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Alabama Watchman Fellowship aggressive in public educationcomment (0)

January 3, 2002

By Brian Blackwell

It started 22 years ago with a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) layperson and a former devout Mormon. Today, Watchman Fellowship has grown to more than eight states, including Alabama, as the group “serves the Christian and secular communities as a resource for cult education, counseling and noncoercive intervention,” according to watchmanfellowship.org, the national Web site.

SBC layperson David Henke founded the organization when he started witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses and speaking to churches. Eventually, he met a Mormon who was soon converted to Christianity and paired with Henke for the birth of Watchman Fellowship in 1979.

While there are offices in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and California, the Alabama office is the second largest in the nation.

State director Bob Waldrep said his office, located in Birmingham, fields between 100 and 150 requests for information each month and has 1,800 files on various people and groups, ranging from the authors of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” to yoga. He said e-mail and the Internet have expanded their ability to provide information.

While Waldrep’s office is an interdenominational ministry, he points out that the Alabama office employs seven Southern Baptists, which is more than half the staff. Most are ordained Southern Baptist ministers.

Steve Godwin is one who has worked with Watchman Fellowship since the summer of 2000. Godwin teaches in Southern Baptist and other denominational churches about Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age and Wicca.

He said Watchman Fellowship is a ministry comprised of dedicated men and women who serve Christ by helping others understand the true teachings of groups that teach “another gospel,” as Paul called it in Gal. 1:6–9.

“It is a very important ministry as evidenced by many of the letters we receive from people whose lives have been changed because we were able to counsel them,” said Godwin.

“Watchman Fellowship is also an evangelistic ministry in that we are actually witnessing to people who do not know the real Christ.”

Watchman Fellowship’s goal is threefold: to educate the community, to equip the church and to evangelize the cults.

“We go to churches and give presentations on Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults as we are inoculating the body of Christ,” said Waldrep, who is in his ninth year as state director and is a member of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.

“Statistics say that 80 percent of those who join a cult or false Chris­tian group come off the pews of mainline denominational churches,” he said.

He also said the Mormon church has been claiming since 1988 they’re reaching more than 270 Southern Baptists weekly.

Waldrep acknowledges the statement is true. That’s one reason his organization makes presentations to churches on a regular basis.

Waldrep said the Alabama office focuses on the state’s churches, which can reach those cult members.

As those members are educated about the cults, they can then witness to cult members.

Waldrep points out that many cults warn their members not to talk with Watchman Fellowship, so the church is an integral tool to reach them.

“A large part of our time is given in Christian counseling through a family member or friend of a cult member who then shares with that cult member,” Waldrep said.

The approach Watchman Fellowship takes on cult members is to destroy the credibility of the group in the member’s eyes.

By showing the person that the group isn’t credible through the cult’s material he may have never seen before, that member may then question if he can trust that cult.

Waldrep said the most frustrating part of his job is when a person believes the information but still refuses to leave the cult.

Watchman Fellowship is not only a vital resource to churches and religious media, but many secular media also use it.

“Our perspective is from a Chris– tian viewpoint, but the secular media know we’re credible and have learned they can trust us,” said Waldrep.

Waldrep has appeared on “ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings,” ABC’s “Night Line,” “MSNBC with Brian Williams,” CNN and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, Time  and Newsweek.

A Japanese television program similar to “60 Minutes” spent a week with his office to enlighten the Japanese on what a cult is.

Watchman Fellowship rarely charges for its services, with the exception of certain magazines and tape sets. For more information about Watchman Fellowship visit the Web site at wfial.org.

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