– by Bonnie Jean (B.J.) Martens –
When I was 24, I was raising two children alone and working as a barmaid. I was very promiscuous with no morals or personal standards. A neighbor (a guy) invited me in for coffee and I accepted, assuming what would happen.. but it didn’t! This guy started talking to me about God! He opened his Bible and read two scriptures to me: John 3:16 and John 14:2. And those seeds Mrs. Clark planted 12 years earlier sprung to life! I knelt there at his couch, prayed, and received eternal life in Christ! Praise God! (I wrote a story called, “Thank You Mrs. Clark!” that tells about this – its on my website.)
Well, to say the least, it has not all been “straight and narrow” since then. I have hit plenty of roadblocks and taken a few detours. Jesus has been so faithful to me even when I’ve not been faithful to Him! God has blessed me with a deep abiding faith and hope that isn’t easily shaken by circumstances, which I am so thankful for. This has carried me through some really difficult times including two bouts with cancer, the death of my mom in my home (of old age) and the death of my youngest son at age 26. He had 3 1/2 years of brain hemorrhages which caused him to spend the last 18 months of his life totally paralyzed and unable to eat, breathe or talk. (But that’s another story – its on my website too.) There have also been hard times caused by me going my own way and I’ve had to learn some pretty hard lessons. Some of these – in fact the hardest ones of my life – were in my online ministry work. These and others have been times of great grace and growth.
My online ministry is called Internet Outreach Ministry (IOM). This is now an outreach of CCC, so I want to give you some background on my participation in online ministry and how IOM started. Therefore, I will fast forward to early 1996 when my son’s illness required his wife to relocate their family to Seattle for treatment. I had never been interested in the new phenomena of online chat rooms my children had discovered. They got me online a couple of times but I found it boring sitting there typing to people I didn’t know about things I didn’t care, so I pretty much just discounted it. But when they moved, the Internet became a way to talk with my daughter-in-law and stay in touch with my son’s treatments without running up large phone bills. Since I was “online” I decided to check out Christian chat rooms, mainly out of curiosity. I found many Christian chat rooms but they were mainly for fellowship, not for ministry. I tried ministering to some who asked for help, but those who ran the chat rooms didn’t like the serious tone — they wanted to just keep lighthearted chat flowing. Therefore, in March 1996 I opened a chatroom to fill a need I found largely unmet online – personal ministry to the lost and hurting. I called this chat room, AChristian, because that’s what it was – a place for me to work just as a Christian who wanted to help others online. Using a name starting with “A” put it first on the list of chat rooms and the channel heading, “Christian Help Chat room – come on in!”drew people looking for help. This chat room soon drew other Christians who were serious about helping others online.
Before long, a pastor I met online joined the channel staff. He had a vision for an organized online ministry that would have chat rooms to meet various needs and he wanted AChristian to be part of it. This seemed like a good idea, so I turned AChristian over to him and eventually I became cofounder of his ministry and served as the secretary for the online church that grew as an outreach of his church. At the time, I thought this was of God but it turned into the worse period of my life as it drew me into a pit of sin and despair like I’d never known. Due to many reasons (most of which I would categorize as serving self and man instead of serving the Lord) the previous online ministry gradually lost its anointing. We moved it to a different location with a different name, but it didn’t last long as it carried over the same problems that had affected it in the previous location. So before long, it just closed. The truth is, God closed it earlier on but we tried to keep it alive and it just wasn’t working. Once the anointing is lost all there is to depend on is man’s wisdom and that just made the problem worse. I learned a lot of very hard lessons during this time that have strengthened me in my spiritual walk and helped prepare me for the work I am doing now. For one thing, in retrospect I know now my first mistake was to surrender the vision the Lord had given me to the vision of another and serve him instead of serving God. In short, I had fallen victim to flattery which led to pride, which made me vulnerable to greater sin, and I eventually fell into one of the deepest pits on the Internet. This jeopardized not only my vision but also my marriage. There was so much potential for loss but God has turned it all to gain! Thank God my marriage was restored and is better than ever, praise His holy Name! And thank God the vision is alive and well!
And this brings us to IOM (Internet Outreach Ministry). IOM grew out of an aspect of the previous ministry that survived the crash. I had been asked to take over the administration of an existing email ministry called TheOutreach, which sent out devotional/inspirational messages to Christians. I accepted this as of Jan 1, 1998 with the intent that it would be incorporated into our existing online ministry as an email outreach. When that ministry officially closed, TheOutreach became my primary online ministry focus. I put all my desire to serve God online into preparing and sending daily “Outreaches” (devotional/inspirational messages) which I did daily for over 2 1/2 years.
