Literature evangelism, known more widely in Adventist circles as “colporteuring” until the 1980s, has had a long history in the church. Ellen White’s book, “Colporteur Ministry,” served as a field guide for many, extolling the activity of “missionary work of the highest order.”
Southern students historically have been very involved in canvassing, many paying their way through college in the earlier part of the 20th century from funds gleaned from this activity. Scrolling through a digitized edition of an old Southern Accent issue from October 24, 1952 yields numerous references to students taking part in a colporteur club and annual colporteur rally.
An article about the disappearance of long beards among Southern’s administration by A. W. Spalding, previous namesake of Southern’s adjoining academy, cites colporteurs as “yeomen of the church’s army … deployed in front” and working arduously in years past to increase the population of Adventists in southern Tennessee, to the point where a university was needed.
Many students continue to work as literature evangelists in the summers or during school semesters. Some have come away proudly with success stories and significant others. Others have come away with far more questions than they answered for people. The percentage of those who dedicate significant time and years of life to this particular method of outreach has significantly declined. The question remains after looking over the history of literature evangelism: Is it still relevant, and is all as it should be? Or is it time to re-think the motive and method of a business that has helped our church to grow in the past, but may no longer have the same effect?
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