When Robert T. Schlipp first heard about My Hope America with Billy Graham, he was immediately intrigued. The nationwide Christian outreach teaches believers how to share the Gospel with friends and neighbors by cultivating authentic relationships. As someone with a passion for evangelism, Schlipp quickly jumped on board.
“In 15 minutes, I knew my church was going to participate,” said Schlipp, who was pastoring a Brighton, Colo., congregation at the time.
He didn’t know he was about to become much more than a participant.
When the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) asked him to take a more active role in the My Hope America project, Schlipp assumed he could help out from home.
“My background is children’s ministry,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, they probably want me to proofread some children’s literature or something.’ They said, ‘No, we’d like you to coordinate a five-state region.”
My Hope‘s Southwest region–Colo., Utah, N.M., Ariz., and Wyo.–covers more than 500,000 square miles.
“After I picked myself off the floor and tried to say no, we prayed about it,” said Schlipp. He and his wife, Anayansi, decided to accept the challenge.
‘The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time’
This isn’t the first time Schlipp has worked closely with the BGEA, but it is the first time he’s used his real name.
From 2003-2011, Schlipp was better known as “Bibleman,” a character who literally “put on the armor of God” to teach children about Scripture and living a Christian life.
Schlipp became Bibleman when the original actor, Willie Aames, turned in his cape.
“There comes a time in every man’s life when he should stop wearing spandex in public,” said Schlipp. “That happened to my predecessor. He asked if I would take over. There was no audition. No interview. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Before he had the chance to break in his armor, Schlipp was asked to appear as Bibleman at a Franklin Graham Festival in Bakersfield, Calif.
For the next eight years, he played the part of the biblical caped crusader, leading children’s programs for three Billy Graham Crusades and more than half a dozen Franklin Graham Festivals, in addition to numerous other performances.
These days, Schlipp has more road trips than spandex in his life. His role as a My Hope regional coordinator has taken him from the mountains to the desert, on short jaunts and 3,500 mile journeys.
So Simple, a 7-year-old Can Do It
When Schlipp travels the region telling pastors about My Hope, he has to have a simple, concise way of explaining the project.
Hoping to instill a love for evangelism in his children, he told his 7-year-old daughter, Abigail, about My Hope. She caught on quickly. In fact, she understands the project so well, her dad started taking her along to explain it to pastors.
“I’ll get things started and turn it over to her,” said Schlipp. “I explain, this is a simple. If a 7-year-old can communicate the entire strategy, then I think people can do this. The average person in the church can use the tools that we’re offering with confidence.”
When Abigail’s 5-year-old brother, Zachary, saw what his big sister was doing, he wanted to help, too. He got his chance earlier this month in Canyon City, Colo., where Schlipp was meeting with a group of pastors.
“I said to my wife, ‘Why don’t I take one of the kids down to Canyon City?’ She said, ‘Why don’t you take them both? I’ve got laundry to do!’ So I took them both, and they had a great time. I’m excited to see them grow in their faith and be used by God.”
A True ‘Superhero’
One of the key components of My Hope America with Billy Graham is the “Matthew list.” Believers who are hosting a My Hope event this November are dubbed “Matthews” after Jesus’s disciple who was eager for his friends to meet Christ. Each “Matthew” is encouraged to make lists of friends, family and neighbors who don’t have a relationship with Jesus and pray for that list daily.
Throughout his travels, Schlipp has been surprised to learn how many believers never think to write down the names of people they’re trying to reach for Christ. They may have a mental list, but life’s fast pace prevents them from sitting down and earnestly praying for the people they care about.
“That’s why the Matthew list is so important, because you write it down,” said Schlipp. “You realize that there’s not only a need–you become intentional about meeting that need.”
Schlipp recalls meeting a woman at a church in Albuquerque, N.M., who excitedly told him how My Hope is just what her husband needs. She’s been a believer since the 1970s. When she accepted Christ, she thought her husband would quickly follow suit. Months passed, and it didn’t happen–then years, then decades. Everything looks OK from the outside, but she confessed her marriage is hanging on by a thread.
“So I asked her, ‘Have you prayed for his salvation yet today?’” said Schlipp. The answer was, “No.”
As the two continued chatting, Schlipp found it heartbreaking to learn she couldn’t remember praying for her husband’s salvation in more than ten years.
“So here’s a woman who wants to see her husband come to Christ, and she’s not even praying for him. And she’s a godly woman. And if that’s the story of one person, how many other believers are there like her? We want to see a family member or co-worker come to God, but we’re not even talking to God about it.
Schlipp thinks prayer is a “lost art” in the U.S., but he believes there’s hope for change.
“I’m excited to see everyday followers of Christ–who, for far too long have felt like the Great Commission was somebody else’s responsibility–beginning to recognize this is what God wants me to do, and I can do it.”
To him, My Hope is important because it helps believers to stop overlooking the obvious and gives them confidence to reach out. Schlipp is honored to have a front row seat as believers catch the vision, realizing they don’t need a cape and a sword to do great things for God’s Kingdom.
“The average, ordinary person can be a superhero in someone’s life if they simply love God and follow His commands,” said Schlipp. “We can mess up and stumble all along the way, and the Holy Spirit still works through us. It’s pretty awesome.”