IT WAS a venture of faith to conduct an evangelistic field school in South Bend, Indiana—the very heart of Roman Catholic intellectualism. The airatorium (a nylon and vinyl air structure recently purchased by Andrews University for an evangelistic auditorium) was erected on one of the choicest lots in the city. Cornered by U.S. Highway 31 and Angela Boulevard, it was like a light at the crossroads for the entire area. The distinctive feature of the location was the fact that across the street east we faced the University of Notre Dame; across the street north was St. Joseph Catholic High School; beyond the high school is St. Mary's Holy Cross college for women; and across the street from that is the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine. We were in a most challenging environment for our three-week campaign. A guard from a nearby institution responded to an altar call, and after attending the remaining meetings and the baptismal class, he was baptized. He was able to get Sabbath off without any difficulty —a rather surprising thing considering the circumstances. He was one of only two Protestants on the entire force. His wife, a prominent leader in a Protestant church, reacted bitterly—speaking to him only when absolutely necessary. His church organized a visiting program, with someone visiting him every day, trying to get him to go back on his decision. (We can take a lesson from their zeal and interest!) Just the other day he told me that in spite of all the heartaches at home, he is the happiest he has ever been in all his life.
This is the joy of evangelism, and it is the factor that inspires our students more than any other feature of the training program—to see a person surrender completely to the Lord Jesus, taking up the cross to follow Him all the way.
Students are effective in leading people to Christ, and they contribute much to the success of the campaigns. Ingathering field day for the college came on Tuesday after the opening night, Saturday, October 8, 1960. Two girls met a woman who indicated an interest in Bible study. With true evangelistic fervor they invited her to attend the meetings in South Bend. One of the girls was a member of the personal evangelism class. Enlisting the help of her classmates, she provided transportation, baby sitters, and encouragement, and they all had the unsurpassed thrill of seeing "their prospect" baptized into the church at the close of the series. They did a superb job of personal evangelism all the way through. I have wondered what would have happened if they had been content to extend an invitation only.
Two college classes participated in the series—methods in religious education and personal evangelism. Students attended, observed, shared in the responsibilities, participated in the program, and visited prospects in their homes. The three Seminary students assigned to the South Bend church also participated.
Mrs. Minnie Iverson Wood, of the music department, was in charge of supplying the special music for the effort. This was a major responsibility and one that she handled with skill. The meetings gave an opportunity for many students to share their faith musically in a public meeting—an important and practical feature in their training.
Mrs. Alice Marsh, head of the home economics department, and her co-workers conducted an excellent follow-up program one night each week for the benefit of the new people unacquainted with Adventist life and cookery. They did this in conjunction with Pastor Earl Amundson's Wednesday night series on the "Impending Conflict," thus uniting the teaching of the practical elements of Adventist living with the preaching of the third angel's message.
Our team associates were Pastor Amundson and his wife, Song Leader Robert Hirst and wife, Pastor Willard demons and wife, and Miss Robbins, Bible instructor. The Indiana Conference, under the leadership of T. E. Unruh, cooperated in a wonderful way to make the series possible. The understanding and support of the conference leaders is one of the most vital parts in making a campaign a success, and it cannot be minimized. The field school program of EMC has enjoyed its measure of success because of the loyalty and support —both moral and material—that have been expressed by the union and local conference officers.
Incidentally, we have found that the short, intensive three-week series is about right to fit into such a field training program. Student time is limited, and since the instructor is not only the speaker but carries a full teaching responsibility on the campus, it makes it possible to throw everything into an intensive campaign without having things pile up on the home front. The day is roughly divided into teaching and study in the morning, visiting in the afternoon, and preaching and conducting the baptismal class in the evening. The over-all program encompasses five weeks —one of church revival and preparation, three of public meetings every night, and one of binding off the "peak" interest in a special class. After this the pastor takes over one night a week with a prophecy series to repeat the message for the new converts and secure more decisions from the "almost persuaded."
It is simply amazing what an impact can be made in a short time under the power of the Holy Spirit. So far, fifty have been baptized from this series. Several of these had no previous knowledge of Adventism and others very little. The majority, however, had some contact with church members or the pastor. We have found that mass advertising is not very effective in bringing out crowds, so we rely heavily upon the church to bring friends, relatives, and acquaintances. For this reason our audiences are made up of people who in general are more favorably inclined toward our message. A surprisingly large percentage of those attending take their stand. If our people would work a little harder and bring even a few more to the meetings, the results would be proportionately larger. It is my conviction that the laity must be led to see their strategic relationship to the success of any campaign, and educated to participate more wholeheartedly. Then if we ministers will swing into a hard-hitting evangelistic program, the membership of the denomination could be increased by a very large percentage, and thus many more would find their way to saving truth—the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. This is not mere theorizing; it is a fact that could be demonstrated dramatically if we in the ministry would only clear the decks and do with all our hearts the work of winning the lost, which the Lord has commissioned us to do.
Some have asked what approach we used in a strongly Catholic center. The approach was varied little from that which we use in a Protestant area. We slant our advertising toward the crisis of our times, making a strong general appeal to all classes of people. Since we have not been able to find any approach that brings people out in large numbers to hear the Advent message, we avoid slanting it to one particular group for fear of losing others from the groups that might misunderstand our intent and stay away because they "feel it is not for them. The attendance was good during the South Bend campaign, with double sessions on Saturday and Sunday nights. The peak was well over 800.
In the first week of preaching we emphasize prophecy and salvation in Christ, the second week is for testing truths of the Advent message, the third week is divided between more present truth and decision subjects. The series is, of course, strongly Christ-centered throughout.
We avoid open conflict with the other churches, but do not "soft pedal" the message in the least. It is well to be public-relations conscious in our manner of presentation but not in our doctrine. Error must be unmasked and its mark exposed for all the evil and rebellion that it stands for. This can be done with utmost conviction and still in the spirit of Christ. We must be certain that it is the Bible truth that does the cutting and not the preacher.
Nearly every major evangelist in the denomination reports that he is having excellent response from preaching the message publicly—better in most cases than in previous years.
This indicates several significant things:
1. The church is growing and there are more members to support the program.
2. Our members are hungry for the preaching of the three angels' messages.
3. People everywhere are concerned by the momentous events of the world's crisis hour.
4. Times are favorable for a great evangelistic thrust, unparalleled in the history of the church.
This will not long be the case, and we must not fail to strike at this hour of opportunity.
"The work which the church has failed to do in a time of peace and prosperity, she will have to do in a terrible crisis, under most discouraging, forbidding circumstances."—Evangelism, p. 31.
To meet the challenge of this wonderful hour is the work of training to which the Bible department of EMC is dedicated.