In connection with an evangelistic effort held in one of the large cities of the East, it was my privilege to witness a practical demonstration of the great possibilities of combining the preaching of the word with Christian help work. We are told that "the medical missionary work [of which Christian help work is a part] is the gospel in illustration."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 241. Also, "genuine medical missionary work is the gospel practiced." —Id., Vol. VIII, p. 168. And in the Bible it is stated, "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again." Prov. 19: 17. All this we found to be true in our experience, the circumstances of which are as follows:
The city in which we conducted the effort had a population of about 500,000. Our church membership in the city numbered between thirty-five and forty, and a small church building stood just outside the city limits. The conference finances were low, and the resources of the church were not large, but the faith of the members was great. We decided to begin a series of Sunday night meetings, and secured the use of a large auditorium having a seating capacity of 2,500. The rent, advertising, and other expenses amounted to a very large sum for each meeting, and it was indeed a venture of faith.
The subject advertised for the first Sunday night was, "Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?" The auditorium was packed, and many people were turned away at the door. In closing the service, I mentioned the expense involved in arranging for the meetings, and that we did not have funds to depend on, and asked how many would be willing to have an offering taken each Sunday night to help in defraying expenses. There was a ready and favorable response from the congregation. I then asked for decision on another question, to the effect that, provided the offerings should exceed the amount of the expense, how many would be willing that the surplus be applied to help the poor and needy in the city. To this there was a still more favorable response, after which I said to the people, "Then, dear friends, let us give liberally, that there may indeed be a surplus. Remember that our expenses are very heavy, and they are first to be met by the offerings. Remember also that not one cent is to be taken from the offerings to help the speaker or any of his helpers, but rather, we with you will help to swell the offerings. And now as the offering is taken, let us give $5, $1, and many 50 cent and 25 cent offerings."
The offering that first Sunday night was $360, and for the ten nights that we conducted the public meetings the offerings amounted to $3,300. This was an unprecedented amount for offerings in the same period of time, so far as my experience in evangelistic work is concerned, and provided a fair surplus for use as proposed.
The handling of this surplus opened up quite extensive Christian help work in connection with the evangelistic effort. We asked those attending the meetings to hand in names of poor people known to them as being worthy and in need. We also obtained names of the poor from the Salvation Army and the city authorities. We made personal calls on many of these families, ascertaining the need, and establishing friendly contact. We made no distinction between classes, religions, or races, and we had most blessed experiences in ministering to these needy people. By explaining our work to the manager of the Atlantic and Pacific Tea store, we were able to purchase provisions at a reduced price, which we distributed to those lacking the necessities of life. In some cases we helped with cash.
As a part of our service each Sunday night, we would tell of the work which had been done, and relate special experiences, telling the people that it was their money which was making this good work possible. This was appreciated, and stimulated the interest.
At the close of the tenth week it became necessary to close the effort, because of the annual camp meeting coming on. But after the camp meeting, a tabernacle was built in the city, with a large seating capacity and costing over $3,000. This amount was fully met by local offerings from our own people and the public. Not one cent came from the conference treasury. Meetings in the tabernacle were held every night, except Monday and Saturday evenings. On Wednesday night of each week a health lecture and demonstration was given, conducted by the doctors and nurses from the New England Sanitarium, and this proved of great interest, and strengthened the plan of applying the surplus offerings to the help of the needy.
New features began to develop in this plan, however, for not only were the offerings well maintained, but the public began to bring in articles of clothing to be distributed. Large bundles would be brought in and laid on the rostrum before the service, and requests came in for us to call at certain addresses to collect the clothing which was waiting for us. Merchants contributed shop-worn clothing,— shoes, overcoats, underwear, etc. A Dorcas Society was organized, and the ladies were kept busy sorting, mending, cleaning, and helping to collect and distribute the articles. One of the rooms in the tabernacle was set apart for the storage of gifts for the poor, and one of our workers made it his special duty to make personal investigation of the cases reported to us. Eight hundred articles of clothing were distributed.
Then the people began to bring in vegetables, fruit, and groceries to the meeting, placing them on the platform. Soon this good work was reported in the newspapers, and the effect was to allay prejudice and give us favor with the people at just the time when we were presenting the testing truths of the message.
When the tabernacle meetings closed, it was found that all expenses had been met, without drawing on the conference treasury for one cent, and in addition to all the charity work done, there was a surplus of nearly $500 in hand. But this is not all. Many souls were led to accept the truth and unite with the church, and it became necessary to secure a new church building, which involved the expenditure of $36,000. The little chapel church, which had been used for many years, was sold for $2,250, and the tabernacle was sold for $2,000. Aside from these amounts, there was raised approximately $26,000 in offerings, which included an appropriation from the General Conference of $1,500, and from the local conference of $1,000.
This church has gone on from strength to strength, its membership increasing under the ministry of other laborers. Tithes and offerings have kept up to a high point, and within the church there is maintained a wonderful spirit of benevolence. The poor are constantly remembered, and we know that the promise of Proverbs 19: 17 has been fulfilled in this case.
I believe that such work carried on in connection with evangelistic meetings, when properly conducted, is of great value and brings permanent results. In relating this experience, I wish to give to the Lord the praise and glory for the blessings imparted and the success bestowed upon that evangelistic effort, which was started on the basis of faith that God would provide the necessary funds.