Evangelism The Miracle of Changed Lives

Tom James is the pastor of the Centralia Church in the Washington Conference. As a builder in Vancouver, Washington, prior to becoming a pastor, he started several construction businesses. He was also a charter member of the Orchards Church in Vancouver, serving as an elder there.

Tom got his first taste of evangelism in 1981 when Al Oetman, then the Orchards Church pastor, asked each elder to preach an evangelistic sermon for a series at the church and Tom agreed to be one of the speakers. Tom soon found himself spending more time doing church work than working in his business. Feeling a call to the ministry, he moved his young family to College Place, Washington, so he could pursue pastoral studies at Walla Walla College. He began his pastoral work in the Washington Conference in September 1985.

In Centralia Tom tries to have reaping meetings at least once each year. “Local evangelism helps the pastor appreciate how hard it is for a human being to change,” he says. “Any change that takes place is a direct miracle.”

He is convinced that evangelism is a process, not an event. “This is where the church family can make a difference by building friendships and relationships that help cement the long-term changes that people must make,” he states. “Even if they are not baptized during the meetings, it is so important that we keep working with them, encouraging them, and working with the Holy Spirit to bring them to a position of making a decision.”

And when people do make decisions for Jesus, it makes all the difference in their lives.

Tom Hancock is a cook. He has spent the last 14 years working in bars and restaurants and generally living a Godless lifestyle. Even though God was not a part of his life, he did feel that he wanted a better life.

When he was working as a manager for Denny’s Restaurant in the Spokane area, he hired Amy Criswell, a Countryside Church member. “Early on, I saw something different in her,” he says. “She exuded the love of Jesus and did not hide it.”

Amy asked Tom to go with her to Bible studies, but he gave excuses. However, during the slow times on the graveyard shift they would talk, and the things she told him began to make sense.

Since Amy was planning to work for a short time only to help the family catch up on some bills, she turned in her resignation. Just before she left, Tom agreed to take Bible studies. Genuinely excited, she gathered her mother, sister and brother-in-law together to start Bible studies in her home. Tom read books, watched sermons, and studied. He was hungry for the Word, although it did take some time for him to become convicted about the Sabbath.

One Sunday while watching a tape, he started to see the logic of the Sabbath. That night the Lord impressed him that there were three things he needed to do. He was to step down from his management position and become a cook in order to have a schedule that would allow him to have Sabbaths off. And most important, he was to preach the Word.

Baptized in October 2003, Tom now works at Denny’s two nights a week. He is studying with three of the dishwashers, and several others at Denny's are inquiring about Bible studies. They all knew and respected Amy and they can see the change in Tom, who has started preaching in Spokane area churches.

He describes the difference that becoming a Christian has made in his life with one word: peace. He knows that his life is in God’s hands. “I’m still a babe in the woods but I am growing awfully fast,” he says with a smile.

Raised in an Adventist home, Gail attended Adventist schools in the Sacramento area. More than 27 years ago, however, she left Sacramento, left California, and left God and the church. For 23 years she proceeded to do her own thing.

Feeling the need for God after her stepfather died, she started attending the Wenatchee Adventist Church in September 1999. Gayle continued to attend each week even though she had a daily drinking problem.

Then in November 1999, she had major surgery. She had a drink on the 15th, and on the 16th she had surgery. During her recuperation the Lord won her heart; she never picked up another drink.

Her husband, Rob, the fire marshal for Chelan County, had had only minimal contact with the Adventist Church. Then during the Doug Batchelor satellite series NET ’99, Gayle called the church and asked to borrow the NET ’99 tapes. After they watched them together, it was Christmastime, and Rob joined her at church. They started Amazing Facts Bible studies in January. Wanting more, she went online and completed 53 Bible studies in about three weeks. Gayle knew that she needed to be rebaptized, but waited until Rob made his decision. On April 8, 2000, their seventh anniversary, they were baptized together.

“This life is exhilarating,” she says, “It is filled with peace; it is stress free; I’m at peace and at rest.” An active person, Gayle is the head elder and acting lay pastor of the Leavenworth Church, a full-time Bible worker, and a full-time student in the Atlantic Union College adult degree program with a triple major. She is also an online Discover Bible school instructor.

She says she has a lovely husband that she likes to look after, along with two of their three children who are living with them. “The Lord has me incredibly occupied in ministry, but He gives me the energy and strength to do all these things.”

She loves the Lord and wants everyone else to know about Him. “There is nothing more fulfilling than watching people give their hearts to the Lord and having the privilege of being a part of it. I do not want to do anything else.”


Featured in: January 2005