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Thanking God for 15 Years of Ministry

By Gary F. Zeolla

The following article first appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.


July 2006 marks the 15th year of Darkness to Light. To celebrate this anniversary, this special issue of Darkness to Light newsletter will look at the background and history of this ministry.

Personal Background

I graduated from Penn State University in 1983 with a B.Sc. degree in Nutrition Science. While in college I was a member of the Penn State Barbell Club. In 1981, I was National Collegiate Powerlifting Champion in the 114 pound weight class. I was runner-up at Nationals in 1982 in the 123 pound class.

My lifting is what gave me meaning and purpose in life. In fact, the reason I was majoring in nutrition was my career plans were to open a gym. I figured my knowledge of training from my own lifting and the degree in nutrition would enable me to counsel people in training and dietary practices. So I was thinking of starting what would now be known as a personal training service, but this would have been long before personal training was even known.

However, during my senior year in college, my health began to deteriorate, and I was unable to compete in Nationals in 1983. My last full competition was in July 1982. As my lifting, health, and career plans all fall apart, so did I.

When I graduated I was quite a mess. As with many people, it took hitting rock bottom before I began looking up. But I was not one to "just believe" something to make myself feel better. So I began doing a lot of reading and searching on my own. I studied the teachings and integrity of the various religions and philosophies the world has to offer.

After about three years I became convinced the Christian faith was the only one that was logically and historically sound. But if the Christian faith was true, that meant I was a sinner, condemned before God, in need of a Savior. After much struggle over this admission, in the winter of 1986, God brought me to my knees as I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Christ.

Afterwards, I continued my personal studies. The pastor of the church I was attending at the time suggested I attend seminary. I decided on Denver Seminary. I moved from the Pittsburgh, PA area to Denver in March 1988.

At seminary, I was working towards a Master's degree in Philosophy of Religion. I felt my calling was to go into some kind of apologetics/ counter-cult ministry. Apologetics refers to "defense of the faith" and includes an intellectual defense of the teachings of the Christian faith. Since this was the path God took me in bringing me to faith, it seemed the logical type of ministry to go into.

I wasn't exactly sure what form that ministry would take. So I can remember vividly a time when I was praying about it, and I had a very strong impression of God telling me that some day I would have a worldwide ministry.

By "worldwide ministry," all I could envision was some kind of Billy Graham ministry of traveling around the world, preaching at various locations. But my health at the time was not that great, so such travel would not really be possible. So I shrugged off the thought as just coming from my own mind and not really coming from God.

Then my health once again took a downturn, which lead to financial problems. As a result, I was forced to drop out of seminary with only two-thirds of the credits necessary for graduation completed and moved back to the Pittsburgh area in December 1990.

Beginnings of Darkness to Light

After leaving seminary, I once again had a lot of soul-searching to do. I really believed God had led me to go to seminary, but it seemed like He had let me down. Meanwhile, I turned 30 in March of 1991.

My health was still deteriorating. So thoughts of powerlifting and my former career goals were long ago forgotten. I was single, so loneliness was a constant struggle. And my financial situation was very poor. So my life hadn't exactly turned out the way I had planned.

But somehow, my faith was still there. I honestly believe that what enabled me to keep my faith during this time of struggle was the strong intellectual backing there was to it. If I had come to faith through an emotional experience, with that emotional "high" long gone, my faith could have evaporated as well. But as I thought back over all of my studies, I still knew the Christian faith was true. So I was able to get through this difficult time by clinging to my faith in Christ. And this strengthened my desire to help others attain an intellectual backing to their faith.

While living in Denver, I had been involved with "The Shield of Faith." This was an apologetics/ counter-cult ministry. A part of that ministry was to publish a hardcopy newsletter called The Shield. Several issues of that newsletter used papers I had written as assignments for my various seminary classes as its main article.

So now as I thought about how to go about serving God and engaging in my own apologetics ministry, publishing my own newsletter seemed a good way to start. So I talked to the pastor of the church I was attending at the time about doing so. And he was fully supportive of the idea.

I needed a name for the ministry and newsletter. So I began praying and flipping through the pages of the Bible and came across the following passage. This is Paul relating to King Agrippa about his experience on the road to Damascus:

15 "So I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 'But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. 17 'I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18 'to open their eyes, in order to turn them from DARKNESS TO LIGHT, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.' (Acts 26:15-18; NKJV, emphasis added).

