How I Came to Be Known as ‘The Silent Preacher’

Literature evangelist shares how God helps him to go on despite major health challenges.

Allen and Cheryl Dybdahl, for Lake Union Herald
How I Came to Be Known as ‘The Silent Preacher’
Allen and Cheryl Dybdahl are members of the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where they happily have resumed serving together as church greeters. [Photo: Lake Union Herald]

One Friday, my supervisor informed me that I was being let go from a good retail job I’d worked for about seven years. “I know what God wants me to do next,” I said, handing him a copy of Ellen G. White’s Steps to Christ.

For some time, I had been giving religious books and tracts to my coworkers. A literature evangelist friend had introduced me to his work, and I accompanied him whenever I could. I liked this work, but as I already had a good full-time job, I didn’t give it much more thought.

The day after I lost my job was a Sabbath. I decided to attend a different church that day. When I walked in, I discovered to my surprise that they were having a literature evangelism rally. I listened intently to all the recounted experiences, committed myself to God’s work, and have never looked back.

For the next 17 years, I worked as a literature evangelist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Indianapolis, Indiana; and finally in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where I was publishing director and president of Home Health Education Service for the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. I did door-to-door sales, preached in local churches, and trained literature evangelists.

My new vocation brought many amazing experiences. One that particularly stands out occurred in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. While driving to an address on one of my contact cards, I passed a yard with a house trailer. Suddenly, I felt impressed to turn around and visit that home. Uninvited, I knocked on the door. A man answered. I explained that I was calling on Christians in the area to share religious books about Jesus. “I’m not a Christian,” the man admitted, and invited me in.

As we chatted and were getting acquainted, the man explained that he was a prison guard, and that his wife had just left him to be with another man. “A voice told me you would be coming,” he continued, “and that you would be bringing books that would help me teach my children about Jesus.” I knew then, without a doubt, that the Holy Spirit had brought us together.

I showed the man my accordion folder that gave an overview of the books I was selling. “Do you have anything else?” he asked repeatedly. “Show me everything,” he insisted. Within a few minutes, he ordered and paid for the 10-volume set of children’s Bible story books, the Bible reference library, and a family Bible.

Recalling such encounters brings to mind these words of Ellen White: “The redeemed will meet and recognize those whose attention they have directed to the uplifted Saviour…. ‘I was a sinner,’ it will be said, ‘without God and without hope in the world, and you came to me, and drew my attention to the precious Saviour as my only hope.’ … What rejoicing there will be as these redeemed ones meet and greet those who have had a burden in their behalf” (Testimonies for the church , vol. 6, p. 311-12).

Though I have spent most of my working years selling religious books, I now give them away. A health crisis ushered in this change. Over a three-year period, I noticed I was becoming increasingly short of breath. It got to the point where I was having trouble eating and even swallowing liquids. At first, the doctors thought I had a lung disease, but when I experienced a crisis in July 2021 and could barely breathe, I had an emergency tracheotomy.

Subsequently, a cancerous tumor was discovered that was affecting my vocal cords and esophagus. I spent 55 days in two hospitals, undergoing three surgeries to remove the tumor and my voice box, and to reconstruct my esophagus. Several grafts and follow-up procedures were required to remove scar tissue that was causing my esophagus to close. Despite being fed artificially through a tube, I lost 50 pounds (more than 22 kilograms). The removal of my voice box also meant that I lost the ability to speak. I can only utter a word or two in the softest whisper. Sometimes my wife can understand me. Sometimes not.

Whenever I feel discouraged, I turn to Scripture. Psalm 91:14-15 promises, “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.” Philippians 4:19 also sustains me: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

God’s word and my faith in Jesus were my guides throughout my years as a literature evangelist. While that work, or any work requiring the use of my voice, is not currently an option, God still is able to use me. My wife sometimes calls me “The Silent Preacher.” I realize that we all have calamities, but amazing blessings can come out of them. I have met so many people through my earlier work. Now I am meeting more through my ongoing medical needs. I have a prayer list of over 2,000 names, and I pray for them daily, including every physician, nurse, and medical practitioner who has helped me. I have given away over 400 books and tracts to my caregivers and others, including repair people who come to my house, and people who answer “For Sale” notices my wife and I post as we are downsizing. Some of these people ask to stay in touch, and I do.

I rejoice that I can continue to serve a God who is less concerned about our capabilities and more about our availability to work for Him (Review and Herald, June 7, 1903). That partnership, I believe, is open to everyone. I hope and pray that when I have healed enough for speech therapy, I will be able to learn how to speak again. But whatever happens, I want to use every opportunity God gives me to share the Good News of Jesus wherever and however I can.

The original version of this story was posted on Lake Union Herald.

Allen and Cheryl Dybdahl, for Lake Union Herald