Brittany Erb, junior nursing major at Southern Adventist University, walked into vespers service last Friday evening expecting a typical night of singing worship songs, listening to a speaker and visiting with friends. Instead, through the message of Pastor Dwight Nelson and the workings of the Holy Spirit, she made the unexpected decision to go on a summer evangelism trip.
The Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists was overflowing with students like Brittany who were excited to hear Nelson speak for the School of Religion’s 23rd Annual R.H. Pierson Evangelism and Missions Weekend. Nelson, senior pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University, spoke for vespers service on Friday night, two sessions Sabbath morning and another on Sabbath afternoon.
The focus of the weekend was the Evangelistic Resource Center (ERC), which, over the past 10 years, has sent more than 600 students, most of them non-religion majors, to 41 different locations. These trips, both national and abroad, resulted in 18,338 people being baptized. This summer, the ERC planned to send students to Africa, Columbia, Cuba, India, and Memphis, TN.
On Friday night, Brittany listened as Carlos Martin, professor at the School of Religion and director of the R.H. Pierson Institute of Evangelism and World Missions, reported these numbers and made the special announcement that yet another location would be added for this summer’s trips. Originally, there were only two spots left for this summer’s evangelistic campaign, but the new location of Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, opened 12 more.
Brittany always wanted to go on a mission trip, but had other plans for her life. She knew exactly when she wanted to graduate and what she wanted to do professionally. A mission trip would set her back financially and disrupt her timeline. However, during the vespers service, something changed.
“I really felt the Holy Spirit telling me 'Go’ when Dr. Nelson was speaking," Brittany said. “I tried to brush it off, reminding myself of the 'plan', remembering the financial aspect of it. But I felt something tugging at my heart, letting me know that there are more important things than graduating as soon as possible and having money in the bank.”
Nelson’s message was about God’s grace and the need to go share it with those who don’t know Him. Like an auctioneer trained to notice even one raise of a pinky, God is also waiting for people to “raise their pinkies” and accept Him.
At the end of the message, Nelson invited three different types of people to the front of the stage: those who wanted to accept Christ for the first time, those called to an evangelism trip or to be a student missionary for a year, and those called to full-time gospel ministry. Brittany identified with the second group, and Nelson’s words.
“If God is [just waiting for us to raise our pinkies], ladies and gentlemen, we have to tell this world ‘You don’t have to live in darkness anymore, you have a Savior.”
Brittany walked to the front of the stage and, after prayer, was led into an adjoining room where Nelson, Martin, other faculty from the school of Religion and the Chaplain’s Office talked with students who responded to the call. She and 25 other students expressed interest in an ERC summer mission trip, 14 students in pursuing a major in religion, and 34 students in becoming missionaries.
“It's amazing how one vespers, one weekend, can totally change your perspective and your priorities in life,” Brittany said. “I truly believe there is nothing more important in life than sharing God's message with the world. There are so many people living with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and I know that when they really get to know Him it will change their lives forever.”
But, according to Martin, the people who are being witnessed to are not the only ones who will be impacted.
“Students return [from these trips] inspired with an experience that will last them the rest of their lives.”