The times of problems back in my senior year in college and when I had to drop out of seminary really seemed like periods of "darkness," and coming to or renewing my faith in Christ seemed like a coming to light. Moreover, when used metaphorically in Scripture, "darkness" refers to falsehood and unrighteousness while "light" refers to truth and righteousness. Envisioning my ministry as one that would expose such darkness and bring people to the light, Darkness to Light seemed like an appropriate name.

I also put together a 10 point Confession of Faith for the ministry. The confession outlined what I believed to be the most essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

Hardcopy Newsletter and First Book

The first issue of Darkness to Light newsletter was published in July 1991. That issue was only four pages long and was typed up on an electric typewriter. It contained the confession I had drawn up, along with an article titled "What is a Christian Belief System?" (later re-titled Essentials of the Faith) which explained the background to the confession. Copies were made on my church's copy machine and distributed at my church.

Later I attained a word processor, and that seemed like such a technological advancement over the typewriter. I was also able to attain a used copy machine. The newsletter itself then expanded to eight pages.

I then advertised the newsletter in a couple of Christian magazines, and this really brought in the subscription requests. Eventually, the mailing list grew to about 500, with subscribers from most of the 50 states. And with the increase in circulation, making copies myself was just too much. So I began having them made up at a professional copy shop.

Along the way, an interesting thing happened; I began to get subscription requests from outside of the United States. When I received the first such request, it really struck me. I remember holding the letter and thinking back to that time in prayer in Denver. It now seemed that it was God's voice speaking to me, telling me that I would have a worldwide ministry.

A big part of this ministry was the answering of letters. I received many letters from readers asking all kinds of question. And this gave me the opportunity to counsel people on all aspects of the Christian faith and its implications for everyday life.

Especially interesting were the many subscription requests and letters I received from prisoners. At one time I had subscribers from dozens of different prisons. And many of these prisoners seemed to have a genuine faith in Christ. Very heartening.

The articles in the newsletter initially focused on the "essentials of the faith." Basically, I worked through the confession I had drawn up for the ministry, writing articles on each of the main points. So the second issue had two articles looking at the reliability of the Bible, the third issue discussed the nature of God, the next couple of issues the trinity, and so on. But eventually, I began to address more controversial areas.

I also began making longer term papers I had written for seminary available as "Resource Papers" to readers of the newsletter. These addressed subjects like the evidence for the resurrection and Channeling. Also available were "Scripture Worksheets" – which were basically typed-up versions of my own Bible notes.

From the start, I had used the New King James Version as the "default" Bible version for the newsletter. But I received questions on this. This was an area I had studied extensively before deciding on the NKJV as my primary Bible version. So I wrote an article that I was going to use in the newsletter, then another, then another. It quickly became apparent that this was simply too difficult of a subject to be dealt with adequately in a short article or even in a series of articles.

So I collected together the articles I had written, added a couple of more, and decided it would be best to publish them in book format instead. So in the spring of 1994, my first book was published, the first edition of Differences Between Bible Versions.

Computer and the Internet

In September of 1995, I got my first computer, along with publishing software. This enabled me to improve the look and ease of producing the newsletter.

Shortly thereafter, I first logged onto the Internet. And very quickly I could see this would be a great outlet for ministry. So in July 1996 I set up Darkness to Light Web site. I initially posted on the site all of the articles from back issues of the newsletter, along with all of my "Resource papers." Since the word processor I had been using was able to save files to 3-1/2" diskettes and in a format that was PC compatible, this was a rather easy conversion. I only had to re-type articles from a couple of the earliest issues. So from the start, there were dozens of articles posted on the site.

Also at that time, I started an email mailing list. So for the next two years I was sending out my newsletter in both hardcopy and electronic formats. And with the Web site and email newsletter, I began to receive a ton email from people commenting on my writings and asking questions.

One of the first emails I received was from a guy in Australia. This once again reminded me of that "promise" years before about a worldwide ministry. The Internet has really allowed this to come to fruition.

But along with genuine questions, I began to get a lot of "disagreeable" emails. I expected to get emails from non-Christian disagreeing with me, but what really surprised me at first was the number of disagreeable emails from self-professed Christians. Since along with the essentials of the faith, I was now address more controversial topics like Calvinism vs. Arminianism, that some would disagree with me was not what was surprising.

