3rd February 2017

Twenty youth from the Newbold community distributed material in Bracknell about Desmond Doss, upon whose story Mel Gibson's latest World War II blockbuster Hacksaw Ridge is based.

The group braved the evening chill on Friday 27 January and distributed almost 150 copies of the material*, predominantly authored by Trans-European Division (TED) Communication director Pastor Victor Hulbert, at the Bracknell Odeon Cinema. They also spoke to many members of the public about their perceptions of the film and of Christianity and opened the door to conversations about Adventism, Newbold's activities in the local community, and the value Adventists place on peace and freedom.

The flyers detailed the story of a principled young man who was willing to serve his country as a combat medic without bearing arms. Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network) who stars as Desmond Doss, is nominated for 'Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role' at the Academy Awards, for his portrayal of Doss.

The community event was organised by Newbold Chaplain, Pastor Alastair Agbaje. "Our pitch was quite simple", he said. "We asked them why they might want to see Hacksaw Ridge. For some, Gibson's directorship was the draw, others had been attracted by a trailer they had seen. Those who had seen the film found it to be real and authentic, and had genuine respect for Doss, the unlikely hero.  Almost everyone we spoke to was curious and grateful to receive the flyer, and many were interested to hear that Doss was a Christian and to find out more about his background."

Pastor Agbaje, who is also the Community Services and Teens director for the Trans-European Division (TED), organised the event because he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to interact with the local community and to leverage on the film's portrayal of an Adventist in mainstream media. "It was moving to speak to people about Christianity and my faith, and to share aspects of it with them and to talk about Newbold's activities in the community through the College and church", he said.

"Too often we say that evangelism is difficult in the UK, and this experience highlighted to me ‒ and many of the youth who joined me – that there are a huge number of people who are open and receptive to the Message. We need to be creative and develop practical strategies to reach people where they are and this movie was the perfect platform and opportunity to share our faith in a positive manner", Pastor Agbaje added.

College students and church youth who attended also found it a positive experience. "I was reluctant at first, but in the end I found it fulfilling", said postgraduate Theology student Johnny Miguel, "It was a creative way to make friendly, intentional contact with people in Bracknell, also provided the opportunity to get to know new students at the College, by working together."

Anton Torstensson, another postgraduate Theology student at Newbold, 16265905_10209982574693574_6717950979943315989_nsaid that it was a great opportunity to meet people. "I've seen the movie and it touched me deeply", he said. "I am proud to be an Adventist!"

While most people were receptive, it did take a little persuasion to encourage some to engage in conversation. "Once we overcame the initial awkwardness people responded well to the message of Desmond Doss and his willingness to put his life on the line for his faith and belief in Jesus", said Newbold church member Eric Pilmoor. "People felt moved by the story and I'm hopeful we might even have a few visitors join us at Newbold or watch our service online."

Several local media agencies have expressed interest in working further with Newbold to talk about the event, the College and church's activities in the community, and Christianity as a result of the group's evangelism. 

*originally appeared in Focus magazine, produced by the Stanborough Press.


[Kirsty Watkins]

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