(Photo: New Life Assembly of God)
A pair of Wisconsin churches co-sponsored a billboard message to let their city know that, despite an atheist's claim to the contrary, there is life after death.
The sign, which says, "Life is short. Eternity is not. – God," was posted on a billboard in Janesville, Wisc., earlier this month, and was sponsored by local congregations Bethel Baptist Church and New Life Assembly of God.
The churches' message replaced a sign sponsored by Wayne Hensler, a lifetime member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, that said, "Enjoy Life Now" and "There Is No Afterlife." Hensler previously described his billboard message as "a legacy" for his grandchildren, according to an FFRF press release.
"It was offensive, and I think people expected a Christian rejoinder," said Michael Jackson, senior pastor of New Life.
Jackson says people asked him and other local ministers if they were going to do anything to counter the atheistic billboard message. After New Life's leadership decided to take action, Jackson ran into Tim Erickson, senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, who said his church would co-sponsor the project.
Although the churches belong to different denominations, Jackson says, they both "strongly agree" that there is an afterlife. He also says they did not want to directly reference Hensler's sign or attack FFRF with their message.
"We just simply wanted to make a very positive, hope-filled statement," he said.
Hensler's message took up only half of the billboard, though the new message covers it entirely. The churches also made sure there were no other signs put up on that particular billboard between the atheist's message and their own.
"We wanted to make sure that our sign immediately covered that sign so there would be no fill in. We wanted that previous sign to be in people's minds when they saw ours replace it," said Jackson.
After the churches' sign was posted, a secretary at New Life reported that a woman entered the church and expressed her gratitude, according to Jackson. The woman was excited and said that she had prayed for the atheist's message to be removed while sitting in the parking lot near the billboard.
Several other people took to Facebook to share their thoughts on the sign.
"Love it...much better than what was there before!" wrote one Facebook user on Bethel Baptist's page.
"Thank you for something positive. My daughter even commented on how sad that other billboard was. Praying for the people of that organization," wrote another on New Life's page.
Jackson says the message will stay posted through the beginning of January, though it could stay up longer if no one else decides to advertise on that billboard for a while.