But what was surprising, was the anger and outright vehemence that was expressed in many of these emails. Someone disagrees with me on some finer point of theology, and they are hurling anathemas at me, telling me I am damned. I used to try to respond kindly to such emails, but I found that to be a waste of time. They were obviously simply looking to stir up strife. So now, I simply ignore such emails. But still, I never have been able to understand why Christians cannot disagree in a congenial manner.

But the number of agreeable emails far out-numbered the disagreeable ones. I have had many people tell me how very much my writings have helped them to work through an area of Christian theology or of their lives they had been struggling with. And such emails gave me the encouragement to continue my writing.

However, as my ministry expanded, my health continued to deteriorate. And it became increasingly difficult to do the work of preparing the hardcopy newsletter. Moreover, between postage and the copying costs, it was getting rather expensive. My financial state was still less than desirable, so in September of 1998, I had to cease publication of the hardcopy newsletter. Altogether, a total of 34 issues of the hardcopy newsletter had been published. I also ceased publication of the email newsletter.

But the Web site continued, so this was by no means the end of Darkness to Light. But it did mean I would no longer able to reach out to those in prison. Prison outreach had been a big part of Darkness to Light for several years, so that was disheartening. But the online ministry continued to expand.

But then in 2001, my health took a dramatic downturn. And for the next couple of years, I was barely able to add any new content to the Web site. But after a particularly serious episode, I did manage to post a two-part article title Suffering and Spiritual Struggles. It expresses how I felt at that time. But by the fall of 2003, my health had improved enough that I could resume writing.

So in September 2003 I started a new email newsletter. The newsletter has been published almost monthly ever since. Articles from the newsletter are then posted on the site. So now at least once a month I am adding new material to the site.

As a side note, many times I have had someone tell me I should get my "staff" to work on something. I have never had any kind of "staff." A few times I had a couple of friends help me prepare the hardcopy newsletter for mailing out. And on occasion, I've had people submit articles to me and give me permission use them. These are posted as "guest articles" on the Web site. But that is it. The vast bulk of the writing and all of the computer work has been done solely by me. So Darkness to Light is and always has been just yours truly.

Additional Books

In September of 2000, I published two additional books. The first was my Scripture Workbook. This is a compilation of the previously mentioned "Scripture Worksheets." But these were all expanded and reformatted for the book. The book contains thousands of Scripture references on a wide variety of Christian topics.

I have had many people tell me how very helpful this book has been in their Bible studies. And the sales are such now that it is apparently being used in some classroom settings.

The second book grew out my attempts to deal with my health situation. Given my nutrition degree, you would have thought I'd been careful with my diet all along, but this wasn't the case. Ever since my powerlifting had fallen apart, I had gotten very lax with my diet. But now my health was such that it was imperative that I concentrate on improving my diet.

I went back and studied as much as I could about any nutritional advances that had occurred since I graduated from college. But now as a Christian, I also studied what the Bible had to say on the matter. So I put the results of this research into my Creationist Diet book.

Given that there have been many times when I have been the only person at a Bible study who was not significantly overweight, I really felt that such a book was needed in the Christian community. And I have had many people write me and tell me this book has helped them get on track with a proper diet.

The most popular section of the Web site has always been the section on Bible versions. So I next published an updated version of my Differences Between Bible Versions book. The new version was published in January 2001.

This book has proven to be the best-selling of my books. I have received many comments from readers telling me how it has helped them work through this controversial subject.

At the same time, the first edition of my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament was published. Although there are many good versions on the market, I felt the unique design of this version would be of benefit to the Christian community. A second edition was then published in March 2005.

And with the publication of the second edition, I have received many comments of how this unique translation has aided people in their personal Bible studies.

All of these books are available in hardcopy and eBook formats. There are also four additional books available on the Web site in eBook format only.

Sales of these books have not been as brisk as I would have hoped. But the comments I have received from readers have been almost 100% positive. So God has blessed my efforts in this regard.

I am currently working on another book, and I hope and pray I will be able to write additional books in the future.

Continuing Problems

I recently turned 45. And in a lot of ways, I still have the same struggles as I did when I turned 30. My health has continued to be a constant problem. At times I will start to improve, but then I will experience yet another setback.

