iraq: Arbil, Mosul
Morocco: Fes, Marrakesh, Rabat
North Korea: Pyongyang
Palestinian Territory: Gaza
Saudi Arabia: Dammam, Mecca, Medina
Syria: Alepo, Damascus
Turkey: Bursa, Gaziantep, Konya.
Some of the cities above have a population of two or three million. Unless you are a geography professor, it is likely you have never heard of many of these huge cities. Can you imagine that the story of Jesus’ 2nd coming, and certainly the name Seventh-day Adventists is as unknown to the residents of these cities as their city names are to you? It’s all just a blur of foreignness.
Stare at the name Hengyang for a moment. When was the last time Hengyang crossed your mind. (Likely never) “What do I know about that place?” (Hmm. Nothing.) “Where in China is it located?” (I am sure it’s either on the North or South.) “Is it mountainous or flat?” (Hmm. No picture comes to mind.) “What do I know about it’s people?” (I got this one. They are Chinese!). “What do I know about it’s city history?” (Well, it has a history. That I am sure of.)
How did I score? Zero. It’s all a blur, just a blur of foreignness in some other land. According to the encyclopedia, there are 7 million people who live in Hengyang! That’s 7 million people that really don’t exist for me. So what do you think those people in Hengyang know about the Seventh-day Adventist church? Likely nothing. Our precious “message” is just a blur of foreignness, that likely has never crossed their mind. A zero.
Now here is an amazing question whose simple answer both reveals our churches weakness and each member’s individual strength:
Question: What would it take for a city to get off the “Zero SDA list”?
Answer: One SDA family moving there.
Last year my family moved to a city that was on that “zero list.” That city isn’t on the list anymore! By God’s Spirit, I baptized one woman, found another SDA at a university, brought a young man to appreciate the three angels message, who is now teaching other people the message. The result in four months of our presence is that a small SDA group now exists there, and there is one less city on the list.
Two other Turkish cities vanished from that list last year. One is in the East of Turkey. I and my teammates have been working with people in that city off-and-on for about four years. But this year for the sake of refugees there, our union sent a man to work full time. We now have a community of SDA’s there of about forty. No, they aren’t Turkish, but the group is strategic and it’s growing.
The other Turkish city was wiped of the list when a couple moved from South America into that city (of five million). He doesn’t work for the church, but is a “tentmaker” missionary. (Yes, the term comes from Paul — who both worked for a living while raising up home churches.) In other words, this South American man is employed in Turkey for secular purposes. All the while he and his wife privately work to build up a home prayer fellowship. Now after one year he has about fifteen people meeting on Sabbaths, where last year there were none.
Do you notice there is something that most of the countries in the “zero list” have in common? They are places that aren’t exactly friendly toward Christian missionaries. In fact missionaries will be flat out refused at the border if they give “Missionary” as a reason for entering the country.
However, almost anybody could go to one of these countries to work as an English teacher, engineer or scientist. The doors that are closed for missionaries, swing wide open for skilled, educated professionals. Additionally, these places are eager for trade and for export. All that is needed is people of skill who are willing to do more than share the gospel — they must also share their talent. In a real way, their talent, becomes their expression of love. Maybe you or someone you know could go as a “tentmaker” businessman, doctor or teacher.
Tentmakers are individuals and families who are willing to use their secular career in some outlandish location on earth for the glory of God. Their salary will come from secular companies. These jobs are unusual jobs for people willing to live unusual lives. They can’t tell anyone they are missionaries, but they are. They must speak often about their personal love for Jesus while never proselytizing. Their home and hospitality must be a church, because there is no tolerance for churches. Their lives must have the aroma of Christ in a place that has never smelled the gospel fragrance before.
Can you see the power of penetrating these “zero SDA” cities through lay workers? Yes, in many ways toppling that “zero list” is much like entering the last strongholds that Satan has here on earth. Tentmakers will establish islands of holiness that will grow, just as Adventist Mission did years ago. It’s hard to imagine places like Seoul, Korea and San Paulo, Brazil were on a “zero list” not too many years ago. Someone went and it made all the difference.