For many years, I held a women’s Bible study in my home. I felt comfortable sharing a vegetarian meal or snack, then opening God’s Word using a prepared set of lessons. Most of the women attending had at one time or another sought me out for friendship. I had never experienced “knocking on doors” to invite some of the more intimidating of my neighbors to come and study the Bible with me. I often asked my friends from church to join the group, and at times eight or 12 of us fellowshipped together.
With joy I watched one young mother return to her roots—the Seventh-day Adventist Church—and followed her progress through the years as she put her children in church school, and became an active member in her local congregation.
Then something sad happened. Three of the women (two sisters and a mother) had a family feud and would not come and study if one of the other ones was there. This problem broke up my neighborhood Bible group and my Tuesday evening witnessing endeavors came to a screeching halt.
The Lord impressed me that I should reach my neighborhood for Christ, and I began paying special attention to the families living around us. I prayed that God would show me what to do, and impressions and thoughts came to my mind.
I began sharing my homemade bread and received many compliments. Whenever we held any type of social gathering (we live on a lake) I made sure to invite the neighbors. It soon became apparent that two specific families (the Reems and the Bakers) responded to almost every gesture of friendship.
One summer evening, Becky Reems stopped by for a chat on our back porch. We talked about our families, our gardens. Eventually the subject of religion and God came up. I was interested to learn that Becky had a deceased aunt who had been a Seventh-day Adventist. As we chatted I noted that Becky had strong opinions on “what to eat,” “the state of the dead,” and why she felt it was just not important to belong to any church. Our conversation ended and I filed away in my head some of the things she shared regarding her spiritual beliefs.
A few months later there was a death in the Reems family. I took food to them and offered to have their lawn mowed. This was deeply appreciated. That same year, the husband in the Baker family lost his job and they began to worry about finances. Our family spoke with them often, prayed for them, and shared from our garden that summer. We also offered assistance with yard maintenance, as Mr. Baker had cancer surgery and was not able to keep up with things around the house. We felt a deepening bond of friendship.
A couple years later our church promoted having small group meetings in individual homes. My husband, Ray, and I signed up to host a group, thinking no one would probably come to our home because we lived quite a distance from the church. To our surprise, two families signed up. A friend of ours wanted to bring her husband, who was not a church member. We were excited about that and decided to show videos by Lee Venden on how to have a relationship with Jesus. Because we were encouraged to invite non-members to this group, I gathered my courage and asked Becky and Paul Reems, our neighbors, to attend. To my surprise, they seemed eager to come. I invited another neighbor family, and they, too, accepted my invitation.
With much prayer we began to study the simple Bible truth of getting to know Jesus on a personal level. Soon Becky and Paul wanted to include their close friends. Our group grew from six to 12 for a period of time. When our video presentations ended, we all decided to pick a book of the Bible and read through it verse by verse, commenting on the passages. This way we were not perceived as “pushing our religion on anyone.”
This group has continued now for three years, and we are enjoying a tremendous blessing. Week by week we watch spiritual growth in those who have made no commitment to Jesus and His church. When we study the Bible with secular people, it becomes easy to discern their spiritual walk and maturity. Some have previously given their lives to Jesus and others have not. Most have not yet come to know the full truth, but they are learning, step by step.
The Reems asked us recently if they could invite another set of neighbors who live down the street to our weekly studies. In almost every community many people won’t attend a preaching seminar or church service, but they will respond to a personal invitation to your home, or to an act of kindness.
So where does all this group study lead? I asked myself that same question this past winter when our pastor announced an evangelistic series at the church. I wondered if any of our neighbors would respond, as they resist being involved with “one denomination.” However, we decided to give them a flyer anyway and encouraged them to look at the subjects and see if they saw anything they were interested in.
To our complete surprise, Becky and Paul attended nearly every meeting. We made sure to drop off a DVD of the meetings they missed and they watched them in their home. Just this past week they asked our pastor to come to their home and review “The State of the Dead.” You can imagine our delight as we see them moving closer to accepting the truths of the Bible.
Have they started attending church? Occasionally. Did they request baptism? No. We have, however, had the privilege of watching them grow in Christ during the past three years. We know that conversion is a process. We are not discouraged because they have not accepted every doctrine yet. And we shall continue inviting them to church and other events that interest them. We have come to realize that God is in control and in His own time, He will convict them. Our job is just to sow the seed and pray for God’s Holy Spirit to nourish, grow, and bring to harvest.
As we continue our Bible study group, we are learning that conquering our neighborhood for Christ involves witnessing, training, sowing seed, patience, and leaving the baptisms to God!
Madlyn Hamblin, with her husband, Ray, worship at the Jackson, Michigan Seventh-day Adventist Church, the oldest continuously chartered Adventist congregation in the world. This article previously appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of Inside ASI.