September 14, 2016

Calling 3ABN or Voice of Prophecy? AIM Answers

North American Division

When someone living in North America has a question for 3ABN, the Voice of Prophecy, or the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Texas Conference, chances are that the person who will answer the telephone call is a student at Andrews University in the U.S. state of Michigan.An AIM customer service representative praying with a caller during his shift. (David B. Sherwin / NAD)

The reason is that phone calls to these and about 30 other Adventist entities are received by Adventist Information Ministry (AIM), the central contact center for Seventh-day Adventist media outreach and evangelistic follow-up in the North American Division.

Its headquarters is located on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. More than 70 representatives, many of them Andrews students, comprise the contact center team, answering more than 200,000 calls a year.

AIM, which began service in 1982 when the toll-free telephone number concept gained traction, supports ministries such as 3ABN, the Illinois-based television and radio network; the Voice of Prophecy led by Shawn Boonstra in Colorado; and the Texas Conference, the entity that oversees the church’s work in Texas from the city of Alvarado; as well as registration and follow-up for major evangelistic endeavors.

“Church leaders saw this as a huge opportunity for people to connect with the church,” said AIM director Twyla Wall. “The people who started the ministry were employed at Andrews — they saw this as a dual opportunity for student labor and ministry. Students could help pay for their education by working there, but they could also learn an amazing ministry.”

AIM’s primary function is to process requests, sense interested people who may be upgraded for further studies, and refer these interests to the local church, according to its website. A bridge ministry, AIM works closely with local churches to assist interests into fellowship with the congregation. Wall said that reports back to AIM of baptisms are met with rejoicing.

“Our focus is not those who are currently church members,” said Wall, who has worked at AIM since 2000. “We’re talking to people who are just hearing about us for the first time or they see something that’s introducing them to the Adventist Church. AIM is specifically intended for outreach.”

In God’s Time

In 2013, a friend gave Donald Gomer a copy of
The Great Hope (a booklet of Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy). He loved it and eventually requested Bible studies. Due to a backlog of contact follow-ups, it took a while before the Ohio resident’s interest was confirmed. He told the operator, though, that “everything happens in God’s time.”

Donald described his former self as a liar, thief, and an alcoholic. He was in Alcoholics Anonymous but still found life difficult. He felt helpless. He found out from the AIM operator about an Adventist evangelistic series not too far from his home. He attended, and noticed that the members believed in him — God was already in the process of turning his life around.

“This all started with a phone call,” Donald said. “And I’m so grateful! What [AIM] does is amazing! If they hadn’t called I don’t know where I would be.”

Although being baptized when she was 12, New Yorker Hilda Thomas drifted away from the church — and even a friend’s invitation didn’t stir her. But one day she heard pastor Walter Pearson preach on a Breath of Life television broadcast. Moved, the 80-something-year-old agreed to visit church with her friend. Illness kept Hilda from attending again. As she recovered, Hilda felt convicted to go back and contacted AIM for prayer. She also requested that AIM connect her with a local church.

Hilda fell sick again and went to the hospital, where an Adventist pastor visited her. Once she was out of the hospital, Hilda started to regularly attend the church and accepted the Sabbath truth. She was baptized in August 2015 and calls herself “an evangelist for the Lord.”

Another Branch of Evangelism

AIM workers consider themselves evangelists, too — and they are also changed by working for AIM.

AIM’s “effort and care for our students is changing lives,” said June Price, university chaplain and student mission director of Andrews University.

Price said many students wrote “Working at AIM” as the answer to the question, “
During your time at Andrews University, what has been the most influential experience on your faith development” on a 2016 faith development survey.

Wall noted that Jesus told His followers to go and tell others personally about Him. “The gospel itself involves telling, sharing personally,” she said, citing Mark 5:19 and Matthew 28:19, 20 as two examples.

“The church makes all these wonderful programs and puts them out there,” she said. “There’s nothing like talking to someone about what you’ve just seen and being able to ask questions or get more information.”

Wall said some people call in for what’s been offered, oftentimes a book or pamphlet. But AIM representatives are trained to gently attempt to engage because many who call want to make a personal connection and have a conversation about spiritual things.

When calls are answered by an AIM representative, often “there’s a pause and then they’ll go, ‘Is this a real person?’” Wall said. “Then we’ll say, ‘Yes it is,’ to which they respond ‘Oh my, that just never happens!’”

North Americans are used to getting their information through automated services, web sites, and social media, but the human touch is still important, Wall said.

“Even though there are people who want to do everything in an anonymous and distant way, I think we’re swinging back to wanting human connections,” she said. “There’s still a fairly large segment of our society who aren’t always comfortable with the technological side of things.”

When the Call Comes

AIM representatives answer five to seven calls on an average weekday and up to 30 on Sundays. The calls are coded so operators know better how to assist and what ministry is getting the call. They answer with that ministry’s name, and that organization’s information automatically opens up on their screen.

Client ministries also provide AIM with their airtime schedules so more AIM representatives can be on hand if needed. The connection with the person is vital, Wall said. After the initial greeting, the trained representative tries to gauge where the caller is in his or her spiritual journey and what type of follow-up might be needed.

“Some people are very business-like and quick,” Wall said. “They saw a program and want to order an [item]. That’s it.”

The AIM representative tries to initiate some conversation, asking what touched the caller about the program they watched or book they read. The AIM representative is able to see how often the individual has called. This helps them determine the caller’s level of curiosity and interest.

“The Holy Spirit is prompting the caller, and AIM [representatives] seek the Holy Spirit to guide their care of the caller,” Wall said.

AIM director Twyla Wall looking over resource materials with a worker at AIM's call center. (David B. Sherwin / NAD)

AIM representatives ask if callers would be interested in free Bible studies and if they’d like to be connected with someone locally.

“Callers are often surprised that there is a local option for care — which is another great reason to have a conversation,” Wall said.

The Bible studies are mailed, available through a web site, or given by a designated local Adventist, often a church pastor, Bible worker, or church elder. Chaplains who work at AIM, up to six at a time, manage the referral work, including contacting pastors, and verifying that the caller is what Wall calls a “vetted interest.” An average of 60 local referrals occur every month.

"In the referral chaplain part of the ministry, our No. 1 goal is to connect people with a local Seventh-day Adventist Church through Bible studies,” said Don Lopes, head chaplain. “At AIM we realize the importance of the person building relationships with the local church and pastor, elder, or Bible worker if they are to become integrated into the church"

AIM is available to help with short-term projects, such as the Adventist Community Services emergency needs donation calls. Recently, AIM has taken calls for several free mega clinics hosted by Your Best Pathway to Health.

“We also pray with every caller who wants to have prayer,” Wall said. “We’ve now taken that person from just watching TV to literally being connected with the local church.”