My Story part 4: My 4000 Days on the Internet (thus far)
When I left off with my story in the last Journal, I was pastoring a small church of Christians called Hope Chapel West Manhattan Beach. We were three years into the church, and it was about 1993, and I could no longer take the workload of doing the ministry and the church. I was not paid a salary by the church, but did it to help others, allowing my funds to come from Bethel Ministries. I also felt that it was time for the group to move on to experience other Christian churches. I decided to reorganize my ministry as a standalone non-profit educational organization, not connected with any religious organization. Thus Free Minds, Inc. was born.
One member of the church, Marcia Murray, became the secretary. One of my roommates at the time, Robert Rivera, became the treasurer. Marcia has remarried and is now Marcia Helfer, but all remains the same and we are a happy crew.
Randy and Marcia Murray Helfer
As mentioned previously, my first computer was a Morrow, with a single-sided, single-density floppy drive and no hard drive. The program would reside on one floppy drive, and the information you were to store was on the other floppy drive. The entire program fit on less than 120 kb that was in the late 80s. It wasnt long, however, before I needed a hard drive to store my tracks and books and information. My friends at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach agreed to leave their mainframe computer on at night so I could access the mainframe with my Morrow computer via a 1200-baud modem. If I wanted to print something from the hard drive, I would have to initiate a loop routine and flip a switch on the modem to send the information to my IBM Selectric printer. Those were the days!
By 1990, I had a 286 PC computer that would run 12 Mhz, and I boosted up to 13 Mhz for extra speed. Several computers later (I average one every three to four years), I now have a dual core Intel processor in an HP computer. That is incomparably faster than the Morrow!
Although using computers since the 80s, the greatest change in my work arrived in 1996, when my freeminds.org website went online. In the first two years of the Freeminds website, I was getting about 50 visitors a day.
Quantum Leap in Reaching Others
By 2002 we had over half a million visitors. On my 51st birthday in 2003 we welcomed our millionth visitor! By April 2006 there were over two million visits to the site, many from outside the country. To see for yourself, go to: http://web.archive.org/web/*hh_/freeminds.org/ .
Eleven years later, I am getting approximately 1600 unique visitors a day to the web site, making it the most trafficked non-chat website critical of Jehovah's Witnesses. By the early 2000s researchers began to take note of the site, and the Free Minds, Inc. website is mentioned in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Religions Online by Bruce B. Lawrence.
Meanwhile, what was going on in the rest of the world with Christian ministries to Jehovah's Witnesses? Were all the other ministries transitioning to the internet? What were the peculiar problems in such a transition, in terms of cost, restructuring, personal helps and selling books and tapes? How did the sales of older Watchtower publications enter the picture? What ministries took a leap of faith and invested in the internet, and what happened to those who didn't? Due to space considerations most of this will be covered when this story is compiled into a book.
At this point (circa 1996) there were still quite a number of Christian ministries reaching out to JWs:
Witness Inc. Duane Magnani
Rev. Wilbur Lingle
Craig and Mary Branch - Apologetics Resource Center
Alpha & Omega James White
Good News Defenders Leonard Chretien
Jan Groenveld (Australia)
Comments From The Friends David A Reed
MacGregor Ministries Keith and Lori MacGregor
Tutors For Christ Jean Eason
Watchman Fellowship (many friends!)
Personal Freedom Outreach
Beacon Rosalie (Ross) Hughes
Biblical Research & Commentary Intl
Commentary Press Raymond Franz
CRI Walter Martin; Hank Haanegraaf
Out of Darkness Peter Barnes
Watch The Tower Paul and Pat Blizard
and individually: Ray & Marilyn Marsh, Kevin Quick, Ed Gruss, Ross & Judy Kirkham, Keith Andreve, Philip Page, John Bethell, Emily Hood, Linda Hull, Ray & Marilyn Marsh, Nils & Sherry Jansma, David Englund, Jeff Coons, Andrew Griset, Jeffrey Wagner, Ron Frye, Tom Cabeen, Richard Rawe, Peter Gregerson, the Ortegas, Michele Young, Donna Fried-Leavitt, Frank & Barbara Liebeck, Carol Hartman, Alan Zinkofsky, Glen James, Bill Satterlee, the Minettes, the Achens, the Drehers, and multitudes more!
Ex-JWs don't easily release all their fears that they learned in the Watchtower. Many seem so afraid of churches, even though they claim they don't believe in God anymore. The challenge for Christians in our 21st-century is to be relevant to those trapped in the cults.
If you're going to be in a ministry to Jehovah's Witnesses and you hope to enlist others to help you, more than likely you'll have to enlist the help of local Christians. Other potential assistance outside of the churches might be found in local social gatherings, alcoholics anonymous, mosques, synagogues or just about anywhere where people gather together. Sometimes you'll find groups of ex-Witnesses who band together to help others, but they're often short-lived. Some of these can be found on http://exjw.meetup.com/.
While the reach of Free Minds, Inc. has multiplied many times in the last few years, there is a growing gap between those of you who are reading this Journal and the many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses online. It is a whole new generation of former members. Most of them are not religious at all.
For a person to survive in ministry in the 21st century, they not only have to be Internet savvy, but they have to be tolerant of a wide variety of people. Your audience has been broadened to include the entire world! Dozens of people from a dozen countries can access your Internet site simultaneously, and it costs you virtually nothing... Until you start to meet the needs of the people who contact you! Then you will need time, money and resources, as well as physical assistance from others.
Buoyed up by the wonderful history of those who've gone before us in cult ministry, we are poised on the verge of a time when most of their efforts could possibly be forgotten. It is my desire to create a continuity between the past and the present, so that the future generations of Christians will add our discoveries and joys to their collective wisdom. It is with this goal in mind that this issue of the Journal is printed.
Many thanks to Danny Haszard and Barbara Anderson for their love for people and zeal for justice in our current internet warfare.
|Free Minds, Inc. is mentioned in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Religions Online by Bruce B. Lawrence.|