OSSIPEE — Of a provocative billboard on Route 16, which asks people if they think they are going to heaven or hell, a local pastor says he thinks it’s an unproductive way to bring people to God.
The sign is located on Route 16 just north of the intersection of Route 28 and is near Jena’s LobsterQuest Family Restaurant and Fish Market.
“Where are you going? Heaven or Hell,” the sign asks. Below that text is a phone number — (83) FOR-TRUTH.
The number belongs to an organization called Gospelbillboards.org.
The Sun reached out to about a half-dozen local church leaders in Ossipee and Tamworth to get their take on it.
Many didn’t respond, and a couple hadn’t seen it, but the Sun received a strong opinion from Pastor Dan Mitchum of the First Congregational Church in Ossipee.
Mitchum emailed a statement that stressed that his church is not connected to the billboard.
“In fact, I cringe every time I drive past it,” said Mitchum. “It attempts to frighten people into faith. Jesus never did that. Yes, Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven — but not to scare us. He was showing us the extent of God’s love in saving us.”
Mitchum continued: “We believe (in God), not because we fear hell, but because we have been touched by the love and grace of God.
“The Apostle John put it best when he wrote, ‘Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.’ (1 John 4:18).
“God didn’t demonstrate his love by pasting a paper message on a billboard,” Mitchum wrote. “He showed his love for us by taking our sins upon himself that we could forever enjoy his perfect love.”
The Rev. Betsy Mead Tabor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Eastern Slopes in Tamworth had this to say:
“We Unitarian Universalists think less in terms of where we’re going when life ends than how we’re going to live this life, right here, right now.
“Rather than recite creeds or dogma, we strive to live by seven beautiful principles,” which are justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; tte right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The Sun attempted to find out more about the billboard by calling the (83) FOR-TRUTH phone number.
First, you get a prompt asking if the call should be in English or Spanish.
The next series of prompts are a man’s recorded voice giving the caller either the option to speak with someone on their “phone team” about “your questions and your spiritual needs”; to offer more information about Gospel Billboard and brief explanations about the billboards; or for anyone who is “lonely and discouraged.”
Explanations offered for the billboards include: “After you die, you will need God”; “If you die tonight, heaven or hell?”; “In despair, Jesus is your hope”; “Lust destroys, Jesus saves”; “Have you lost faith in God?”; “The Holy Bible inspired, absolute, final.”
The Sun selected the option to hear more about the the organization.
“Gospel Billboards posts gospel messages and brief explanations about the billboards in all 50 states because we want people everywhere to know the Lord Jesus Christ, repent from their sins and commit their lives to him,” said the recording. “Millions of people read our Gospel signs every day and thousands of people have received spiritual encouragement from someone on our phone team.”
The billboards are one program under the banner of “Christian Aid Ministries,” which also provides people all over the world with food, clothing and medicine.
The recording also said they also send volunteers to natural disasters in the United States.
The recorded explanation for the billboard leads off with a reading of John 3:36, which it quotes as “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not in the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The recording goes on to say there’s no certainty of living until tomorrow.
“We are only alive today because of God’s mercy,” said the recorded voice. “All of us have sinned, displeased God and deserve to be consumed by his wrath. However, God has made a way of escape from eternal torment. His son, Jesus, died as payment for our sins so that you and I can experience eternal life.”
A phone team member told the Sun there are about 1,331 billboards nationwide. He said about 25.6 million people pass their signs per day and about 300 to 400 people call their phone team.
The phone team member instructed the Sun on how to ask his organization’s leaders for an interview.
However, Christian Aid Ministries declined to comment last Thursday.
“At this time, we are not interested in doing an interview,” said an email signed Jeff Nisly of Christian Aid Ministries.