By Joy Kuttappan, Assistant Coordinator, AIU Church Communication
With an emphasis on “Bringing the Advent Gospel to Southeast Asia,” the AIU church celebrated the Mission Emphasis Sabbath from August 13-14, 2021, featuring distinguished speakers. The speakers were Dr. Abner Dizon, Director, SSD Interfaith Services for Muslims and Secular-Postmodern; Dr. Johnny Kan, President, Seventh-day Adventist Conference, Singapore; Dr. Siroj Sorajjakool, AIU President; and Dr. Soontorn Thanteeraphan, Chaplain, Hong Kong Adventist Academy. Dr. Soontorn highlighted the background of the Adventist Mission in Thailand; Dr. Siroj emphasized mission as an act of emptying; Dr. Abner presented the topic “Cultural Diversity and Contextualization in Mission”; and Dr. Johnny Kan presented the theme, “Bringing the Advent Gospel to Southeast Asia.”
Pastor Mahaingam Varah, AIU Church Pastor, Dr. Franklin Hutabarat, AIU Chaplain, and Dr. Youssry Guirguis, Lecturer in the Theology department, organized the whole program with the University administration.
Growth of the Adventist Church in Thailand
Dr. Soontorn Thanteeraphan set the tone of the Mission Emphasis Week by giving a detailed background of the growth of the Adventist Church in Thailand. He also emphasized the importance of understanding symbol, language, norm, ritual, and time in preaching the gospel. Particularly, he encouraged all the mission workers to read the book, Siamese Gold, written by Dr. Alex G Smith to understand what works and what doesn’t work in Thai culture.
By highlighting the 15,000 Adventist membership in Thailand, Dr. Soontorn narrated from Smith’s book the stories of two evangelists who were instrumental in spreading the gospel in this country. They were Pastor Clifton Beverly from Australia, who was fondly called as Ajarn Maitri, and Pastor Man Mancy. Smith explains that these two pastors collaborated in the use of the local musical instruments to sing the Gospel songs. They trained the locals to understand the gospel and within five years the membership grew from 200 plus to over 1000 members.
Alex Smith says further in his book that while other churches faced difficulties and challenges, whatever the Adventist church touched, it flourished, Dr. Soontorn pointed out. He also highlighted that, “We are still experiencing the work of 1970s till today, and most of the churches in Ubon Ratchathani and nearby provinces are a result of that mission.”
“Mission is Emptying Ourselves”
Dr. Siroj Sorajjakool, the AIU President, in his Sabbath sermon beautifully explained mission as “Emptying Ourselves” to give a new impetus in understanding the concept of mission. He explained the need for emptying our preconceived ideas of mission, of self, and of the desired outcome.
By sharing a personal testimony of an unsuccessful desire to be a teacher in a rural, a mountainous, or a jungle area, Dr. Siroj admonished the congregation to empty the preconceived ideas of mission. He further said that, “Mission can be anywhere. It can be our children, parents, classmates, roommates, community, organization, or even our enemy.”
While elaborating the “Emptying of Self,” Dr. Siroj explained that “Mission is not about what I have done, but sometimes mission is emptying ourselves. So, we see what others have done, contributed and achieved.” To further illustrate this, the President pointed out that “Miracle is the generosity of the people—SAUM, Bangkok hospital, Phuket, generosity of the faculty and staff at AIU. Even after pay-cut, they work harder, continue to give from the depth of their heart. Miracle of students in the campus. They find the courage to move on. To smile, to help the university fulfill the mission. God called me a witness to the people who commit themselves on a daily basis. It’s a miracle itself.”
He concluded his sermon by pointing out that we need to “empty our desired outcome.” Expounding on this, Dr. Siroj said, “Sometimes we invest in ourselves into emptying ourselves for mission. In doing so, we cross many boundaries of culture, religion, language, economics, and sociological factors. When we cross these boundaries, we find ourselves in strange places. This strange place can be very uncomfortable. In this discomfort we discover ourselves. This self-discovery makes us realize maybe I need God’s grace as much my neighbor whom I’m trying to save. We are all called to mission. In trying to fulfill this mission, we are called to imitate Jesus in emptying ourselves for the services of the world.”
Cultural Diversity and Contextualization
Dr. Abner Dizon, SSD Interfaith Services for Muslims and Secular-Postmodern Director presented the topic, “Cultural Diversity and Contextualization,” and in his presentation he
presented four Mission Principles for “Bringing the Gospel” to the Southeast Asians.
In Dr. Abner’s presentation, he mentioned that it’s a challenge to bring the gospel to SEA. Therefore, firstly, we should “Know the Message” and the reason being that we may know the method, but may not be the message. So, we should study the message, and that is the Gospel—the good news that someone is paying my debts. As the Apostle Paul said, “For I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Dr. Abner also cautioned that When we “bring the gospel” to the non-Christians we should make sure it really is the Gospel that the Apostles preached, and not a different gospel.
Secondly, he said that we should “Know the Audience.” To add, he emphasized that “Mission is people (creature)—not just location (world); Mission is cultural—not just geographical; and think cultural—not just geographical. Even many problems in the church are cultural and not moral or biblical. So, when we think of mission, we should think of culture.”
For the third principle, Dr. Abner said that we have to “Be receptor-oriented (encoding) and check for meaning, and as a fourth principle he encouraged that we should check for meaning (evaluation).
‘Local Church is the Hope of the World’
In his presentation, Dr. Johnn Kan said that the “Local church is the hope of the world, and it should be a Biblically-Functioning, Life-Transforming, and Disciple-Making community. He encouraged the believers to be spiritually accountable and every Adventist should be a disciple making disciple for Jesus.”
He further exhorted that we should follow the “exponential disciple-making formula found in the Bible, and it’s a spiritual multiplication where life is transformed to life multiplication. Moreover, if you concentrate on building people, God will build the church.”
Dr. Kan also reminded that the leadership needs to be healthy who can build healthy pastors and a healthy organization. Along with that, he encouraged everyone to define success biblically.
After the presentations, many participants expressed their appreciation to all the presenters. Ms. Rojean Marcia, AIU Women’s Ministry leader said that, “all the presentations have been insightful.”
Finally, Dr. Damrong. proposed the vote of thanks, and Pastor Anupong offered the closing prayer. In Dr. Damrong’s speech, he reminded the participants of the Great Commission given by the Savior. Also, he thanked the presenters, the pastoral team, the Faculty of Religious Studies, the translators, the IT and media team, all the people who made the program a success, and the participants.