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Here’s how AIM makes a difference through North American ministry support.
By Kimberly Luste Maran
|An AIM customer service representative prays with a caller during his shift.
Photo by David B. Sherwin
Adventist Information Ministry (AIM) is the central contact center for Seventh-day Adventist media outreach and evangelistic follow-up in the North American Division (NAD). It’s located on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. More than 70 representatives comprise the contact center team, answering more than 200,000 calls a year.
AIM, which began service in 1982 when the 800-number concept gained traction, supports at least 30 outreach ministries (see sidebar) as well as registration and follow-up for major evangelistic endeavors. “Church leaders saw this as a huge opportunity for people to connect with the church,” says Twyla Wall, AIM director. “The people who started the ministry were employed at Andrews — they saw this as a dual opportunity for student labor and ministry. Students could help pay for their education by working there, but they could also learn an amazing ministry.”[i]
According to their Web site, AIM’s primary function is to process requests, sense interested persons who may be upgraded for further studies, and refer these interests to the local church. A bridge ministry, AIM works closely with local churches to assist interests into fellowship with the congregation. Wall says that reports back to AIM of baptisms are met with rejoicing.
“Our focus is not those who are currently church members,” explains Wall, who has worked at AIM since 2000. “We’re talking to people who are just hearing about us for the first time, or they see something that’s introducing them to the Adventist Church. AIM is specifically intended for outreach.”
In God’s Time
In 2013, a friend gave Donald Gomer a copy of The Great Hope (a booklet of Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy). He loved it, and eventually requested Bible studies. Due to a back log of contact follow ups, it took a while before the Ohio resident’s interest was confirmed. He told the operator, though, that “everything happens in God’s time.”
Donald describes his former self as a liar, thief, and an alcoholic. He was in AA but still found life difficult. He felt helpless. He found out from the AIM operator about an Adventist evangelistic series not too far from his home. He attended, and noticed that the members believed in him — God was already in the process of turning his life around.
“This all started with a phone call,” says Donald. “And I’m so grateful! What [AIM] does is amazing! If they hadn’t called I don’t know where I would be.”
Although being baptized when she was 12 years old, New Yorker Hilda Thomas drifted away from the church — and even a friend’s invitation didn’t stir her. But one day she heard Pastor Walter Pearson preach on a Breath of Life broadcast. Moved, the 80-something-year-old agreed to visit church with her friend. Illness kept Hilda from attending again. As she recovered, Hilda felt convicted to go back and contacted AIM for prayer. She also requested that AIM connect her with a local church.
Hilda fell sick again and went to the hospital where an Adventist pastor visited her. Once she was out of the hospital, Hilda started to regularly attend the church and accepted the Sabbath truth. She was baptized in August 2015 and calls herself “an evangelist for the Lord.”
|Twyla Wall, AIM director, looks over resource material with a customer service representative at AIM’s call center in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Photo by David B. Sherwin
Another Branch of Evangelism
The CSRs consider themselves evangelists too — and they are also changed by working for AIM. June Price, university chaplain and student mission director of Andrews University, reports that AIM’s “effort and care for our students is changing lives.” Price says that in answer to the question, During your time at Andrews University, what has been the most influential experience on your faith development, (on the 2016 faith development survey), many students answered: “Working at AIM.” Price is thankful for the opportunity the students have at AIM, and for AIM’s ability to “share Jesus with our students.”
Wall asserts that Jesus told His followers to go and tell others personally about Him. “The Gospel itself involves telling, sharing personally,” she says, citing Mark 5:19, and Matthew 28:19, 20 as just two examples. “The church makes all these wonderful programs and puts them out there; and there’s nothing like talking to someone about what you’ve just seen and being able to ask questions or get more information.”
Wall explains that some people call in for what’s been offered, oftentimes a book or pamphlet. But CSRs are trained to gently attempt to engage because many who call want to make a personal connection and have a conversation about spiritual things.
When calls are answered by a live CSR, often, says Wall, “There’s a pause and then they’ll go, ‘Is this a real person?’ Then we’ll say, ‘Yes it is,’ to which they respond ‘Oh my, that just never happens!’”
Wall understands that North Americans are used to getting their information through automated services, Web sites, and social media. But she says that “even though there are people who want to do everything in an anonymous and distant way, I think we’re swinging back to wanting human connections — and there’s still a fairly large segment of our society who aren’t always comfortable with the technological side of things.”
And whether calls are program-based or random-based (including calls from years’ old printed materials), “all of this could go to voicemail,” admits Wall, “but talking to the person is better. In service scenarios, there’s a point where a person just wants to talk to somebody.”
When the Call Comes in
During an average weekday about 5-7 CSRs (up to 30 on Sundays) answer the calls that pop into their queues. The calls are coded so operators know better how to assist, and what ministry is getting the call. They answer with that ministry’s name, and that organization’s information automatically opens up on their screen.
Client ministries also provide AIM with their airtime schedules so more CSRs can be on hand if needed. Each CSR has access to an online client resource (OCR) with all the information for each client available through various clickable tabs. “It’s a library of information,” says Wall. “A tool important for each call we take.”
But facts aren’t the only important thing about taking the call. As mentioned previously, the connection with the person is vital. After the initial greeting, the trained CSR tries to gage where the caller is in their spiritual journey, and what type of follow up might be needed. “Some people are very business-like and quick,” says Wall. “They saw a program and want to order the [item]. That’s it.”
