Like the ever-changing weather of Indiana, these past few weeks surrounding Hope for Eternity have been filled with sun and storm, stillness and strong winds. How so?
The intense days of getting ready for Hope for Eternity were filled with vigorous inviting, detailed organizing, and passionate praying.
During April 23-27, we sat spellbound by the faithful preaching of the word as we viewed the thunderstorm and tornado that is God's fiery wrath and the sun and rainbow of heaven.
We quietly thanked the Lord and welcomed the more than 100 visitors we had during the outreach, then spent time before and afterwards praying and also engaging some in intense follow-up discussions.
In the days that have followed further discussions and invitations to a new Bible class and church have ensued.The question that I have been asked often this week, and indeed drove all the way from Michigan on Saturday night so I could see myself, was "How many visitors who attended Hope for Eternity came back the following week to church?"
The answer is the title of this blog. One began our new Bible class on the main message of the Bible.
You may think this attempt to be brutally honest, especially before those who have prayed and been interested in this outreach, is to announce our disappointment and to invoke sympathy. Certainly if the title could have been "And a Dozen Came Back" or any other higher number we might imagine, we would obviously be thrilled. But one? The question "You went to all that effort and only one came back?" can be seen on the faces that I have told or can almost be heard in your thinking. You may think we are greatly discouraged and, again to be completely forthright, there have been moments of disappointment. Yet the title of this blog is not an embarrassed whisper, but a joyous shout. Hence the exclamation mark.
Why? Three brief reasons.
Well, first of all our true goal was and has been to be faithful. We want to serve both our Lord and the people who came. No peddling of the gospel or manipulative techniques were used. Only the clear and urgent call of the gospel was employed. People who attended were free to decide whether they wanted to return. To have a hope that people will want to receive more is righteous and valid, and it fuels our prayers. But to have an expectation that a guaranteed number would return to any other activities would be to play the part of a salesman rather than a servant.
Secondly, before this event in a children's address I had given each of them a Styrofoam cup with dirt and wildflower seeds already planted in it. They could not readily see the seeds, and as I instructed them to take it home and to water it slightly before putting it in the window sill I asked them, "How do you know the seeds will grow? For that matter, how do you know I did not just give you a cup of dirt?" Of course, the children trusted my word (and the seeds have since sprouted). In the same way, we maintained the Scriptural truth during our preparations beforehand that we would sow seed and water it, but would have to trust the Lord for growth (I Corinthians 3:6-7). We can say we believe this, but does not the true test come when circumstances force us to put our faith into practice? Just as time is necessary for flowers to grow, one week is not enough time to measure the true impact.
Finally, one did come back! Though we are not yet claiming conversion, are not people who lose one coin and find it, shepherds who lose one sheep and recover it, and angels in heaven who observe just one sinner repenting supposed to rejoice (Luke 15)? One came back, so we must rejoice! Our God will not let His word return void. Our God delights to save sinners. Our God brings forth life out of sown seeds. Whether it is the one who came back, someone into whose life we sowed and later another will reap, or any number in any number of ways that come to know Christ as Lord, He will save. The one who came back reminds us of this hope.
Besides, we are taught to rejoice simply because Christ is being preached (Philippians 1:18). And preached He was! We hope soon to make these messages available to a wider audience.