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Individuals accept Christ after seeing Baptists’ message of hope in USA Today

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–At least six individuals made immediate professions of faith after responding to a full-page newspaper ad placed by Southern Baptists in USA Today on Sept. 27. Nearly 200 callers responded to the Evangelism Response Center number listed in the ad through Sept. 30.

Leaders say the true impact of the advertisement cannot be measured adequately, however, because of the thousands of individuals who likely read the ad but responded in ways other than a telephone call.

“By delivering a simple message, ‘There is HOPE,’ we said to the nation that Jesus Christ is the only true answer to our hopelessness; a truth that often finds open hearts when people are confronted with times of devastation and despair,” said Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee. “Also, we let people know that Southern Baptists really care about the needs of others.”

The advertisement was sponsored jointly by the Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

“Jimmy Draper and Morris Chapman and the entities they lead were a joy to work with and shared the vision of Southern Baptists saying a word of hope to our nation at this time of crisis,” said Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board. “This was partnership at its best!”

“While we will never know the full impact of the ad, I’m confident God has used it to touch lives,” said LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. “Along with the lives lost and the destruction at the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, hope was a casualty on Sept. 11. This is a time for Christians to use every means to share the only true hope that can make a difference for eternity.”

The words “There is Hope” in large type expressed the ad’s primary theme. Below, under the heading “Thirteen days ago …,” was a quote from evangelist Billy Graham delivered during the Sept. 14 National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service at the National Cathedral in Washington.

“Yes, there is hope,” the quote read. “There is hope for the present because I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation. There is also hope for the future because of God’s promises. As a Christian, I have hope not just for this life, but for heaven and the life to come.”

The heading “2000 years ago…,” was then followed by Christ’s statement from John 14:1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God. Trust also in me.”

Readers were invited to “Discover how you can have lasting hope in uncertain times” by calling a toll-free number routed to hundreds of Evangelism Response Center volunteers around the country.

In Fort Worth, Texas, volunteer Dena Whitehurst said she had been struggling with the first anniversary of her father’s death Sept. 27, but she still decided to log on from her home as a “telephone encourager” for five hours that evening. She wound up talking with three individuals, two of whom eventually prayed with her to make Jesus Christ Lord of their lives.

“It’s interesting how even though your own heart is breaking, God can still use you,” said Whitehurst, who works as an administrative secretary with the North American Mission Board’s broadcast communications group.

All of the individuals were responding directly to the message of hope the ad offered, she said.

“Obviously there’s a lot of hopelessness and fear right now just overall,” Whitehurst said. “And they seemed to want to know more about this hope in troubled times. They all talked about that.”

In Nashville, about 90 LifeWay employees participated in a call center staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 27 and 28. Not all of the calls they received were directly in response to the USA Today ad, but employees were able to participate in the Evangelism Response Center for the first time.

D’Lee Babb of the Sunday school/FAITH ministry department answered a call from a woman who had seen the JESUS 2000 number in a copy of the Open Windows devotional guide published by LifeWay.

“She was calling from a pay phone,” Babb said. “She told me she was a drug addict and wanted to change. She had accepted Christ as a child, but had gotten away from God. … She wanted to have someone from a local church visit her and help her get started back in attending church. I told her we could arrange for that. It was just so awesome!”

The training itself proved helpful for another LifeWay employee. Ginger Welch of LifeWay’s logistics department said she was able to use the training she took during the day on Sept. 25 later that same day as a volunteer with a Boy Scout troop.

“Most of my boys do attend church, but they wanted to know what God expects of them,” Welch recounted. “They asked if it is OK to be angry, and they needed to know that is OK for a while, but that we all need to come together. They needed to know they are not alone in what they are feeling.”

She said she learned from the scouts who attend private schools that since Sept. 11 students and teachers are more likely to pray.

“It was amazing the topics brought up in my training class that helped me to answer their questions,” she said. “Everything I learned in class Tuesday was preparation for Tuesday night. It changed everything because I had the training materials.”

The “There is HOPE” message also is available as an animated presentation at www.namb.net.
Polly House contributed to this report. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: USA TODAY AD and TAKING A CALL.

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  • James Dotson