By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
TIGARD — When people are most convinced they don’t need God, He can do some of His best and most dramatic work, a top U.S. figure in the worldwide Alpha movement said here as he outlined why he envisions the Pacific Northwest as an epicenter for spiritual revival.
“The world is watching this place,” Dane Sanders, Alpha ambassador for the U.S., said Nov. 30 as featured speaker at Westside: A Jesus Church in Tigard during an annual promotional dinner for the Alpha ministry in the Northwest. “The ‘edgy’ people want to watch what happens here.”
Alpha is an evangelistic course that introduces the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions. Since 1970, an estimated 24 million people have heard the Gospel worldwide through the program.
Alpha is described by its organizers as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life.” Alpha courses are held in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and a wide variety of other locations. The course began in Britain decades ago and is run throughout the world by various Christian denominations.
What Alpha has going on just in this part of the region may indicate how a deep spiritual hunger here can be satisfied. Kirk Petersen, Alpha’s Northwest director, said four times the number of churches are participating in the program now as compared to 10 years ago. While traditionally drawing only from the Protestant community, there now are Roman Catholic churches involved, said Petersen. He added that more and more teens also are getting involved.
“Alpha has become a place for people fo find an on-ramp back to faith,” Petersen said.
Sanders outlined why he believes the Northwest could see a great spiritual move. He said, for example, that the Portland area attracts counterculture people who are inclined “to stretch, to discover,” but who also have a “radical sense of hunger” spiritually.
He said that while the nation as a whole is still at the beginnings of a “post-Christian era,” this region has actually reflected that for some time. “The Northwest has been here (at that point) for a while,” he said.
But that does not diminish the reality of the fundamental spiritual hunger and loneliness that many here experience, Sanders said. He said the shift away from a “Christian center” and from a cohesive sense of family has pushed people toward a “false connectivity” that leaves them needing real love and truth.
Sanders likened the situation here to what was happening decades ago in Alpha’s birthplace. “I would argue that 30 years ago in London is where Portland is today,” he said.
The beauty of the Alpha program, according to Sanders, is that it allows people to come just as they are, with whatever preconceived ideas and questions they have, and lets them openly express them without being challenged, insulted or embarrassed.
And what better place for such a program than in this part of the Northwest, he suggested.
“It is so counterculture, so Portland-like, actually, to put the microphone down and listen … What if we became famous for being the place in which you were heard, if we became famous for listening?” he said.
No one has ever been “argued into the Kingdom (of God),” Sanders stated, but God himself can convince people of their need for Him. “What if we could trust the Holy Spirit to be good at His job?” Sanders asked. “What if we can trust the Holy Spirit to be competent?”
Sanders said the effectiveness of the course was shown in a survey by noted Christian researcher George Barna. Barna found that for every 100 people with atheistic leanings who take the course, a stunning 82 percent come to faith in Christ.
Prior to Sanders’ talk, several Northwest residents who had gone through Alpha shared the huge change it brought to their lives. Charlie Spencer took Alpha through East Side Baptist Church in Springfield, but only initially went because of his wife’s interest, and was “kicking and screaming the whole way.”
He said he attended with absolutely no faith beliefs whatsoever. But halfway through the second course session, Spencer said, he was hit with the reality of what he was hearing about the Gospel, prompting him to suddenly exclaim, “I think I believe!”
Now he is a street evangelist.
“I didn’t think life could be this good,” he said. “God’s power is beyond measure, and I know that in my heart today.”
Cody and Ashley Williams enrolled in Alpha at Bridgetown Church in Portland. Then heavily into New Age and occult practices, they at first thought they really didn’t need the program, because they believed in a divine power already. But they acknowledged that they were always seeking spiritually because their lives were “going downhill.”
However, through the course, the Holy Spirit got through to the couple and they eventually completely renounced their ungodly practices.
“Thanks to Jesus, the veil has been lifted,” taking them from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light, Cody said.
“We know what we got saved from and we know what we got saved into,” he said.
To learn more about Alpha in the Northwest, phone Petersen at 503-819-2605 or go online to alphausa.org/portland