In the year 1988, at the age of sixteen, I stumbled into a class called Witnessing to Mormons. Our church was a fairly large church in the Phoenix area and on Wednesday nights there were numerous options for youth. After attending several of them, I found the youth-oriented options to be fun, but not overly satisfying. I was not overly sure what I was looking for, as I was only 16 years old, but it seemed to me that the classes that only addressed dating, peer-pressure, and similar youth-oriented topics were missing something even more fundamental, but I could not quite figure it out. As I looked through the Wednesday class options, I saw “Witnessing to Mormons” by someone I had never even heard of (and in such a large church, I knew a lot of people). I had already read several books on Mormonism by the Tanners and some others, but I wanted to be able to ask questions.
Sitting in that class, I found out that almost all of my questions were answered long before I could even ask them. Answers to questions I never even had were answered – I was amazed at the knowledge and clarity and, most of all, the substantive teaching. The teacher was Rich Pierce, and I wanted to absorb everything he knew about the subject.
I was disappointed when I walked in a few weeks later and another teacher was going through the material. I was hoping to hear from Rich Pierce again, but I thought I would give this guy a chance. Again, I was simply awestruck at the level of knowledge, the command of Scripture, and the ease by which Mormon arguments that tripped me up were easily and soundly dismantled. My heart was afire! I did not think it was possible to exceed Rich Pierce’s understanding of these topics, but this man had. His name was James White.
Suddenly, I realized that this was a Christian ministry that took Scriptural study and the preaching of the Gospel very seriously, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it in some way. It turned out that Alpha and Omega Ministries was planning to witness to the Mormons in Mesa during their Easter Pageant. I jumped at such an opportunity, as I enjoyed sharing my faith. I continued to study, I listened to as many tapes of debates, lectures, and studies from this ministry as I could get my hands on.
The Witnessing to Mormons class even had role playing, using the best arguments that the Mormons had and required the class to draw upon what it had learned in order to articulate the faith clearly and compellingly. Mr. White (as he was before he received his doctorate) prefaced the Role Playing section by saying the following (paraphrased from memory), “Role playing is useful in preparing you to address the best arguments the Mormons have so that you can present to them the Gospel of Christ. We are not here to defeat an opponent, win an argument, or tear down a belief system. We must have a redemptive purpose. Our desire must be that they hear the true Gospel and that they believe in the true God and the true Savior. If that is not your purpose, this entire class is not for you.” Years later, Rich Pierce told me that one of the founding members of the ministry, Mike Beliveau, said something similar when he was teaching the same class.
My first time out passing tracts, I was a quick-trigger with a Gatlin gun of Bible verses ready to be used, and a teenage-level irreverence to go with it. I was placed with Mike Belliveau on the east gate of the Mormon Temple. I doubt that after all these years, he even remembers our time there, but more than once he had to gently, but firmly, chide me for my manners. “Watch the zingers”, he would say. “Mike, if you don’t love these people, you are no good to them, no matter how many verses you give them.” “Mike, you are not the Holy Spirit.” These rebukes silently hurt my pride, but taught me that I was relying far too much on myself to argue men into the kingdom of God. Suddenly, a lesson my father had earlier taught me finally sunk in (I had once asked him why cult groups do not see the truth in Scriptures). He told me, “It is not an intellectual issue. It is a sin issue.” I realized that James, Mike and Rich were putting everything they taught in class to practice. I had a lot to learn. I had to remember that it is God who saves, not my persuasive words of speech.
Decades have passed and I am now Vice-President of Alpha and Omega Ministries. In all those years, the message, method and approach has remained refreshingly consistent. Dr. White has and still expects that our ministry be in the business of tearing down false teachings, but always with a redemptive hope, and always building up with the truth of the Gospel. There are a lot of lost folk in this world, and a lot of people who have placed their hope in a false Gospel. Our ministry exists to proclaim the Gospel to those caught up in deception, to provide pastors and laymen with the tools to defend their faith and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It further exists to encourage Christians to patiently and peacefully engage this culture with the Gospel.
By the grace of God, we hope to continue in this effort until the Lord relieves us of duty.