Roger Pyes had never led anyone to the Lord. So, when he took his first call as a volunteer at the San Diego Center of the Billy Graham TV Telephone Ministry, he felt a bit uncomfortable. Pyes read his caller the first question from the call report form: “Did you call to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” “Yes,” came the answer from the other end of the line.
“My jaw dropped!” Pyes recalls. “There was silence on the phone. Then the caller asked, ‘Are you still there?’ “
Four years later, Pyes leafs through hundreds of forms from callers he helped to receive Christ, or encouraged in some way. He uses these forms as a personal prayer list. Those first converts were the clinchers for Pyes, to motivate him into ministry. Now he’s serving as an intern pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship North County, which hosts the local call center in its facilities in Rancho Santa Fe. Pyes is also coordinator of the phone center.
Callers get the 1-866-HOPE-NOW number at the bottom of the screen as they view a Billy Graham crusade or movie on TV. Each call is funneled through the Billy Graham office in North Carolina to one of the 11 centers throughout the U.S., Canada and the Bahamas.
The first call center started in 1980. The centers received their 1 millionth caller in December 2003.
As many as 500 calls might be waiting to get through, so more volunteers are needed. Once the call centers on the East Coast close for the night, more of a call load falls onto the two California centers. The other is at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside.
More than 70 churches participate in the San Diego Call Center, which opened in March 2001.
“The main focus is causing unity among San Diego churches — and evangelizing,” said Pastor Steve Haines, co-chair of the San Diego Center. “It’s all about sharing the Lord with people who call in.”
“We’re honored and privileged to hold it here,” Pyes said, “But it’s all about cutting across … lines that might separate us. It’s all about sharing Jesus Christ with others and the hope that lies within us.”
Volunteers take calls from children as young as 5 who want to be sure they’re going to heaven, and from people in their 90s. Sometimes a volunteer will be talking to and praying with three members of a family at once.
Callers often reveal that their lives are literally coming apart at the seams. Problems range from alcohol or drug abuse, prostitution, a loved one being in jail, cancer or marital problems. “Some stories are pretty amazing,” Pyes said, recalling a man who called saying he was getting ready to quit his gang and wanted to make sure he was ready to die.
When a call is intense, the phone volunteer holds up a card and a prayer volunteer comes to pray over the call. When a caller is suicidal, the phone volunteer holds up an orange card and a pastor comes right over to take over the call.
“We’re here to share the love and comfort and encouragement of Jesus Christ,” Pyes said. But, every once in a while, someone will call just to encourage the volunteers, or to ask where they can send a donation.
“It’s hard not to get emotional,” Roger said. “I think the things that go on in our lives are just inconveniences. We forget that people are so hurting.”
Pyes said it’s always good to know when he has to say good-bye to callers that he has prayed with them and the Holy Spirit has lifted them up. “It has nothing to do with us,” Pyes said. “He hooks it up. Beforehand, we pray for divine appointments.
“I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been so encouraged and so blessed — every single person,” Pyes said. “It’s really a life-changing experience for volunteers and callers alike.”
“It gives individuals an opportunity to help others in their time of need,” said retired pastor Steve Leong, a volunteer from the Chinese Community Church in San Diego. “Helping others causes one to become emotionally and spiritually stronger. This is a positive force for good which helps individuals and churches grow stronger.”
“The Billy Graham TV Telephone Ministry rejoices over the many lives that have been touched and changed as a result of the Billy Graham telecasts,” said the Rev. Bob Botsford, pastor of Horizon North County and chairman of the San Diego Phone Center. “We continue to be amazed at how God sovereignly directs caller after caller to just the right phone volunteer.”
Pyes is excited that the ministry is making it easier for people to volunteer. Now, parents can bring their children ages 1 to 10 for on-site childcare while they volunteer. And all volunteers are offered dinner and snacks prepared by the church’s food ministry.
The ministry uses 48 telephone carrels, but can set up as many as 60 when they get enough volunteers. Volunteers come for a one-hour training before going onto the phones.
Pyes said he wants to reassure prospective volunteers who think they don’t know enough Scripture or possess adequate education. “The requirements are a personal and passionate relationship with Jesus Christ, and a burden for the lost. He’ll give you the words to say. People always walk away incredibly blessed and say, ‘Why didn’t I do it sooner?’ “
Volunteers are provided with a comprehensive Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook full of Scriptures indexed for a wide variety of needs and questions brought up by callers. Volunteers also always use their Bibles. Callers receive written materials appropriate to their stated needs, plus a free offer such as a CD or book from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, and a six-month subscription to its Decision magazine.
Phone volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, but there are many other volunteer opportunities for 13 to 17 year olds. There is a Prayer Team that prays for each person that calls in. An Arrangements Team is responsible for set up, break down and clean up.
The next telecast dates are Feb. 12-20, April 9-17, June 4-12, Aug. 6-14 and Oct. 8-15. Volunteer applications can be downloaded from the Web site at www.horizon.org/billygraham. Or call (858) 756-5599, ext. 366.