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Tract shares salvation by using soldiers' jargoncomment (0)

January 4, 2001

The path scales Heartbreak Hill, teeters near the trail to the brig and traverses torturous training areas. The traveler then approaches the gas chamber, face to face with the moment of decision.

Common civilians would be completely ignorant of these scenes. But these locales resonate instantaneously with any Army soldier who has braved the travails of basic training at Fort Knox, Ky.

Dan Thompson hopes these paths — drawn on the “Hell or Hope?” gospel tract — will also serve to show soldiers the way to finish basic training with Christ.

“God just put a serious burden on my heart to see these (soldiers) come to know Christ,” said Thompson, a doctor of education student from DeLand, Fla., at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Several years ago, Thompson, then a master of divinity student, received God’s direction to develop a tract that would tell the gospel to soldiers in a way they could easily grasp.

“We really tried to use a play on words, a play on what they’re going through,” said Thompson, a former Naval Reserve chaplain. “We tried to contextualize it.”

So, for example, the gas chamber — a torturous training exercise involving eye-burning tear gas — is used to represent hell.

“At that point (on the tract) we have a character, a nonbeliever, saying, ’Man, that was hell.’

And the Christian is saying, ’Not even close,’ trying to demonstrate that this is serious business,” Thompson said.

Now, after many months of labor, input from students and professors and lots of guidance from God, Thompson is ready to employ his production in winning the legions of lost souls who enlist each year in America’s armed forces.

Originally, Thompson sought to develop the tract just to reach basic trainees attending Operation Appreciation (OA) — a weekly evangelistic ministry to soldiers at Fort Knox.

Through OA, basic trainees are bused to a local Louisville church where volunteers present the gospel to the soldiers while they enjoy a break from yelling drill sergeants and exhausting drudgery.

After a gospel presentation, OA volunteers generally have no more than 30 minutes to counsel soldiers who come forward in response to the gospel call. In view of these time constraints, Thompson aimed to create a tool to facilitate a fast and accurate gospel explanation. Thompson’s tract accomplishes that goal in a language to which soldiers can relate.

“These men are just crying out for some type of hope, something they can just hold onto — truth, unadulterated truth,” Thompson said. “When they receive that hope, they are just changed.

“When you see these men — grown men — weeping for the Lord, recognizing their pain and recognizing their depravity, being able to deliver such a powerful message excites you even more.”

But Thompson also wants the tract to be more than a mere evangelistic tool.

When completely unfolded, one side of the pamphlet presents the gospel while the other shepherds the soldier through seven days of devotional material.

“From the very beginning, I really felt the burden to bridge the gap between evangelism and discipleship with the Army soldiers from Fort Knox,” Thompson said. “With Operation Appreciation we would bring them in, and we would have a great opportunity to share the gospel with them.

“Yet there was very little follow-up because of the time frame that we were given to work with these men. ... Oftentimes, I felt like we were turning them out into the middle of the woods and telling them to survive.”

The back of “Hell or Hope?” tract offers survival instructions by directing soldiers to the Scriptures. The tract takes the new convert through seven chapters of the Gospel of John in seven days.

“I took several lessons that I wanted them to learn — going to church, how to read the Bible, all these principles that are necessary for a young believer,” Thompson said.

“Also I wanted to marry that with certain doctrines of the church and blend it all together,” he added.

Of course, Thompson realizes that by no means does the tract solve all the problems. The new believer still needs to have a mentoring relationship and a support system.

To meet this need, Thompson developed an ID card to accompany the tract. The card includes a toll-free phone number of a Christian organization that can counsel soldiers 24 hours a day.

As the card and tract developed, Thompson realized they could even be used to reach soldiers other than those who come to Operation Appreciation.

Now, Thompson believes the tract can be adapted to touch military personnel far beyond the gates of Fort Knox.

The North American Mission Board, the American Tract Society and the Navigators have all expressed interest in making the tract available to chaplains across the world.

“Now I see that it can even be used in larger contexts,” Thompson said. “It could go global. That’s pretty incredible.”

The first print run produced 250 tracts, but Thompson hopes that financial support will come in so that the project can continue to expand to reach more soldiers.

But, after many months of answered prayer, Thompson has no doubt that God will provide the $3,000 needed.

“God’s sovereignty has just overshadowed this whole thing,” Thompson said. “I’ve learned so many lessons of faith and of trusting God.”

Thompson has learned one of those lessons by watching God raise up person after person — both professor and student — to pitch in with the project. Russell Goodrich, a graduate of Boyce College (Southern Seminary’s undergraduate program), is a principal contributor. Goodrich originally sketched the artwork for the tract.

“It was of course God using people as instruments to make it happen,” Thompson said.

“It was just neat how God brought everybody together. It’s fun to see God at work,” he added. (BP)

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