To the Ends of the Internet
The heart behind Campus Crusade for Christ's online outreach.
Sitting quietly at a café in Orlando, Fla., Marilyn taps and swipes her iPad with the confident poise of a painter perfecting her masterpiece. Her neatly coiffed brown hair and calm countenance conceal the flurry of ideas, people and locations organized strategically in her mind. Only the steady movements of her hands suggest laser-like focus and productivity. The businessman sitting near her has no idea that this is the woman behind an international evangelistic website on which 10,021 people indicated decisions to become Christians in one recent month alone.
As a former atheist and demure introvert, Marilyn Adamson, with her thin, Audrey Hepburn-like frame, seems an unlikely evangelist with a potential global audience numbering monthly in the millions. But this ministry has been written into her life story.
Having grown up in a religious home in an affluent suburb of Chicago, Marilyn often attended church services before school on her own initiative. “I was very devoted; I did what you were supposed to do,” Marilyn remembers. But when her curiosity piqued in eighth grade, her inability to find answers to her budding questions put a grinding halt to all religious effort.
“I started asking people, ‘How do you know God exists?’ And they’d say, ‘Why are you asking that? You just know.’ I felt like a kid who sensed that Santa Claus wasn’t real, then finally figured it out myself.”
Marilyn then concluded, “They’ve made this up! It’s all in their heads.”
She immediately stopped going to church and became a self-proclaimed atheist. Yet thoughts about God plagued her late at night. She’d write out questions and hand them to her Christian friend, Barb Sanchez, at school the next day.
Marilyn couldn’t understand how somebody as smart as Barb could believe in God, but she was intrigued by Barb’s life and the way she loved those around her. “I wanted to know if this was all just in her head,” Marilyn remembers, “or if she had proof that any of this was real. I wanted to believe in God, but I refused to be fooled.”
“I’m a pretty intelligent person,” says Barb, “but Marilyn’s questions just went way over my head. I’d go to my pastor and say, ‘Look what she’s asking me now!’”
Near Christmas of their senior year in high school, Marilyn found the information that she needed in a book that Barb had given her called Know Why You Believe. After years of examination and searching, Marilyn had found what she was looking for. “I was so excited. I thought, Oh my gosh, there is a God—and you can know Him!” Marilyn remembers with uncharacteristic giddiness.
“She told me that she had asked Jesus into her heart,” Barb remembers, “and I was surprised because I never thought I’d be able to convince her about God.”
Barb continues, “I am so amazed to see the Holy’s Spirit’s work in her heart—to see her go from being an atheist to being involved in full-time Christian work.”
Marilyn looks back at the notes between her and her friend as the true beginning of www.everystudent.com , which Marilyn helped launch in 2000. She had clear objectives about the evangelistic website from the get-go.
“Everybody’s on the Internet,” Marilyn says. “We go there first to get answers to our questions about life, so I feel like we have a responsibility to serve people as they search. The whole goal is to serve the unbeliever well.”
Often sitting in her home office for hours on end, Marilyn studies online advertising trends, reads the Bible, writes articles and personally responds to emails. Her best friend, Terri Oesterreich, called Marilyn one Christmas, joking about not having left the house during the holidays. Marilyn empathized with Terri: “You haven’t left the house in three days? I don’t think I’ve left my chair in three days.”
“She cares deeply for people,” says Marilyn’s husband, Mike, “but she won’t be the one going down the street to invite everyone to an evangelistic event. The Internet has changed her ministry. There’s not a lot of syrup in how she relates to someone, but she has clarity and great compassion for people who think like she did or seem farthest from the gospel.”
Sheepishly shrugging off her byline on many of her 50 online articles, Marilyn is fleet-footed when dodging the spotlight. Sitting alone in her home office, she continues to refine three websites with the sharp focus of a fine craftsman: chiseling the evangelistic content on www.everystudent.com and www.everyperson.com , and molding the growth of new believers at www.startingwithgod.com.
But her steady endeavor to make the gospel findable to all people with Internet access around the world is not always lauded as that of an artistic genius. On the contrary, this mother of two adult children is the target of ridicule and antagonism on atheistic websites.
Marilyn isn’t threatened. “I know how an atheist thinks,” she remembers. “I would keep challenging Christians–even when they’d come back with an answer. In time I just ran out of arguments and rebuttals.” Marilyn adds, “Now I just keep pressing until others get to that point.”
But sometimes she, too, misses the point.
“Certainly there are times when I feel like I function almost like an atheist,” she admits. “I’m not thinking about God and I’m not relying on God; I’m just moving. I’m constantly having to remind myself to trust God. I could give you 100 reasons why that would be a smart thing to do.”
Honest moments like this remind Marilyn that she needs a Savior, too. And when the motivation is great enough, she’ll even carry that message offline. While waiting for her husband outside of a Walmart store, Marilyn recalls seeing a “Born Again Pagan” bumper sticker on a rusty, dented car as it sped into the parking lot. She stopped the owner as he walked toward her: “Excuse me. I saw your bumper sticker: Born Again Pagan?”
“Oh yeah,” he replied energetically. “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Marilyn responded, “I don’t know a lot about paganism, but I think that’s the worship of the god of the sun and the wind ...”
He interrupted her, “Yeah, yeah! It’s great! It’s changed my life.”
“I’ve never really studied it, but I did study existential philosophy, among other things. But when someone told me that I could know the God who created the universe, my search ended,” Marilyn explained.
“Wow! That’s like me. I’m still searching,” he replied.
Marilyn pointed him to the gospel, but still remembers that interaction years later, motivating her to reach out to unbelievers with truth and patience. “People can have all sorts of fronts,” she says, “but until they find Jesus, they’re still searching.”
Sitting—almost hidden—in an Orlando café, Marilyn’s cleanly pressed pink blouse is her artist’s frock. For upwards of 12 hours today, she will fix her focus on the masterpiece of ministry that has been written into her life. Marilyn is devoted to unbelievers. And daily, with respect and love, she serves them with the truth she received as an atheist: God exists, and we can know Him personally.
Marilyn is confident that God is in pursuit of people so they can have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Enter into thoughtful dialogue with people who ask questions about God by inviting them to continue their search at www.everyperson.com.