Karen Glassford is the global director of Adventist World Radio’s centers of digital evangelism, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Many of us are in pain because the coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected us or people we love. As we help people who are hurting in our communities across the globe, the Lord has a way of bringing triumph out of tragedy, life out of death, and victory out of defeat. Ironically, while church buildings have closed, creative ministry has exploded. The everlasting gospel is spreading faster than any virus—even through a cell phone. That was Maria’s experience.

Sobbing and hugging her knees to herself, Maria stared at the slammed front door. Her husband had just stormed out, never to return. She was actually OK with that, considering the abusive marriage. Maybe it was true that she wasn’t worth anything. Then there was God. Where was He? Apparently, on vacation, she thought bitterly. As for church, she was done with it.

Several years went by, and Maria met and married a wonderful police officer who, while not particularly religious, was kind and gentle. Together, they had two children. However, one day her husband successfully confiscated a large cache of drugs. The drug lords tried to bribe Maria’s husband to get their contraband back. He refused. They told him he would pay dearly. A few weeks later, returning from his little boy’s graduation, Maria’s husband, the love of her life, was shot 36 times and died. Completely distraught, Maria sank into deep depression. Life became unbearable.

Can digital connections bring hope?

The gospel meets us at our lowest. It cradles us in our pain. While there is a time to be cheerful, a time to share hope, a time to be positive and upbeat, there is also a time to weep. And there is a time to weep with those who weep and to let them know that, after a while, a better day will come. This was the message of hope that Maria received one day.

The message Maria heard spoke about death and resurrection. It totally shook her. Although she had known better, Maria had been attending séances to connect with her deceased husband. Now, falling on her knees, Maria confessed many things to the Lord. Assured of His forgiveness, she began attending the local Seventh-day Adventist church with her two bewildered, unchurched children in tow. That message Maria heard—was on her cell phone.

The reality is that 3.5 billion people have smartphones. If we are to reach people, we must go where they live for 5 to 12 hours a day—on their phones. The two most prominent searches people make on the internet are for pornography and questions on religion.1 People worry about the future and wonder whether anyone cares about them. Does their life have a purpose? How will everything end? They are concerned about their own health and the health of the planet. If, perchance, they have heard that God is real, they have little evidence to know whether it is true.

In this digitally connected age, how do we reach the world that God loves? Do we still conduct public evangelism meetings? Yes, indeed. Do we still need to door-to-door ministry? By all means. Do we still need to give Bible studies to those who respond to invitations or request them? Of course. But what about those who do not respond or request? What about those who never step into a church? Do you ever stare at the door of a beautiful home, knowing that behind it is a precious family, and wishing you could connect with them, but you do not know how? Cell phone evangelism may well be for such a time as this. What exactly is it?

The nuts and bolts

Cell phone evangelism is using one’s cell phone to send audio messages of hope to persons needing to be reached by the everlasting gospel. Written by a professional evangelist, these messages are recorded and sent automatically by a chatbot (computer) located at the Adventist World Radio (AWR) world headquarters. The recipients access them via SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, or Telegram, with additional platforms being added as quickly as possible. Those who respond become Bible students and are connected with a guide, known as a cell phone evangelist.

The chatbot takes care of the technical details of sending the right presentation to the right student at the right time. It connects the cell phone evangelist and the student to each other. Students control how quickly they want to progress through the presentations. The cell phone evangelist’s role and main objective are to become a personal friend to each of his or her students, walking with them on their spiritual journey, helping find answers to their Bible questions, and praying for their prayer requests.

The program is available in numerous languages, with additional languages being added monthly. Each cell phone evangelist is certified by their pastor. Training, resources, and ongoing support are provided, giving the cell phone evangelist confidence to do this special work.2

Training includes learning principles of social-media advertising, how to work with people tactfully, how to answer difficult Bible questions, and how to encourage people in their walk with the Lord. The program provides tech support and carefully ensures GDPR compliance and accountability.3 This new form of evangelism reaches people directly in their homes, allowing them to respond in their own time. The Holy Spirit is working through this method to reach out to people at critical moments in their lives. How do we know? He reached out to Maria—and through Maria.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive

A few weeks after attending church, Maria read Matthew 6:14, 15: “ ‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins’ ” (NIV). She prayed, “Well, Lord, I’m glad I have no enemies.”

