‘It’s cheap but not nasty!’ someone said. ‘Sure, you would pay that for a good evangelistic tract!’ another commented. The arguments in favour flowed thick and fast. ‘It’s a good format, with a mixture of articles, some long enough to read in the train and some short enough to read over a cup of coffee!’
‘It’s colourful!’ ‘It’s newsy!’ ‘It’s attractive!’ There was, it seemed, something to interest everyone — science, history, Bible exposition — and of course it contained the human-interest dimension in the testimonies.
With authors like John Blanchard, Geoff Thomas, Mark Johnston and Faith Cook, ‘We can’t go wrong’, said someone with a more informed theological mind.
It was decided! The arguments were convincing. It was agreed at a Church Office Bearers’ meeting in September 2000 that we would purchase 3,000 copies of the Christmas edition of Evangelical Times to distribute to every home in Ballymoney.
When they arrived, delivered to the door, we spent a few nights sticking computer printout labels on them, folding them into three and putting 30 at a time into supermarket carrier bags in preparation for distribution. Then in the three weeks leading up to Christmas we delivered a copy to every home in Ballymoney.
No one refused. Offering a free newspaper seemed more acceptable than a free tract or a free leaflet. It was encouraging to think that something that was attractive and yet sound and substantial was being put into the hands of every family in the town.
We have repeated the exercise each year since then.
Results? To be honest, we didn’t expect any. We took some encouragement from the fact that when we walked back up the street some people who hadn’t closed their curtains could be seen flicking through the paper in front of the fire.
The best we hoped for was that someone’s curiosity might be sufficiently raised to bring them to the special carol service advertised on the sticker we had attached to each copy. The whole project was viewed as a bridge-building exercise, a seed-sowing activity — obedience to the Lord’s injunction, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it again’ (Ecclesiastes 11:11).
My lack of faith was blown right out of the water one day when I was sitting with my wife in a coffee shop eating lunch. My mobile rang and a man who introduced himself as Derek spoke and said he just wanted to let me know he had been converted through reading the Evangelical Times delivered to his home.
Work of grace
Sceptical — and not wanting him to know that pastors spend their time in coffee shops — I kept the conversation short and arranged to meet him later that evening. When we did meet his language was unconventional — he didn’t know the evangelical jargon — but it did seem that a genuine work of grace has been done in his heart.
The Lord had spoken to him through a short article on Proverbs 3:5-6, which led him to repentance and faith. I sat in his house, full of mixed emotions. On one hand, a great sense of worship and joy, and on the other, a sense of shame for my lack of faith.
This year another discussion was held at the Office Bearers’ meeting. The church had just called an assistant pastor and with another salary to find I suggested that we might have to forego the ET distribution for this year. ‘Could we afford it?’ I asked.
Yet in view of the fact that Derek was attending the services, participating in prayer and eager to grow, could we afford not to?
So again this year we will have a busy December, giving out the special issue of ET to every home in Ballymoney. Hopefully it will be with a little more faith and a greater sense of expectation than previously!