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Literature Evangelists Share Testimonies at Glen Burnie Church
Story by Taashi Rowe
Gessy Desir and her sister, Hongkara, are both students at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md.
“We have a small team and a hard territory,” said Tyler Trahan, a Bible worker at Chesapeake Conference’s Glen Burnie (Md.) church. “There are a lot of ‘no soliciting’ signs, and a lot of people are not interested in spiritual things.”
Even so, Trahan has 18 Bible studies already lined up this summer in this working class suburb of Baltimore. Not bad for a hard territory. The soon-to-be 24-year-old, a graduate of the Amazing Facts College of Evangelism, says he is able to give these Bible studies because of student literature evangelists (LEs) who have weathered the merciless summer sun, dogs, “no soliciting” signs and even the police.
Last Sabbath some three dozen literature evangelists from the Allegheny East (AEC) and Chesapeake conferences gathered at the Glen Burnie church to encourage each other, share their testimonies and do even more literature evangelism. “Our colporteurs can write a second book of acts,” said Reginald Alexander, one of AEC’s Publishing Ministries associates.
For around 10 weeks each summer, students between the ages of 16 and 25 work in Dover and Wilmington, Del.; Baltimore; Philadelphia; New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and southern Virginia. They trudge through residential and commercial areas and even parking lots to share books filled with God’s message with whomever they meet. Many times they are turned away. However, many times the students report having a “divine appointment” with someone who needed an encouraging word, prayer and/or was thirsty to know God. The students then connect those who show interest with Bible workers.
The young people, who attend academies and universities all over the Columbia Union and beyond, took over the church services on Sabbath. When introducing the group to the congregation, Jason Williams, Chesapeake’s associate literature ministries director, said, “These are God’s special forces.”
Special, indeed, as this is a tough job trying to get their books into the hands of people. It’s also a life-changing experience for many.
Testimonies From the Streets
Gessy Desir, a nursing major at Washington Adventist University (WAU) in Takoma Park, Md., wasn’t particularly interested in AEC’s program until her sister got involved. “I saw her character transform,” Desir said. “I noticed she was always talking about God, not just silly things, and I thought, ‘I need this.’ I think it’s amazing that God can use insignificant people to deliver His message. There are so many thirsty people waiting to hear God’s Word. When we give them the message, they are so overjoyed, it’s like I’ve given them $1 million. This program is really impactful. I hope more students like myself can get to do this, as it really transforms your life.”
Desir’s sister, Hongkara, who is an elementary and special education major at WAU, started to do this work during the winter. “I used to be so shy and trusted only my own strength,” she says. “But, then I started to lean on the Lord and saw how He started to use me to touch other people. I didn’t think I could do it—put up with the heat, the cold, rejection—but He has exceeded every goal I’ve set for myself.”
Below Hongkara shares an example of how God placed significant people in her path to help share His message:
“I was canvassing in a Walmart parking lot, and my day wasn’t going well. I saw a Caucasian young man and, when I smiled, he smiled back so I went over and shared with him two devotional books and two cookbooks. He asked me if I normally did this in parking lots and I said, ‘Yes.’ He told me that he was the manager and that I really wasn’t supposed to be doing that. Usually they kick people out. But, he said I was doing such a good job, that he was a Christian too, and wanted me to keep doing what I was doing. That encounter was a true blessing, and the rest of that day I kept meeting people who were open to the message.”
Literature evangelism is also a work of faith. LEs essentially depend on donations. There are minimum donations required for each book they distribute.
Hannaiah Straughn, a 21-year-old English as a second language major at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, is working in Wilmington. He recalled: “One day, I got dropped off next to a Mexican restaurant. I canvassed a cashier using as much Spanish as I could. She ended up being interested in a [health book] written in Spanish. She then canvassed the rest of the restaurant for me in Spanish. Everyone in the restaurant didn’t have enough for the books and so they pooled their money together. Even then, there was a book they wanted on nutrition, but they didn’t have enough for the minimum donation. I gave them the book believing that God will provide for me somehow. The cashier then got all the people together and invited me to pray over all of them. [Later,] I walked past a gas station that I already canvassed, but the Holy Spirit told me to go back. I told the guy there that I was a student at Southern. He said his daughter graduated from there! He said he already had most of the books but gave me a donation of $20, which was the exact amount I needed for the book I gave away at the restaurant!”
Dexter Marshall, a 19-year-old student at Essex Community College in Baltimore, got involved in this program last summer because he was yearning for a new experience. He remembers meeting a woman who was so touched by his story and his prayer that she not only bought $50 worth of books, she also wrote him a check for $500. A member of Chesapeake’s Dundalk (Md.) church, Marshall says literature evangelism “had me do things I don’t normally do. I talked to a lot of people, something I don’t do. I was able to reach people in a way that changed their lives and, in return, I got to be more open.”
Rick Christman, Chesapeake’s literature evangelism director, knows first hand how impactful these student experiences can be. Spending summers as an LE allowed him to graduate from college debt free. While that may be a draw for some people, Christman says getting students involved in this program shows them how they “can be frontline missionaries in their home country.”
A Growing Ministry
“Literature evangelism is probably one of the fastest growing youth programs in North America,” he continues. “We’ve seen a 20 percent increase over the last five years. He estimates that with his Chesapeake team, along with teams from the Allegheny East and Pennsylvania Conference, there are close to 100 young people working in literature evangelism this summer. AEC expanded their program and students now work on winter, spring and summer breaks. They also started programs at WAU and at Takoma Academy in Takoma Park, Md. Chesapeake also started a program at Highland View Academy in Hagerstown, Md.
“Young people are looking for something positive to do,” said Reginald Alexander. “This is one tool that will deepen their spiritual walk. It is amazing to see the change in individuals from when they first come into the program to when they leave. They leave knowing, without a doubt, that God is real and their faith is strengthened.”
Christman says literature evangelism gets students involved in playing a critical role in a church’s annual cycle of evangelism. This year the Chesapeake Conference is working with both the Glen Burnie and Brookland churches in Maryland and the West Wilmington church on their cycle of evangelism. In the spring, they had lay training where they taught members how to follow up on Bible study interests. In the summer, the LEs come in and not only sell books, but also survey the neighbors on how the church can help fulfill their needs. Then the two Bible workers give Bible studies, and in the fall, there will be an evangelism meeting, which hopefully results in baptisms.
Christman reports that last year, due to the conference, churches and LEs working together, the Dover church had 18 baptisms. People are now fired up and excited to continue outreach.
Jazmine Walls, a Bible worker in West Wilmington, said, “When you have God in the mission, you can do anything … The LEs help make our work more sufficient and we are able to get to people faster.”
“I did LE for seven years,” Diego Boquer, who pastors both the Brooklyn and Glen Burnie churches, told the congregation in a sermon titled “The Theology of ‘Sending.’” “It changed my life completely. Don’t think you're disposable. God wants to use you, but the message is more important. Don’t just think you’re going today; you’re going always—as you go to work, as you go to the grocery store, you’re always sharing God’s message.”
Last Sabbath afternoon, was another opportunity to share. Members from the Glen Burnie and Brooklyn churches, Bible workers and literature evangelists roamed the neighborhoods of Glen Burnie distributing hundreds of GLOW tracts and, in doing so, possibly changing lives.
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