1,200 mission miles
When a team of Seventh-day Adventist cyclists decided to ride from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, Missouri, USA, before the General Conference Session in 2022, each of the eight cyclists knew they had to ride. train hard and get ready.
“I felt I had to step up my training and get in shape if I wanted to participate in such a project,” said Torben Bergland, associate director of General Conference Health Ministries and one of the participants. “I needed to focus on my health.”
But what Bergland and several other team members didn’t realize was that as departure day approached, something else would fill their minds with worry. “I had never done any canvassing, I had never gone out and talked about my faith to people on the street,” Bergland said during a special Saturday (Sabbath) program at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thompsonville, Illinois, just a day before the ride is scheduled to arrive on June 5.
Bergland’s comments echoed how other participants on the “I Will Go” ride felt. Several of them, defining themselves as “shy” and “introverted”, were more concerned with the witnessing element of the journey than with the physical challenge of the initiative. “But it turned out to be an amazing experience,” Bergland said during the program. “I’m always shy to approach others, but I’ve found that there are so many people who need something, who appreciate not only the books we give them, but the interaction”, did he declare.
Attendee Rob Hansford, an Adventist accountant in Australia, agreed. “The scariest part was sharing my faith with people. I was afraid. But this experience really changed my life. I learned that I could tell anyone my family’s story,” Hansford said.
A missionary enterprise
From the start, participants acknowledged, the ride was planned not just as a fitness initiative, but as a way to witness to others along the way. Support vehicles through the 1,200-mile ride west through back roads carried boxes of Adventist literature that runners shared when meeting strangers, telling them about their journey and offering to pray for them. .
It all started when Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, Anthony Kent, and his friends sought to recreate the missionary initiative of Philip Reekie, a 19th-century Scottish immigrant to Australia who traveled thousands of miles on his bicycle, sharing Adventist literature with the people he met. . One of those who would benefit from reading Ellen G. White’s book The great controversy was Thomas Kent, Anthony’s great-great-grandfather. Thomas’ eventual acceptance of the Adventist message led to the formation of a local church and several generations of Adventist pastors and committed lay members. Kent estimates that more than 20,000 people have found hope in Jesus over the years, thanks to a man on a bicycle.
Save toes and limbs
The ride has other purposes as well, South Pacific Division President and cycling team member Glenn Townend said during the June 4 program. “In the South Pacific, someone loses a toe or a limb to diabetes every 20 minutes,” he said. “[My wife and I] I lived in Fiji and had colleagues who lost limbs and others who died from diabetes.
Townend says that’s why the Seventh-day Adventist Church has partnered with other organizations for the 10,000 Toes initiative, which aims to support efforts to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the region. The Adventist Church turns churches into wellness centers and teaches people how to change their lifestyles to avoid non-communicable diseases.
The initiative has not been overlooked, Townend said.
“An Australian university did a study of all health initiatives in the South Pacific,” Townend reported. “10,000 toes have won the best initiative award for two consecutive years.” This year, the program also won a grant of A$37,000, which will be invested in expanding the reach of the initiative, he said.
It’s all about mission
The highlight of the trip, according to participants, was the awareness element of the ride.
The publishing and health director of the Union Mission in Southeast Asia, Pham Nguyen To Phuong, from Vietnam, is the only woman to participate in the race. She started cycling five years ago and has never looked back. “I used to pray, ‘Please Lord, use my passion for your glory,'” To Phuong shared. “Through this trip, God answered my prayer.”
Australian Trades Union Conference secretary Michael Worker said traversing small towns and hamlets on their quest to reach St. Louis provided them with many witnessing opportunities. “Just sharing what we were doing was a great conversation starter,” he shared. “People waved at us, welcomed us, and sharing our story opened the door to witnessing. And while we were sharing and interacting with other Christians, there were times when they wanted to pray for us. We came to give, but we received,” Worker said.
South Pacific Division Ministry Senior Systems Specialist Russ Willcocks agreed, adding that he felt God was ahead of them, preparing the way and the hearts of people to interact with them. “It often happened that when we arrived to meet people, we found that Jesus had arrived first,” he said. “They were ready and open to receive us.”
The key, Willcocks said, is to be willing to follow God’s example. “Don’t ask ‘should I go’ or ‘can I go’,” he said. “Just say, ‘I’ll go,’ and Jesus will meet you there.”
Answer the call
During the broadcast, Adventist Review Ministries editor-in-chief Bill Knott reminded the audience in person and those watching the live broadcast that the call to mission comes not from us but from God. “We don’t go to church service because we think we have something to offer,” Knott said. “It is the call of Jesus. Without the call, there could be no mission.
Thompsonville church pastor John Lomacang agreed. In his final thoughts, Lomacang pointed out that the trip didn’t fit most of the participants’ comfort zones. “But I learned that God can do anything with a willing heart,” he said.
Lomacang added that these cyclists may never experience the full impact of their ride until they reach paradise. But again, he stressed, the key is that we accept God’s call to reach out. “God can do anything through us if we just say the words, ‘I will go,'” he said.