[This is the story of a full-scale evangelistic effort conducted on the campus of a Seventh-day Adventist college during six months of a regular school year. It resulted in four times the number of baptisms of the previous year and included the largest single baptism ever conducted on the campus. Here is the account of a spiritual experiment at Spicer Memorial College, Poona. India—a story of faith, wholehearted cooperation. and gratifying results.]
Bill, don't you think we'd all benefit from a series of Friday night talks on the doctrines of the church?" I said one evening toward the close of the 1963-1964 school year to Pastor Bill Johnsson, Bible teacher at Spicer Memorial College, Southern Asia's senior educational institution. "We have some students here who are not Seventh-day Adventists, others whose knowledge of our beliefs is incomplete. An emphasis on doctrine now and then is good for all of us."
"Surely," Pastor Johnsson replied. "Maybe we can do something like that next school year."
And so it started, as most good things do, with an idea shared and a conviction transferred from thought to action. Soon after the beginning of the school year we planned a series of twelve lectures on the doctrines of the church. They would be given at the regular Friday night meetings, with students and campus families in attendance, and if some visitors came in, that would be all the better.
Then, a few weeks before the first lecture, suggestions and comments began popping up everywhere. "Why not make this a short evangelistic series?" "Let's put out a handbill!" "We can use the college choir!" "Our auditorium is the best one for miles around." "Let's put up a special backdrop for Friday nights only." "What about some newspaper advertising?" "Transportation facilities are terrible—no buses—why can't we teachers use our own cars to bring people to the meetings?"
Gradually, then rapidly, the possibilities opened before us. We realized we had on hand what most evangelists in the field long for: a large, rent-free auditorium seating more than five hundred people, a guaranteed audience of students and faculty members to encourage visitors (and speakers!), a trained choir, and plenty of ministerial and other interested students for visitation and Bible studies. In addition, there was an established list of interests—students and teachers had been active for years holding branch Sabbath schools, conducting singing bands, distributing literature, and giving Bible studies in the nearby communities. Almost before we knew what was happening the concept, and thrill, of "on-campus evangelism" grasped the imagination of students and teachers and became the most outstanding event of the school year.
As usually happens, our plans were far behind God's. Immediately after the first Friday night service we realized that twelve meetings would be woefully inadequate for friends of Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, and Parsi backgrounds. About seventy-five visitors had been present for the opening meeting and there were good prospects that the attendance would continue. Furthermore, while many could understand the Friday night meeting in English, what of the Marathi-speaking people in whose area the college is located? Then, too, most visitors did not have Bibles; some could not read. And how would evangelism and education mix? Would they complement or exhaust each other—and us too?
College President's Vision
At prayer meeting the week following the first service, when these questions loomed large in our thinking, the president of the college, M. E. Cherian, said, "There's only one thing to do, and that is to go forward, make larger plans, and let evangelism be the keynote of our college year."
With excellent faculty cooperation and interest the original twelve meetings were enlarged to twenty-seven, covering every Friday night for six months, the preaching to be done by staff members with students assisting in other phases of the program. It was intended that this would be a "model" series to show the students "how to do it" —but they wanted more than that. After one week the student ministerial seminar decided to "crash the program." They would, and did, hold meetings every Sunday night for the duration of the series in the Marathi tongue, with students preaching. They even began an adult literacy class following the evening service in an effort to teach simple reading and writing to the people. Each Friday at noon ministerial students and teachers met together for lunch in order to plan and pray for the weekend meetings. Faculty members drove their cars each Friday night and sometimes on Sunday nights for the entire period, including Christmas and New Year's—making two, four, as many trips a night as needed to bring the people. A Bible-award plan was set up and Bibles were presented to those who attended ten times.
Meetings began promptly at 7:00 P.M. with the showing of a thirty-minute film on the life of Christ or travels of Paul. Then came a short song service and the sermon, sometimes illustrated with black-light "Colorama." On Sunday nights the sermon would often be translated from English into Marathi if the student speaker was not fluent in Marathi, and simple filmstrips were sometimes used.
Showers of Plaster
Unexpected problems arose, of course. Sometimes there would be a power failure and the speaker would find himself addressing an unseen audience. On the second night of the series one student, more enthusiastic than cautious, ventured into the space above the ceiling of the auditorium to adjust a wire holding the backdrop, and, stepping between the rafters, all but plummeted onto the heads of those seated thirty feet below! As one leg dropped through the ceiling he caught himself, dangling dangerously, then managed to scramble up again, but not before the audience was showered with falling plaster and the speaker had visions of calamity. The boy's name was not Eutychus of Troas, but we shared similar feelings with the apostle Paul when his recovery was complete!
