A Wireless Connecton
Digital technology brings campaigns home,
and viewers to a church’s altar call.
By Williams Costa, Jr.
At the same time, technology is increasing the ability of Seventh-day Adventists to reach out and bring the good news of Jesus to people all over the planet. Sometimes technology comes to the aid of evangelists seeking to reach not masses, but just one seeking heart.
INTERNET FORUM DRAWS ADVENTISTS FOR ONLINE OUTREACH
At the end of his sermon, Gonçalves made an appeal to the audience, looking directly into the television camera and especially asking those watching to respond. An audience member in the church, Cristina, rose from her seat and came forward. When he saw her, Gonçalves brought the microphone to her and asked: “Where is your husband?” Edmilson, Cristina’s spouse, wasn’t at her side.
Cristina’s on-camera response: “I came alone.”
Then Christina’s mobile phone rang. She looked at the phone display screen and exclaimed, “It’s my husband.”
“Go ahead and answer,” said Gonçalves.
“Hello, darling,” Cristina said to Edmilson.
“When you left our home to go to the church, I turned on the computer and watched the service over the Internet,” Edmilson replied.
BAPTISM: Cristina (right), her sister Tatiane (left), and Cristina’s husband, Edmilson (not shown), were baptized following an evangelistic series held by the Adventist church in Bras, Brazil. The meetings were shown live via the Internet to capture the attention of busy residents unable to attend.Then Gonçalves asked Cristina to let him speak with Edmilson. The preacher made a special appeal directly to this one individual. This was truly “interactive”—Edmilson was viewing the message live over the Web, and the pastor was appealing to him through the mobile phone!
Gonçalves asked Edmilson if he would place the phone on “speaker,” and the man consented. With that, the whole congregation could listen in.
After a moment, Edmilson, deeply moved by the Holy Spirit, decided to give his heart to Jesus. Tears came to Cristina’s eyes. The congregation rejoiced and clapped with happiness and enthusiasm.
Cristina had been praying for that decision for a long time. Now her husband was geographically removed from the church building but close to God’s family. Edmilson was deeply affected by seeing everything at home on his computer screen. It was a blessed combination of personal ministry and technology to reach one man through the Internet and a mobile phone.
The Personal Touch
The whole process began, though, in a “low-tech” fashion. Marcia, a faithful Seventh-day Adventist in Bahia, nearly 1,500 miles away from the São Paulo area, telephoned her sister, Cristina. Marcia invited her non-Adventist sister to attend a 30-night evangelistic series that Gonçalves had titled: “Revelation, the Answer.”
Bras, where Cristina lives, might have seemed to some an unusual place for an Adventist outreach. Local church leaders decided to build a church building in an area without a Seventh-day Adventist presence. Bras has a strong business climate, as well as many immigrants: along with the large Muslim community, Koreans, Italians, Bolivians, and many others make Bras their home. The evangelistic series was planned to “kick off” the opening of the church.
São Paulo, with more than 21 million inhabitants, has all the elements necessary to motivate people to stay at home in the evening: traffic, pollution, and security concerns. After a day working and commuting in a large metropolis, many people are simply exhausted. That is why Gonçalves was determined to make the series available on the Internet. If people can’t, or won’t, come to church, we’ll make the message available to them at home, he reasoned.
Cristina and Edmilson live far from the church, but they accepted Marcia’s invitation and began watching online. The couple knew of Gonçalves from watching a DVD Bible study series.
Tatiane, another of Cristina’s sisters, decided to view the programs online—and there was a definite effect on her life. On August 22, one week before the end of the series, Tatiane decided to be baptized. She invited Cristina to go to the church with her. Edmilson also was invited but he refused. After Tatiane signed her baptismal form, she and Cristina decided to stay for the program in the evening. On that day, Gonçalves preached about God’s grace. And, on that day, Edmilson made what may have been the most important telephone call of his life.
Three days later, Edmilson, his wife, Christina, and sister-in-law Tatiane were baptized at the Bras church.
A Collaborative Effort
FRUITS OF TECHNOLOGY:Evangelist Luis Gonçalves interviews Cristina (third form left) following an altar call. During that conversation, Cristina’s husband, Edmilson, called his wife on her cell phone. Gonçalves put him on speaker phone, made a personal appeal, and Edmilson made the decision to accept Jesus as his Savior.As a result of this remarkable combination of preaching at this one location and live transmission on the Web, 457 people received Bible studies at the end of the outreach series. Of that number, 120 decided to be baptized; 62 have been already baptized. The Bras church has 300 seats, but many evenings more than 600 people crowded in. Approximately 900 people attended the baptismal ceremony at the end of the series.
While many evangelistic series have been transmitted live over the Internet, the difference in this one was that Gonçalves “included” the people viewing online. When he mentioned a Bible text, Gonçalves turned to the camera and asked: “Have you found it?” or he’d say, “I will wait for you. Are you ready?” This created a bond between the preacher and the viewers. At the end, online data indicated that the series had touched 32,619 people through the Internet.
Noêmia Mendes, a lawyer, also made a decision to be baptized while watching the series in Bras church via the Internet. On August 15 she went to the church and said, “I have known the Adventist message since I was 15 years old. Regularly I watch the Hope Channel and have been watching this evangelistic series through the Internet. I am certain about my commitment to Jesus.” She also was among those baptized.