However, a few years back, I started lifting weights again to improve my health situation. And my strength gradually improved to the point that I began to think about competing again. So in April of 2003 I entered my first powerlifting contest in over 21 years. I have been able to enter half a dozen contests since then, and I have been doing surprising well. I have been the #1 or #2 ranked masters (over 40) powerlifter in the USA in my weight class for each of the last three years.

With powerlifting again, I started another Web site in July 2003 called Fitness for One and All. The site has articles on powerlifting and chronicles my many health difficulties. It also has many articles on more general areas of health, fitness, and nutrition. I also publish a FitTips for One and All newsletter though that site.

I am still single, but my health situation is such now that I am rarely able to leave my home. So loneliness is a constant struggle. I have only been able to continue my powerlifting training by setting up a gym in my home and this ministry by working out of my home. But I haven't even been able to make it to church for the last couple of years. And that is something I sorely miss.

With the health problems, finances have always been a struggle, and this has made continuing this ministry difficult. I kept my first computer for over 4-1/2 years, getting a new one in February of 2000. I kept that computer for over six years, but it never did work quite right. So I struggled for years with a less than reliable PC.

But in June of this year, I finally got a new computer. And with the new computer, I also finally "upgraded" from a dial-up Internet connection to cable Internet. It has taken a while to get everything set-up and used to the new PC and all of the new software. But this new technology should now make continuing this ministry a little easier.

However, I have been having technical difficulties sending out the newsletters. In addition, my health is such that writing and publishing two monthly newsletters is difficult. Moreover, after 15 years, it is becoming increasingly difficult coming up with new things to write about. So the future of both newsletters is tenuous. But it would be a shame to discontinue them as there are now almost 900 subscribers to this newsletter and over a hundred for my FitTips newsletter.

As for the Web site, my hope is it will remain active indefinitely. It now contains over 850 pages and averages about 80,000 page views a month. My  Fitness for One and All site has over 300 Web pages and is averaging over 20,000 page views per month. Hopefully, I will be able to continue adding new content to both sites at least periodically.

Conclusion

It's been almost two decades since I heard that "voice" in prayer about a worldwide ministry. And it still amazes me how someone like me, with all of the struggles I've had to endure in my life, is able to reach out to so many people from all over the world. But God has been faithful. And I truly thank Him for this ministry. It has given my life meaning and purpose.

When I think about all of the people who have written to tell me how blessed they have been blessed by this ministry, I can only fall on my knees and thank God for the opportunity, and I pray I am able to continue this ministry in some capacity for years to come.

Thank you Lord for your faithfulness over the last 15 years, and may you continue to bless this ministry in whatever form it should take.

Emails

>Subject: Congratulations on 15 years

Hi Gary,

I just read your latest email and wanted to congratulate you on 15 years of ministry. While I often disagree with you, you have been helpful to me in a number of ways, such as inspiring me to bite the bullet and learn Greek. Thanks.

"I pray for you to prosper and to be in health, as your soul prospers."

Casey
7/25/2006<


Thank you. And good to hear about my "inspiring" you to learn Greek. It is difficult, but more than worth the effort.

-----Original Message-----

>Subject: read your autobiography

Hey Gary!  I just read the July 15th posting where you talk about the beginnings of your website and more importantly about your life. I have been using DTL for the past 8 years or so as one of the main resources for my Christian Perspectives 12 classes. I am a teacher at Kelowna Christian School in British Columbia, Canada.
 
I cannot begin to tell you how useful they have been and still are. In fact, this coming week I will be using an article you wrote Dead Men Do Bleed as an introductory to Epistemology... how we know what we know
 
The class is more about worldview than theology, I am not a theologian. You have been a great help to me and by extension, hundreds of other people.
 
Thanks for sharing the details of your life, especially being vulnerable about your health difficulties and the issue of loneliness...

As I use your article this week, I will share a little about you and my class and I will pray for you, specifically about your health and whatever it is God is saying to you.
 
Thanks again, Dwayne Schulz
9/17/2006<

Thank you very much for relating how you are using my materials and for your prayers. It is very encouraging.

-----Original Message-----

I just read the 10 point Confession of Faith for the 1st time. Excellent job! Keep up the great work. Congratulations for 15 years of Ministry!!
Randy
7/16/2006<

Thank you for the encouragement.

 

For a follow-up to the above article, see 20th Anniversary of Darkness to Light.

The above article first appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this site July 15, 2006.

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