A 72-year-old retired physician talks to people online about salvation. A Virginia woman shares the Gospel with a Filipina working in Hong Kong.
These stories are the norm for trained Search for Jesus (SFJ) volunteers, yet the awe of seeing God work never wears off.
As BGEA’s expanding Internet Evangelism ministry, SFJ has a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to in coming months. This past year alone has introduced the ministry to more international partners, more one-on-one Gospel-sharing and a greater reach on social media.
To get a handle on the past year, let’s start with a number: 10.6 million. That’s the number of people who visited a SFJ website called PeaceWithGod.net in 2013. PeaceWithGod.net is a simple, interactive site that explains the Gospel. As a result of visiting the site, more than 2 million online visitors said they accepted Christ as their Savior.
PeaceWithGod.net is the evangelistic arm of Search for Jesus. The site has reached about 20 million people since its launch in early 2011, touching countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and the U.K.
Yet, when members of the Search for Jesus team see these numbers, they don’t see statistics; they see real, living, breathing people from every corner of the world who are curious about God. Maybe they have never heard of Jesus. Maybe they want God’s forgiveness but think they are too bad to receive it. Or maybe their relationship with God has faded and they want to recommit their lives to Him.
That’s where the other part of SFJ comes in. What keeps the ministry going strong is more than 330 trained volunteers who interact with these online searchers. Volunteers live all over the United States and range anywhere from their early 20s to 80-something. They are bankers, stay-at-home moms and cattle ranchers.
These volunteers not only serve God, but have become family — a band of believers committed to using the Internet to share Christ. They serve as e-counselors, chatting with people on PeaceWithGod.net; discipleship coaches, guiding people through a free online discipleship course; and email responders, replying to spiritual questions by email.
Volunteers really exercised their training in November with one of BGEA’s largest endeavors ever: My Hope America with Billy Graham.
My Hope was a grassroots effort across the U.S. for Christians to tell others about Christ through relationship evangelism and media materials. The effort included 330 SFJ volunteers, plus 72 Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains and five BGEA staff who answered thousands of spiritual questions through email and hundreds more through online chat.
While the Search for Jesus emphasis isn’t on numbers, there is one figure that Internet Evangelism Director John Cass gets excited about: 229,354. That’s how many people provided their contact information through PeaceWithGod.net in 2013. That information allows SFJ to provide more follow-up and help ensure that online visitors have the chance to be discipled.
One Virginia-based discipleship coach named Laurie mentored a Filipina woman back in the spring. The woman was working in a Chinese home when she found the online discipleship course, KnowJesus.net.
“I read mostly about salvation and being saved even [though] we are sinners,” the woman wrote to Laurie. “Is there any way you can tell me how I can … repent for my sins?”
Laurie shared the Gospel with the woman, who then asked Christ to come into her life. The woman also started having devotions with the Chinese family who employed her.
Since its inception, SFJ has constantly shifted and changed in an effort to be relevant and effective. As the online world changes, Cass said, so does SFJ.
“What works today may not work tomorrow,” he said.
This year, SFJ worked with Lightside Games to reach more people through Lightside’s Bible-based Facebook games, a partnership that will continue in 2014.
SFJ and its international partners are also working to expand the ministry to Portugal, the Philippines, the U.K., Mexico, Canada and Spanish speakers in the U.S.
With so many projects going on simultaneously, SFJ has learned a lot since it began a few years ago. One thing, though, has always been clear: God makes it all possible.
As SFJ staff members gather each week for prayer, they are reminded that only with Him will the ministry succeed.
Tim, a SFJ e-counselor from Indiana, had “a God moment” just before Christmas.
“I feel God leading me to get up early and sign up for e-counseling,” he wrote on Dec. 21. “I want to sleep in since I am on Christmas break. I have gotten up at 4:30 all week.”
But that morning, he got up anyway. He made coffee and sat at the computer to chat with people online. A man in his 30s was on YouTube looking for pornography, but saw a link that took him to PeaceWithGod.net — and to Tim. The two men connected.
Eventually, Tim explained some things about the Gospel that the man never understood, and before their chat ended, the man prayed to receive Christ. Tim pointed him to some follow-up resources and encouraged him to attend church.
“Praise our great and mighty God!” Tim wrote. “God is at work.”