Has desperation sometimes driven you as an evangelist to the discovery of a valuable new plan or approach in your work? While occasionally success has taught me some things, I have learned much from failure. I cannot explain success, but I can certainly take inventory of failure, probably for the same reason that kind criticism does far more good than insipid flattery.
Two years ago my associate and I were trying to hold two evangelistic campaigns at the same time in the colony of Hong Kong. The meetings in the Bible Auditorium on the Kowloon side (the mainland) were quite well attended, but the meetings held in our beautiful church on the island had a poor attendance. I well remember the night when there was only one non- Adventist in the "large" audience of twelve people. I could hardly look that man in the eye that night for fear he would be thinking that I was preaching right to him which I was, of course.
One evening, as I was passing a large open court, I saw a medicine man demonstrating the benefit of his wares with perhaps 150 people crowded around him. I thought to myself, "I wish I could preach to that many tonight in the church." But only a handful was present that evening.
Then an idea pressed upon me: "Why not go where the people are? That's what the medicine man does, and that's what Jesus and Paul did in their day."
My associate, Henry Meissner, became enthusiastic as I told him of my burden. Though he had played on the N.B.C. network, he was not ashamed to play his violin while standing on a box in the streets of Hong Kong. With the blessing of a friendly police department, we soon launched our first open-air meeting.
We used a packing box the first night. There were enough of these, because nearly a hundred missionaries were packing, unpacking, and re packing during those days. Upright poles supported the pressure lanterns. Oh, yes, there was a crowd, for just to see a few foreigners putting up a stage was enough to draw them to the stage. D. M. Barnett, head of the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence School, was the organizer of details. Others who assisted were C. H. Davis, the union president; H. H. Morse, the union treasurer; A. R. Mazat, the union field secretary; and L. E. Reed, the pas tor of the church. Yes, we were all in it together in that first meeting!
T. C. Chin, now union president in that field, served as translator, using a megaphone. When we needed two translators we found K. T. Khang always willing to help.
As Brother Meissner played his violin the people began to gather. Now even the medicine man could not very well compete. Soon we drew about six hundred. In that moving, milling crowd perhaps three thousand stayed for at least part of the meeting. Our young people climbed up on the packing case and sang heartily, "On ward, Christian Soldiers." The people enjoyed that. When prayer was offered some did not know what to make of it, but they remained quiet and attentive. In all these open-air meetings we have conducted, not once has a single adult ever been discourteous or rude.
Then followed the sermon. With the bright moon and stars overhead, and with a sea of friendly, expectant faces before one, who would not receive an inspiration to preach? After a short sermon we exhibited and explained the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence Course lessons in both English and Chinese, and of course we also showed the audience our beautiful diploma, explaining how it might be obtained. Now the young people, who had been busy passing out tracts, began to gather enrollments for the Bible correspondence course. Those dear young people many of them in the truth but a few weeks themselves courageously went to work. I think especially of one girl, the daughter of an ultra rich man who was once finance minister of all China, right out among the people gathering enrollments not ashamed to work for Christ.
After nearly two hours we just had to close the meeting. I can assure you our hearts were thrilled with 365 enrollments for one evening's work.
In the months that followed, our little band of workers gathered about seven thousand enrollments on the streets of Hong Kong streets crowded with refugees from war-torn China.
There are always some who are skeptical about new plans. They may ask: "How many baptisms have resulted from the open-air meetings?" "What percentage of the enrollees continue the course?" "How many complete the course?"
It is true that only 12 percent of the open- air enrollees proceed with the course, but we still believe it to be a good plan. But who can tell what the final results in the kingdom will be?
I recall an evening in Bangkok about a year ago. A. P. Ritz, mission director, encouraged us to try some open-air meetings. Under a lamppost near where we preached stood three Buddhist priests, listening attentively. Wayne Martin tried to enroll them in the Bible course, but in vain. No hardly in vain; for a few months later he wrote me that these three Buddhist priests, feeling the urge to take advantage of what they had missed at our meet ing, began searching for the Voice of Prophecy Bible School. Three days they walked the streets of Bangkok until they finally found our people. I imagine that their guardian angels enjoyed their three-day assignment guiding these seekers to find the truth. These men helped to enroll others, and nine Buddhist priests were studying our message at the time Brother Martin wrote.
Some time ago V. T. Armstrong, our division president, visited Bangkok for our annual meeting in Siam. To the meetings came those same three Buddhist priests, dressed in their yellow robes, now deeply interested in the third angel's message.
Siam has been an extremely difficult Buddhist field. Yet Wayne Martin writes that in a village away up one of the rivers, in one open-air meeting, he and two associates enrolled more than seven hundred people in the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence Course. What a day of opportunity for Siam! We may not be able to afford many full-time workers, but we are harnessing the mail carriers to help us get the message into the homes.
Behind our platform one night stood a well- dressed Chinese gentleman quietly singing "On ward, Christian Soldiers" with the young people. I asked, "Are you a Christian?"
"Oh, yes, I have just escaped from Shanghai. I have been here three days. I am so discouraged! I think this meeting tonight was held just for me."
Nearly four hundred enrolled that evening. Maybe some failed to follow through the course, but the enrollment and testimony of that one sad refugee was worth the effort of all our open-air meetings in Hong Kong. So I am not worried about statistics. Nicodemus was just one soul, but he became the inspiration for John 3:16 a Bible verse powerful enough in Christ to save a world!
All my readers would have enjoyed attending those moonlight meetings in Colombo, Ceylon, where the night-blooming flowers transform the island into a fragrant Eden. Alva Appel played his trumpet and our young people helped faith fully in the meetings. A Hindu young man at tended, and volunteered his help in gathering enrollments. Humbly he said, "I haven't, yet taken my stand, but I do want to help save other people."
One night a young Baptist Ceylonese wrote a little note and handed it to me. It read:
"DEAR FRIEND: I have not met you before, but my heart has been deeply stirred tonight. I would like to have a talk with you sometime. Here is a tiny gift [50 cents] to help your great work. May God bless you."
Not only did he enroll in the Bible course, but he began attending the public services, and later cottage meetings were conducted in his own home for his community. Pray with us that he will soon take his stand.
One evening a Catholic young man attended our meetings and offered to help enroll the people in the Bible course! Finally he came to a lull in his work and then said thoughtfully to E. A. Crane, who was standing by, "I believe I will enroll myself," and he did.
Another evening in Hong Kong a young apartment-house dweller looked down on our open-air meeting. Soon he joined us, saying, "I am a Voice of Prophecy student. Can't I help gather enrollments?" He took scores of enroll ments for us that night. We then visited him, and he is now a baptized member. Needless to say, he is a faithful helper in our open-air meetings.
Sometimes I feel as if I would give anything could we only see a wave of outdoor preaching sweep the world. To hold just one such meeting in every town and city in the world would take a long time. It seems to me that we simply must do something to plow up the fallow ground on every hand. These masses must be reached in lands where few have radios.
Can we not first train and then help our laity to go abroad and publish the truth? One meeting in a town or hamlet is far from ideal, but this effort, yoked together with the correspondence school, certainly is a step in the right direction. We are so short of workers in this late hour that we should use the postman on our evangelistic staff. We pay him only part time, and he ably knows his way to the people to bring them the life-saving Bible lessons.
Let us combine open-air preaching with the gathering of enrollments. "The night cometh, when no man can work."
(To be continued)