Bible correspondence courses were first introduced to solidify the interest created by the radio broadcast. With the advent of television the pattern was already set and correspondence lessons were an integral part of this program from its inception. It would be unthinkable to use either radio or television without the Bible schools, but in some places it is necessary to use correspondence lessons alone because radio and television facilities are not available.
In Southern Asia television as yet does not exist. All radio is state controlled, and since each of the countries is non-Christian no permission can be obtained for sponsored Christian programs. However, from the end of 1950 until 1957 we regularly beamed the Voice of Prophecy program from the commercial station of Radio Ceylon, but in 1957 a government order put an end to all Christian programs.
Student Recommendation the Best
The correspondence schools begun in 1947 were beginning to be productive just when our broadcast was canceled. Thus we were forced to strongly develop the only media of mass communication left to us. It had to be proved that the Bible schools could flourish and be productive even if the powerful promotion of radio and television was not available.
Advertising was the number one problem. Newspapers and magazines carried advertisements to the less than 20 per cent literate population who could afford to buy them. Advertisements produced limited returns. Slide ads in cinemas proved to be an almost complete waste of money. Public rallies and graduation exercises have always drawn good crowds and provided many new applications, but even here the main value was in keeping the name Voice of Prophecy before the people. Otherwise it would have proved an expensive and laborious method of obtaining new students. Members and ministers in annual campaigns and sporadic drives have turned in a fair number of interests. References in all our publications, and colporteur contacts maintain an even trickle of names. By far the best method of increasing applications is that of student recommendation. The old business adage, "A satisfied customer is our best advertisement," certainly is well applied to our Bible School.
Here's the Secret
Part way through the course we enclosed with the lessons a printed slip worded something like this: "We are able to accept a limited number of new students. If you would care to invite a friend to take the same course that you are studying have him fill out the enclosed application blank in his own writing, send it back to us with your next answer papers, and we will guarantee to supply him with this same study course entirely free of charge." At least 50 per cent of these cards come back to us signed and a high proportion of these applicants become enrollees.
Late in the study course we inform the student that our school is expanding and we send him an application blank with places for five of his friends to apply for the course. For his cooperation in making known the benefits of our study course to five of his friends we offer him a free book. This method is quite successful in bringing a number of names, but a lower percentage of these make the transition from applicant to enrollee.
As far as possible the student should be given a study course that matches his background and his need. In lands where Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Moslems, and Animists each outnumber the Christian population this is no easy matter.
Young people and those with some knowledge of Christianity are encouraged to learn moral lessons from the lives of Bible characters, through the Introductory course.
Because of certain published statements by Mahatma Gandhi many Hindus are interested to know about Jesus, so to them we send the Hope of the World studies.
Very little progress had been made with the Moslems until just over two years ago when we introduced a new course, "Light From the Ancient Prophets." These lessons, based on the writings of Ellen G. White, start from the Creation story and trace the Messianic prophecies up to the time of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. This course is in great demand and has resulted in the acceptance of Jesus as the only Saviour by Moslems, Sikhs, and Hindus. This is one of our most productive courses and it is also being used throughout the Middle East.
Recently another "specialized" course has been introduced, written to meet the Buddhist mind and entitled "Search for Happiness." It is too early to see results, but we have faith to believe that they will be forthcoming.
In addition, we have the regular doctrinal courses, which we encourage all students to take when they have completed their introductory set of lessons and are sufficiently acquainted with the fundamentals of Christianity.
This Makes Adventists
Our final course is "The Great Controversy," and very few finish this course without becoming members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Between the school and the workers a direct and friendly relationship is maintained. When each student is halfway through his studies and again at completion, notification is sent directly to the worker located nearest to him. Every encouragement is given to the worker to faithfully follow up the interest. Whenever this is done the end result is encouraging to both worker and school. But this is a vast territory. The worker line is scattered—thin. Swift and easy travel facilities are not available. Many students are too far away to visit.
How to Increase Baptisms
In order that the most productive results may come from the correspondence studies, a Group Study Plan has been initiated. This can be operated by the worker or trained lay member. The group leader enrolls as many pupils as possible after arranging a location where he can regularly meet with them. Lessons mailed in bulk to the group leader are distributed and studied. Time is allotted for questions and answers and then each student fills in his test paper, which is collected and mailed, in bulk, to the school for grading.
A variation of this plan takes the worker to various homes throughout the week where he assists families in their study of the correspondence lesson. He maintains this close connection throughout the entire course and is able to help them at decision time.
Advantages of this Group Study Plan are: right type and age student enrolled; personal contact throughout; groups held near a church or institution; travel minimized; integration simplified. A conference president has required each worker to be responsible for enrolling three hundred students a year under the Group Study Plan and results are beginning to show in increased baptisms. One worker states that since putting this plan into operation his baptisms have doubled and his expenses have halved.
In developing countries where great efforts are being made to increase the literacy rate, there is a great work to be done by the Bible correspondence schools. The newly acquired ability to read and write is immediately accompanied by an insatiable demand for reading material. A free correspondence course is ideally suited to meet this need. In awakening minds the words of truth find a welcome lodgment. Indeed, in such an environment the Bible school lessons can reach more people than radio and television. Where the latter is just a "foreign miracle" the former would be beyond the pocket of most of the community. The Bible course being free has strong appeal.
On the other hand, there are multitudinous masses of illiterates still to be reached, and surprising though it may seem, a correspondence course conducted by the Group Study Plan is ideally suited to their need. This was discovered quite accidentally.
Lessons were mailed in the normal way to two men who were the only ones who could read or write in the village of Aundh. The visit of the mailman was such a rare thing that when he delivered the Bible lessons, many villagers gathered around our students to see what they had received. The lessons were read out to the crowd, then the questions on the test paper were read and the villagers were quick to call out the answers even before our two students filled in the test paper for themselves. The worker found that not only these two men but almost another thirty people were conversant with the messages of the lessons and were well on the way in their acceptance of truth and preparation for baptism.
Using this information, we now encourage members and ministers to hold classes for illiterates, teaching them the lessons and then asking them individually the questions on the test sheet. Whatever answer is given—be it right or wrong—that is written down for the one questioned and the test paper is mailed in his name back to the school. If a wrong answer is given, this affords the worker opportunity of clearing this point with the student before the next lesson study is started.
Throughout Southern Asia the Bible school work is conducted under the name of the Voice of Prophecy. At a gathering of dignitaries of other Christian bodies it was publicly stated that the Voice of Prophecy was the best-known Christian name and organization in Southern Asia and that it was responsible for teaching Christianity to more people than the total combined efforts of all the churches.
Up to the end of 1964 we had received in excess of two and a half million applications and one million enrollments. We are receiving one thousand new applications every working day, and the best is still before us. As more of the population learn to read and write we must be ready to give them truth.
Yes, it is true, we earnestly wish to be "on the air" and we are doing all we can to be there, but we are not languishing while waiting.