Forty evangelistic efforts at a total cost of one hundred dollars to the conference, is perhaps a bit unusual. But this was the record established by workers in the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference during the year 1939, and more souls were won to the message than during any other year in this territory. In writing of this experience we desire it to be clearly understood that we have no desire to place a premium on our poverty. However, if our earnest endeavor to evangelize our field, in spite of serious handicaps, proves an inspiration to others who are forced to operate upon limited budgets, we shall be happy indeed.
The territory of our conference is approximately 700 miles long and 300 miles wide. Its 2,500 members (including 640 colored) belong to forty-five churches, widely scattered throughout the field. Our tithe income is small, reaching the peak sum of $42,000 last year. In former years our laborers have been so few that while we were building up the work in one place. other churches were sadly neglected. Such losses resulted as to practically offset all our gains. We concluded that if we were ever to finish the work of God in our field we would be obliged to build in all sections simultaneously. We then added several more laborers to our force of field workers, and assigned to each man a definite district.
When we added this sorely needed man power, we found that our evangelistic budget, when stripped of everything but the absolute necessities of conference operation, would allow only one hundred dollars to be spent during the whole year. Instead of being discouraged with this situation, we launched into the heaviest program of evangelism that we had ever before undertaken. We counseled together and determined that within the year we would conduct in every church a revival, evangelistic in nature, of at least two weeks' duration. Each district leader was to carry out this arrangement for the churches under his care. In many places such a meeting had not been held in years. Our believers were thrilled with the prospect of such conference cooperation with their labors, and faithfully did their part.
In pursuance of our plan, these evangelistic services were in most cases conducted in our church buildings. Thus the overhead expense was small. The advertising usually consisted of a card announcement, one side of which set forth the place and the date of the meeting, while the other side listed the full number of subjects to be presented. This same information was, in some instances, published in the local newspaper as a display advertisement. The members of each church, however, furnished our strongest appeal in reaching the public. They prepared the way by a systematic distribution of literature, and then carried the announcement to the people, asking them to come to the meetings. This personal appeal by our members to the people in whom they were especially interested brought results. In most of the meetings held, the number attending has been equal to the average tent or hall effort attendance in our section of the field.
Our expenditures were held down to a very low figure—from fifteen to fifty dollars for each effort. The freewill offerings received night after night in almost every case equaled or exceeded the sum expended. Knowing from the start that our efforts had to be self-supporting, we planned accordingly and God greatly added His blessing in providing for our needs. We consider many of these efforts to have accomplished equal results with those in which considerable money has at other times been spent.
Although our records for the year are not yet complete, we know that more souls have been baptized into our churches than in any preceding year in our history. We are also confident that the number of apostasies from the truth will show a decline as compared with other years. Through recent contact with many of our churches throughout the field, I find a greater spirit of courage and loyalty possessing our membership than I have witnessed before. Our tithe has considerably increased over the peak income of last year. It has been a strenuous program for every worker, including the president of the conference. I spent eighteen weeks of the year in this work of evangelism. But if our bodies have been worn, our spirits have been refreshed.
In the future, we hope for larger sums that we can build into our budgets, but we are determined to obey the commission "Go ye,". even though we must enter upon our labors as empty-handed as did the early disciples of Jesus. The Lord is just as able today as in the long ago to take the little we have and with His blessing make it meet the needs of a multitude. This experience has given to us an enlargement of faith and courage as we wrestle with the budget for 1940.