400 Won in Bogota Crusade

ONCE upon a time a fierce storm raged across the fertile plateau on which Bogota lies. Vengeful torrents drowned the crops, swept away homes, and destroyed man and beast alike. As the flood waters kept rising the people helplessly watched their sacred city crumble. Some who managed to flee to islands of high ground chanted prayers and called on their gods for deliverance. . .

-Lay Activities and Public Relations Secretary, South Dakota Conference

ONCE upon a time a fierce storm raged across the fertile plateau on which Bogota lies. Vengeful torrents drowned the crops, swept away homes, and destroyed man and beast alike. As the flood waters kept rising the people helplessly watched their sacred city crumble. Some who managed to flee to islands of high ground chanted prayers and called on their gods for deliverance.

Suddenly, so the Indian legend goes, appeared the god Bochica to save the doomed Chibchas. With his golden rod he struck the mountains that trapped the swollen waters. At once the mountains parted with a deafening roar. Rapidly the angry, surging waters pressed through the opening and plunged down the mountainside, saving the Chibchas and their land from disaster. Today not far from Bogota the magnificent Tequendama Falls still plunge 450 feet to the Bogota River below, keeping alive the memory of this ancient tale.

Tequendama, which in Chibcha language signified "open door," very appropriately describes the circumstances before and after the evangelistic effort held recently in the capital of Colombia.

The Challenge of Bogota

Bogota, founded in 1538 by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, is a modern city with relics of the colonial world and a European atmosphere. This bustling metropolis spreads out a considerable distance over the savanna at the foot of the twin hills of Monserrate and La Guadalupe. Its location 8,563 feet above sea level makes it a typical South American city high up in the Andes, with an average year-round temperature of 60 degrees. Bogota has mystery and suspense, and its more than two million inhabitants epitomize all peoples, styles, and nationalities.

Religiously, 99 percent of its inhabitants are members of the state church, though a high percentage make only a nominal confession of the Catholic faith. Quite a few are outright atheists. The 500 years of state-enforced religious domination has done its work in prejudicing the Colombians, especially the more educated classes, against any other Christian viewpoint. Tradition has kept millions living in ignorance, fear, or superstition. Others, under the pressure of urban living, do not seem to be interested in a heart religion.

What can Seventh-day Adventists do under such circumstances? This question kept harping on the consciences of some twelve hundred Adventists living in this city. So in 1968 they began discussing the need for a city-wide evangelistic campaign. An invitation sent to the Mexican Union for the services of their evangelist was accepted, and in 1971 Carlos Aeschlimann arrived to direct a six-month campaign. His novel, modern, and somewhat revolutionary methods paid off in 400 souls and three new churches. Of course the end results will be far greater. The church became well known, and the stage has been set for a strong advance. Many closed doors are now wide open, and prejudice has lessened. How did the parting of the mountains come about?

Pattern for Success

From my personal observation I conclude that the success of this unusual program was due to at least three factors:

1. The evangelist's method called for the involvement of the laymen from the very beginning of the campaign until and including the final follow up after the meetings had ceased.

2. A realistic recognition of the basic human needs governed the speaker in the preparation of his lectures. There was no presentation of astronomical marvels or exciting archeological discoveries, but rather a frank discussion of man's social relations and personal problems. This approach drew record crowds and won us the approval and cooperation of the authorities.

3. The evangelist used a unique method to make himself known to the public. A speaker must command authority and possess certain prestige before most people are willing to listen to his message.

The first factor becomes important where there exists a shortage of workers, as was the case in the Bogotd campaign.

Lay Involvement

About six months before the beginning of the campaign, Prof. David G. y Poyato flew in from Mexico to introduce his Missionary Mailman plan. After several practical classes the members of the four churches organized into visitation teams and called on their friends and neighbors to enroll them in one of our radio Bible courses. They delivered each lesson in person, and from week to week collected the answer sheets. To speed up this study program it was thought that the laymen should be able to obtain the lessons daily and have them corrected within a week. So the conference set up a local Bible school for about nine months, employing the wife of one of our ministers. The lay men encouraged each student to complete his course in time for the special graduation service to be held one day before the actual beginning of the lectures.

