Top Adventist Statistician Links Mission Offerings to Prosperity at Home
Ellen White’s convictions about mission giving examined by the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s top statistician has examined and statistically verified a conviction by church co-founder Ellen G. White that prosperity in the home work depends on generosity in giving mission offerings to foreign fields.
David Trim, director of the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, said months of research by his team, together with support from statisticians at Berrien Springs, Michigan-based Andrews University, has yielded data that supports a connection between liberality in foreign mission offerings and the prosperity of outreach work at home.
“By giving, you will not be taking away from your local context,” Trim told the annual Mission Board meeting of senior church leaders at the world church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Opening a data-packed presentation, he read a 1900 statement from Ellen White that helped prompt his research.
“The prosperity of the home work depends largely … upon the reflex influence of the … work done in countries afar off,” he said, reading from Testimonies to the Church, vol. 6, page 27.
Ellen White made the statement at a time when some church leaders were questioning the wisdom of sending funds to other countries rather than concentrating resources at home. In one instance, leaders worried that any plan to open church schools across the United States would result in a significant drop in mission offerings, Trim said. In another case, William A. Spicer, who later became world church president, reported the views of U.S. leaders apprehensive about diverting money to new mission fields in Asia. “We could not provide money for our workers in Asia when we needed so much in our home field,” Spicer said, according to Trim.
But Ellen White firmly believed in the “reflex influence,” where generosity toward foreign fields promotes success in the home field. The notion served as a reoccurring theme in her writings in the last two decades of her life, Trim said.
“I think we do not appreciate how important this concept was to Ellen White,” he told the Mission Board, a gathering of leaders from the church’s 13 world divisions, the Middle East and North Africa Union, major universities, and other church entities.
In one example, she wrote in Dec. 30, 1897, “A missionary spirit is to be cherished. The message of mercy is to be given to those that have not heard it. By many this message will be received. They will reflect to others the light and truth that has been graciously bestowed on them. Thus the church may enjoy the reflex influence of extending the work to regions beyond” (Letters and Manuscripts,vol. 12).
Ellen White used the phrase “regions beyond” to refer to mission work outside North America, Trim said.
To test Ellen White’s conviction, Trim and his associates analyzed 50 years of annual data on tithe, offerings, and church membership through 1950. The results indicated that she was right, Trim said.
The research also found a connection between tithe and mission giving. When people return a tithe faithfully, they also give to mission generously, Trim said.
“The data is the kind that mission leaders need to be aware of,” he said. “If the church can encourage more faithful tithing, increases in mission giving will follow.”
World church president Ted N.C. Wilson, who chaired the Mission Board meeting on Oct. 9, welcomed the findings.
“Some of us have promoted this particular principle for a long time,” he said, “and it is an absolutely foolproof, absolutely trustworthy, formula: You give to foreign missions, your local setting will also be blessed.”
Delbert W. Baker, president of theAdventist University of Africaoutside Nairobi, Kenya, said he has witnessed the principle in action.
“You wouldn’t think that by giving you would receive, but … it is a proven law,” he said.
Rick McEdward, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, called for measures to educate church members about the importance of mission offerings.
“We should have a practical outcome to this discussion,” he said.
Williams Costa Jr., communication director for the world church, said he met recently with leaders of the world church’s stewardship ministries department to draft an initiative to promote mission offerings and other methods of giving.
“We are working on a plan with the stewardship department to support giving in all forms,” he said.