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Octogenarian witnesses to thousands

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

LONGVIEW, Wash. (BP)–“May I share a prayer with you that changed my life 74 years ago?”

That’s how Ted Cotten tells others about Jesus. Or, at least that’s how he starts. The prayer is a witnessing tool which Cotten, 84, has printed on a small card. It reads: “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I have sinned and done wrong. Please forgive me of my sin and give me eternal life. I now trust You Lord Jesus as my Savior. Help me to have a growing relationship with You, and to become the Christian person that You want me to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“In the Book of Acts, Jesus is recorded as saying that we are to be His witnesses. You can share with people the change that Jesus has brought into your life without having one Scripture memorized,” he said. “You don’t even have to know John 3:16 to be a witness. The Gospel is right there in the prayer.”

Cotten said many know how to share the Gospel, “but how often do you have 15 minutes to do that?” asked the associate pastor at Valley Christian Fellowship, a Southern Baptist church in Longview, Wash.

It takes only 17 seconds to read or say the prayer Cotten uses as a witnessing tool. But he says many people will read it over and over, taking up to a minute or more.

“The amount of receptivity out there is what blows me away,” said Cotten, who constantly finds people in the throes of spiritual despair, and who thank him for sharing the prayer.

“I shared this prayer more than 1,800 times before I got my first rebuff,” he said, saying Satan is “the Opposer” and will do whatever he can to stop believers from sharing any sort of witness for Jesus Christ.

“Witnessing is spiritual warfare,” he said.

Cotten recalled a decades-old experience when he was so afraid to share the Gospel with a man dying of cancer that he drove past his house without stopping. But he turned around, went back and witnessed to the man who committed his life to Christ. Five weeks later Cotten preached the man’s funeral.

Acknowledging he has the gift of evangelism, Cotten said he didn’t always witness to as many as he knew he should.

“This burden began to weigh on me until I fell on my knees and confessed to the Lord that I was chicken and begged Him to give me courage and boldness to witness for Him,” Cotten recounted.

“I then found myself sharing my witness with people that I had known for many years. One man I had known for 38 years asked Jesus to come into his heart. He’d been a leading business man in the city and was about 78 years old.”

Not until November 2005 while attending the Northwest Baptist Convention in Spokane did Cotten’s evangelistic ministry skyrocket in a way that sees him witnessing to hundreds of people a month. A speaker at the meeting challenged listeners to do something ministerially significant in the coming year.

Cotten’s commitment? To witness to 100 people during that span. “From that time I began to see opportunities to witness that I had not seen before. I found myself witnessing to several people a week, and had reached my goal of 100 in about six months.

“I witnessed to people at McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Applebee’s, at Seattle Mariner baseball games, over the phone, in banks, at Kiwanis club, knocking on doors, on the golf course and anywhere I met people. At the end of the year I’d shared with 253 people. I didn’t realize it, but all of this was just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

After that first year, Cotten was up to about 50 people per month. “As I calculated this, I thought, ‘How can one person share much more than that number?’ Soon, I would understand there was the potential for a much greater number than that,” he said.

Whereas his usual practice was to use the FAITH evangelism approach of asking a couple of questions and then explaining what the Bible says about committing one’s life to Christ — an approach he still uses if he has the time — Cotten said the short prayer’s development was an “evolution of my experience in witnessing on a regular basis. I gradually moved from a Gospel-sharing mode to sharing my witness, and I came up with the sentence: ‘May I share a prayer with you that changed my life 74 years ago?'”

After sharing the prayer verbally hundreds of times, Cotten decided to print the prayer on a card that he could give to those who said they’d like to read it.

Whenever Cotton leaves his house, he carries 20 cards in one pocket, with a few extras in another — which is how Cotten keeps his tally.

Since April, Cotton has shared his witness with more than 2,500 people.

“I have had about 12 people refuse, but most of them have been very kind,” he said. “At this point in my life, I’m sharing my witness with more than 100 people a week.”

Cotten and his pastor, Lance Goodell, are devising a six-week study and training program using Cotten’s approach. Even now, however, Cotten travels to area churches, training pastors and people to witness.

“It’s the most transferable plan I’ve ever seen,” he said.

For those who may think Cotten is putting notches on his evangelistic belt, he said, “Jesus advised the disciples on fishing, and they caught 153 fish. If fish were worth counting, then eternal souls are worth counting.”

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  • Norm Miller