Evangelism is ever to be the watch word of the church yes, even in countries that are predominantly Moslem! The divine edict to preach the gospel remains unchanged. Members of the human family, whether young or old, are to be prepared for the heavenly kingdom through the "foolishness of preaching."
During the past six years I have found it possible to conduct several evangelistic campaigns in the cities of Egypt, and to observe several other efforts in various parts of the Middle East. Many have felt, and perhaps still do, that public evangelism has little or no place in our work in the countries of the Middle East. They assert that it simply does not yield fruit age in souls saved. I am not of this group. My personal experience has led me to believe that our well-tried methods of evangelism, properly adapted, will play an ever increasing part in proclaiming the righteousness of Christ in every quarter of our globe. It is this message, we are told, that will bring ultimate triumph to the work. Realizing this, it should be our object to promote public evangelism in every place where it is at all possible to do so.
It is my firm conviction that now is our period of opportunity in the Middle East. Men are confused by the conflicting issues of world politics. Tremendous hatred has been stirred up everywhere over economic problems arising out of the greed and selfishness of man's natural heart. Religion has failed to bring any comfort or hope of better things ahead; hence the mil lions in these Bible lands are feverishly seeking after some satisfying explanation of, and solution for, the distressing problems that face our world. This is surely the time that we have waited for, and God's message to the Advent people is, "Go in and possess the land." In order that MINISTRY readers might better understand the situation in the Middle East, I have sought through the following eight points to touch briefly the most pertinent factors as related to evangelism.
1. ADVERTISING. One of the most effective means of advertising is personal invitation either by telephone, letter, or visitation. Next to this we have found the newspapers of the most value in reaching the masses, especially where the campaign is being held in one of the larger cities. Editors are usually willing to accept advertisements for such meetings, although in a few cases they have objected and refused. We have also used some banners and posters, and these have worked quite effectively, particularly in the smaller towns. All radio stations are controlled by the government; hence there is no way at present to advertise through this medium. Handbills are probably the most widely used, but in the large cities they are of little real consequence in putting the news before the majority. Everything must be passed by the, censorship office, and therefore one must be very guarded in what is said in these types of advertisements. Because of the fact that Islam is so dogmatic in the absolute authority and power and predestination of God, one dare not raise questions by advertising such titles as "Does God Hear and Answer Prayer?" "Is Heaven a Real Place?" "The Question God Cannot Answer."
2. SUBJECTS. We have found that it is wise to spend about the first two weeks on topics that will build up the confidence of the people in the sincerity of the message we have to pre sent. Then we can begin with Daniel 2 and lead on to other prophecies and the second coming. Prophecy is something that appeals to Christians and Moslems alike in the Middle East to the Christian because prophecy has never been explained to them by their own leaders; to the Moslem because they believe so much in prophets and yet have almost no prophecies in the Koran. Probably the two most difficult subjects to present are the state of the dead and hell. Egypt was where Satan's great master deception of man's immortal soul was crystallized into a belief, some four thousand years ago, about the time the pyramids were built. This doctrine still pervades the whole religious atmosphere of these countries, and as a consequence, much of the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit is needed to make these important truths clear to the hearers.
3. PICTURES AND Music. Moslems, generally speaking, are very much opposed to the showing of pictures in a religious service; especially if in the pictures any person represents God or any heavenly being. Moslems are strongly against idolatry in any form. If you were to enter a mosque you would be struck by its simplicity and complete lack of all unnecessary objects.
Some Christians in these lands also react unfavorably to the use of pictures, for they think it makes the meeting like a theater. There seems to be little aversion to charts and diagrams, so we have used more illustrative material of this nature than we would ordinarily use in the States.
Music is a real problem. Aside from the Armenians the people of the Middle East simply do not have what we know as harmony and parts. Community or congregational singing is almost unknown. In churches and mosques alike most of the music is provided by one man, who chants in a rather weird minor key. We have found, however, that the majority of people greatly enjoy a good stirring gospel song service, and our biggest handicap in this connection is to find enthusiastic and capable singing evangelists. We are striving in this direction.
4. FINANCES. Offerings are very poor, and the majority will not give more than about five cents at any one time. The largest total offering I remember receiving at any public meeting was about four Egyptian pounds, or twelve dollars, and this was from an audience of over five hundred. I have tried appeals, stories, and anecdotes, Bible examples, and although the people will always agree, they just do not respond in a tangible way. The difficulty lies in the fact that they believe so strongly in pre destination that they will tell you that if it is God's will that you should stay and preach, God Himself will find a way. If it is not His will, why should they work against Him by giving a liberal offering.
The cost of renting a hall with chairs to seat 750 would be about twelve to fifteen dollars a night, excluding light and other miscellaneous equipment. Advertising in the newspaper costs from two dollars to four dollars a square inch. Three thousand handbills, of average size (14" xii"), in two colors cost twenty-five dollars. We estimate the total cost of conducting a three-month campaign, in a city four nights a week, at approximately fifteen hundred dollars.
