A missionary couple makes connections with some of the least-reached people groups in the U.S.
Published on: 12-29-2021
In 1992, God placed a burden for the people of Cambodia on Scott and Julie Griswold’s hearts. They talked with Judy Aitken about their desire to serve overseas someday. Judy, then a missionary in Thailand, had founded Adventist Southeast Asia Projects, now called Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted (ASAP) Ministries, in 1995 in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.
Judy approached the Griswolds on the night of Julie’s graduation from Andrews University with a serious request — volunteers were needed in Cambodian refugee camps; would they be willing to go? The couple began praying in earnest. If the Lord wanted them to serve abroad, He would have to work out the details.
Providentially, the conference sponsoring Scott’s graduate study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary released him from his sponsorship. Within three months, the Griswolds were working among the Cambodian refugees in Thailand. This led to a 16-year ministry abroad for Scott and Julie, for 10 of which Scott served as the director of the Global Mission Buddhist Study Center (now called the Global Mission Center for East Asian Religions). They praise God for that “open … door to the most exciting adventure humans are allowed — leading the unreached to Christ!”
In 2012, Scott began working for ASAP as associate director, primarily focused on the mission field in North America. According to statistics listed on the ASAP website, “one million legal immigrants move to the United States every year. Close to one million international students are studying in North America right now. There are refugees struggling to survive in almost every global city. Many of them are from highly unreached countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Somalia, and they are wide open to friendly care.”
Recognizing the incredible opportunity, Scott said, “God led us to purchase 26 acres [10.5 hectares] on the edge of Houston, Texas, the fifth largest metro area in the United States and home to many unreached people groups. We’re surrounded by many of the ‘least reached’ — people from Buddhist and other backgrounds that have come as refugees, immigrants, and international students.”
This property has allowed the Griswolds, in collaboration with the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the ASAP ministry, to serve in a variety of ways. One of their first projects was opening a training center, Reach the World Next Door, to train and equip members interested in reaching out to people of other cultures and faith backgrounds.
Scott has developed a cross-cultural kit at Reach the World Next Door to help church members find and befriend people in their communities from a Southeast Asian background and introduce them to Jesus. Churches, conferences, training programs, and schools can use the material to further their efforts in providing hope to those around them. The course is also available online for continuing education credit through the Adventist Learning Community.
The Houston property also provides a sanctuary outside the city where students or church members can come to rest and recharge. Gardens, fruit trees, a pond, and a chapel in the woods provide a retreat. “Our most special days at our place are when we have Day at the Farm,when people from the city get to plant, weed, or harvest,” Julie said. “We feed them a plant-based delicious lunch and have some fun, educational family activities.”
Recently, Julie and Scott had a divine appointment that involved the Day at the Farm program. One of their friends who works in the Middle East went to Thailand for a conference. While at a restaurant, he struck up a conversation with a Japanese mother and her daughter. He learned that the husband was a Japanese consul general, and the family would soon be relocating to Houston.
“My friend immediately thought of our ministry … and sent an email to connect the two of us,” Julie said. “The Japanese lady responded immediately, eager to make an American friend in a new country. We met them for the first time in a park in downtown Houston. It was awkward at first, but within minutes, we connected. Soon they were eager to visit our home. They decided to come and experience a Day at the Farm.”
The new friends loved every minute of their time there, and while they haven’t been able to visit often due to the father’s embassy duties, they have continued to grow close. “Last year, the mother’s father died. She came, and we cried together,” Julie said. “I was able to comfort her and share my testimony of losing my mother. I asked if I could pray. This precious lady, who has no Christian background, readily agreed.” This occasion has led to other opportunities for spiritual dialogue.
Local church members have also experienced the joy of reaching the world next door through their interaction with the Griswolds’ ministry. Kimberly Medina, a member of the Houston Spanish Northwest Seventh-day Adventist Church, shared that her congregation, family, and friends adopted an outreach project for vulnerable children last December. They filled more than 200 shoeboxes with hygiene products, school supplies, and toys, and then colorfully decorated them.
Kimberly called Reach the World Next Door to ask about recommendations for at-risk neighborhoods. Scott directed them to an apartment complex where many Middle Eastern and African refugees now live.
“We piled into buses and took some instruments to help us sing Christmas carols,” Kimberly said. “The children lined up in long, messy lines. We sang. We played games. They absolutely loved it! I helped lead one of the games, and so I could see their happiness close up. I enjoyed their company too.
“Every time they lost a game, they just laughed and laughed about it. That was one of the most important lessons I learned from them. I don’t know what they went through after fleeing countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It must have been terrible. All I know is the joy and love I felt when singing along with them, when playing, and when I helped give out the gifts. The children’s faces were so filled with joy and thankfulness. It was priceless.”
Kimberly said she can’t wait to go back and create more memories with the families there. This is precisely why Reach the World Next Door exists, according to Scott Griswold. “You can gain experience and knowledge from reaching out to refugees, immigrants, and international students so you can be a friend to people of any culture, any religion, any ethnic background, wherever you go,” Scott said.
As Ellen White states in the book Evangelism, “God in His providence has brought men to our very doors and thrust them, as it were, into our arms, that they might learn the truth, and be qualified to do a work we could not do in getting the light before men of other tongues” (p. 570).