The Lord seemed to say, What about your first husband?

Shocked, she burst out, “Some things are unforgivable!”

God impressed her heart that forgiveness simply meant wanting God’s best for her abusive ex-husband—for him to find Jesus as his personal Savior. She felt God asking her, Why not send him those audio messages?

In time, she decided to text him and offer to send him the same audio presentations that had changed her life. He could not believe he was hearing from Maria. Startled, he accepted the offer. It didn’t stop there. God impressed Maria to send the audio messages to the killers of her second husband. That was much more difficult, emotionally and logistically. It took quite a while for Maria to figure out how to do it but, incredibly, prisoners in her country were given limited access to a cell phone. To those who had killed her husband, Maria extended the invitation to receive the messages. Amazingly, they, too, accepted.

Many in our communities have never had the chance to learn about the gospel truths we hold dear. Some of them could never attend an evangelistic meeting because of work duties, family commitments, or even family prohibitions. Others desire to discover the truths for themselves, taking things more slowly so that they can research and digest what they are learning. Still others live such busy lives that having the flexibility to be able to listen to these presentations at their convenience is of genuine benefit.

Additionally, some church members have free time once children are in bed, papers are graded, or they have a day off from work. Their free periods may vary, but through training as cell phone evangelists, they may help their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and relatives understand the truths of God’s Word. Cell phone evangelism is a means by which not only is the gospel preached to persons who may not otherwise receive it, but also those doing the evangelism grow in their relationship with Christ.

Try it out

The days in which we now live will stretch our faculties to the utmost. What can you do? God is waiting and wanting to do something new through you. He wants to impact your church and inspire your members to discover the joy of working with God for the salvation of souls. Why not have an evangelistic audio series sent to the phones of those whom you and your church members care about so much? The recipients of these presentations can listen at their convenience, and empty hearts can be filled with God’s love and peace.

By doing cell phone evangelism, people can minister to those living right next to them or those living in far-flung places around this globe.4 Cell phone evangelism may be a big factor in revitalization, unity, and joyful service for many in your congregation. Take the first step today. It may be a new way for your church to grow, with people like Maria—and her family.

Maria’s first husband is now attending an Adventist church where he lives. The killers of her second husband are listening to audio messages that have a profound impact on their lives. Maria’s children love Sabbath School, church, and being in Pathfinders.5 Maria herself is joyful in her relationship with God. Their lives were rescued because, in bringing hope, comfort, and transforming truths into their lives, God used a cell phone.

  1. Sam Neves, “Understanding Self-Disclosure in theContext of Online Pastoral Care,” (forthcoming PhDdiss., Westminster University), Microsoft Word file.
  2. Training for you and your church members to become involved in this innovative, convenient, and effective form of evangelism can be found on the AWR360° Cell Phone Evangelism Training page at awr.org/training. The online training offers both recorded and live sessions.
  3. The European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation designed to give greater data protection to organizations handling the data of EU citizens. “GDPR Certification: Everything You Need to Know,” UpCounsel, accessed May 3, 2020, upcounsel.com/gdpr-certification.
  4. If you would like a personal training session for your church, AWR may be able to coordinate a special live training program for the pastors and laity of your conference or your area so that you can get your questions answered in real time. If you are interested in helping to coordinate such an event, please send your request to [email protected] or call 1-301-680-6294.
  5. Pathfinders is part of the Youth Ministries department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church working specifically to develop the social and religious education of children and teens. For more information, see the Pathfinders page on the General Conference Youth Ministries website at youth.adventist.org/Ministries/Pathfinders.

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Karen Glassford is the global director of Adventist World Radio’s centers of digital evangelism, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

June 2020

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