Ground-breaking satellite evangelistic series remembered by converts, volunteers.
Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC), the Seventh-day Adventist congregation on the campus of Andrews University, recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the historic global satellite evangelistic event dubbed NET ’98, at a special remembrance and worship service on October 6, 2018.
During the service, PMC pastor Dwight K. Nelson recalled the moment when the uplink went live from the campus church for the five-week preaching series. “Twenty years ago, October 9, 7:15 in the evening, somebody in that mezzanine level hit a switch, and at the speed of light, a beam from two satellite trucks shot up to a bevy of satellites belting the planet. One signal from here, six continents, more than 100 nations, 40 languages, and 7,600 downlink sites, all watching simultaneously.”
NET ’98 ran from October 9 through November 14, uplinked to a satellite from its host site at PMC in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.
With US$1.6 million invested in the project by the North American Division, an estimated two million people worldwide tuned into the live satellite event. Nelson stood each evening and preached, while 39 pastors stationed in soundproof cubicles translated his message into several languages of the world.
Nelson said that his “NeXt Millenium Seminars” series approached the books of Daniel and Revelation from a fresh relational aspect in the hope of helping people discover a forever friendship with the Savior.
NET ’98 followed on the heels of other satellite evangelism programs, NET ’95 and NET ’96. When it aired in 1998, it was reported to be the “greatest single Adventist evangelistic thrust” in the world.
One major objective of NET ’98, according to leaders who developed the NET programs, was to target those born between 1965 and 1980, known as Generation X or Gen X. To make the series more appealing to young adults, two Andrews graduate students served as on-air hosts; Gen X musicians performed each evening; and Nelson presented the nightly message.
Remembering NET ’98
Reports at the time from Adventist News Network and Adventist Review estimated that 30-40,000 baptisms resulted from NET ’98 worldwide, while the total accessions to the church in North America were estimated to be around 8,000 (baptisms and professions of faith).
During the 20th-anniversary celebration, Nelson shared several stories of conversion that emerged from the evangelistic series, including that of Jason Canfield, who belonged to another faith. Canfield was invited to attend the satellite event at a local church and shared that while listening, he became convicted of the Sabbath. “NET ’98 challenged me,” he said via video conference. “Initially, I did not like it. I actually tried to disprove the Adventist teaching of the Sabbath by looking for evidence but couldn’t find anything.” Shortly after the meetings, Canfield was baptized and currently serves as pastor of the Lacey Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, United States.
Retired pastor Skip McCarty shared that before NET ’98, a group of Andrews University students, as part of the relational component of the evangelistic series, went door-to-door to pray with people in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Soon, a small community was formed, and after the launch of NET ’98, the same group of students said they did not want their newly founded community to miss out on the powerful messages.
McCarty said, “At that time, we didn’t have a downlink capability, so every morning after each meeting the university students would receive a VHS tape and bicycle it up to Benton Harbor, where they would share it each evening with a packed room of people from the community. It resulted in several baptisms.” After NET ’98, the church planted the Harbor of Hope Church, which is still in existence.
According to NET leaders, an evangelistic meeting of this magnitude needed an organizational infrastructure that would allow the meetings to flow smoothly. More than 1,500 volunteers and 50 ministries worked through the month of the evangelistic meetings to keep the effort afloat.
Llona Chapman managed a separate program for 11- and 12-year-olds, for which she planned on 35 to 40 children but ended up with 75 each night. A curriculum specially designed for NET ’98 called “Come Meet Jesus” took the children on a journey of Bible stories from creation to Jesus’ second coming.
“That last Friday night we were concentrating on Jesus’ crucifixion,” Chapman said. “I prayed and asked God to give me one child. As I talked with the children about Jesus being crucified, I saw a 12-year-old boy with his head in his hands, sobbing, and it happened to be a boy who had given us problems. Towards the end of the meetings, we gave the kids a baptismal card, and this same 12-year-old boy was the first one to return it. I was fortunate enough to watch him get baptized and cried afterward.”