Life-Changing Experience

By Jerri Menges   •   December 2, 2005

Marva Gehm, her husband John and another couple were having dinner at a restaurant on their way home from a Billy Graham School of Evangelism in Chicago. As they were waiting for their meal, they saw a group of deaf people come in.

The group of about 12 piqued Marva and John’s interest, since they are also deaf, as is Gary Barrett, who was traveling with them. Gary’s wife, Rhonda, is a sign language interpreter.

Marva couldn’t stop thinking about the deaf group. Were they Christians? Should she witness to them? A statement from a speaker in Chicago kept playing in her mind: “If you do not put into practice what you have learned within 48 hours, you will not do it.”

Marva knew she had to approach the group. After she finished her meal, she made her way to their table and introduced herself in sign language. She discovered that they were celebrating a birthday–a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel. She went outside, collected a “Gospel Bag” from the van, brought it back to the woman celebrating and signed “Happy Birthday to you.”

Surprised, the woman opened the bag and found a Picture Bible, an English Bible and several tracts. She hugged Marva and the two said good-bye.

“It felt wonderful to obey the Lord through what I learned at the School of Evangelism,” Marva wrote in an e-mail message.

About 500 pastors and church leaders from across the country and Canada attended the Chicago School Oct. 26-28, one of four held by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 2005. Four more are scheduled for 2006. The Chicago School featured Franklin Graham, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Joe Stowell and others.

The theme for 2005, “How to Build an Evangelistic Church,” was timely for Ray Pilaro, who has attended nine Schools. Pilaro hopes to double the attendance at his church, Living Word Christian, in Pasadena, Calif.

Pilaro, who took 10 members of his church to Chicago, said he was especially encouraged by what he heard about youth evangelism.

“My thinking is that it’s hard to reach out to the youth in America with the Gospel,” he said. “I grew up in the Philippines. But one of the speakers gave us a clear picture. He said, ‘The youth in America are not actually closed to the Gospel; they are open to it. You don’t need to sugarcoat your preaching. Just tell them the truth and pray for them. And tell them to get involved. They are tribal. They want to be part of a tribe.'”

As a result of the Schools of Evangelism, Pilaro has implemented small Bible Study groups in church members’ homes and has gotten more specific in his instructions on evangelism. “Before, I used to tell my [church members]: ‘Evangelize. Invite your friends, relatives, your schoolmates.’ Some brought people. Some didn’t.”

Now, he instructs them to use the BGEA booklet “Steps to Peace With God” to evangelize. “I tell my guys to memorize it and then share it,” he says.

Participants describe the Chicago School as a life-changing experience that brought the Scriptures to life and provided opportunities to fellowship, to learn from different pastors and to develop new friendships in Christ.

“My walk in the Lord has been greatly enhanced through these messages,” one participant said. “Being with brothers and sisters who are all pursuing the same goal of spreading the Gospel gives me renewed strength and inspires me to be steadfast in doing God’s work.”

Another said, “This week God has pricked my heart, and I have been challenged to rescue those around me by giving them the hope of the Cross.”

Franklin Graham encouraged pastors to include the key elements of the Gospel in their evangelistic sermons: sin separates us from God; Jesus Christ died for our sins; and Jesus’ death reconciles us to God. He encouraged the group to take advantage of opportunities, such as Hurricane Katrina, to share Christ and to always be ready to evangelize.

He noted the story in Matthew 8:1-4, where a man with leprosy approached Jesus and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus put out his hand, touched the man and said, “I am willing; be cleansed” (NKJV).

“The question was: Was Jesus willing?” Franklin said. “And He was. There are millions of people who still need that touch today. And they are depending on us. Let your hands be the hands of the Lord. Let your feet be the feet of the Lord. When you wake up in the morning, say, ‘Lord, fill me. Consume me.’ Make yourself available to Him. And He will use you.”

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