BY PR. SCOTT GRISWOLD
Brenda grew up on a sheep farm in Minnesota. She loved the little lambs, but her fondest childhood memories are the visits from relatives who were missionaries in Africa. As she listened to their stories, she knew there was only one thing she would ever be: a missionary nurse.
After earning a nursing degree, Brenda married Pastor Dick Duerksen, and Africa seemed closer than ever. Instead, calls to various leadership positions kept them on the homeward side of the ocean. Finally, they received a call to join Maranatha Volunteers International. Brenda began traveling the world, coordinating medical clinics wherever a church or school was under construction. She loved every minute of it.
In time, the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists called Pastor Duerksen, and once again the mission field was on the other side of the world. Or was it? Brenda thought deeply as she puttered around her orchid greenhouse. What did God want her to do?
Then, the Conference called. Would she work part-time helping with health ministry and community services? It fit her abilities. She agreed. But was it the mission field that mattered so much to her? Calls began to come in from the Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church. They were having wonderful problems—their church was being overrun by Adventist refugees from the Congo. Cultural differences were raising issues that needed to be worked through.
Since her teenage years, Brenda had longed to help in refugee camps. Once, she had planned to travel to the Thai-Myanmar border to help longtime family friend and ASAP founder Judy Aitken in the camps there, but it never quite worked out. Now, Brenda began to learn more about the many refugees, immigrants, and international students living in Portland, Oregon. In particular, there were many Karen from Myanmar. Soon the conference asked her to help coordinate ministry among the refugees. She looked around for people involved in such activities and developed a refugee taskforce to learn how to respond to the needs.
Brenda really did not feel equipped for this ministry. She flew to Tucson, Arizona, to attend a seminar, and she gathered as many ideas as she could from Terri Saelee, coordinator for Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries for the North American Division, and Pastor Jimmy Shwe, church planter coordinator for the Karen. There she learned about the online cross-cultural missions training Reach the World Next Door.
“I have to do that training!” she exclaimed. She ordered the workbook and videos, then told her Hood View Seventh-day Adventist Church family. “Would anyone like to join me?” she asked, as she passed around a clipboard. Twelve people signed up. The group grew to 16, meeting every Thursday evening in the Duerksen’s home.
Group members were impacted in different ways. One member, Carl, reached out to a refugee from Iraq. They met together at restaurants. They practiced English. The Iraqi had significant physical challenges because of beatings during the war. Carl took him to medical appointments. They became close friends, which his Iraqi friend said is the very thing he needed most.
It was Brenda, the group leader, who was most impacted by the training. Soon she joined a team coordinating a free two-day clinic called Impact Your Health Portland. Over 500 volunteers helped her reach out to more than 800 patients, including many immigrants and refugees. Brenda also continued to help Portland Adventist Community Services. In response to COVID-19, they prepare pre-filled boxes for a drive-through food bank. One day recently the Duerksen’s van was filled with 825 loaves or bags of rolls to distribute to individuals in need.
Frequently, Brenda coordinates efforts with a Karen Adventist refugee leader named Doh Soe to deliver furniture, clothing, bedding, cooking supplies, and children’s toys to refugee and immigrant families in need. Doh Soe is supported by the Rockwood Seventh-day Adventist Church to church plant among the refugees from Myanmar.
I was thrilled to meet the Duerksens at a previous Oregon Conference camp meeting, and to learn, recently, the impact of the Reach the World Next Door training on them and those whose lives they have touched. God desires to use all of us in some way to welcome, befriend, and share His salvation with the unreached who have moved nearby.
After using this training for the last seven years, we have just completely revised the program to increase its effectiveness and make it easier to use. You will enjoy the video clips of leaders and members sharing their valuable insights and experiences in ministry among refugees and international students. You will also appreciate the small group Bible study and discussion workbooks, through which you will learn excellent principles for working with people of other cultures and religions.
The full course is available for free online at adventistlearningcommunity.com/rwnd. It includes 13 lessons that can be completed in your home with your family or at the park with friends. You can use it in Sabbath school classes, youth groups, academy Bible classes, and other venues. Pastors and teachers can also take the course for continuing education credits.
Every lesson has an assignment that helps you put a new witnessing principle into action. If you faithfully follow it, you will make new friends with people from other cultures and significantly help them with the challenges they are facing. You will gain confidence in sharing your faith with Buddhists, Muslims, and others. You will learn how to appreciate various elements of your new friends’ culture, while helping them address issues that must be transformed as they become disciples of Christ.
I am praying that you will take the step to invite friends and family to join you in this mission journey like Brenda did. She writes, “I loved the Bible lessons being focused on how Jesus reached out to immigrants and refugees, with supportive Bible texts and stories. He’s always the number one inspiring role model for us.”
Someone has said we are either a missionary or a mission field. As you consider this strategic mission, remember that the new friend you make may be the one who, like the Ethiopian treasurer (see Acts 8:26-39), takes the gospel back to his entire country. Together, let’s reach the world next door and see Jesus return—sooner!