A while back, Joanie, who is an avid evangelist, requested some glimpses of our street witnessing ministry. But Tim, who knew all the firsthand stories, usually leaves the writing to me, and I didn’t feel qualified to write about that. It’s hard to write about something you’re not living.
You’re probably thinking, “Huh?” You’re a missionary! Evangelism is what missionaries do! Actually I do talk to people about Christ constantly. But streetwitnessing is different. To interrupt a stranger in the park, who is both hostile to God and hungrily pursuing her idols, and attempt talking with her about a relationship with God, has never been my comfort zone. Add to that the discouraging way many people respond when I do approach them, tract in hand: some form of “Go away! Take your heresy back to America!” and you can see why, after brief periods of surprising joy in street witnessing, I’d be tempted to drop out again, gravitating back towards the less confrontational arena of sharing Christ within the framework of my women’s Bible study, established friendships and mercy ministry.
But God is changing me. I have become convinced that by opting out of sharing Christ with strangers, I’m definitely the loser. I not only cheat at least one person per Friday of the chance to hear a middle-aged American lady’s testimony of Christ’s saving love, (who knows, maybe that white-haired grandma on the bench will more readily listen to me than to my more radical-looking husband or the more youthful members of our team), but I also miss knowing the missionary heart of the Lord Jesus Christ more intimately as I follow in His footsteps. Further, I forfeit growth in faith, I detour the path of exquisite dependence on Him that that ministry requires of me and I steal from myself the chance to share in the secret, sweet fellowship of His sufferings if things don’t turn out so well. And if things would have turned out well, then by refusing the risk of going out in His name, I have missed that explosion of joy that you feel when you see the light go on behind someone’s eyes, that exhilaration that must be pure overflow of the Father’s own joy in the glory of His Son.
But, not only do I cheat the lost and lose joy myself, I believe I weaken the other laborers who may get discouraged when very few show up or who would have been strengthened by knowing others are fighting alongside of them. And now that I’ve begun going out with the team again, I imagine how it would be if there were a team of twenty going out in the park each Friday instead of two to five! The sight would at least capture people’s attention. And then I think if people heard the same message of grace, ten, twenty times from the lips of all different kinds of people, whose lives were all shining with the same light, they might begin to doubt the propaganda they had heard that we were dangerous, and begin to listen. They might actually feel they were missing out on knowing Someone worth knowing. Of course, God “is not constrained to save by many or by few.” He can do anything He pleases. But I wonder what glorifies him more: the opportunity to show himself strong on behalf of the few or a united people whose hearts are so full of the wonder of the cross that they “cannot but speak of the things that they have seen and heard.”
Still, I know by experience that evangelism can’t be driven by a teeth-gritting determination to do your duty. It has to be driven by fresh joy in your Savior that exponentially increases when others come to love Him too. And it must be undergirded by strong conviction that God is still moving in this world to fulfill His redemptive purposes and gather his elect people. You have to honestly feel it is a privilege to join Him in that work. But that’s precisely what God in his grace has begun to do in me. That’s the only way I can explain what I now feel every Friday when I join Tim and the others. I no longer have to brace myself against dread. Rather evangelism has become strangely full of possibilities and Joanie, I can hardly wait to share the stories!
To think on:
“When we don’t sufficiently consider what God has done for us in Christ—the high cost of it, what it means, and what Christ’s significance is—we lose the heart to evangelize. Our hearts grow cold, our minds grow smaller (more taken up with passing concerns), and our lips fall silent…If we would be more faithful in evangelism, we should fuel the flame of love toward God within us, and the flame of gratitude and hope. A fire so enflamed by God will have no trouble igniting our tongue.” Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism