GLOW-ing for Jesus: An Interview with GLOW Tract Founder Nelson Ernst

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GLOW-ing for Jesus: An Interview with GLOW Tract Founder Nelson Ernst

You may have seen GLOW tracts at your church or at an event. Perhaps you’ve even given out a few yourself! But you may not know the story behind the creation of this pocket-sized evangelism tool.

The Compass Magazine reporter Omar Miranda recently spoke with GLOW tract founder Nelson Ernst about GLOW tracts, the GYC Challenge, evangelism, and life.

Omar: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Nelson: I was born in Berrien Springs, Michigan, while my father was finishing up his architectural degree at Andrews University. We soon ended up moving to California, where I was raised mostly in the northern portion in the city of Ukiah. My father and mother were and are devoted Adventists who not only took me to church every weekend, but had family worship every morning and evening in the home. They put us through SDA schooling for our entire educational experience. They also encouraged me to read Ellen White’s Conflict of the Ages series, which began my conversion process. This is an interesting story in itself, which involved me getting “Bible-bopped” by a Jehovah’s Witness, which motivated me to read the Bible and The Desire of Ages to prove him wrong! Instead my eyes were opened to see and experience Christ.

Currently, I am married to a German princess I met in Sweden while on a speaking trip for GLOW, and we have a 10-month-old named Emma. Aside from work with GLOW, my interests are mostly home-related. I have a seemingly endless list of things to do around our house, including upkeep of a garden (101 potato plants this last year!), building a root cellar, trying to keep our beagle from escaping, foiling gopher plans, warding off deer and birds from our fruit trees, etc. Other than that, I do enjoy zoning out or trying to finish learning Liszt’s “Liebestraum.”

Omar: How did you get the idea/inspiration for GLOW tracts? 

NewtonNelson: It was simple, actually. The entire idea came through reading Ellen White’s Publishing Ministry. At the time (fall 2007), I was working for the Central California Conference as an assistant literature ministries director, and our department had been tasked with trying to develop some kind of literature ministry for adults—emphasis on adults, not youth or kids (we already had good literature ministry programs for them, including our summer student canvassing programs). With this in mind, I went home to my then-renovated garage and cracked open Publishing Ministry to see if Ellen White had any advice on what to do. The skeleton ideas came from the pages of that book. Before we knew it, I and another assistant named Heidi were presenting the program at our first church board—having just picked the name “GLOW” right before we entered the boardroom.

From there, churches and conferences began lining up to start the program. Much of the inspiration for GLOW still comes from Ellen White’s books. Once a year our team takes time to read her writings in books like Counsels to Writers and Editors, Publishing Ministry, Colporteur Ministry, etc., so we can compare what we are doing with what is in the books. We make refinements and often get our best ideas and inspiration for new projects from those books!

Omar: What’s unique about GLOW tracts that sets them apart from other tracts/evangelism methods?

Nelson: First let me say that literature distribution—as opposed to literature sales or various other kinds of non-literature evangelism—has a characteristic about it which makes it extremely valuable. Why? Because it has the capacity to activate every Adventist. Not everyone can preach, not everyone can sell, not everyone can even bake a good loaf of bread, mix concrete, or sing on tune, but everyone can give a tract out or at least leave it somewhere to be picked up!

Activating God’s current body of believers is as important as reaching those outside of this body. In a sense they are the same goal, because God won’t work mightily through us as His people to reach the lost until we know what it means to be co-laborers together with Him. Then He will recognize the fact by an outpouring of His Spirit without measure.

GLOW is not so much about a tract as it is a concept. That concept is getting people to carry literature with them wherever they go so they can give it out when opportunity presents itself. We do, as a ministry, make tracts, though, and we try to keep them inexpensive, easy to understand, Biblical, easy to carry, modern-looking, and customizable. We also have drawn tract development principles from Counsels to Writers and Editors to which our tracts must conform. I think this is unique. After all, “the power and efficiency of our work depend largely on the character of the literature that comes from our presses. Therefore great care should be exercised in the choice and preparation of the matter that is to go to the world” (Ellen White, Counsels to Writers and Editors, 11).

Omar: Why did you choose to partner with GYC and not another organization?

Nelson: I think you are referring to a project that we are doing with GYC called The GYC Challenge. We are also doing a similar challenge with another convention called iSHARE, and several conferences have expressed interest in the idea.

Omar: What is the GYC Challenge, and why do you feel it’s so important? 

Nelson: The idea with this project is that we are encouraging GYC attendees to distribute 1 million tracts over the course of a year and report their numbers and experiences at gycchallenge.com.

The entire project started with a conversation between myself and Michel Lee (GYC’s Resource Director) at an Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) convention. GYC had been using our tracts for their outreach on Sabbath afternoons during their convention. I floated an idea to have the attendees do something more with literature throughout the year, and GYC thought it was something worth pursuing.

Omar: What’s your connection with GYC? 

whattheworldneedsnowNelson: GLOW routinely visits GYC conventions and helps them with their outreaches, providing tracts for distribution, etc. We normally have a booth there and find many great opportunities to connect with people to advance God’s work. One example would be a conversation I had with Bill Knott, editor and executive publisher of the Adventist Review and Adventist World, at GYC. He had just finished telling everyone on stage that they, as young adults, needed to bring up their ideas with church administration. Accordingly, I approached him as soon as he was off the stage and presented my idea of putting literature evangelism stories in our [denominational] publications, per Ellen White’s instruction. He loved the idea, and we have had GLOW stories featured in Adventist Review and Adventist World ever since, with tracts even being printed in Adventist World recently for readers to cut out and distribute! Conventions like GYC are great venues for conversations, networking, and ministry connections, which can impact the field.

Omar: Are there plans for a follow-up initiative? Maybe a GYC Challenge…2.0? 

Nelson: I’m in conversation right now with GYC about what next year might look like. We would definitely like to continue to challenge attendees to participate in spreading the three angels’ messages through literature. How that will look is still in the works. The challenge is getting people to report their distribution numbers long-term.

One thing that is in concrete (or at least drying concrete) is a mission trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When Pope Francis visits the U.S. in September, GLOW will be heading a mission trip to distribute 1 million tracts in Philadelphia right before and during his visit. Any GYC attendees on this trip will count their distribution numbers towards meeting the GYC Challenge. There are a few spots left on this mission trip.

More info and registration can be found at 1millionglow.org. I would warn anyone who signs up for the trip, though, that they need to be physically fit and OK with experiencing some “rejection therapy,” as we like to call it. Estimates are that there will be well over 1 million people coming together to see Francis, and we need to be there doing what we can to help these people. Check out this quote I found the other day:

I was given instruction that as we approach the end, there will be large gatherings in our cities…and that preparations must be made to present the truth at these gatherings. When Christ was upon this earth, He took advantage of such opportunities. Wherever a large number of people was gathered for any purpose, His voice was heard, clear and distinct, giving His message. And as a result, after His crucifixion and ascension, thousands were converted in a day.… Leaflets containing the light of present truth should be scattered among the people like the leaves of autumn. To many who attend these gatherings these leaflets would be as the leaves of the tree of life, which are for the healing of the nations.… The time has come when, as never before, Seventh-day Adventists are to arise and shine, because their light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon them (Ellen White, Letter 296, 1904).

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Omar Miranda, a counselor for more than 20 years, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual and pornography addiction. He was the editor/director of Insight Ministries for Adventist teens and has written numerous articles and books. Omar lives in very unplain Plainville, Georgia, with his wife and two children. Check him out at omarmiranda4.wix.com/mirandawrites.