John Bradshaw, director and speaker of the It Is Written media ministry, said the most memorable moment of his two-week stay in Zimbabwe was not walking with lions and holding a lion by the tail.
Nor was it riding a horse in the midst of a herd of towering giraffes, or the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
It wasn’t the baptism of 650 people in a large swimming pool last Sabbath, with many pastors baptizing simultaneously, or a Seventh-day Adventist Church leader expressing joy that enough new members had joined the church to start 13 new congregations.
The most memorable moment occurred after the mass baptism in the central Zimbabwean city of Gweru when Bradshaw and his team gave Bibles to the newly baptized.
“One of the new disciples of Jesus caught my eye: a striking-looking man, with a chiseled, well-defined face perhaps about 50 years old, dressed in a white shirt with a look that suggested joy and earnestness,” Bradshaw told the Adventist Review.
As Bradshaw was leaving the meeting site, he happened to walk past the man, and shook his hand and wished him well.
The man exclaimed to Bradshaw, “Now we will be fishers of men!”
“That statement affected me,” Bradshaw said. “He had only recently come to faith in Christ, and the intention of his life was now well-defined for him. Now he is a fisher of men, now a soul-winner. His mission now is to share with others what he has learned about His Savior.”
Bradshaw and his team of evangelists from It Is Written, an Adventist organization based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, wrapped up 10 days of evangelistic meetings at 10 meeting sites in Gweru with the baptism of 650 people last weekend. The meetings, part of It Is Written’s international outreach effort, coincided with the organization’s 60th anniversary this month.
Bradshaw also filmed television programs at Great Zimbabwe, the old ruins of a kingdom from the 12th- to the 15th-century, and at a private game reserve, Antelope Park, that breeds lions for return to the wild. At the park, Bradshaw was able to pet lions and hold a lion by the tail.
The park’s owner, who Bradshaw interviewed, has one arm.
“He had two arms until, yes, a lion got hold of him,” Bradshaw said on his It Is Written blog. “A sobering warning. You can’t ever let your guard down with these big things, which is one reason Satan is referred to as a lion.”
Each day during Bradshaw’s visit to Gweru, church members went into the community to invite people to attend the meetings. Each evening, people were invited to make a decision for baptism. Each person who asked to be baptized was carefully followed up and nurtured.
“That part of the process is taken very seriously here,” Bradshaw said on his blog.
“The work done here is very thorough, and this is why we see the results we see,” he said. “The pastors have multiple churches, and so the work of the church is done by church members.”
Each evening Dr. Gordon Guild of the It Is Written team offered practical health presentations. Guild also told children’s stories to groups of 150 to 200 children every day, handing out donated Beanie Babies plush toys to children who answered Bible questions during the stories.
Bradshaw, speaking to the Adventist Review, said he noticed a great passion for discipleship among local church members, both in preparing friends and neighbors for baptism and in nurturing them afterward.
“There’s a tendency to think big things just happen in Africa, but the people here have really worked hard,” he said. “And they’re working like mad to keep people, to prevent them from going out the back door. It has been wonderful to see.”
New church members — like the man who left the strong impression on Bradshaw after his baptism last Sabbath — are encouraged to begin sharing their new faith immediately and to reach at least one person for Jesus every year. This outreach initiative is called “One Member, One Soul” and is organized by the Adventist Church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, whose territory includes Zimbabwe.
“Evangelism is not an event. It is a process and a way of life,” division president Paul S. Ratsara told the Adventist Review after a Zimbabwe-wide evangelistic series in May 2015. “Once you are an Adventist, you are not only a disciple, you are a disciple-maker.”
Gweru will not have to wait long to see the first fruits of those baptized at the It Is Written meetings. Another baptism ceremony is planned in just a few weeks — for people led to Jesus by those who were just baptized last weekend.
“Soon there will be another baptism of the people won to faith in Christ by the new church members, by the new ‘fishers of men,’” Bradshaw said.
Reflecting on his brief conversation with the newly baptized man, Bradshaw repeated his eager words about becoming a fisher of men.
“‘Now we will be fishers of men.’ That spoke to me,” Bradshaw said. “I’ll never forget that.”