Putting stones in people’s shoes
Tas Walker talks to Ian and Heather Hartley about creation evangelism in the marketplace
Ian and Heather Hartley have enthusiastically supported CMI ministry for around 20 years. They have volunteered with ‘Friends of CMI’, assisting creation speakers at venues far and wide, setting up resources, and serving people at the sales tables. Regularly they have brought their grandchildren to help, starting from when these were young. Now as fine adults, their grandchildren are following the Lord and keen about the creation message.
Ian and Heather have travelled with CMI speakers on tours through outback Queensland. Also, they have helped with international creation conferences in Australia. Plus, they have set up and run scores of outreach stalls at community events around the country. They have given thousands of back copies of Creation magazine and other creation material (which they have bought personally) to the people they met in their daily lives, and they encourage others to do the same. Their passion to reach people for Christ is obvious, and they see that in our culture the creation foundation is vital for effective evangelism.
Ian and Heather were both born in the UK—Ian in Coventry and Heather in Cambridge. But each of them first emigrated to New Zealand before they met … and married. Then in 1995 they moved to the Gold Coast in Australia, an hour from CMI-Australia’s office.
Out of chaos and disaster
Neither of the Hartleys had a Christian upbringing. Ian said, “I considered the world a place of absolute chaos, lurching from one man-made disaster to the next.” This cynical outlook changed when a friend gave Ian a book about the Bible and fulfilled prophecy. “As I read the book,” Ian says, “I realized that there was Someone in control.” Years later, another friend shared the Gospel with him. Ian repented of his sins and received Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He says, “For the first time I recognized how selfish I was. Receiving Christ had an enormous impact on me.”
Heather did not find Ian’s new Christian faith very exciting. She told him, “That’s okay for you but don’t expect me to join!” However, with loving persistence and help from some friends she received Christ at a large Gospel meeting in New Zealand. Ian and her friends worked hard to get her to that meeting.
After they came to Christ, they had a passion to share the good news about Jesus with others. Eventually they came to realise that in our culture it is vital to start with creation. Ian said, “To begin with creation may seem revolutionary but that is what the Apostle Paul did. When he was in Athens in Greece he started with God as the Creator of all things. This confronted the thinking of that culture, much like when Christians uphold Genesis today” (Acts 17:22–31).
That is why the Hartleys became involved with CMI, an involvement that has grown over the years. During this time, they have seen how creation evangelism connects with people not usually interested in the Gospel and arouses an interest in Christ.
Small town request
In 2012, the combined churches of a small town several hours west of Brisbane asked if CMI could run a creation stall at their free community event. The Hartleys gladly accepted the challenge. The display they developed has grown with time and now includes a 1.8 metre (6 foot) model of Noah’s Ark,1 inflatable dinosaurs, crystals made in a few days from naturally occurring chemicals,2 books, DVDs, and free back issues of Creation magazine.
The stall caught people’s interest, impacted the show, and stimulated Ian and Heather’s imagination. The following year they were invited back, and ended up doing the creation stall in that town for six successive years.
Requests came for creation stalls at community events in other towns. Always, Ian and Heather rose to the challenge and spearheaded these outreaches. Their present tally is 34 shows, outreaches, community events, and fun days, running from half a day to five days. Where they ran outreaches in towns over several years, they noticed they had much repeat interest from people, including other stallholders, who remembered them from previous years.
Ian said, “Our stall concentrates on scientific and historical evidence. We challenge people’s beliefs on origins and introduce them to biblical creation, and the Creator Jesus Christ. We avoid churchy jargon so that secular-minded people do not reject the message off-hand. We feature dinosaurs, dragons, and Noah’s Ark. Our posters contain interesting scientific evidence. All this can shatter the entrenched evolutionary ‘creation’ story that causes people to dismiss the Bible.”
This leads to profound conversations. Heather said, “When we ask people if they believe in evolution, they usually say, ‘Yes’. But when we ask if they believe they evolved from monkeys they will often be offended. Perhaps surprisingly, many have not made that connection before. So, taking our courage and talents in our hands, we offer people evidence that evolution is not true.”
Ian went on, “Another effective question is whether they believe dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. When they realize there is something to see and examine, people will come and look at the evidence that dinosaurs and humans lived together. We use the book Dire Dragons which has fantastic photographs of such evidence. I think of it as putting a stone in their shoe. It’s a piece of information to make them realize that not all that they have believed is true.”
Heather added, “When we discuss these evidences, they begin to grasp that there is a God who is real and interested in their lives and problems. It is amazing how creation evidences break down barriers against God.”
Information at their own pace
Heather recalls a long conversation with three young ladies from a local school who were thoroughly ‘evolutionized’. “After discussing how to interpret scientific evidence, they started to see the logic of creation. Each lady took away leaflets, a magazine, booklet, and a DVD.”
Ian said, “We always have material people can read or watch later and process at their own pace. Once a conversation starts, almost everyone will take a magazine. I look at it as something that will start them on a journey and lead them to Christ. We always challenge people to examine the evidence.”
One of the many stories from their show outreach involves a young woman who visited a stall, saw the creation evidences, and heard the Gospel explained. The following year she visited again to say that she had since received Christ and been baptized. She said, “Last year changed my life”.
A few years ago, Ian and Heather began inviting others to help, especially for shows that lasted multiple days. To start with, Ian would encourage them just to watch. Then as they became confident, he encouraged them to speak to people themselves. Then, Ian would leave the stall for a short while to see how they managed, and then for an hour or two to handle it on their own. Ian said, “It does not take long before they are keen and enthusiastic about sharing creation (and, when there is opportunity, the Gospel) with people they meet. They realize that thanks to the magazine and other resources, you don’t need to be an expert to share creation evidences.” Altogether more than 25 people have joined them at outreaches and been trained like this.
Another positive development is that people so trained want to run such outreaches in their local area themselves. Ian and Heather can point to towns where people are now running their own similar show outreaches.
Ian said, “We estimate that over 6,000 copies of Creation have been given away at markets and shows. Also, many hundreds of other pieces of information have been distributed including leaflets, books, Bibles, Journal of Creation, and DVDs. Every interaction is different.”
Reaching out anytime to anyone
Heather went on, “We were surprised to discover that we could easily share Creationmagazine as we went about our normal lives with people we had only just met. We did not have to wait for a show outreach. We have been doing this for years now. It’s great fun.”
Ian recounted one example of hundreds. “At a caravan park, the man from the next caravan ambled past with a beach towel around his neck. I said, ‘Hi there, we have something we would like to give you,’ and offered him a Creation magazine. This started a conversation that lasted some 45 minutes. Afterward, he said he had meant to go for a swim but found our conversation so interesting that he chose to talk instead.”
Heather said, “Sometimes a conversation will last all afternoon. Often, it gets to the big issues of sin, death and the Gospel. Most times people will say that they find the conversation very interesting, and that they are going to read the material.”
As well as at shows, Ian and Heather have given away another 3,000 Creation magazines one-on-one as they have gone about their normal business. Most people are thankful for the gift. In all that time, only a few have rejected their offer. Heather said, “Mostly this was by evolution-believers, but even evolutionists will often take the magazine out of curiosity.”
A turning point
Ian said, “A turning point in our Christian lives came when we joined the Friends of CMI group in 2000. It has been liberating and fulfilling learning to engage people in the church and in the marketplace with the evidence that Genesis can be trusted, and then with the Gospel of Christ, as the opportunity develops. And we are so pleased to have resources readily available to allow us to be effective in that work.”