, news editor, Adventist Review
In Zimbabwe, you can buy “Revelation of Hope” drinking water bearing the portrait of Seventh-day Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson.
Hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles appeared on store shelves in the run-up to the two-week “Revelation of Hope” evangelistic series that ends on Sabbath, May 30, with an expected 30,000 baptisms.
By all appearances, the water is a hit.
“It’s hard to find the bottles now. They have nearly all sold out,” said Nkosilathi Khumalo, who designed the bottle’s label as part of his work in the communication department of the church’s Zimbabwe Union Conference.
Favored methods to promote major evangelistic meetings have long centered around television, radio, and billboards. But few have been as creative as the Zimbabwe Union Conference, which has looked for new ways to reach a country where more than 800,000 people in the population of 14 million are baptized Adventists.
“We want to do everything that we can to get the message out about the series,” Khumalo explained Thursday as he drove past a large, green “Revelation of Hope” billboard depicting Wilson on a busy street in the capital, Harare.
The “Revelation of Hope” series featured on the 0.5-liter (16.9-ounce) water bottles is the largest of hundreds of evangelistic meetings that have been held across Zimbabwe since May 17. About 20,000 people are attending Wilson’s nightly presentations in a field in Chitungwiza, a city about 30 minutes by car south of Harare.
The idea for the water bottles rose during a brainstorming session at the Zimbabwe Union Conference, and a church member subsequently offered to finance the packaging, Khumalo said. The bottles, whose labels include an invitation to Wilson’s meetings, hit store shelves in March.
No one apparently has any qualms about bottling or selling hundreds of thousands of bottles featuring the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“They know that if they put ‘Adventist’ on something, it’s a chance to make money,” Khumalo said, adding that the church is highly respected in Zimbabwe, and many non-members like being associated with it. “But let them make their money. We want to get the message out there.”
The Adventist-branded bottles appear to have sold better than the regular ones, said Khumalo, citing informal conversations with storeowners. It was unclear if the main buyers were Adventists.
The Adventist Church makes no money off the sales.
Wilson, who was presented with several bottles when he arrived in Harare, said that using something as simple yet as needed as a water bottle to encourage people to attend a public evangelism meeting was a good idea.
He said this was not the first time he had encountered water bottles being used to market an Adventist event. Indeed, Zimbabwe church leaders labeled water bottles “Harare for Christ” when they conducted a Mission to the Cities program in the city last year. Mission to the Cities is an effort by the Adventist world church to share Jesus in the world’s largest cities.
Among the other advertising for the ongoing “Revelation of Hope” series are seven billboards along major roads in Harare, a number of daily ads on five radio stations, and three daily spots on national television. Also, thousands of T-shirts and bumper stickers have been distributed to church members to wear and put on their cars.
But perhaps the best source of advertising has come from a two-week free clinic that the Zimbabwe Union Conference is operating in a shopping center adjacent to Wilson’s meetings. Word-of mouth about the free healthcare has spread rapidly, contributing to the clinic’s treatment of more than 30,000 patients. The health minister and other government officials also have lavished praise on the Adventist Church, offering publicity that money can’t buy.
In any case, the water bottles have had their intended effect, Khumalo said.
“People have told us that they came to the meetings because they saw the message on the bottles,” he said.