White Unto Harvest

The Logistics of Preaching the Gospel

Steve Wallace


"So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John as their attendant. And when they had gone through the whole the whole island unto Paphos....Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem. But they, passing through from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia; and they went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down." (Acts 13:4-6,13-14) What is often overlooked in the foregoing passage is how much time Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark spent with the logistics of preaching the Gospel. Upon mentioning this fact, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is the time spent in travel. Reflecting on this we realize that some of their travel would also have taken some time, however long, to arrange. Further meditation upon these verses forces one to conclude that these brethren also arranged for some form of overnight accommodation and meals. We are ignorant as to exactly how much divine guidance may have helped them in finding proper directions and suitable soil for the Gospel on this leg of this missionary journey (Cp. Acts 8:26,29; 10:19; 16:6-10).

In the early days of efforts to preach the Gospel in Eastern Europe it often troubled me how much time I spent with logistics compared with that spent actually preaching or teaching. Finding support, arranging for travel and the time spent traveling, seeking accommodations, suitable meeting places and visas, finding co-workers, interpreters, Bibles and literature in appropriate languages or getting the latter translated, briefings and debriefings from military authorities because of my wife's job with the Air Force together took much more time than the time I actually spent preaching or in other ways spreading the Gospel. Things have changed in many ways over the years and, as a result, many of these things either have been taken care permanently or become more or less second nature. However, the logistics of preaching the Gospel still take time and effort. This is true for all brethren everywhere who are involved in spreading the word. However, in keeping with the purpose of this feature, we want to highlight some things about preaching the Gospel in foreign lands. This article has passed before a number of brethren involved in foreign work to get the maximum input in order to convey as true a picture as possible of what brethren in various places go through to spread the word. Such information can be especially helpful to those aspiring to do mission work.

1. Language. English is widely spoken and many people are happy to have a chance to try out what they know. However, it is very helpful to get a Berlitz or some other brand language tape before arriving in a country where arrangements for an interpreter have not been previously made. Some brethren have sought out language courses in the U.S. before arriving in a country wherein they plan to work. While often one learns only a smattering of the language in these ways, it can be helpful, a door opener, a step towards fluency, and all foreigners I have encountered are very appreciative of any attempt on our part to speak their language. Ed Brand noted, "We have found Slovaks appreciate your attempt to speak their language, no matter how badly you butcher it. Many will often respond, telling how well you have spoken their language." No doubt all men who have worked through interpreters to preach the Gospel have wished they were fluent enough to work without an interpreter. Young men who aspire to spend time in foreign fields would do well to include a foreign language in their studies. Finding suitable interpreters is a must to anyone who is not fluent. Working with an interpreter is something that anyone can do. In light of the fact that some interpreters have shown themselves less than accurate, it can be a good idea to have a second interpreter present on occasion in order to proof what is being said.

2. Travel. Air travel is common in the U.S. and an accepted part of almost all overseas work. Train travel is something foreign to many in the U.S. with which many brethren who have worked in Europe have had to acquaint themselves. European trains are very efficient and, in Eastern Europe, relatively inexpensive. The train station is usually connected to various parts of a city by bus lines and often tram and subway lines as well. Train and/or bus passes can be purchased which are good from 1 to 3 months depending on the country. While such passes have been relatively inexpensive in the past prices are increasing as East catches up with West. A city map is a must, whether one buys one in advance or at the train station. One quickly gets used to the main routes of travel and various stops along the way. Commuting in this way becomes second nature and one learns to appreciate some of the advantages of letting someone else do the driving. A number of workers have functioned without automobiles. Cars bring the usual conveniences and responsibilities. One should take time to learn some of the laws in their country of choice as there can be important differences. For example, it is very common for Americans stationed in Germany to have accidents in residential areas due to failure to yield to their right. One can not get a real view of life in some places where work is being done without hearing a little of what brethren have gone through to find the location of contacts or other necessary addresses. I remember wandering through the streets of Prague and Budapest in the dark during my first trips to those cities in 1990.

3. Street work. There are at least two prerequisites for the kind of street work done in Lithuania: 1) Literature in the Lithuanian language; 2) An interpreter to handle questions at the table used to display and distribute literature. Accurate rendition of English tracts in another language is tedious and time consuming business. However, it is a proven way of sowing the seed on all soils. It is good to be well prepared in the above ways before starting such an effort as experience in several countries has shown that interest in street work wanes as the novelty of it wears off. We have usually set up 3 hours a day and have made many contacts and even had a number of impromptu debates via this method.

4. Lectures. Most of the converts in Lithuania have come either directly or indirectly from Bible lectures. Steven Baxley wrote the following about his experiences in the Czech Republic: "I agree that lectures are an extremely important way for making initial contact with people. Many people like the `anonymity' that comes with lectures." Advertising, a suitable hall and interpreter are all necessary for them to be successful. Sometimes they can be quite expensive. If handouts and/or overhead charts are to accompany the lecture, these must be translated and produced in advance. The necessary subject matter can sometimes present its own challenges. In Lithuania, the Roman Catholic authorities have gotten at least two lecture halls to refuse to continue to rent to us as a result of our teaching against the errors of that religion. It has been the case in several countries that the number in attendance at such lectures fluctuates.

5. Advertising. Hugh Walton wrote on this point in a recent report on the work in Budapest, where he presently labors. He said that the brethren there all wanted to continue advertising and using their Bible correspondence course as they produced the best results. All of the converts there except one have come from this means. The men working in Slovakia send correspondence courses all over the country to people who have responded to their ads. Brother Brand wrote, "We have used almost every form of printed commercial advertising." We have found that, in spite of the fact that, during a given week, we may hand out on the street as many as 2,000 invitations to our Bible lectures in Kaunas, Lithuania, relatively few people turn out unless we advertise in the paper. In the Czech Republic they have used papers with free ads which are widely distributed and placed in peoples mail boxes. Brother Baxley says that they usually advertise their lectures by having posters put on town billboards.

6. Meeting places for the church. Finding a suitable meeting place can be a challenge. While groups can meet in homes during their formative days, numerical growth will usually force them to search for larger accommodations. Rent, location, and accessibility will then enter into the decision making process. Locating near a tram or bus stop is important. No congregation in eastern or western Europe known to this writer owns their own building but this is not a hindrance to spreading the Gospel. Brethren have assembled in hotels, culture centers, YMCA buildings and the like. Where there is a will there is a way. It would be difficult for a small group to permanently rent a place in some of the larger cities in Europe as prices are prohibitive.

Conclusion

As we noted in the introduction, brethren in the first century had to deal with the logistics of their work and, as we have seen, so must brethren today. All told, such logistics usually demand a large amount of time and money. Sometimes preachers are said to "only work a few hours a week." Hopefully, the things brought forth in this article will give a greater appreciation for what men in different places go through to preach the Gospel.


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For comments to the author, or to contribute news, reports, and information regarding preaching efforts in foreign lands, please contact Steve at 100416.655@compuserve.com

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