JEFFERSON CITY – Ryan Stiffler, a member of Southridge Baptist Church here, has shared the gospel with an orthodox Jew in New York and a college student from Portugal – all from the comfort of his home.
Stiffler serves as a facilitator in Missouri for the Evangelism Response Center (ERC), a nationwide ministry organized by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that trains Southern Baptists to share the gospel and counsel with people on the telephone or through online chat. Every year, thousands of people call the ERC hotline, 1.888.JESUS.20, seeking hope or trying to find spiritual guidance. And as an ERC facilitator, Stiffler has not only answered many of their calls, but he has trained many Missouri Baptists to do the same.
According to Mark Snowden, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) evangelism/discipleship strategist, the ERC worked alongside 42 state Baptist conventions last year, as well as 35 other Southern Baptist and non-Southern Baptist agencies. During the same year, the ERC received 32,069 calls, averaging more than 2,500 calls per month. As a result, 2,344 people professed faith in Christ, and many were connected with local Baptist churches throughout the nation.
The ERC hotline is publicized in numerous ways. Stiffler noted that the hotline’s number appears online, is published in most editions of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, and is imprinted on the side of Disaster Relief vehicles.
Stiffler and 15 other Missouri Baptist ERC facilitators work with more than 500 Missouri Baptists who have been trained to answer calls for the ERC hotline. Nine of them met with Snowden and N.R.S.K Ravi, NAMB’s ERC coordinator, in April. During the meeting, Ravi said the ERC call volume in 2013 – which showed an 80 percent increase from the previous year – is significant.
“This shows that interest is still high and the need still great,” Ravi said. “This is a 24/7/365 ministry. This ministry has a consistent harvest of salvations.”
Stiffler has seen how God can use ERC to change lives. One day, as he sat in his home office, he received a call from Michael, an orthodox Jew living in a Jewish community in New York. Michael found and began to read a New Testament that had been left behind in a subway train. He noticed that the ERC hotline number was printed in this copy of the New Testament, and he called the hotline to find answers to his questions about the gospel.
During their phone conversation, Stiffler answered Michael’s questions and asked him if he wanted to place his faith in Jesus Christ.
“If I do, I’m going to be shunned by my family,” Michael replied. Nevertheless, he surrendered his life to Christ and asked Stiffler to pray for him as he went home to share the gospel with his family.
On another occasion, Stiffler took a call from Tony, a college student from Alabama whose family lives in Portugal. Tony told Stiffler that someone gave him a tract about peace, and since that time he had been unable to sleep. The tract had the ERC hotline listed on it.
“I need peace,” Tony said. So Stiffler shared the gospel with him. As a result, Tony professed faith in Christ and was connected with a local church so that he could grow as a disciple. Stiffler noted that, after Tony graduates, he will return to Portugal as a follower of Christ, sharing the gospel with his family and friends.
“ERC is really reaching out there,” Stiffler said. “I encourage every Missouri Baptist to get involved in this. This is a ministry that can change the face of our country, if we’d just chip in and do our part with it.”