No Adventist members live in the Shetland Islands, but that could soon change.
“Slow Down. Children Playing,” the sign says. But not a single child is around, playing or otherwise. General Conference (GC) ministerial associate secretary Anthony Kent is worried. How are we going to connect with people if they are nowhere to be seen? he asks.
Kent is part of a team that has traveled from various parts of the world to the Shetland Islands in Scotland, the United Kingdom’s northernmost region. The group, which includes I Will Go cyclists and a support team, has taken a 14-hour overnight ferry from Aberdeen, in northeast Scotland, to reach Lerwick, the capital of the archipelago, on May 15. Now, they are getting acquainted with the rugged geography and small communities as they get ready to cycle the backroads of the main islands to talk to people and invite them to meetings.
A Challenging Landscape
The unpredictable island weather complicates their plans. One moment the sun is shining, but five minutes later a cold drizzle gets everything wet. Then, there is the constant and unforgiving wind. Hopefully, more moments of sun will come among dark clouds and occasional rain. Temperatures are generally cold — the historical record high temperature for May is just 69 °F (23 °C), but the daily mean is 46 °F (8 °C). Other than a few road workers, it’s very rare to see people strolling down the road. “How will we manage to talk to them?” Kent asks again.
The visiting team of missionary hopefuls has accepted the challenge to include the Shetlands in their Reflecting Hope Scotland initiative. Kent has led meetings in Aberdeen and is planning other meetings in Inverness after leaving the islands. One key difference between those two cities on the Scottish mainland and the Shetlands: the latter has not a single Seventh-day Adventist church member. For all intents and purposes, the islands (pop. 23,000) have not been reached with the Adventist message.
Besides Kent, the team includes retired pastor Paul Tompkins, Inverness pastor Wilfred Masih, and recently appointed Edinburgh pastor Fitzroy Morris. They are waiting for GC associate health ministries director Torben Bergland and Aberdeen pastor Weiers Coetser to arrive on the ferry a couple of days later. The support and logistics team is led by Scottish Mission president Jimmy Botha and includes Kanchan Masih as a cook and Adventist Mission video producer Caleb Haakenson.
The group gets busy as they settle in a big country house and get their bicycles ready for the ride next day. “What is going to happen?” one of them asks. “I don’t have great expectations at the moment.”
Recovering Hope Scotland
The initiative was born as a plan Kent developed to support the overall Christ for Europe efforts taking place across the continent in 2023. Before the end of the year, hundreds of church leaders and other volunteers will preach at 1,500 venues in more than three dozen European countries, according to GC organizers.
Kent came up with the idea of cycling through Scotland to distribute Adventist books and invite people to study the Bible as a way of honoring the memory of Philip Reekie and Thomas Kent, his great-great-grandfather. Reekie emigrated from Scotland to Australia in 1888, and a year later, he discovered the Adventist message.
After his conversion, Reekie cycled many miles under the merciless Australian sun distributing Adventist literature. One day, he met Thomas Kent and shared Ellen G. White’s book The Great Controversy. That book transformed Thomas Kent’s life and the life of his friends and neighbors.
Driven by that example, Anthony Kent contacted Botha recently, and together they developed an outreach plan. That plan became a reality on May 15 with the arrival of the I Will Go Ride team in the Shetland Islands. But even before that, the Scottish Mission mailed invitations to meetings in Lerwick, where Kent will present on “The Evidence for the Bible” and “The Evidence for Christianity.” The meetings are planned for May 19 and 20.
God Starts Opening Doors
Minutes after the ferry arrived in the Port of Lerwick on the morning of May 15, the team gathered in a corner of a downtown parking lot to reflect on Bible promises and pray. In faith, they asked God to help them connect with the residents of the Shetlands.
A couple of hours later, Botha checked his phone and found a message. A resident of the Shetlands had contacted the mission office to request a copy of The Great Controversy. He had provided his address, not knowing that the I Will Go Ride team was on the island and staying just a few minutes down the road from his home. Right away, two of the cyclists made plans and delivered the book in person. The surprise visit revealed a man who had worked for years in a bicycle shop, who showed a great interest in their initiative, and who welcomed his unexpected visitors warmly.
At the same time, as the rest of the team worked on getting their bicycles ready outside the lodging house for the first day’s ride, a neighbor stopped by to find out what they were doing. The interaction led again to moments of meaningful conversation and sharing of Adventist literature.
“Two people. God already brought two people to us. And we haven’t even begun our ride,” Kent said. “He’s already opening doors even before we start.”