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Volunteers use telephone to reach out and encourage

ELGIN, Ill. (BP)–Just a few weeks ago, Ladonna Spurlock was one of nine members at Larkin Avenue Baptist In Elgin, Ill. who had been trained as a “telephone encourager” with the Evangelism Response Center of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB).

She had made a commitment to be available to answer phone calls in her modest home in south Elgin for two hours on Friday mornings. The calls would come from people anywhere in the United States or Canada who had seen a toll-free number, perhaps on a commercial during a television show. But Spurlock decided she would log on two days ahead of schedule for about an hour, so she dialed in her code and waited for the calls. For the first 45 minutes, the phone was silent.

That Wednesday morning in North Carolina, a quiet young mother with a 4-month-old was at the end of her rope. The problems in her life seemed overwhelming. She had seen a phone number to call if she wanted to know more about how Jesus Christ could transform her life. Maybe the number had just flashed on her TV screen. Maybe she had written it down days earlier but couldn’t decide if she should call.

Carol, [not her real name] the 18-year-old mom, might have considered it pointless because she thought she would just be calling some oversized office room with rows of desks with uncaring people on headsets, taking one call after another until their shift was over and they could go to their homes. They would probably just try to sell her something. Still, her life couldn’t get any worse, she may have thought, so she dialed the number. Instead of a vast telemarketing organization, Carol’s call was routed to Spurlock’s living room.

Spurlock, taking her first phone call as a telephone encourager, told Carol how Jesus Christ could change her life. He may not take away the difficulties Carol had been facing, but He would help her through them, Spurlock told her. The two women, strangers who will probably never meet again in this life, prayed together as Carol made a commitment to become a Christian.

The Evangelism Response Center in Fort Worth, Texas, links people calling a toll-free number with trained volunteers in their homes. They see these numbers on television programs, radio ads, printed materials or even magazine articles. Their calls are routed anonymously to volunteer encouragers all across the nation. The Evangelism Response Center also links people with volunteers through the Internet.

Once the call is completed, the encourager fills out a response report. Whatever the caller’s decision-making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, wanting to find a church to join or obtaining a copy of the Jesus video-the details will be forwarded by the Evangelism Response Center to a “covenant” church. These congregations agree to follow up within three days on any requests from callers who live in designated ZIP codes in their region.

Larkin Avenue Baptist, receiving a grant from NAMB to install the necessary satellite system, is the first Illinois church named as a training site for people who want to be telephone or Internet encouragers. One of seven covenant congregations in Illinois, Larkin Avenue has agreed to follow up on decisions or requests from people in 10 nearby ZIP codes.

The other churches, according to a spokesman with the Evangelism Response Center, are Anna Heights Baptist, Anna, Ill.; Curtis Avenue Baptist, Joliet, Ill.; First Baptist of Calumet City, Ill.; First Baptist of McHenry, Ill.; Golden Rule Missionary Baptist, Chicago; and Linden Villa Baptist, Lake Villa, Ill.

Becoming a covenant church is a good ministry for any size church, according to Darel Robertson, a decision-counseling associate for the Evangelism Response Center. The church incurs no cost and only needs to fill out a registration form, which outlines the church’s responsibilities.

Richard Sanders, who pastors Larkin Avenue and has been trained as a telephone encourager, described the program as a wonderful ministry and a good opportunity, particularly for senior citizens.

The Evangelism Response Center kicked off in June 1999. In an 11-month period from October 1999 to August, the most recent statistics available, more than 77,000 people made phone calls. More than 14,000 listened to a recorded message explaining how to become a Christian. Nearly one out of every 11 people who talk to a telephone encourager — 870 of 9,861 callers — have made decisions to begin personal relationships with Jesus Christ. Another 5,500 callers made other spiritual decisions.

On the Internet side, about 200 to 400 people forward responses to the Evangelism Response Center through gospel-oriented Web sites, such as www.thegoodnews.org, while surfing the Internet, according to Siam Rogers, the center’s national missionary for Internet evangelism.

Romelia Adams, another member of Larkin Avenue, has been amazed by the potential. She has spoken with more than a dozen people, two were from Canada, in a few days. Most have been Christians, including a blind man in Florida seeking prayer. “You can have a widespread opportunity to minister to others.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP photo library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TELEPHONE ENCOURAGER.

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  • Michael Leathers