Personnel for committees are amply available in a college situation, and so we used as many people as possible for efficiency and involvement. The over-all responsibility for the meetings was handled by a steering committee, including the president of the college and members of the religion staff. In addition, there were committees on decoration, platform, ushers, posters, advertising and publicity, finance, music, transportation, audio-visual material, prayer, baptism, order of subjects, newsletters, handbills, literature, and reception.
Feeling that news of what the college was doing would benefit and inspire the constituency, a "Spicer for Christ" evangelistic news bulletin was prepared and mailed to every ministerial worker in Southern Asia. The first issue included plans for the series with detailed coverage of the first meeting. The second and final issue reported on sermon subjects, strengths and weaknesses of the campaign, and the final baptism.
"I Just Have to Go"
There were three baptisms during the series. The first two totaled seven candidates, but we were sure that the final one would be larger—how much larger, we didn't know. As the call was made for people to come forward at the final meeting, earnest prayers ascended for victory. That very day students and teachers had prayed unitedly at the noon lunch meeting, especially in behalf of the father of one of the faculty wives. All his life a nominal Christian of another persuasion, would he have the conviction to stand for what he had recently learned? One minister made the call from the pulpit while two others stood in front to greet those who responded and to clear the front rows as seats were needed. As the choir voiced its sweet appeal, thirty-four people stepped to the front, including one little eight-year-old girl, who whispered to her mother with tears in her eyes, "Mommy, I just have to go." Students saw their prayers answered as the man for whom they had prayed that day slipped quietly from his seat and walked to the front, a living, visible proof that God answers prayer!
Bringing in the Sheaves
One week later at the eleven o'clock hour on Sabbath morning a special service preceding the baptism proved a real blessing to the entire church. The speaker gave a short summary of the series of meetings, then spoke to individuals by name who had been giving studies or taking part in missionary activity—"Have you anyone to bring to the Lord this morning?" Each one arose and came forward, bringing with him those he had helped to win. One senior theological student brought a man won as a result of Sabbath afternoon studies by students and teachers at a nearby government school. Dean of men, Reginald Shires, and R. Jagadhane, a student, brought forward the six they had won through a Voice of Prophecy contact followed by a year of Bible studies culminating in the series of meetings. Three pastors brought forward the Marathi converts who had made decisions at the Sunday night services; faculty members brought their children of baptismal age; and other church members, students, and staff humbly presented their friends and loved ones to the Lord—a double line extending across the width of the church in front of the pulpit.
Following the examination of the candidates, they were ushered to the pool where they took part in the sacred ordinance conducted by six ministers in three languages. Thirty-three persons were baptized in this, the largest baptism ever conducted at the college, and nearly the largest in the entire division. The forty baptisms for the school year were equally divided between on-and-off-campus friends, totaling four times as many as the previous year.
22 Less D's and F's
And the schoolwork? Was scholarship affected by the absorbing activities of evangelism? This is difficult to measure, but at least it would not appear to have been affected adversely. The results of students' grade reports are actually better than a year ago. With 19 more students enrolled, there are 22 less D's and F's. The spiritual tone of the campus remained high all year. Regular religious activities such as Weeks of Prayer and a Student Devotional Week were conducted as usual and correlated with evangelism. Had public transportation been available others would have attended; as it was, practically all were transported to and fro by our ten teachers' cars. Attendance remained fairly steady with between fifty and seventy-five visitors each night. "Friday night at Spicer" came to be a familiar phrase and an enjoyable experience for friends of the community and school members alike.
Of course, the program had its weaknesses. Monthly awards would have made the attendance even better, and six months proved to be a little long with the busy round of regular college activities. Four to five months might have been sufficient. Having a number of different speakers made for variety and proved effective, but another time one might preach throughout the series for consistency.
Strong points of the program were, first of all, a steady, enthusiastic evangelistic emphasis reaching everyone on campus and keeping before our noncommitted students the need for decision; a demonstration training program for future ministers; a ready, inexpensive source of most of the things evangelists need—choir, auditorium, Bible instructors, and a captive audience!
If the Lord could bless on-campus evangelism in a predominantly Hindu community where there was no public transportation, why wouldn't it work on other Adventist campuses around the world? Our schools have friendly public relations in their communities and many interests have been fostered through the years. Why not invite nearby friends to spend a pleasant evening a week in sharing the good things of the gospel in a college atmosphere? "On-campus evangelism" is a pleasant experience, and best of all, it works!