DALLAS — After 28 years of an annual evangelism outreach in New Orleans, SUM Bible College & Theological Seminary switched tactics this year with an evangelistic canvassing campaign in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Partnering with local congregations, the four-day Evangelism Conference and Outreach (ECO) 2022 that ended April 10 targeted 100,000 visits in urban and suburban neighborhoods. It marked the first such style conference for SUM, based in El Dorado Hills, California, and served as a prototype for future evangelism events in other major urban areas.
Instead of engaging sometimes-inebriated revelers in a six-block stretch of the French Quarter, students spread out over nine cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. SUM students spent much of Friday and Saturday knocking on residential doors. Four hundred students, going out in primarily two-by-two male-female teams, deployed six hours each day to apartment complexes, housing subdivisions, and businesses. One student spoke to the resident while the other prayed silently. Buses transported students to 11 participating churches, with staff and congregants assisting in the evangelism effort.
Participating two years in the one-on-one evangelism campaign is a requirement for graduation from SUM, now in its 30th year. Yet the new Texas event has an element the Louisiana mission missed.
“This is an opportunity not just to evangelize today, but to disciple tomorrow,” said outreach coordinator Brendan Bagnell, 53, executive pastor of Turning Point Church in Fort Worth. “We’ve never been able to do follow up before.”
Students engaged residents in brief conversation and invited them to a local church ahead of Palm Sunday services.
AG congregations participating included Oasis Church at Lakeview in Rowlett; Casa De Mi Gloria in Garland; The Lighthouse in Dallas; Gateway Church in Midlothian; Open Arms Church in Lake Dallas; and Grace Pointe Church in Alvarado.
Daniel K. Norris, lead pastor of Grace World Outreach Church, an AG congregation in Brooksville, Florida, said the Texas residents are as needy of salvation as the Mardi Gras partygoers. The COVID-19 pandemic, racial strife, and potential for global warfare all present great soul-winning opportunities, Norris said. In addition, declining church attendance, the disintegration of the traditional family, and gender confusion all contribute to a culture in need of hope, according to Norris, 44.
“We’ve got to feel the urgency of the hour,” Norris told students. “We can’t be afraid to share the gospel because we don’t want to be offensive. People are lost; the truth is freeing.”
The first students from a SUM cohort at Grace World Outreach Church are graduating this year.
Students who attended ECO 2022 already had received online evangelism training before arrival. And they received more pointers in two days of teaching sessions at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine before hitting the streets.
George A. Neau, SUM founder and chancellor, said he had been thinking of taking the annual SUM outreach on the road for several years. The travails behind closed doors in Dallas are as traumatic as the pain of Mardi Gras attendees, he said, because many Americans are depressed, going through divorce, or suicidal.
“God has given us opportunity to knock on doors and to offer hope,” said Neau, 62.
AG evangelist Glenn P. Badonsky, a 1999 SUM alumnus, encouraged students to briefly share their testimonies of the addiction, hurt, or despair they experienced before accepting Jesus and then the joy, forgiveness, healing, or deliverance afterward. Badonsky, 46, is founder of Double Portion Ministries in Mobile, Alabama.
ON THE STREETS
Many students hadn’t engaged in overt evangelism endeavors before. But in a debriefing session Friday night, several reported breakthroughs with residents by finding common ground. Such instances included a father who had been imprisoned and a spouse who had recently died.
The door-to-door evangelists told of a self-described atheist who accepted Jesus as Savior, a hopeless woman dying of cancer who agreed to go to church, and a woman in tears at the presence of SUM students on the block because she had been interceding in prayer for her neighbors.
On Saturday, one of the teams of 25 students joined forces with 18 adherents from Oasis Church in canvassing local homes. Rowlett is a growing upscale community of 71,000 people northeast of Dallas. More than 70% of residents have attended college, 86% own their own home, and the average household income is $114,000.
Destyn Alberts, 21, and Jenny Yaekel, 17, work one side of the street while another SUM team moves along the other in a neighborhood of modest brick homes. Alberts attends Delphi First Assembly of God in Indiana, while Jenny is part of the group from Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville, Florida. They know each other through online SUM classes.
Alberts is a second-year SUM student while Jenny won’t begin classes until fall. Both appear personable, poised, and mature in greeting residents at the door. Jenny takes the lead at one house, Alberts the next.
Numerous residents don’t appear to be home on an early spring Saturday afternoon when the temperature is in the low 80s. Those who do answer usually say they already attend church somewhere, even though several of those decline invitations for prayer. . A dog barks at virtually every home in the neighborhood once the doorbell rings.
Indeed, locals in this section seem to have no problem identifying as Christian: a “God Bless Our Home” wooden hanger on a front porch, a “Jesus Is Lord” cross in a yard, a “There Is Room at This Inn for Jesus” above a front door.
Only one resident during the afternoon slams the door in the couples’ face. However, a self-described agnostic agrees to an offer for prayer and accepts an invitation to Oasis Church services the following day. One Hispanic resident professes to not understand English; no problem for Jenny, who has taken five years of Spanish classes in school
The most engaging encounter is with a teenager whom Alberts engages in conversation as the youth walks down the middle of a street. The boy, wearing an Ice Cube shirt, says he has no knowledge of the gospel. Alberts quickly takes him through salvation passages he’s memorized from Romans.
Although nothing spectacular happened on his rounds, Alberts found it productive.
“I would have loved to have seen God heal someone of cancer in front of my eyes, but seeds were planted,” Alberts says. “I’m grateful to potentially be an instrument for God, and I will keep praying for these people.”
Jenny had a similar positive outlook, as the outing gave her the first opportunity to ever pray with someone else in Spanish.
“Any intimidation or fear I felt about evangelizing instantly disappeared when I saw the reward,” she said.
Neau announced Saturday that ECO 2023 would return to Dallas. In following years, SUM expects to shift the location to other major urban areas on an annual basis.
PHOTO: Jenny Yaekel (left) and Destyn Alberts prepare to knock on doors in Rowlett, Texas, neighborhood.