"Friendship Evangelism" by Elder David Trexler October 11 to 14, 2001 by Beth Dobson
A total of 23 deaf and hearing members converged on Camp Blue Ridge in Montebello, Virginia, which is approximately three hours southwest from Washington, DC. The camp turned out to be a reprieve for a number of the members because of the recent attacks on our priceless soil as well as the transportation and security hassles that remained etched in their memories. Most of them reside near the Pentagon, where they have had a chance to view the burned out section that was very disturbing. Curious onlookers were mum as they visited the memorial nearby that was filled with flowers, pictures, and writings that many people had already placed in a certain spot in honor and memory of those who perished unexpectedly. As Elder David Trexler eloquently stated, "Yes, the attacks absolutely stunned us, and they changed our lives forever on September 11, 2001. What those suicidal terrorists did was outrageous, but they did not deprive us from our ongoing relationship with our beloved Lord. They helped us be drawn to Him! We have to be vigilant of Christ's imminent return at all times from now on. Time is of the essence that we fulfill the Scripture by spreading the Gospel for Christ."
The topic of Elder Trexler's six sessions focused on friendship evangelism, and especially why it was so essential in our Church. He explained that friendship evangelism is "an unstructured, informal, conversational approach to sharing FAITH in the context of everyday life." He stressed that "the primary way to reach unchurched people is through personal relationships." Friendship evangelism is not about memorizing a fancy speech or Bible verses in order to impress new members. It is about being yourself at all times.
There are five steps to ensure effective friendship evangelism. Mingling with others is one of the avenues of winning members to Christ. Trexler pointed out that the "first step is to mingle with people you already know." Christ mingled with a myriad of people during the course of his lifetime. He loved associating with them even though there were probably times in the late evening when he was mentally exhausted. The second step is "showing compassion to those around you." Trexler emphasized that the most "powerful demonstration of compassion is through the act of listening." Listening to anyone at anytime is an excellent vehicle for winning the confidence of your new members. If someone is hurting inside, listening to him/her is indeed an easy way to help him/her heal. Ministering to someone's needs is the third step in sharing your faith with him and her. "Ministry springs from a heart touched by God's unconditional love that is expressed in service toward the practical needs of those around you." Elder Trexler cited examples in which Jesus ministered to people that are mentioned in the Bible. Responding to one's needs is a very important ingredient in your personal ministry. You can help someone who is stressed out. You can provide childcare for mothers who do not have time alone for themselves. You can aid a family during a crisis. You can help someone find a job. Once you play a significant role in helping someone, he or she will likely be indebted to your Christian service.
Winning the confidence of others cannot be manipulated or forced, but it can happen through a non-manipulative, caring love, which is the fourth step according to Elder Trexler. It often occurs in so many small ways. Members were struck by two verses that Trexler displayed on the projector. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers [and sisters]. If anyone has material possessions and sees another person in need but does not have pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" 1 John 3:16-17. The final step is knowing when to invite new members to Christ. "Sharing the gospel best happens in an open, trusting relationship using language that is relevant to the context and needs of the person." A member is urged to "water the seed he or she has planted with kindness, but not use more words about religion." If a new, potential member wants to know more about the Bible, let him and her TELL you.
The retreat, which was from Thursday, October 11 to Sunday, October 14, 2001, turned out to be fabulous for each and every member because he or she had a chance to go hiking near a beautiful man-made oval lake as well as going into the forest in order to appreciate the foliage. Some of the members participated in an exciting canoeing race in spite of the chilly weather. The most poignant event was when we surrounded a fireplace near the campground on the last evening of the retreat. Francisca Trexler and Michael Dobson gave each and every member a small candle, which represented Christ. The candle was lit while the gusty winds were trying in vain to extinguish the fire. A prayer was uttered asking the Lord to shield us from the gusty winds so that we can lift each candle in the air in order to give thanks to Christ who died for our sins. To our astonishment, each candle was successfully lifted in the air and the wind did not snuff out the fire until everyone was filled with satisfaction for what Christ had done for him and her! It was then the fire on each candle was subsequently quenched.
Many of the members did not particularly want to leave the site at all, as they were in a very serene and tranquil environment. Here are the comments that some members shared with me.
"Camp Blue Ridge was a wonderful and beneficial place to get away from our busy lives. The retreat did boost our spirits. We look forward to going there again next year." --- Francisca Trexler, Lanham, Maryland
"I do not belong in the world or in school either. I belong right here at Camp Blue Ridge!" --- Mahalia Palmer, an 8th grader at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School in Washington, DC
"I especially enjoyed the fire which was very memorable. The view of the camp is wonderful because of the different colors. Going there made me forget all about my stressful days! David's presentations were excellent. My family and I will love to be at Camp Blue Ridge again next year. We really loved it there!" --- Barbara Santiago, Silver Spring, Maryland
"Wow! What a great escape to go there! God's foliage was such a beauty and His skillful art was magnificent! The best part of the retreat was no cooking! What a relaxing environment to be at. David's spiritual lectures were soothing and helpful. I definitely will go there again next year." --- Cathy Ingram, Hyattsville, Maryland
"I had a wonderful time! Elder Trexler's sermons were very good. I learned something about friendship evangelism. The camp is a beautiful place to rest your mind!" --- Ruth Ann Dabney, a SDA member from New Jersey
We all need to shore up support for each other during this difficult time of national crisis, fear, and personal tragedy. We can be assured of one fact. Our God is in control, and we will find out some day how September 11, 2001 fit into His Plan toward Christ's imminent return. I believe Samuele Bacchiocchi, a retired professor of Theology, in his October 2001 e-mail entitled "Reflections on Terrorism" stated the following so well. "The Scripture teaches that the conflict between the forces of God and the forces of Satan will intensify as we draw closer to the Second Advent. Apostasy, lawlessness, terrorism, and rebellion will increase; suffering and persecution will culminate in a great tribulation; the Gospel will be preached as a testimony to all the nations." Do not be alarmed, my friends. There is indeed hope. "So take heart! This world is not our final home. We were created for a new and better world where there will be no terror or evil of any kind. Jesus has a world without fear just waiting for us! All you have to do is give your life to Him, and He will make you a citizen of His kingdom. Why not sign up with Him now and develop your first friendship with Him, too (Seibold, 2001, p. 14)?
Seibold, Loren (November 2001). Signs of the Times. Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.