Portland street evangelist: More Bibles ‘prayed with’ than burned at protests

Bibles for Free truck in Portland parked near the center of the recent protests Courtesy of Alan Summerhill Bibles for Free truck in Portland, parked near the center of the recent protests. Courtesy of Alan Summerhill.jpg

A Portland street evangelist whose Bibles were burned in an Aug. 1 street protest says although he is disappointed that some of the Bibles he distributed were destroyed, he believes the positive impact of his ministry outweighs the negative actions of a few protestors.

Alan Summerhill, an Evangelical Christian, told CNA he has been giving out free Bibles out of his truck in cities across the Pacific Northwest ever since his retirement three and a half years ago. He said he typically buys cases of Bibles, for about a dollar per book, to give away.

He told CNA his evangelistic mission has brought him to cities throughout the US, but his main focus is the Portland, Oregon area. In addition to giving out Bibles, Summerhill said he also prays outside the local Planned Parenthood several days a week.

When the protests started in Portland around May 28, Alan was on the road. When he got back, he said he was somewhat reticent to approach the protests, but ultimately decided to go because of the evangelistic opportunity. So he parked his truck near the federal courthouse, the epicenter of most of the protest activity.

The Portland protests often have taken the form of crowds of hundreds of masked people protesting, ostensibly, against racism, police brutality, and fascism.

Summerhill, who told CNA he is "nearly 60," said that he gave away dozens of free Bibles to street protestors in Portland during the week leading up to Aug. 1- most of which were surprisingly well-received.

"When I'm out, I find a great hunger and desire for the Word," he said.

He said between the night of Sunday, July 26 and the following Friday, he gave out 68 Bibles in downtown Portland, all "to people who appeared to eagerly want them."

But in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, masked protestors burned two Bibles, along with several American flags, in a bonfire in the street during the protest outside the federal courthouse.

Summerhill did not witness his Bibles being burned, but he says when he saw a video posted online of the burnings, there was no mistaking the red-and-white cover of the New King James Version (NKJV) Bibles that he distributes.

While reports of the incident from both local sources and national media, mentioned "a truck" giving out free Bibles that night, Summerhill said no one had contacted him to ask if he had provided the Bibles until he was reached by CNA.

Some media outlets reported "stacks" of Bibles burned in the streets on Aug. 1, which Summerhill and other sources have confirmed was not accurate. Summerhill "unequivocally" denied that any of his Bibles were ever unsecured, stolen, or taken in "stacks" to be burned.

Despite his disappointment that a few protestors showed such disrespect for the Bibles he gave out, Summerhill is optimistic that the many Bibles he distributed will make an impact, even if the burned ones are gone.

"I see maybe two being burned after a week where almost 70 were distributed. Many more were prayed with. Many, many more welcomed us. The Gospel is proclaimed," Summerhill said in an Aug. 1 tweet.

"Jesus is declared. There remains an unreported story."

Summerhill told CNA that in his ministry, he has given out about 450 Bibles this year, and talked and prayed with many passersby. He stressed that his ministry is not about him or his own fame and recognition, but rather about meeting people where they are and ministering to them.

Every time he hands out a free Bible, Summerhill says he asks the recipient to read it and be willing to discuss it with him if they see him again. He says nearly everyone agrees to those conditions.

Summerhill said his ministry is different than what most people might think of when they envision Evangelical street ministry. He does not carry a bullhorn, does not preach, and he does not aggressively push his Bibles on passersby, he said.

Instead, he merely puts up his "Free Bibles" sign and waits for people to approach him, he said.

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"And I've averaged about a Bible an hour over the past three years," of being outside with the sign, he said.

Handing out Bibles at the Portland protests was not without danger, he said.

Federal agents responding to the protests in Portland have garnered criticism for using tear gas and other forceful methods against protesters. Summerhill himself says he was, at one point, caught in a tear gas assault as federal agents attempted to break up the protests.

Some of the protests have been accompanied by riots and looting. In addition to extensive property damage in the city's downtown, there have been occasional incidents of violence within or adjacent to the protests, including shootings and stabbings.

Despite this, Summerhill says he has observed mostly peaceful demonstrations in the downtown area where he and a mission partner have worked to spread the Gospel.

"The three days I was there...I would say we were welcomed. The narrative of what's going on seems to be fueled by people with a political agenda," he opined.

Summerhill pointed out that neither he, nor anyone else who has yet publicly come forward, knows who exactly it was who burned the Bibles on Aug. 1. He said he thinks it could easily have been provocateurs from either side of the political divide.

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"I have every reason to wonder who was burning the Bibles. No one has claimed responsibility, no one has identified anybody," he said.

Summerhill noted that he sees God among many Black Lives Matters protestors. As a firsthand observer of the protests, he said the widespread perception of the protestors as a monolithic, Godless, and Marxist movement is inaccurate.

He added that he does not support the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, an organization that promotes LGBT ideology and is often an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests.

But Summerhill said he personally has met many protestors, both in Portland and Seattle, who told him they identify as Christian.

"It is flat wrong to say that there is no Christian element in what is going on in Portland," he said.

"The answer to our problems is Jesus Christ. And if we can't figure that out, we might as well throw in the towel."

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