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This article was published 2/10/2019 (1005 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeggers wondering about their purpose in life got some advice last week, courtesy of a free book from Calvary Temple and five other local churches.
Why Am I On This Earth, a 144-page glossy magazine-style publication, was delivered to 50,000 homes by volunteers from Calvary Temple, Winnipeg Evangelical Free Church, Broadway First Baptist, New Life Sanctuary Church, Braeside Evangelical Mennonite Church and the Family Life Centre.
In the foreword, Bruce Martin, lead pastor at Calvary Temple, wrote: "You hold in your hands one of the most unique publications ever produced, answering life’s most challenging question: why am I on this Earth?"
The book offers stories from people across Canada (including Winnipeg) about how they had found meaning by committing their lives to Jesus.
"It was very important for me to write about a journey in the front of the book," Martin said. "I want to invite people to come and investigate Jesus.
"If they don’t want to do that, fine. There’s no pressure. I just want them to know they are loved by God."
The book was the brainchild of Winnipeg businessman George Derksen, 87, who was inspired to create it after hearing a sermon by former Calvary Temple pastor H.H. Barber.
The first edition was published in 1986; in 1987, it was delivered to 137,000 Winnipeg homes — the first community-wide distribution in Canada. Since that time, it has been updated about seven times, with more than one million copies of the book given away through local churches across the country.
When asked by Why Encounter, the ministry founded by Derksen, to be part of this year’s distribution in the city, Martin was glad to sign up — even though it’s not the way he prefers to share his faith.
"I prefer to have personal conversations with people," he said, noting he likes to go to a local coffee shop to visit with regulars and others. "This approach is stretching it for me, but it also has a role... If it helps someone, then it’s worthwhile."
The books cost $10 each, and participating churches were asked to purchase them in groups of 50 to give away in their neighbourhoods. Martin and his wife, Miriam, gave away 200 copies of the book, which came in a plastic bag with the words "A gift for you" on the side.
Martin, who has been pastor at Calvary Temple for 22 years, acknowledged some people might be offended to receive the book.
"It’s a different world than when George founded the project," he said, noting Winnipeg is much more diverse religiously. It’s also a time when "traditional Christian beliefs are not as welcome," he said.
At the same time, Martin wanted to make sure nobody felt threatened by the book or its message, giving a lot of thought to his foreword. "I wanted to get it right," he said.
"I wanted people to know God loves them, and he sent Jesus to give them an opportunity to have a relationship with him. Not ‘you’re going to Hell,’ not banging people on the head with a Bible, but an invitation."
If that message doesn’t resonate with people, "no problem," he said.
It’s also not about getting people to come to Calvary Temple.
"We encourage people to seek a Bible-centred church in their neighbourhood," he said, somewhere "where they can begin a relationship with Jesus."
To those who may say the money would be better spent on helping people who are homeless or poor in Winnipeg, Martin noted his church, located in the downtown core, supports ministries such as Siloam Mission and Union Gospel Mission, sponsors refugees and runs a food bank in collaboration with Winnipeg Harvest.
Although those things are important, Martin said, sharing the Gospel is "still the most important thing. It’s our No. 1 priority."
So far, he said, the only negative reaction has been less than 10 emails about the use of plastic in delivering the book to homes — something likely exacerbated by its arrival on or very near to the climate strike action day.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.