The present work of erecting gospel billboards throughout the main city centres and highways of Australia commenced in 1995 under the initiation of our esteemed brother and evangelist, John McDowell. For almost two decades following, our late brother, along with his wife Olive, committed themselves to this effective avenue of presenting gospel verses to the public, with a slogan instructing people to read the Bible. This was just one of many ways in which our brother sought to spread the message of the gospel to a needy world. In their booklet, God Answers Prayer, John and Olive recall many fascinating stories of their work, and its reading will surely stimulate any Christian! John suffered from a lifelong illness of lung complications and by 2014 he was too ill to continue the responsibility of erecting the signs, so, rather than see it cease, Rachael and I sought to continue this work with the help of God.
As in most countries of the world, here in Australia there are various advertising companies who rent space from private or government land sites for the purpose of marketing. Each month these companies seek corporations or individuals to use their advertising spaces for a prescribed fee. In our instance, we liaise with one particular company with whom John built a trusted relationship. Each month they send us an email with a spreadsheet containing available sites that are left over after the multi-national companies and large corporations have had their pick. It means that these sites come to us at a slightly cheaper rate, but, invariably, there are a number of excellent locations on the list to choose from! Once the list has been emailed to us, we go State by State using postcodes to determine the rating of its location. Early in the process, one of the things we did was to sight and document the location and exposure of every sign, creating a catalogue with each billboard categorized, so it was easier to determine the quality of the location. In selecting a good location for each billboard, some practical points we consider are: l Is the height of the sign a good distance from the ground, to prevent graffiti and vandalism?
We then email the company the spreadsheet of selected locations, who in turn send us a contract, providing no one else got in first, which we sign and return. Following this, we have to select which gospel verse we want in each particular location. We have around twenty vinyl signs which we use. These are stored in a facility managed by the advertising company who take full responsibility for the warehousing of these signs whilst not in use. There are two main fees attached to the erecting of each sign:
In every stage of the process, we pray, dependent upon God to place a specific verse, in the appropriate place, for the right people/person.
John created the slogan ‘Read Your Bible’ in bold red letters on every sign, so we decided to keep this as we felt it was something that identified these billboards as being from the same source. Primarily, it instructs the people to go to the word of God for themselves and, as a result, there have been many requests for a Bible, which we post out free of charge. There are many stories we could relay.
On one occasion we received a phone call from a man who had left his home one Sunday morning to commit suicide. Having taken the necessary aids, he proceeded to drive his car through the city of Melbourne to the destination. Stopping at a set of traffic lights he looked up to be confronted by these words, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith … it is the gift of God’. Stunned, he began to weep in his car, before returning home and obtaining a Bible. Through the power of the word of God this man was saved, and we will rejoice together in heaven.
In another area, we displayed a sign stating, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin’. Unbeknown to us, it was in an area heavily populated by followers of the religion of Islam. We had a huge volume of calls and text messages, some aggressively telling us that God doesn’t have a Son, and others asking questions about the verse! One of them, a Muslim gentleman, phoned multiple times, each time with a different question - Blood? Jesus Christ? God’s Son? Cleanses from sin? I wonder if we will meet him in glory?
In Sydney, a Christian woman phoned to say how much she was thrilled to see the gospel verses, and asked if we could print the same to be placed permanently on the front of her house for all to see. A quick street view of her house revealed that the garage door would be the best place, so we organized this to become a reality.
On another occasion, a wild storm passed through the city of Perth, Western Australia, damaging buildings, but leaving a gospel sign untouched. We had numerous calls because of this particular board and even international news stations showed it - see the pictures accompanying this article We have been instructed to sow the seed of the word of God! Let us be liberal in its distribution, sowing with confidence that our God is able to bring a return beyond our ability or imagination. In the sowing of precious seed, there must be planning, preparation, purpose and persistence, and in it all there is pleasure in what the seed produces - the eternal prize is more than worth it! Heaven will be full of wonderful surprises when we see what the Lord has done! Let each one of us ask ourselves, what are we doing to help sow the seed of God’s word? Would I be willing to decorate my garage door with the word of God, so those passing by can be blessed? It would be a strange thing to find a farmer who kept his seed locked up in a barn, unwilling to part with it, or refusing to sow over the worry of possible conditions that might hinder its fruit. No! The farmer not only plans ahead, but prepares for the activity, purposes to sow and persists in difficult conditions, knowing that by parting with the seed, he will gain more in the end! No wonder our Lord in His famous parable of the sower, exhorted the multitudes to: ‘Hearken; Behold, there went out [planning] a sower to sow: [preparation] and it came to pass, as he sowed, [purpose] some fell by the way side … some fell on stony ground … some fell among thorns [persistence] … other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit [produce] that sprang up and increased; [pleasure] and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred [prize]. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’, Mark 4. 3-9.
Whilst in this short article we have been asked to give a report on the current work of erecting gospel billboards in the public domain throughout the land of Australia, our prayer is that it will stimulate Christians and assemblies in committing themselves elsewhere to the public display and distribution of the scriptures.
‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good’, Eccles. 11. 6.
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