My Hope with Billy Graham is an international outreach effort that aims to win new Christian converts by combining personal relationships with a continent-wide media event. After much success in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the program has finally reached North American shores.
On Thursday morning, Billy Graham ministry manager and My Hope regional manager Mesh Hit facilitated a training session at North Harvest Community Church. Primarily targeted at local pastors but open to rank-and-file churchgoers, the session ran from 9:30 a.m. until noon.
“We’re just basically training pastors on how they can go train their people, and their people become Matthews, essentially, who host these events in their homes,” Hit said.
Non-ordained My Hope participants are called “Matthews” as a reference to the disciple Matthew hosting a party at his home soon after deciding to follow Jesus. Attended by many non-believers, the party served as a way of sharing the Good News with people who were “far from God,” in Hit’s words.
It is this relaxed method of spreading the faith that the renowned preacher Graham has embraced with My Hope. In November, the campaign will ask participants to invite friends and neighbours who “don’t know Jesus Christ” to their homes for a meal and dessert, after which they will watch a half-hour video featuring music, messages from Graham and personal testimonies.
“We’re also encouraging people to … tell those people why they’re coming, so there isn’t this bait-and-switch idea where you feed them a really good meal and then all of a sudden corner them and tell them about their faith,” Hit said.
“It’s about telling them why they’re coming, why they’re attending, so we can talk about a video, about hope that comes in Christ, and those people will know why they’re there”
Following the video, participating pastors and Matthews will share personal stories of how Jesus came into their lives and what he is doing for them today. Finally, they will ask guests if they would like to make the same decision to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
Hit took the opportunity at Thursday’s training session to describe his own conversion experience.
“I found Christ when I was 21 years old in Vancouver, basically recognizing my life was going nowhere fast and realizing that there was an emptiness in my heart and I had tried filling it with a lot of things -- relationships, material things, parties, etc., etc. -- and ended up attending a church in Vancouver, basically through their Bible study group.”
It’s about telling them why they’re coming, why they’re attending, so we can talk about a video, about hope that comes in Christ. - Mesh Hit
Eventually, the young Hit decided that his church friends possessed something he did not: “The joy and peace that came with Christ.” Surrendering to God, he later served as a pastor before becoming a full-time staff member at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Hit’s journey to Christianity made him sensitive to the need to avoid judging people on a superficial basis. He recounted an experience in his early twenties when a church greeter refused him entry because of his unconventional dress, which at the time consisted of jeans, a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, long hair and three earrings.
Two lessons he drew were that Christians should not “play God” and drive people away by judging them, and that one should not ”major on the minors” by fixating on small, insignificant details.
In order for one’s evangelical effort to be successful, it is crucial to be open-minded.
“There are going to be people out there that you know in your life, and people in your church that you know as well, that don’t know Jesus, but they’re going to be a little different than you,” Hit said.
“They might not dress the same, they may not look the same, they might be a different culture. Are you okay with that? And what I mean by that is this: Is your church ready for that?
“See, a lot of preachers talk, ‘Oh yeah, we’re all about outreach, we’re all about wanting new people in our church.’ But when that new person comes through that door and they’re not like them -- that’s when the rubber hits the road.”
Reflecting that acceptance of diversity, Hit emphasized the flexibility of My Hope’s method. Though the video will be available on DVD this summer, pastors and Matthews can also download it onto a memory stick and present it outside their homes at venues such as coffee shops.
Similarly, while the media event is scheduled for November, it is perfectly permissible for churches or individuals to show the video during another month if it is more convenient for them to do so.
Additional information and resources for My Hope with Billy Graham are available at www.myhopewithbillygraham.ca.