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WGTS Practices a Different Kind of Friendship Evangelism
Story and photos by Taashi Rowe
Milton and Margo Chappell, members of Sligo church, comfort a crying little girl at the prayer tent.
Several heard about the concert while listening to their favorite Christian radio stations such as WGTS 91.9 FM, which is owned by Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md. WGTS, which has an audience of 600,000, and about 41 percent of them are not connected to any religious organizations. “Our listeners love the music. They love Jesus but have been hurt by their church,” shared Terry Johnsson, DMin, the station’s senior chaplain. “So we have to think of creative ways to connect with these people. One of the natural ways we do that is by extending what we like to call friendship evangelism, where we meet them where they are.”
Where unchurched people—who happen to love Christian music—are at Christian concerts and community events, that’s where WGTS staffers often are too. (WGTS staffers were also at an ecumenical Christian women’s conference that weekend too.)
While at the concert, I ran into Jerry Woods, a member of Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md., and a member of WGTS’ morning show who acts as the station’s promotions director. When I asked him why he found it important to be at a Christian concert on a Sabbath afternoon, he responded, “I love my church and I love being a Seventh-day Adventist, but it’s not the first thing I introduce people to. People need to know who Jesus is first, especially when they are addicted to crack or alcohol or whatever. At events like these, we have the opportunity to share some of our message, but it starts with who Jesus is. And, every band that takes the stage tonight is going to re-emphasize that.”
Prayer Lays the Foundation
But, WGTS staffers and volunteers, don’t just show up at events, they offer something else that people are hungry for: prayer. The station started their virtual Prayer Works ministry four years ago and invited listeners to send in requests over the Internet. Each Wednesday the station’s prayer volunteers gather to pray over 500 or so requests. It’s only natural that they would have a prayer tent at the concert, where they not only offered prayer, but also gave away Christian books.
I went by the tent twice and each time I witnessed, the prayer volunteers warmly and happily welcoming a different person. During my second stop, a young mother brought along her elementary-aged, auburn-haired daughter who was in tears. “We need prayer,” the mother said. Milton and Margo Chappell, members of the Sligo church, welcomed the two, offered tissues and prayed with them.
But they did more than pray. As I sat and watched the clock, the Chappells had a very long conversation with mom and daughter. I later realized that this was common for the prayer team.
“I really enjoy praying and fellowshipping with people,” said Colin Jeffers, a New Hope member who has served in the prayer tent for a couple of years. “It’s mostly about listening to people’s stories. There are a lot of sad stories, but also praises. It’s awesome to offer hope and prayer. That’s where the blessing is.”
Prithy David, a member of the New Hope church and prayer director at the station’s Gateway Fellowship service, said, “Some of the people who come to us are going through some really difficult times. If they are really having serious problems, we’ll have either Jerry or Chaplain Pete [Garza] talk to them. Last year I prayed and talked to a lady from Korea. She loves listening to [WGTS]. This year she came back and gave me a card to show her appreciation. … Prayer is an avenue to reach God. We also let [people] know that prayer is an important foundation of having a relationship with God.”
Johnsson reports that after Saturday’s concert, some 2,600 prayer requests have come in to the station. “These events really serve as boosters to remind people that not only are we there for the music, but we are also there to pray with them when they go through difficulties,” he says.
David says participating in events like this is something she wished more Adventist churches did. “This would be a great opportunity to have a booth here showcasing our university, magazine, etc. We have to think outside the box,” she said. “When Jesus was on Earth, He was going where people were. … Outreach means going to people and not just have them coming to our events.”
Bridging the Gap
WGTS staffers and volunteers take time to patiently build relationships with their listeners and when they see an opening, they invite them not to any of the traditional Adventist church services around the D.C. metro region, but to Gateway Fellowship. The contemporary service starts at 5 p.m. and is held each Sabbath at Takoma Academy in Takoma Park, Md.
“If they enjoy the service, we then invite them to attend two classes that we teach,” Johnsson said. “One is called ‘About Him,’ where we teach people about Jesus, how to pray and read the Bible. The second class, ‘About Us,’ is an in-depth study of Adventist beliefs. When we get to the part about Sabbath, many are excited and want to experience that, and so we’ll introduce them to one of our partner churches.”
Johnsson said that because of WGTS, 22 families joined various Adventist churches in the region last year.
Jennifer Anderson and Brian Ducharme, Leesburg (Va.) members who were engaged at the concert, embrace happily.
While she is not yet a Seventh-day Adventist, WGTS plays a large role in Jennifer Anderson’s faith walk. When I met her on Saturday, she shared that she recommitted her heart to Jesus at the first DC Fest concert about four years ago. It was around the same time that she started looking for a family-friendly radio station for her kids. “We would listen to my iPod because everything on the radio is terrible,” she said. “WGTS was the first family-friendly station found. I know there’s others but I love Jerry and Blanca [Vega], and the music is so uplifting.”
Anderson told me her story while linking arms with Brian Ducharme. They both wore neon green leis and huge grins because Ducharme had just proposed to a very surprised Anderson (see video) with the help of Woods at WGTS and the Newsboys. Anderson said “yes.”
Anderson, a fan of the Newsboys, purchased the concert tickets as a birthday gift for Ducharme, who is a Matthew West fan. “The Newsboys are the reason why I started my journey as a Christian,” she said. “For them to [help with the proposal], I was floored. I couldn’t believe it!”
Ducharme added, “It’s really amazing how God has blessed us and brought us together.”
Even though the two met in high school and have known each other for 17 years, they only started dating 1.5 years ago. “We were kind of at the same place with our faith when we both started going to church,” Ducharme said. “We’d go on Saturday to an Adventist church and Sunday to hers. God smoothed the way for her to accept the Adventist message. We are both becoming active in the church now.”
Ducharme, who grew up in the Adventist church, had been away and is now back and serving as the Men’s Ministries leader at Potomac’s Leesburg (Va.) church.
“The church is new to me,” said Anderson, who is involved in several ministries. “I’ve only been going for a year, but I will definitely get baptized as soon as I finish my Bible studies. I’ve been to churches before, but this is the first church where I’ve felt at home. This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
She added, “This is the first relationship that I’ve had where we’ve put God first, and it really shows in our lives.”
The pair said they find WGTS’ ministry a critical support to their faith. “We have been to some of the free concerts, and we are monthly supporters,” Brian said. “We feel like part of the family!”
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