More than 2,000 persons enrolled, and at the mass graduation of the Bible school 1,130 students received their diplomas and were introduced to the evangelist and his program. Many of those interests turned out to be the first fruits of the campaign without any special help from the evangelist and his team.

Several weeks before the commencement date a selected group of laymen participated in a house-to-house survey of 12,000 homes in the areas closest to the lecture hall. The callers informed the people about the forthcoming campaign and solicited their opinion about the themes to be presented. A list of topics on a perforated folder gave the people contacted an opportunity to check off their preferred subject. Having thus aroused the people's interest, they informed them that they would receive free of charge a special invitation if they signed their names and addresses on the check list. At the close of the interview the lay men left the other half of the folder with general information about the lectures as a reminder of their visit.

You can easily see how a subsequent invitation would be received with considerably more interest than a handbill. Nevertheless, the evangelist made liberal use of handbills, newspaper advertising, radio, and display cards in store windows. As a later survey showed us, there is no advertising that equals personal con tact. During one of the lectures the evangelist asked the 2,500 people in attendance to fill out a questionnaire indicating how they learned of the lecture series. The percentage figures below indicate the response of the 1,353 persons who completed the questionnaire:

Through personal invitation 55 percent
Without personal invitation broken down as follows: 45 percent
Radio Bible School graduate 9 percent
Handbills 16.5 percent
Newspapers 12.5 percent
Store-window display cards 4 percent
Radio spot announcements 3 percent

Training Class

Though some 30 workers and ministerial students collaborated, the ever-growing requests for visitation and literature made it evident that the laymen had to be involved as Bible instructors. So once a week Pastor Aeschlimann held a class for 120 lay Bible instructors. With the additional help of two weekly studies per layman the evangelistic team was able to visit about 1,185 people within two months of the opening of the campaign.

Professional individuals were drafted as members of a legally approved evangelistic association, ALACS, the Latin American Society of Social Culture. To open doors the denomination's name could not be mentioned directly as the campaign sponsor. Under this separate name the cultural and social aspects of the lectures could be stressed without provoking religious prejudice. And the use of members with a profession added prestige to the whole effort. ALACS' public relations director was a layman, who being the head of a government agency possessed time and talents to rep resent the association. His acquaintance with government officials proved to be an unexpected boost to the evangelist. Without doubt, lay involvement opens doors as nothing else can.

Choice of Subjects

Another contributive factor was the choice of themes for the opening lectures. Pastor Aeschlimann had noted from his previous labors in Argentina and Mexico that the average man's first inter est is in how to keep his home and health. His already-tested opinion was confirmed by the survey of 12,000 homes, when people checked off topics such as "A Happy Home," "Modern Youth," "How to Face Problems," and "Mental Health and Complexes."

During the initial three weeks Pastor Aeschlimann presented twelve lectures on these and related themes, drawing the largest crowds ever attracted by Adventists in Colombia. Even the newspapers published extensive excerpts from his lectures on the front pages, some thing unheard of in Adventist circles. Furthermore, government-controlled television invited the evangelist to present three half-hour programs on the problems of modern youth, alcoholism, and the training of children.

At the end of the three weeks he pointed his hearers to the spiritual treasures all Christians have in common. Topics on faith, prayer, and Christ helped the listener to see why religion is important in our twentieth century.

Next followed lectures on eschatology, the plan of salvation, including baptism, the law and the Sabbath, and similar subjects. By this time the evangelist had won the hearts of the people, and could present any subject without fear of a drop in attendance.

Each team member used a Bible course prepared by the evangelist to ensure an adequate and consistent study program. It also served to strengthen the speaker's nightly presentation with the Bible in hand.

The Evangelist in the News

Further aid to the over-all success of the campaign was the evangelist's identification. Pastor Aeschlimann used a unique method that I believe would con tribute to the initial success of any effort. At first the press gave us a cool reception as we talked of ALACS' plan to invite Pastor Aeschlimann to lecture for us in Bogota. And when he arrived, neither the press nor a television crew was on hand to meet him at the airport, as we had expected. Notwithstanding, we obtained our own professional photographer, took a picture of the evangelist's arrival, and wrote up the story. As a paid advertisement it was published in the Sunday edition of El Tiempo, the most prominent paper in Colombia. It cost a lot of money, but it turned the tide. The press decided he must be somebody if our society was willing to pay that price.

