It is evangelism in the 21st Century. It is reaching people for Christ without leaving your house.
That is what Springville’s Mark Martin and Mary Ann Burttram have been trained to do through the Evangelism Response Center.
The ERC mobilizes a network of believers in North America trained to communicate the message of Jesus by telephone 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. Martin and Burttram learned about this while attending the Seniors Evangelism Conference last year at Pelham.
“On the way to the conference last year, I felt like the Lord was telling me that I was not going there just to hear one preacher preach,” Martin said. “When I saw the promo video for ERC, I knew that was what God wanted me to do.”
Burttram said she and Martin signed up with Phil Winningham, with the evangelism department of the Alabama State Board of Missions. Winningham met Martin and Burttram at Martin’s home in Springville to train them to be “telephone encouragers.”
“The telephone number 1-888-JESUS-20 (1-888-537-8720) has been promoted across the United States,” Martin said. “Phil trained us how to log into the system, and how to receive calls. That’s how we got started.”
Martin and Burttram have been doing this for nine months now.
Martin — confined to a wheelchair since he was a teenager — has never had the chance to go abroad on mission trips like many of his friends.
“I now get the chance from my own home to share the Gospel and to pray with people,” Martin said. “Basically, I get to be a home missionary. I get the chance to do this on my own time.
“It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. This has turned my home into a mission field, but more importantly, it has turned my life into a mission field.”
Martin’s service in the ERC has led him to believe the US “is no longer a Christian nation.”
“I did not realize how much darkness we live in until I started talking with people, mainly in the Northeast and in the Heartland,” Martin said. “We have had calls from people who really do not know who Jesus is, even in the Bible Belt.”
Buttram says that is why their work is so important.
“We get callers who need to know Jesus, and they come to know Jesus,”
Burttram said. “We get more calls from people who need prayer. Prayer because of financial problems, medical problems or family problems.
“It is really eye-opening to see what people go through.”
Burttram said when she goes on mission trips, it is just once a year. This is something she can do every day if she chooses.
“Right now, I log on two days per week, occasionally more,” Burttram said. “These calls have caused me to do more Bible study. We get callers with issues, or problems, or questions, and we have to be prepared.
“We are encouraged to pray before we log on. To pray for the ministry, the callers and ourselves.”
Martin said all calls are anonymous, and he feels that allows the callers to open up.
“They know they are not talking to a theologian,” Martin said. “They feel like they are talking to their next door neighbor.
“We are very keenly aware that we have the opportunity to change a life. Maybe a person’s eternal destination is going to be determined by that conversation we have with them.”
Martin said he had a lady from Mississippi call because a copperhead snake had just bitten her grandson. She had called while waiting for church and family members to arrive at the hospital.
“She just needed someone to pray with her,” Martin said. “It did not take me long to realize she was a fine Christian lady. It is a privilege to pray with someone like that. To me, it’s just a win-win situation for everyone around.”
While “right at 99 percent” of calls come from the United States, Martin said he has received a few calls from Canada, while Burttram has received some from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Anyone who takes calls must be 18 or older and out of school, and “a faithful member” of a Southern Baptist Church.
“It is just a beautiful ministry with the way that it works,” Martin said. “And the ERC is just now entering Alabama. We are just now plowing ground.”
There were 17,000 telephone calls made in 2012, with about 1,600 of them for salvation.
Martin and Burttram were the first two to be trained as facilitators in the St. Clair Baptist Association, meaning they can go and train others to be telephone encouragers. Winningham trained 13 others from First Baptist Church Springville. Martin and Burttram have already trained a group from Calvary Baptist Church in Odenville.
The ERC will hold a training session at the St. Clair Baptist Association Office in Ashville Tuesday, May 21, from 10:30 a.m. until 12 p.m.
“We’re hoping some of our smaller churches will get involved,” Burttram said. “Hopefully, some of the pastors will get interested in this.”
For more information about the ERC, call Martin at 205-467-6374 or Burttram at 205-467-6534.