In Making the visit, Pastor Kenneth Harding introduced himself as a representative of George Vandeman and the It Is Written telecast. Mrs. Johnson responded warmly and volunteered how much she enjoyed the program. Yes, she had received the book Destination Life, but there were still some points concerning the state of man in death that were not clear. A concise twenty-minute Bible study on this vital subject followed, and the visit was closed with prayer.
Just an ordinary Christian visit? Not quite. You see, Pastor Harding and Mrs. Johnson have never actually met. Everything outlined above took place over the telephone. A new evangelistic technique is being developed in New York City that might prove to be effective in certain other parts of the country.
It isn't that workers in the New York City area are lazy. They know that nothing can really take the place of a face-to-face visit, and they make as many such contacts as possible. But with many interests in our nation's largest city, such a visit is not possible. People are apt to be living on the twenty-third floor of a high-rise apartment building, and they pay good money to have a uniformed doorman on the first floor to keep everyone out.
This posed a real problem until someone recalled that one individual had already breached every wall in the city—the telephone man. And he had left behind him a trail of copper wire that a skilled and consecrated evangelist might utilize. The big question, of course, was whether city dwellers who don't like to answer the doorbell would be any happier about answering the telephone. Now after more than a thousand calls we are ready to report that they are.
Roy Thurmon, coordinator for the metropolitan evangelistic program, invited several Andrews University students to participate in this interesting experiment. Under the supervision of Pastors Vandeman and Thurmon, the seminarians had come to New York City to study methods of evangelizing large cities. They entered into the venture with the customary enthusiasm of youth but were hardly prepared for the warm and rewarding experiences that followed. Some remarks overheard were:
"I have already prayed with fifteen people over the telephone today."
"I just had one of the most thrilling contacts of my entire life."
"I've had a few doors slammed in my face, but not a single person has slammed the receiver down."
"The lady I just visited with desires baptism."
Kenneth Harding, associate metropolitan coordinator, reports that probably no more than 3 per cent of those contacted indicate any resentment at having been called. And many request that the one telephoning make a personal visit as soon as opportunity permits. Telephone visits run from five minutes to half an hour or more, and a large percentage are happy to have the caller offer prayer.
Special Techniques Needed
Telephone visitation presents a special challenge. The one making the call must be discerning enough to gather from the person's voice alone information that would ordinarily be indicated by appearance, surroundings, dress, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, et cetera.
One of our men asked a woman if she was a Christian, to which she replied, "Well, no, you see I am Jewish." A good visit followed, and the woman's voice betrayed the tears that were on her cheeks. She was happy to allow our worker to pray, and in Christ's name. The very next day she telephoned for more help, and a few days later she sent money to assist with the program.
This type of ministry is not easy. It takes a great deal of concentration, and puts the one calling under a certain amount of strain. Experience has proved that about five hours a day in two sessions, is all that should be attempted. The remainder of the time can best be spent in making those personal visits that are possible. Women can often be reached by telephone during the day while men are best contacted at night.
Those doing the calling do not introduce themselves, at least at the beginning. Their name would have little meaning. Instead they mention they are calling on behalf of George Vandeman and the It Is Written telecast. They then listen intently for the first reaction on the part of the one on the other end of the line. If there is a certain coolness, then the call is carefully terminated after a friendly remark or two. If there is a warm response, then the degree of interest is ascertained and heightened. Studies on certain points of doctrine are commonplace.
Training Manual Available
Careful training is essential for this specialized type of ministry. A mimeographed manual has been prepared, spelling out the techniques thus far developed. This may be secured from the It Is Written office at the General Conference headquarters.
One Roman Catholic who was contacted by telephone explained that she was in trouble with her church because she had married a Protestant. She was also very ill. After receiving encouragement she exclaimed, "You know, I think I've found a friend."
She further pointed out that she never missed an It Is Written telecast. When asked if she had ever thought of becoming a Seventh-day Adventist, she replied, "Yes, I have, but do you know my problem? I'm so sick much of the time I'm afraid I couldn't get all my work done on the preparation day and then I would be late for the Sabbath." You may be certain that our worker was eager to help her with that particular problem.
May we stress again that there is no real substitute for personal visitation. But where that is an impossibility, those copper wires the telephone man has left behind may lead straight to a heart that is waiting to be reached for Christ.