5. PSYCHOLOGY OF PEOPLE. The vast majority of thinking people admit that their religious faith is but a formal shell; that it will not endure the test of practical, everyday application in one's life, and that it has no true divine foundation. Realizing, therefore, that they need something better; but being fearful of the con sequences in their family and social circles, they become very fanatical and prejudiced toward any new explanation of spiritual questions. The traditions of the past, and the great persecutions that Christians of the "orthodox" groups have suffered because of their faith, have caused them to feel that they are the true church of God, and that the persecution is but an evidence that God is purifying the dross from His church.
There is little use of trying to cover one's identity, since there is very little secrecy in the Middle East, except it be of something evil. If a man knows any good news, he should pro claim it from the housetop. Therefore the people think that if one makes the least endeavor to cover his identity, it is because he represents some organization that is not honorable, and he is therefore ashamed of it. The best way is tactfully and politely to let people know who you are and why you are preaching such a message.
6. PITFALLS. One needs to be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. The etiquette of the people is such that they must show overwhelming politeness, even to enemies when they are face to face. Interpreted into our evangelistic endeavors, this means that no matter what truth you present, the people will nearly always agree, but without the least thought of sincerity. Visiting in the homes becomes a real pitfall, for it is so apt to become merely a social appointment. Many would invite you to visit them each week over a period of two or three years, and even listen to a Bible study each time, with absolutely no thought beyond that of passing the time and bettering themselves socially.
Many churches maintain a regular list of persons whom they sustain each month, the only requirement being that such persons at tend church services, so that it will appear that the pastor has done a great job of increasing the membership. It is not difficult, therefore, to get an audience, but one must be .careful not to be deceived by their apparent interest, else in the end he is certain to be greatly disappointed. The words of the Master strike one with great emphasis after living in the Middle East for a time: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
Another pitfall, that can cause much difficulty and have dire effects on the success of public meetings is the translation. Much depends upon the efficiency and consecration of the interpreter. I could give many illustrations of how errors on the part of the interpreter, usually unintentional, completely confused the audience. It is truly essential to go over the subject with the interpreter before the meeting, paying special attention to illustrations, metaphors, idioms, scientific words, and the meaning of each verse that is to be read from the Bible in the vernacular language.
7. RESULTS. It is not easy for men and women in these days to make decisions for Christ. Such determinations may upset their entire course of life and nowhere is this truer than in the countries we have been dis cussing. One must not become weary in well doing, for there is certain to be a harvest in due time. Jesus says that one may plant and another reap, but the reward is the same for both. Then we are told to cast our bread upon the waters, and it will return after many days. To baptize a loyal truehearted Adventist in less than nine to twelve months after he has been introduced to the message is not usual. We do not become discouraged even if it takes two years or more. And we do not feel that our public evangelistic meetings have been a failure if a number are not baptized immediately upon completion of the series.
A large percentage of our finest members have come in as a direct result of public evangelism. Many of them are now holding responsible posts in the church and are developing into strong future leaders of God's work in these lands. These good souls are people of culture, holding good positions in business and in the government, and they are financially independent. We confidently believe that such results emphatically demonstrate that public evangelism is very much worthwhile.
8. PRESENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR PUBLIC EVANGELISM. The masses are dissatisfied and impatient with .their present faith. They have lost confidence in their religious leaders. They have not been guided into the path of practical and victorious living, and as a result they have lost faith in God. With the younger generation there is a tendency to take the opposite position from their fanatical forebears. They have become skeptics and infidels. With many, however, there is a deep yearning after truth and a genuine concern over the end of all things. Men, women, and young people are crying out, "What must I do to be saved?" Is there any better way of telling them, other than by public evangelism? We have found that the provincial chiefs-of-police are generally willing to cooper ate in giving permits for public meetings when they understand that we have a living faith to present to the people. In many instances they have even offered to send plain-clothes agents to ensure that nothing is done to disturb the meetings.
God has given the commission; He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to convict and transform hearts. What is our response?
"Christ's work in behalf of man is not finished. It continues today. In like manner His ambassadors are to preach the gospel and to reveal His pitying love for lost and perishing souls. . . . The evangelization of the world is the work God has given to those who go forth in His name. They are to be colaborers with Christ, revealing to those ready to perish His tender, pitying love. God calls for thousands to work for Him, not by preaching to those who know the truth for this time, but by warning those who have never heard the last message of mercy." Counsels on Health, p. 499.
Unlimited opportunities open before us, and the Middle East is no exception! The messenger of the Lord has said, "The evangelisation of the world is the work God has given." We must not delay in making larger and more definite plans for the evangelization of the great centers and countless villages of the Middle East and every other part of the world field.