No one really had much faith to believe that it could be done; even the evangelistic team itself had reservations. It was said to be a hard place, and it was; but for that matter so was Lystra, Athens, Corinth, and Philippi. But God somehow has seen fit to choose the human agent and utilize the foolishness of preaching to confound the wise in all parts of the world, be they in "Hereville" or "Thereville."
Public evangelism is a challenge to any preacher, and many are the preachers who have accepted the challenge only to discover that apparently they have scattered handbills to peopleless homes, preached their hearts out to folding chairs and tent poles, while their fervent appeals went unheard save only by their song leaders, their faithful wives, and a few neighborhood children.
I recall only too vividly two such tent efforts I was called upon to conduct a few years ago. These efforts were held consecutively in two small southern United States cities. I teamed up with another young man. Like any evangelists, experienced or otherwise, we wanted success. We wanted souls and we prayed and worked for them. The sawdust was scattered, trampled on by a few, and then all that was left to remind the people that a series of meetings had been held in their town was a big bare spot in the vacant lot. This all happened in the space of one spring and summer. We were both left leaner of body—and of soul. What had gone wrong? What had we failed to do? Had God really called us to preach? We didn't have long to wait for the answers.The brethren laid hands upon us and we were ordained to the gospel ministry. At first we were tempted to believe that the brethren were not so much impressed with our degree of success as they were interested in encouraging us. But as a matter of fact, the brethren were following a correct principle—a man who is called to preach is called to do so regardless of his success or lack of it! If only we preachers could believe this principle, there would be fewer ulcers and probably many more baptisms.
After an apparent failure in public evangelism some men are tempted to seek shelter in quieter waters and leave the grind, the pressure, the risk, and the adventure of the open sea of evangelism to stouter hearts or to the "professionals." Those who feel this way might on the surface be justified in so doing, but in taking this less hazardous course they may he thwarting God's plan for a fuller ministry and denying themselves some of the richest experiences that are sure to come to all who wait, work, fast, and pray.
Now here I was in a foreign land, and as associate evangelist I was faced with public evangelism in a strange tongue—no mean matter in itself.
The campaign was to be held in Thailand—a stronghold of Buddhism, where for more than forty years Seventh-day Adventists had labored, watched, and photographed the annual rice harvest, mindful that surely there was a harvest of souls yet to come. From thirty million inhabitants we have managed through the years to wrest only a mere handful of nine hundred from the grasp of "nevermindism" and "whocaresism." But we reminded ourselves that Korea was in the same condition some ten to fifteen years before. Could it be that God was only waiting for us to step in and get our feet wet?
The place chosen was the rather obscure island of Phuket lying sleepily off the southwest coast in the Indian Ocean. At the southern end of the island is the city of Phuket, a typical Thai town with its Indian cloth shops, Chinese merchants, and Thai government workers. Population? Some 30,000. Adventist assets? One small crowded clinic and a handful of members. Not even a church.
A tabernacle, tent, or airatorium was nonexistent, so the first canvas-topped tabernacle with large attractive front ever to be constructed in the Thailand Mission was set up on a corner lot close to the heart of town. Passers-by gaped at the large 35- by 75-foot piece of canvas used for the roof and remarked that it was the biggest they had ever seen. This canvas was a symbol of our dreams. We wanted a big effort. We wanted a breakthrough. We wanted souls. Indeed, we set as our goal fifty souls. We began to pray for fifty souls, no less.
Prior to the opening night the evangelistic team went through the usual round of preparations for such a meeting—distribution of handbills, special invitations to former patients and a large group of Bible school interests. But the most important activity began to unfold twenty-four hours prior to opening time on Saturday night. A prayer meeting was called for laymen and workers alike. It was sundown worship, testimony meeting, and prayer band all wrapped up into one. Sabbath was declared a day of special fasting and prayer as was every Sabbath thereafter during the initial presentation of the message.
Saturday night finally came. Everybody manned his special assignment and all waited expectantly for the crowd to come.