TheOutreach ministered to a lot of people, but it was restricting because of the lack of any way to really interact one-on-one with those needing help. Therefore early on, I started a chat room called Christian Outreach as an “outpost” of the email ministry, which was still the primary ministry focus, to give those on the email list who needed personal ministry a place to meet. Just as with AChristian earlier, the intent wasn’t to grow a huge chat room ministry but just to have a place to minister to people. Gradually more Christian Outreach chat rooms were opened on various servers, and I changed the name to “Internet Outreach Ministry” to incorporate both the email and chat room outreach ministries. (The original logo for TheOutreach is incorporated into the IOM logo, and TheOutreach still exists on one of our email lists).
As ministry began to flow in the Christian Outreach chat rooms, other Christians who were serious about serving God online found the Christian Outreach chat rooms and wanted to join. Because of the previous situation, I was very cautious about who would be allowed to participate. Approval procedures were developed to screen out imposters, and guidelines and training courses were developed for chat room ministry and training courses to teach people how to behave and how to work in this unique environment. We soon began opening chat rooms to minister to people who needed help in specific areas they might not be able to discuss in a general chat room. These chat rooms are called Abuse Outreach, Addict Outreach, Cult Outreach, Gay Outreach and Porn Outreach . The names draw those who struggle in these areas and are seeking help, and they can talk openly here. Those who work in these chat rooms are mature Christians who have overcome in these areas and are able to minister the grace of God and teach the truth in love as it relates to their struggle. Each room has a “manager”, but I am the “registered owner” of all IOM chat rooms. This helps protect the vision and keeps it from going astray, as happened before. My primary function has become more administrative, both technically and spiritually. God is bringing many with strong evangelistic gifting to serve in the chat rooms and I seem to be drawn more to ministering to hurting Christians who come into the chat rooms and to the staff. For many who participate in IOM, their online work has been an important part of their own growth in Christ.
One aspect of this work I really treasure is how God has blessed me in allowing me to counsel many Christians who are struggling with various sin issues and help them understand why they are in the situation they are in and how to apply His truth to the situation. As often happens, I had to “go there” first… which was horrible at the time, but now I see that truly “God works all things together for good to them who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28-29) and I am thankful I can understand the deception of sin and how one can be taken captive by it, and listen without judging or condemning (because I was there) and show them the way out through applying the truths in God’s Word in love, and helping them accept His grace and mercy. I am so blessed and thankful to be placed in leadership in this work that God has built!
As I lost the former chat room ministry and stepped down into email ministry, I had no idea TheOutreach was to be the foundation for such a work as Internet Outreach Ministry, much less that I would be called to lead it! Between the failure of the previous ministry, the opposition of some who knew of my fall and questioned my fitness for online ministry, and some personal failures, it was hard for me to receive this calling. I was afraid of “leadership” – afraid of failure, or of “letting God down” – so I tried to hide from leadership and just serve God quietly however I could, but I found that resisting His call out of fear was a lot more burdensome than obeying in faith. So I’m not resisting any more – I am following God, doing His will, and loving it!
Internet Outreach Ministry is fulfilling my original vision of bringing personal ministry to the lost and hurting online in ways far beyond anything I ever expected! I could give testimony after testimony of those whose lives have been forever changed through IOM! God willing this work will carry on till Jesus returns and will continue to grow in maturity and expand in coverage so more and more people who are wandering in the darkness of cyberspace will be saved! My heart is now as it was at the beginning – to bring the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the lost and hurting online – to bring hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless and healing to the hurting, and to help online Christians grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it’s a wiser stronger heart, more aware of the pitfalls in cyberspace (and the pitfalls right here, too), more compassionate for those who fall into them and more aware of the dangers that are inherent in leadership, especially listening to flattery and allowing pride to rise up and set the stage for sin. I am so thankful to the Lord for His saving grace and keeping power, and for this ministry He has entrusted to me and allowed me to lead in spite of my failures, and for all the wonderful people He has brought to work together in this online mission field. My prayer is that Jesus will always be the primary focus of everyone who works in IOM, and that we will know we are here to serve HIM, not man (or woman), and not the ministry; and that each of us will know that in ourselves we have nothing to offer – it is ALL of Him.
This testimony just skims the surface of my life as a Christian… but I will say this: I love God my Heavenly Father and Jesus my Lord and Savior and the Holy Spirit my Teacher and Guide with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, and I love His Body the church – and my life is committed to serve God and His Body how ever He chooses. For now, He has sent me to minister in cyberspace, and I’d like to extend my hand (or my mouse) <smile> to those who would like to join us in this work, either online or in prayer as the Lord leads.
God bless you!
Bonnie Jean (BJ) Martens