Someone has pointed out that there are at least three ways to travel to Paris. One is through the underground sewer lines, which might lead a person to say, “Paris is dark, narrow, and smells very bad.” Another is by automobile, generating this reaction: “Oh, Paris is beautiful, has beautiful gardens, but there is a problem: the traffic is so intense we can’t move.” But you can also arrive in Paris by plane, and the impression will be entirely different: “Paris is bright, spacious, and gorgeous. It is truly the city of lights!”
Depending on the way you approach the Internet, it too can be bright or dark, narrow or spacious, ugly or beautiful. The Internet offers a unique opportunity to share the good news of salvation through a medium where many troubled people are searching for answers. In some lands, local authorities try to control the Internet, but the nature of the Internet pushes back the borders.
It’s time to think beyond the old routines, create an accessible online “space,” and give people the opportunity to know about Jesus and His love online.
The Technological Advantage
Everyone who can access the Internet knows that much bad content is available on the Web; the torrent of spam e-mail is a tsunami of sin in many instances. At the same time, however, the Internet is an opportunity to communicate hope and salvation; for this reason alone, Adventists should use it. If we don’t respond to the opportunity, the devil will. Many times we’ve been afraid to use film, TV, and radio to share the gospel; as a result Satan is using these media in many ways. I sincerely believe the Lord inspired the invention of these media and other high-tech tools to help expand our outreach.
We also need to be intentional—and even aggressive—in getting space in secular media. We’ve often been too shy, too timid, and too passive in dealing with the general media. Worldly entities often struggle to get media exposure. Celebrities pay lots of money to get publicized, photographed—even to have their scandals reported! We don’t pursue scandalous displays because we are sober, balanced, and Christ-centered: “the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We need to be motivated to secure media exposure, not for self-promotion, but for God’s business.
COMMITTING TO JESUS: Sixty-two people were baptized at the Bras Adventist church. From left are Edmilson, his wife, Cristina, and Cristina’s sister Tatiane.The life of Paul, that onetime rabbi from Tarsus, is a good example. He was bent on destroying the young Christian church. After a personal encounter with Jesus, he turned much of the world upside down. He was a self-confessed “fool for Christ” whose evangelism changed history.
Paul traversed the globe; you and I may need only a computer and Internet access at home. Imagine that someone from Afghanistan, now living in Brazil, starts sending e-mails to his family in Kabul saying something like this: “I discovered Jesus. You need to know Him. I know that if you accept Him as your personal Savior you will be risking your life, but please try. My life has changed; now I am happy, I am free from guilt. Do you want to do a Bible course online?”
Then, a Japanese woman who accepted Jesus in Mexico sends a message to her aunt in Osaka. She shares the new life she has discovered after accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord. She invites her relative to watch the Hope Channel on cable or on the Web.
Finally, a Muslim from the Middle East who accepted Jesus in an evangelistic campaign by satellite with Mark Finley decides to share his experience with his son, who still resides in that region. He encourages the son to listen to AWR.
Television, radio, print, Internet—these all need to be converged to fit the purpose for which, I believe, they were invented. They are tools to bring hope to people.
God doesn’t need us to finish His work. He can use the angels flying through the skies announcing the message of salvation to this dying world.
Wise, assertive use of technology will be more powerful than the greatest advertising campaign in history. Trillions in dollars or euros or yen spent on marketing won’t make as great an impact on the lives of people. The power of the Adventist Christian presence in current media will be calculated someday only on the happy faces of the redeemed who will enjoy eternity with us because we dared to reach out with the story of Jesus.
Reaching the World
Jesus gives us the privilege of sharing our personal testimony with all our “neighbors”—all 6.6 billion residents of Planet Earth. We will know no higher joy in this life than “bringing” those we may never physically meet to the feet of Jesus through the means He has given us.
Ellen White understood the imperative of sharing the good news: “Take hold wherever you see that there is work to be done. Whether you are rich or poor, great or humble, God calls you into active service for Him.”1
INTERNET CONVERSION: Pastor Luis Gonçalves interviews another baptismal candidate, Noêmia Mendes, a lawyer, who gave her heart to Jesus while watching the Bras church evangelistic series via the Internet.Note this wonderful promise: “In working for perishing souls, you have the companionship of angels. Thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand angels are waiting to cooperate with members of our churches in communicating the light that God has generously given.”2
More than a century ago, God’s messenger wrote these inspiring words: “There is missionary work to be done in many unpromising places. The missionary spirit needs to take hold of our souls, inspiring us to reach classes for whom we had not planned to labor and in ways and places that we had no idea of working. The Lord has His plan for the sowing of the gospel seed. In sowing according to His will, we shall so multiply the seed that His word may reach thousands who have never heard the truth.”3
The Internet is giving us the opportunity to access “ways and places that we had no idea of working.” I am sure “the Lord has His plan for the sowing of the gospel seed.” We need to sow “according to His will,” and His Word will reach not only “thousands” but billions of people on the way of salvation.
Powerful as it is, the Internet will never replace the importance of personal contact. The plan of salvation is best communicated through personal testimony. Let’s use the Internet correctly, as a medium—as a tool—not as an ultimate solution. There is enormous potential for “doing evangelism” through wise use of YouTube, Google, e-mail, MSN, blogs, Web sites, Web pages. Let’s combine these tools with the unique power of personal testimony.
For all these reasons, let’s welcome the future of new media: let’s welcome the opportunity to use the Internet for evangelism. God can bless and inspire you; the Holy Spirit can use your life to connect people to salvation, even via a mobile phone!
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 129.
2 Ibid, p. 129.
3 Ibid, p. 130.
Williams Costa, Jr., is director of Media Services for the General Conference Communication Department.