Young Seventh-day Adventists Repay Missionary Kindness
A group of South Asian young people and the legacy of mission service
A century ago, when Adventist missionaries first accepted calls to serve in India, at the very least it was hoped their service wouldn’t be in vain--that the people with whom they shared the gospel would embrace the message and raise new generations of Adventist Christians, cementing a stronghold of the movement on the subcontinent. But they may not have realized that in bringing the message of Seventh-day Adventism to India, they also created a bridge to the country that first birthed the movement, and planted seeds that continue to bear fruit.
The Southern Asian Seventh-day Adventist Church (SASDAC), just a block away from General Conference Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland is a 900-member congregation comprised of members largely from the countries that make up Southern Asia: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Always thought to be a “home away from home” for its members, a large percentage of whom are first-generation immigrants, the church’s very existence can be traced back to those missionaries from long ago. And today, two to four generations later, that legacy is manifested in a commitment to mission service by the church’s youth. These kids are called and they go, but they don’t necessarily see the needs as greatest overseas. In this country that has given their own families so much, SASDAC’s kids are finding ways to be His light in the world—just in their own backyards.
The “backyard” this summer is Stone Mountain, Georgia, working construction on a new home for a worthy family as part of the Habitat for Humanity organization. These “kids,” all 16-21 years old, could be doing other things this week. Instead, they slog away in the heat with great attitudes despite the weather, exhaustion, and a rough living situation. And if you were to witness them in action, you would understand that with respect to the role mission service has played in their own family stories, these kids have in a sense come full circle.
Nineteen-year-old Prerna Lall, learned how to install siding from scaffolding 15-feet off the ground and has become a master painter. Her easy nature and kind smile have been put to the test in the heat, but she’s persevered because of what mission service means to her and her family. “At the age of 16, my grandfather, Anand Prakash Lall, plotted with the rest of his Hindu friends to poison the cup of an English missionary,” she says. “But what followed after scared him. And we know what fear does: it elicits change. The missionary drank the poison and lived. That was it. It took one single encounter with the work of God to captivate my grandfather.” A series of providential encounters then led to his baptism in 1971.
That experience plays a big part in Prerna’s faith and commitment to missions. “It was the missionary who miraculously survived the poison that ultimately instilled the fear of God into my grandfather, and it was a good Samaritan widow who introduced my grandfather to Adventism. Without individuals stepping out of their comfort zones and putting their lives on the line, I would not be aware of the love of God, the love of Jesus, and the love of mankind—three qualities that define my faith.”
Daniel Soreng, a University of Maryland mechanical engineering student, is being honest when he says he’s not sure he’s the type of person who could devote his entire life and career to missionary service. But he’s always grateful for opportunities to spread Christ’s love in other ways. “I do love helping people in whatever way I can,” he says. “Through this trip, we are helping others and hope they see Christ through our actions and character. This is why this trip is important to me, because it will help someone hear about the Lord.”
Someone cared to help his grandmother hear about the Lord once too, and it changed not just her life but her family to come. “My grandma was brought up in harsh times when England still had control over India,” he says. “There used to be a hill near her village where they used to hang anyone who rebelled against English rule, and it was terrifying. Then an Adventist missionary came to her village and taught them about God and His love.” She became an Adventist because she was given the gift of hope when she learned of Jesus’ soon coming.
For Adventists, bringing hope is central to what mission service is all about. And for these kids, whose life trajectories have been undoubtedly changed because of what happened in their families when the truth was brought to them, the opportunity to serve is a powerful element of their own spiritual journeys. “I believe that mission service is instrumental to young people in church who are serious about getting to know God,” says Benny Varghese, who studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “If we are to serve God, then we should serve Him by serving those He has created. When we express that selfless love through self-sacrifice of our time, voluntary labor, and money, we show God's love in our own way. All God asks of us is to serve in anyway possible. Small acts of kindness such as these are our calling, and I believe that each and every one of us can fulfill this calling.”
Elijah Stanley’s family came to the Adventist message through their own share of adversity. “My great grandmother was Hindu,” he says. “She married my great-grandfather after running from a Muslim king, and both were converted by Voice of Prophecy pamphlets.” And for Elijah, a Washington Adventist University theology major who’s been spending his days on this trip measuring, cutting, and installing siding in the blazing heat, mission service is a profound extension of his faith—a faith now deeply rooted in his family for several generations. “Mission service is a great way to share Jesus. As a follower of Christ I have to be humble and serve others. Going out of my way to help someone is expected of me. Mission service is also a practical way of showing God's love. We touch people personally, and that’s what makes the difference.”
Before long, this group will be back home in Maryland, getting ready to head back to their respective campuses for a new school year. They will return to their families and church, to their jobs and their social lives. But they will not forget the potential impact their mission will have on the family they came to serve, knowing that long ago, others made great sacrifices too. Sacrifices that have today, resulted in their being here as the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that needs that so much.
Years from now, just imagine what seeds planted this week may have borne fruit!
Pictures of service — SASDAC students in Stone Mountain, Georgia
Future nurse, Prerna Lall, 19, became a siding pro.
4836 College freshman, Sammy Asir contributed to the new home by pruning an overgrown tree in the backyard.
The heat was intense, especially from high up on scaffolding, so frequent breaks were necessary.
Anjali Christian, a college junior, built a fence and got pretty handy with a nail gun.
Unfortunately, the accommodations were less than ideal. But sacrifice is a part of mission service and the kids rose to the occasion.
SASDAC’s group spent a week with Habitat for Humanity readying a new home for a worthy family in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Meghan Stanley, a high school junior, added expert painting to her skill set.
Elijah “Deno” Stanley, an aspiring chaplain, signs a doorway with an appropriate message for the new homeowners.
—If college kids Benny Varghese (left) and Ashley Andrew ever had questions about using power tools, they no longer did after this trip.