Did You Know the Adventists Were in Town?
By Reggie Johnson
With more than 60,000 Seventh-day Adventists in downtown Toronto, the local people were sure to hear something about this strange group of herbivores who don’t partake of fermented beverages and stay in their private dens from sunset to sunset on Saturday. But this is a city that sees conventions and events come and go on a regular basis at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Front Street, where the SkyDome is located, is no stranger to crowds that make their way to watch the Blue Jays play three or more times a week. So did the Seventh-day Adventists leave an impression? Should they have?
José Rojas, youth director for the North American Division and director of volunteers, said, “This is one of the most unique opportunities Seventh-day Adventists have ever had, to blanket Toronto with the Seventh-day Adventist message.” Rojas went on to specify saying, “When Ellen White said that the work would be finished, she said that the message that would be preached would be the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior. And that’s what Toronto needs to hear this week.”
“We are here to do mission work,” said Milton Perkins, Director of ACS, ADRA, and Men’s Ministry in the Ontario Conference. He went on to say that “interaction both within the session and in the community is vitally important because it gives an emphasis that we are looking for the soon return of Jesus Christ.” But recognizing that not everyone may have the opportunity for verbal interaction, Perkins stated, “Even if they can’t speak the spoken word, you know the old saying, ‘A sermon in shoes goes a long way.’”
So let’s take a look at the results. What do the local people think of Adventists? A hot dog vendor, who sets up shop just outside the Convention Center, said that Adventists weren’t good for business because “they don’t spend no money” most likely because “they’re all from third world countries.” A waitress from a nearby restaurant, East Side Mario’s, expressed a similar sentiment—she was disappointed in the tips from Adventist customers.
Another vendor on a nearby street corner admitted that Veggie-Dog sales were way up, and said that Adventists were “nice people” but no different from the normal crowd.
Simon Roach, a local Torontonian who works as a cook in one of the restaurants in the SkyDome building, had a lot of good things to say about Adventists. He described them as “a huge mix of people; perfectly quiet but they’re having a great time, not causing any problems. It’s great for everybody.” He viewed them as focused on their task at hand, “[They’re] just coming here to do what they have to do.” He considered the convention “so much calmer” than the usual crowd of baseball fans. In his own words, Adventists are “just really, really good people. It’s really kind of odd almost. It’s like every single person is your average clean-cut family from any background.”
An anonymous elevator operator in the SkyDome, said that he liked working with the Adventists and many of the SkyDome employees expressed similar sentiments.
The manager of Timothy’s, a Coffee shop located in the convention center, said that although sales were “way down,” he doesn’t resent the Adventists at all. The difference, he noticed, was that with the Adventists around, he had a record number of customers (15) tell him “God bless you,” in one day.
Interestingly, the manager of the Hard Rock Café, a bar and restaurant located in the Skydome, refused to comment on having the Adventists around. The Hard Rock Café usually gets a lot of their business on Friday nights, and normally sells a lot more alcohol without the Adventist ‘teetotalers’ around. Hard Rock Café also sees a lot of business with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball games. Because of the Session, the Blue Jays took a 12 game road trip, depriving this restaurant of one of their best business draws. And to add insult to injury, coordinators of the session requested that the Café turn off it’s neon advertisements normally displayed inside the dome.
A waitress at the same Café thought that Adventists were the ones who did hand-on-forehead healings. She also said that they, “Don’t drink, don’t like rock [music], don’t eat meat. . . . They don’t live!”
One more point to examine, is that when asked if the Adventists had witnessed to them or told about Jesus and His soon coming, most people seemed to think it was a very good thing that they hadn’t. They answered in a way that suggested the questioner should feel relieved at their answer of “no.” One gets the impression that the responses would have been much the same if they had been asked, “Have the Adventists harassed you or mugged you during their time here?”
So what have we learned from this experience? Firstly, Adventists are bad for business! Secondly, they don’t tend to tell people about Jesus or His second coming unless they are a part of an official evangelical program such as Impact Toronto 2000 or unless they are asked. This may be considered a good thing considering that, thirdly, people don’t want to hear about Jesus. Most people don’t want to be witnessed to in such a direct manner.
There’s no doubt that the Adventists had an impact on Toronto by living a daily life as calm, loving, polite, good, wholesome people. And this creates opportunities for witnessing as people ask questions and inquire about the Adventist Church. This type of ministry took place a lot in Toronto. But then there are the majority of people who just don’t want to hear the good news. Is that an excuse for us not to tell them? You decide. . . .
Reggie Johnson is a senior communication and religion major at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI.
Quotes from Union Representatives
Thomas J. Morsterd, Jr. - President of the Pacific Union
“I think that’s [personal evangelism] something that should go on all the time, Toronto or wherever you are.”
Pastor Greg Nelson, Union College - Mid American Union
“My guess is that the people of Toronto have heard an awful lot about Adventists. First of all, we need to be very gracious and kind to our hosts. That means every restaurant, and every store. And in a positive way I’ve had opportunity to share with some of the waiters or waitresses. They’ve asked ‘so what are Adventists all about?’ and I’ve been able to share a positive perspective. So definitely—graciousness and kindness, and then as opportunity arises to be able to tell them what the Adventist Church is all about.”
Malcom Gordon, President of the Southern Union
“I think all of us as Delegates, in a kind, Christian demeanor [should] share our faith and let them know what we’re all about. I think we would be failing our duty if we didn’t share with the people here from the great city of Toronto.”
Leon D. Thomassin, Treasurer of the Atlantic Union
“Some of the people’s ministry is being friendly: talking to people, smiling, passing the literature that they have to give. Those are all kinds of ministries that you can do, not only preaching or the word, but by being hospitable, and kind, and respectful, and appreciative of what they have done.”
Ed Motcheidler, Secretary of the Columbia Union
“[Adventists] certainly have the opportunity, especially as they might be standing in lines at a restaurant or fast food court, [to] just ask the person in front of them where they’re from, just get into a discussion and mention they’re here for the world-wide conference of the Adventist church, and just see what happens from there. This certainly is a way to start communication to have contact with somebody, and see how the Lord leads them, and what opportunities occur.”
Dwight Nelson, Senior Pastor at Pioneer Memorial Church, Andrews Univ. - Lake Union
“Our mission as Christians, irrespective of delegate status, is always to live a life transparent on behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ. Namely, wherever I go, I am a friend of Jesus—He is my ‘Forever Friend.’ And I wish to live in a way that will: honor Him, reflect Him, and be a compelling draw to someone who eventually finds out ‘Hey you a Christian, Oh that explains why you’re like you are.’ So people from the Great Lakes states, our mission in Toronto in the SkyDome and outside the SkyDome is to be consistent in reflecting the love, the graciousness, the patience, and the genuine compassion of Christ Himself.”
Bryce Pasco, Secretary Northern Pacific Union
“I think the delegates and then others as well who are here certainly would be [witnessing] in the restaurants and in the hotels. I think the way we relate to the staff, and the hotels—all of that is a witness.”
Orville Parchment, President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada
“Just by their [the Adventists’] actions—the way they conduct themselves, their demeanor, their friendliness, their warmth—that alone is a form of evangelism. They don’t have to pick up the Bible. They just have to share and be friendly and it has already made an impact on the people of Toronto”