Outpost Centers International embraces initiative to reach thousands.
Published on: 08-26-2023
The idea is extremely simple and implies minimum infrastructure and relatively low investment. You place some tents outside Adventist churches or in parks in populous cities, and trained lay members invite passersby to study the Bible. If they agree, you plan for them to keep coming and learning, until they hear the whole Bible truth.
The initiative, called “sidewalk evangelism,” is already making tangible differences in the gospel outreach push across some large cities in Africa, with the potential to extend to other cities and regions around the world, Steve Dickman, president of Outpost Centers International (OCI), said. OCI is a Seventh-day Adventist lay-led supporting organization that coordinates some 280 ministries around the world. In early August, on the sidelines of the Adventist Laymen’s Services and Industries convention in Kansas City, Missouri, United States, Dickman discussed the role of sidewalk evangelism in changing the dynamics of outreach in some of the most populous cities in the world.
Implementing the Initiative
Sometime ago, Dickman said, he attended a meeting organized by the General Conference at the Adventist Church world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, where church leaders and OCI discussed ways of working together on mission-focused initiatives. “What can we do together?” was the question asked.
Dickman shared that a leader at that meeting mentioned they had an initiative called “sidewalk evangelism,” which a donor had funded, but it had not been fully taken on. The initiative is simple, its website states. “It follows four basic steps: (1) Pray, (2) Mingle, (3) Invite, and (4) Study — then repeat!” it reads.
“What if OCI became our partner to implement this?” the leader attending the GC meeting asked. “Could you put a person in place that would be our ‘sidewalk evangelism person,’ that would work for you but also coordinate with us and go and do training and encourage divisions and unions to get involved to do something for the initiative?”
After being briefed on what the initiative entailed, Dickman said he believed OCI would be able to help.
OCI soon hired Robert Jay Gamboa as the organization’s director of sidewalk evangelism, asking him to start training lay members around the world to get involved. His wife, Charinette, also went along to support and help train people.
“Their role is to coordinate the program, that is a GC program,” Dickman explained. “The GC has worked with a donor who has said, ‘We want to activate lay people.’ So, it’s in line with [OCI]’s mission.”
Dickman shared how the Gamboas are visiting churches and training lay members to get on the sidewalk and invite people to come in for Bible studies. “It’s a very simple idea. And the Gamboas are there in frontline ministry, teaching people to do just that,” he said.
Already a Reality
Dickman was in for a surprise, he said, as he saw how God had begun to connect the dots before they even were aware of it.
In December 2022, Dickman had visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and worked with a ministry called “Train Them 2 Fish Africa,” led by Thomas Ongasa. “While I was there, I saw the situation in Kinshasa,” Dickman recalled. “The population of the city is exploding, and the infrastructure is not adequate to support it. Sidewalks are full of people; roads are full of people. There are people everywhere all the time,” he said.
During COVID, Dickman shared, church buildings had to temporarily close. So, what church members did was to go to the sidewalks and start studying the Bible with people.
Earlier this year, Dickman visited Zambia for an OCI initiative. Among the progress reports presented, Ongasa shared what the ministry he leads had been doing by erecting makeshift tents on the city sidewalks and inviting people to study the Bible. “When he was giving his report in Zambia, I told myself, ‘This is sidewalk evangelism in action, before we even had a term for that program!’” Dickman said. “Then I told him, ‘What would it look if we made a major push in the city of Kinshasa, and we scattered these tents all over the city?’”
Dickman shared that they soon made plans which were later approved to launch sidewalk evangelism not only in Kinshasa but also in another major city, Matadi, and across the river into Brazzaville in Congo. “The three cities are now putting tents in the sidewalk, training lay people, so they know what to do, and they are engaging with people on the sidewalk, inviting them to come for Bible studies, and the Lord is blessing them,” Dickman said.
The Gamboas visited the DRC in June and trained around 2,000 lay people to get them in the tents out there and begin to study the Bible with people, Dickman reported. “Then, when people accept the message and are baptized, the idea is to train the new church members so they can also go out, so this multiplies.”
Firstfruits of the Initiative
The first progress report of Sidewalk Evangelism arrived just in time for the 2023 ASi convention in early August. Laypeople reported around 11,000 Bible studies, and after a month, they held a reaping event where Adventist pastors baptized 360 people, Dickman shared. “It’s beginning to multiply, and God is blessing it, and so I think this is something that could be an example for other cities around the world where there are a lot of people.”
Dickman reminds anyone willing to get involved how feasible the initiative is. “You don’t need much infrastructure. Just get laypeople, get them out there, and teach them what to do.”
He shared how in DRC, OCI hired a few Bible workers in a supervisory role and to make sure follow-up happens. “Other than that, it’s a very simple system,” he emphasized.
Now there are some cities in the U.S. — San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles — where laypeople are considering whether they could implement this, Dickman reported.
“A lot of our inner-city churches are on the shrinking side — they are not growing. So maybe this could help to revitalize them,” Dickman said. “They could get the people they have out to the sidewalk to study the Bible with others.”
Against this background, OCI’s role is coordinating and trying to inspire churches, reminding them that they can do something, Dickman emphasized. And what about the laypeople? “Train them and encourage them; help them in that journey of getting something started, using simple methods to get the message out there,” he said.
Outpost Centers International is an independent supporting ministries and is not operated by the corporate Seventh-day Adventist Church.