In one of America's largest states, hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists are making an impact for the gospel — and, literally, in one case, saving lives.
During the autumn, approximately 1,300 church members from eastern Pennsylvania traversed the state to help members in the western part in an outreach called "Faith For Family." The 2016 outreach has so far netted 40 baptism candidates, and should top 100 after follow-up work by the 11 Bible workers hired to assist in the region.
"There's a smaller Adventist presence in western Pennsylvania than there is in the 10/40 Window,"
Tim Bailey, ministerial director for the Pennsylvania Conference, told Adventist Review the effort is sorely needed: only 500 of a recorded 1,300 members in 22 congregations attend worship on any given Sabbath, and of the current membership, an estimated 90 percent of members are "retirement age or better," which, he said, would be troubling for the region ten years down the road.
Bailey admitted, "There's a smaller Adventist presence in western Pennsylvania than there is in the 10/40 Window," a designation that refers to the part of the world where the Gospel has least penetrated.
Eighteen of the 22 churches in the western Pennsylvania region agreed to partner with the conference in the evangelistic effort. To host a series of meetings, the churches had to have a prayer ministry, remodel or repair the church if necessary, be willing to give Bible studies to prospective members, and have a hospitality and greeting ministry for visitors. Of those 18 churches, 14 fulfilled their commitments and held evangelistic series.
In the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, for example, 30 visitors were still attending at the end of a series of meetings held by evangelist Randy Barber from Alberta, Canada, with Pastor Jerry Small as the local host.
Faith For Family sends teams of volunteers into neighborhoods offering literature and Bible study invitations. In one part of Johnstown, Bailey, a canvasser, had stopped where his own son died from a drug overdose and prayed. At the next house, the member found another young man who had said he was contemplating suicide over issues including drug and alcohol abuse and unemployment. The young man ended up talking to Bailey, the father whose son had died, and instead of ending his own life, accepted Christ and is now taking Bible studies.
Before the eastern Pennsylvania volunteers showed up, some 400 Bible studies had been arranged by the Bible workers and the local congregations. But more needed to be done, and, Bailey said, and that's where the state-crossing helpers came in. (Though not the largest American state, Pennsylvania's area stretches 280 miles from eastern to western border).
"We all have something we can do for each other."
"This is Total Member Involvement in practice," Bailey said. "That's the real key that we're focusing on, and that I see our world church trying to promote. This is a testimony of what can happen when everyone is involved."
That involvement can mean a serious commitment. One Spanish-speaking group of volunteers from eastern Pennsylvania is now driving five hours each way to conduct Friday evening vespers, Sabbath School, and door-to-door visitation afterwards. Bailey said the pastor told him, "We all have something we can do for each other. These are our brothers and sisters, and we will do what we can, even if we don't all speak English well."
Because of the dedication of the members from the other side of the state, Seventh-day Adventists in western Pennsylvania "were so overwhelmed with the love from the rest of our conference, it has just sparked revival as a result," Bailey said.
Next on the agenda is a "Faith For Family" campaign in the center of the state in 2017. Bailey said Hope Channel, the Adventist Church's television network, has committed to televising at least part of the outreach meetings there.