At 7:00 P.m., the time designated for us to begin, 388 of the 400 available chairs were still waiting for someone to sit on them. I began to have dark visions of the past. Was it going to happen like that again? Surely not. After all, we had lettered on the sign front that there would be two meetings each night. We all did the only thing we could do when faced with such a situation. We poured out our hearts in prayer, "O Lord, please honor our hard work and our faith. We are doing this for Thee." At seven-thirty the tabernacle was packed! By seven-forty-five the entire back area was filled with standing listeners. They were overflowing down the aisles. People were turned away. We were afraid that so many people might tend to be unruly and noisy, but they were attentive and everyone could hear, for we had an excellent P.A. system with six box-speakers suspended from poles overhead. By 9:00 P.m. the meeting was over and a new crowd began to form, and the tabernacle was almost filled again. The second meeting closed at 10:00 P.M. Approximately 650 people were in attendance at these two services. God had overwhelmingly honored our faith and answered our prayers.
Were these curiosity seekers? Were they interested enough to return the second night? Indeed they were interested. The second night we had a double meeting again, with some 700 in attendance. For three weeks we held two meetings every night. We were weary but jubilant. Nothing like this had ever been experienced by any of us before.
This effort was a unique experience in many ways, one of them being that this also was a field school of evangelism, the first in Thailand's history, to our knowledge. We were fortunate to have Pastor Gumjorn Sriratprapas as evangelist and instructor. It was the first campaign of any size that this young man had taken part in, and he preached with the fervor of a veteran. I served as over-all manager of the program and as associate evangelist and instructor. Associated with us were two other young ministers, and four young men just out of our training school who not only had opportunity to learn methods but also to participate in the joy of the full program as well. Among their many duties they sang nightly as a quartet. Another feature of each evening meeting was a health talk provided by our two missionary doctors and some of the nurses.
After six weeks of preaching six nights a week the series was climaxed in a Voice of Prophecy graduation of sixty-seven students. These and others were then invited to join the "advanced class" of Bible marking. This proceeded for an additional twenty-four nights, and Bibles were given away to those in regular attendance. This Bible-marking series followed the sequence of the Far Eastern Division "Hope for Today" film slides; in this way each succeeding night the audience was reviewed on the previous night's subject by way of ten minutes of slides. This review period afforded excellent opportunity for each young worker to don lapel mike, switch off the lights, and preach with slides, thus giving him some actual evangelistic preaching experience before a large audience, and at the same time helping to clinch the truth in the mind of each hearer. During the Bible-marking period appeals were made almost nightly as to the acceptance of truths. The audience could respond by simply marking a cross on a small card placed in the plastic jackets of the Bible before meeting time and then returning the card to the jacket. After the meeting each card was collected from the Bibles left in the seats and marked with the corresponding number on the Bible. This number was then traced to its corresponding name on file and the card assigned to the worker responsible for visiting that person. In this way each worker knew just how his interests were progressing.
At the close of the Bible-marking class earnest appeals were made for those who wanted to follow Jesus and His truth to join the baptismal class. Fifty people joined this class. We smiled as we remembered that this was the number we were still praying for. The first time we met there were seventy-five ready to join the class. This class has been meeting for four nights a week now for more than two months. To date there are thirty-one who have been baptized, and plans call for one baptism a month throughout the remainder of the year. We believe the goal of fifty souls will be reached. We only wonder what might have happened if our faith had been greater.
Outside of the definite evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit and the convincing presentations, we attribute the success of this effort to two factors: (1) The prayer and fasting program and (2) the effective visitation program. Each worker had his own names to look after each week. He had a personal chart showing the attendance record of his interests and in a morning worship and instruction period these names were reviewed daily as to their progress. These names also were placed before our heavenly Father in prayer each day.
To God be the glory. Great things He has done. And greater things He will do in Thailand and everywhere. Are we willing to give evangelism a try? Are we willing to give it a second, a third, or a fourth try in spite of poor performances before? God may be testing us as to whether we are ready and willing to depend wholly upon Him and not on our own oratory and abilities. He may be trying us to determine what we will do in the face of apparent failure.
Brethren, let us give the Lord a chance. This joy is worth waiting for.