The CSR tries to initiate a little bit of conversation, asking what touched the caller about the program they watched or book they read. The CSR is able to see how often the individual has called. This helps them determine the caller’s level of curiosity and interest. Says Wall, “The Holy Spirit is prompting the caller and AIM CSRs seek the Holy Spirit to guide their care of the caller.”
The CSR will ask if they’d be interested in free Bible studies, and if they’d like to be connected with someone locally. “Callers are often surprised that there is a local option for care, which is another great reason to have a conversation!” says Wall.
The Bible studies, explains Wall, are either mailed, available through a Web site, or given by a designated local Adventist, often a church pastor, Bible worker, or church elder. Chaplains who work at AIM, up to six at a time, manage the referral work, including contacting pastors, and verifying that the caller is what Wall calls a “vetted interest.” An average of 60 local referrals occur every month.
"In the referral chaplain part of the ministry, our number one goal is to connect people with a local Seventh-day Adventist Church through Bible Studies,” says Don Lopes, head chaplain. “At AIM we realize the importance of the person building relationships with the local church and pastor, elder, or bible worker if they are to become integrated into the church"
|AIM’s circuits are kept busy with representatives answering more than 200,000 calls a year.
Photo by David B. Sherwin
Calls for books, calls for prayer, calls for information — AIM is a 24/7 central contact center for NAD outreach. As described on their Web site, AIM helps the church’s evangelistic outreach by taking orders, processing requests for literature, registering attendees, and assisting interested persons to further studies by referring these interests to local churches. AIM also assists “in building relationship through outbound calls as well as offering the opportunity to support various NAD entities with fundraising.”
AIM is available to help with short term projects, such as the Adventist Community Services (ACS) emergency needs donation calls. Recently, AIM has taken calls for several free mega clinics hosted by Your Best Pathway to Health.
“We also pray with every caller who wants to have prayer,” Wall says. “We’ve now taken that person from just watching TV to literally being connected with the local church.”
Beginnings in Sin City
It’s truly a blessing to be able to provide all of our services in Spanish. In fact, one of the great joys of working at AIM are the Latino young men and women who God brings to our ministry,” says Sara Ledezma, Spanish and outbound coordinator.[ii]
AIM typically operates with a bilingual staff of about 15-20 CSRs, phone chaplains, and referral chaplains. “These are students committed to the Kingdom of God, and having them around means that we get to showcase Christ to more people,” Ledezma says. Mario and Ofelia Fuentes are two of those people.
Ledezma shares their story: In the midst of Sin City, Mario Fuentes had a thirst for God. During the 40 years he had lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, Mario learned plenty about the world, yet knew little about the church. Other than a casual encounter he’d had with some missionaries in Colorado, he had no idea who Seventh-day Adventists were.
One day, however, the church came to his home.
As Mario flipped through the channels of his TV, he came across the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN). Although he’d watched other religious channels before, something about the message of the speaker captivated Mario’s attention. He sat through the entire program that morning, and came back to watch more the following week . . . and the next! Soon, the testimonies, music, and health presentations began to change Mario’s life.
As Mario continued to watch 3ABN, he came across the New Perceptions ministry with Pastor Dwight Nelson. It didn’t take long before the broadcasted Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) service became Mario’s main worship experience — all taking place in his living room!
Mario watched 3ABN for 8 years, and the PMC service for a couple more. He and his wife Ofelia, who had also started watching, decided to call the number on screen, regarding an offer they’d seen on the It Is Written program. The AIM CSR took their request, offered prayer, and asked them if they were interested in receiving free Bible studies. They accepted both offers and soon received their first Discovery Guide along with an extra, unexpected gift: a copy of Ellen G. White’s Steps to Christ. This was just the beginning for the couple.
The Fuentes’ could never have imagined how reading Steps to Christ together would change their lives forever. As they learned about Jesus’ character through its pages, they were impressed to call AIM once again. They wanted prayer for Ofelia’s brother, Ruben, who had become seriously ill. And they wanted more Bible studies. This time, however, they also wanted a Seventh-day Adventist to visit their home.
Pastor Joe Arellano, an AIM referral chaplain, prayed for Ruben and connected the Fuentes’ to a local church. Within days, they received a visit from Benjamin Acevedo, the first elder of the Maranatha Spanish church. Acevedo not only began to study God’s Word with them but also offered prayer for Ruben’s health. This simple act of kindness made a significant impression on the Fuentes’ new experience of faith. They discovered life-changing truths and also enjoyed the support of church members through regular visits and prayer.
Ruben’s health did not improve. A few months later he passed away.
But in the midst of this tragedy, the Fuentes family found comfort and hope. Before Ruben’s passing, Ofelia had shared the good news of salvation with her brother. As a result, Ruben accepted Christ as his personal savior. The Fuentes now look forward to meeting him again at the second coming of Jesus.
On June 8, 2013, Mario and Ofelia made the decision to seal their commitment to Christ through baptism. Currently, the Fuentes are learning about how to share Jesus and His Word with Native Americans. They have also put their faith in action by taking the good news of salvation to people in their native Mexico. They drive from Nevada all the way to the mountains of Rosita, where they still have family and friends. Their love for Christ and conviction has turned them into active disciples for His kingdom.
And it all started with a TV broadcast, a phone call, and prayer.
— Kimberly Luste Maran is assistant director of communication for the North American Division; click here for a list of ministries served by AIM.
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