Norwegian center of influence reinvents its ministry amid coronavirus lockdown.
When COVID-19 hit Norway late last February and turned the lives of its residents upside down, Delfred and Hannah Onde thought that everything their team was accomplishing in the Oslo community would come to a grinding halt. It wasn’t long, however, before the Holy Spirit helped them to begin thinking outside the box.
Passion for Mission
Originally from the Philippines, Delfred, a pastor, and Hannah, a nurse, have served as missionaries in various world regions—including South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and most recently, Estonia¹—for the past 15 years. Then in January 2019, together with their young daughter, Zion Amber, they moved to Oslo to serve as project coordinators at the Seventh-day Adventist center of influence in Norway’s capital city. Working closely with the other core team leaders—David Havstein, Simon Martin, and Willy Aronsen—the Ondes began introducing projects and techniques that had worked successfully for them in other regions. Together with ideas generated at the group’s weekly brainstorming sessions, the facility, officially called the Adventist Center (Adventist SENTER in Norwegian) is becoming a local household name.
“We knew that doing missionary work in this part of the world would be a bit challenging, but we also believed that with the help of our active and very dedicated project leaders and God’s blessings, we would be successful,” Delfred says. “The presence of the Adventist Center and its projects was felt quickly in Oslo, and its reputation spread rapidly.”
After determining the community’s most pressing needs, the Adventist Center began offering a free weekly Norwegian language course, led by the local Betel Adventist church pastor, David Havtein, and his wife, Nanna-Lise. Only four people showed up for the first class, but by the second week, 18 seats were filled. Soon, between 30 to 40 community residents from various cultures, denominations, and religious backgrounds were attending regularly.
From One Project to Another
Encouraged by the success of the Norwegian language program, Delfred and Hannah next initiated an international cooking class featuring cuisine from various world regions. Both church members and community residents attended, including some students from the language program.
“New faces showed up at every class, because students were telling and bringing their friends and family members,” Hannah says. “We’d have about 25 people on a good day.”
The team’s creative thinking then envisioned a “mocktail” bar, where they would serve nonalcoholic, healthful drinks. Two local church young people, Bethany Martin and Daniel Riley, took the lead in this endeavor, which became a hit with the local youth and grew rapidly. Opening night happened at the same time as a nearby library event, which resulted in a large group of young people noticing the people inside the center enjoying healthful drinks. Some of them knocked on the window and jokingly asked for a drink.
“We thought, Why not share the drinks with them? So we went outside with tiny cups and gave them samples to try,” says Delfred. “We were able to promote the Adventist center and our projects.
“The same thing happened with our language class,” Delfred adds. “People just walking past the center during one of our Monday classes noticed us through the glass window. They came in and asked what was going on. We explained about the class and told them it was free, and they’ve been attending ever since.”
The center also offers other programs, including Kirkemorro (Children’s Day), where children are involved with games, face painting, stories, and other activities; Leksehjelp (homework help), where church members assist kids with their homework; and Samtalekafe (a conversation café), where people relax, eat pancakes, and visit with one another.
“Some of these projects were still in the development stage, but we were heading in the right direction,” Delfred says.
Then Came COVID-19
But then the coronavirus changed everything.
“It was a big blow,” Delfred says. “We had our momentum for a couple of months, and everything seem to be going great—then came the lockdown. Everything was put on hold.”
After a couple weeks, when the core team members began to adjust to the “new normal,” they met online and brainstormed ideas. They longed to keep at least some of the projects going and suggested continuing the cooking classes via Facebook livestreaming. Most people are home because of the coronavirus, anyway, they thought. So they decided to try an experiment.
“This was the first time we’d ever done cooking classes online,” Hannah says. “We designed an online poster and other ads, and then we personally informed all our Adventist Center contacts about the cooking classes by sending them personal text messages. We didn’t send group messages. We sent everyone a personal text message so they would feel valued, because they are.”
Hannah concedes that it’s not easy to send individual text messages to 40 people, but says, “It’s worth it. They’re worth it.”
The team was apprehensive about the online classes. Will this work? they wondered. Will they watch? The answer was Yes!
“We were blown away by the large number of viewers and their positive responses and comments, and we’re just using our humble phones and Facebook for livestreaming,” Delfred says. “We not only had a good number who watched it live, a lot of people also watched the video afterwards. The total number of viewers was 8 to 10 times higher than the number of regular attendees who came to the classes before the lockdown. And the views are still growing!”
The group is now livestreaming Sabbath worship services and prayer meetings, along with regularly texting comforting and reassuring messages of God’s love and care. Delfred and Hannah also hold weekly online Bible studies.
“Some of the students of the Norwegian language classes we were holding before the lockdown are watching the online Sabbath services,” Delfred says. “We’re now considering having language classes online as well.”
“If There’s a Will, There’s a Way”
The Ondes continue to meet regularly with the center’s other core leaders, praying that the Lord will provide them with even more creative ideas for reaching out to the community during the current world crisis.
“It’s sort of a blessing in disguise,” Delfred says, “because we were able to find and try new methods of ministry that we’d never done before. If there’s a will, there’s a way,” he says.
“We can’t do it on our own,” he adds, “but we can do all things through Christ, who gives us the strength.”2
¹ To read about Delfred and Hannah’s work in Estonia, go to www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story6319-international-church-plant-spurs-growth-in-estonia.
2 See Philippians 4:13.