People often ask me, “Why does AFM exist?” In response, I often share our mission statement: “AFM establishes indigenous Seventh-day Adventist church-planting movements among unreached people groups.” However, this explains what we do, rather than why we exist.
Throughout history, there have been many flawed motives for mission. There was the imperialist motive, turning converts into docile subjects of colonial authorities. There was the cultural motive, i.e. the transfer of the missionaries’ allegedly superior culture. Some have had a romantic motive, where mission fulfills a desire to experience exotic locations and adventure. Finally, there was the ecclesiastical motive—the urge to export one’s own confession and denominational authority to new territories.
Throughout mission history, there have been better motives. There is the conversion motive, emphasizing personal decisions for Christ, but which narrows the Kingdom of God to the number of saved souls. The eschatological motive points believers to the Second Coming but often ignores present needs or injustices. The church-planting motive builds congregations but tends to exclusively identify today’s visible church with God’s kingdom. Finally, there is the philanthropic motive, working for justice in this world but limiting God’s kingdom to social improvements in this world alone.
Some have served because God has so commanded (Isa. 60:1). Matt. 28:18-20 is perhaps the most famous version of the Great Commission. In Luke 24:44-47, Jesus also taught that repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name is to be proclaimed to all nations. In John 20:21-23 Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins wherever He is preached. And in Acts 1:8 Jesus commanded us to be witnesses of the Risen Lord to the ends of the earth. In proclaiming the Gospel, we are aligning our lives with God’s perfect will. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” thus finds fulfillment in our lives. Yet, a motivation of obedience alone can sometimes lead to the gritted-teeth experience of the older brother (Luke 15:29).
So, what is AFM’s motivation? Why are so many missionaries willing to carry such scars and sacrifice so much?
First, we are compelled by the love of Christ for the lost (2 Cor. 5:14, John 3:16-17). God’s love has entered us and now flows through us to those who have yet to enter His kingdom. Our sharing is the natural overflow of a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father and is but the organic expression of our own joyful experience of salvation.
Second, in proclaiming the Gospel throughout all nations, we are hastening the End (Matt. 24:14). We thus hasten the end of all the suffering, sorrow, disease and death in this sinful age. We serve today so that no tears need be shed tomorrow, anywhere, for eternity!
Third, we serve because the cosmos reverberates with joy over every sinner who is welcomed into God’s kingdom. In leading the lost to Calvary, we bring joy to our Heavenly Father (Luke 15:7, 10). Our ministry is thus played out on a cosmic canvas with a cosmic angelic audience eagerly cheering every move we make to lift Jesus high as the sin-bearing Savior. Also, by implication, every saved soul leads to anguish and gnashing of teeth among defeated demons and Satan himself. Amen!
On a personal level, I can do no other, for, in Acts 13:47-48, God has captured my heart. “For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord.” I’ll never forget answering the preacher’s altar call at age 13 and experiencing the joy and assurance of salvation. The AFM worldwide mission family exists so that others may hear, believe and experience that same joy today. And that, dear friend, is the why behind the what.