Some months previously the public relations secretary of ALACS had contacted presidents of clubs, cooperatives, labor unions, and universities to line up a series of lectures for the evangelist, who indeed has some impressive credentials. Two weeks before the public lectures began Pastor Aeschlimann spoke to representatives of the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and other groups. The press sat up and took notice. Indirectly his name appeared in print.

At the same time ALACS sent letters to the mayor of Bogota, the governor of the state, ambassadors, ministers of government, and even the President of the Republic, soliciting an opportunity to present their lecturer for an interview. Many of these visits were photographed and published by the press, and added greatly to the prestige and renown of the evangelist. Every person visited received a set of Seventh-day Adventist books, so a two-fold purpose was served.

Of course not even the most novel, up-to-date, and effective method will produce the desired results without divine aid, a fact we witnessed over and over again in the miraculous parting of the mountains of prejudice and indifference. Where divine power and human consecration and initiative blend, success is bound to follow.

(to be continued)

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
-Lay Activities and Public Relations Secretary, South Dakota Conference

June 1972

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

What About the Little Villages?

THERE are many little villages around the world, and Holland is not without its share. What about the message of the three angels in relation to the people of these tiny spots on the map comprising the lowlands and islands of Holland?

Men of the Century

THIS is the year nineteen hundred and seventy-two, the most exciting year in the history of Adventism! As I pen these lines more than sixteen hundred evangelists all across North America are proclaiming the everlasting gospel in special evangelistic campaigns. In Inter-America from the West Indies to Costa Rica the same is true. . .

Evangelism in Dublin

DUBLIN, grand old city of the Emerald Isle, occupied an important place on the stage of Adventist action during the summer of 1971. Twelve students from Andrews University representing five different countries joined my wife and me; Mrs. Elsie Fitzgerald, organist; and Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur K. Nelson, of Loma Linda University's School of Public Health, for a field school of evangelism. . .

The Most Difficult Sermon To Preach

HOW many times have you preached to a one-man audience? Most preachers and lay workers would readily agree that the most difficult sermon to preach is one delivered to a one-man audience. It may also be said that decisions made where one man is the challenger and one man the recipient are often more genuine and lasting. . .

Should Offerings Be Taken at Evangelistic Meetings?

SEVERAL, years ago a layman approached me just prior to the beginning of one of our evangelistic campaigns and stated, "If you will not take any offerings during this campaign, at its conclusion I will write you a check to cover the entire cost of this campaign." I turned to him and said, "My brother, I will not let you rob these people of the blessing that comes from freely giving an offering to God. Nor will I let you, because of your generosity, make invalids out of these new converts. . ."

Dirty Test Tubes

REALIZING that I have labored twenty-five years under "baptism conformity" makes me ashamed before my God, my fellow Christians and myself. As MISSION '72 has marched into the picture with great opportunities, the overbearing, burdening question of my soul is, Are my test tubes cleaned and ready? And how about those of my church?

PH.D. in a Storefront

ALL praise and glory be to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the 115 souls convicted to come forward for baptism during the "Time of the End" crusade meetings in Los Angeles in 1971.

The Challenge of Islam (Part 1)

ONE of my first contacts with Islam, as an earliteen son of an Adventist minister-missionary, resulted in my giving Bible studies to a Muslim man. Every week I rode my bicycle across the fields to his house. And every week at the close of the study he offered me tea cakes, which, because it was between meals, I politely refused. . .

The Baptismal Service--Tips for Added Dignity

THE spiritual significance of baptism is clearly stated in Gal. 3:27: "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." We further learn that baptism is a symbol of death to our old way of life. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

A Look at the Billy Graham Crusades

EVANGELISM in America has had a curiously sporadic history. There have not been more than four or five concerted periods of revivalism in America in the past 200 years; and even when those periods emerged they were relatively short, typically about a decade. . .

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All