Once a month I go out with Wheaton College students to share the gospel on the streets of Chicago. Many are intimidated by this kind of sharing. While I prefer ‘friendship evangelism’ most of all, marketplace evangelism is also a worthy enterprise.
In fact, the Gospels and the Book of Acts are full of examples of Jesus and Paul encountering anyone they happened to meet, making the most of each situation. If you think of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4) or Paul in Athens sharing at the Agora (Acts 17), your memory will be jogged and you can discover many other examples. This kind of witness has its own perimeters and unique features, but it is surprisingly fun and often fruitful.
Last Friday, I was out with about 25 students and 3 of us went together. We prayed, telling Jesus we were available to talk with those to whom his Holy Spirit would direct us. We asked that he would lead us to people whose hearts he was preparing that we might make explicit what he was doing implicitly in their lives already.
My approach is simply to ask people in environments where they may be waiting for something or someone (train stations, bus stops, park benches, etc.). I simply explain we are out talking with people about Jesus and ask if we can speak with them for a while as they are waiting. Sometimes people say they are not interested, and we thank them and move on. My experience is that about 50% of those I approach in this matter are interested in talking. And it’s fun!
This past Friday, I went with Maddy and Amanda to the food court at Ogilvie Transportation Center and we had four deep and engaging evangelistic conversations.
Story 1: Jewish Background
First, we spoke with a Jewish guy who initially didn’t want to talk. He said it was because he was Jewish so of course I responded, “That’s how Jesus started out!” He laughed and seemed to think if we could be funny then maybe a conversations with us wouldn’t be all that bad.
He said it was the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur. I responded that I knew that is the Day of Atonement and asked if he felt his sins had been atoned for. He said nobody could know for sure if their sins could be forgiven then added that we were not going to convert him because he was raised in an Orthodox home.
I asked him if he was still practicing kosher laws and he admitted that he wasn’t. I responded that if he changed from Orthodox practices to whatever he was living by now, his life testified to the fact that he could change. From there, the discussion went to his interest in films and the theater. We spoke of several movies and plays that wrestled with human brokenness and redemption. It is amazing how the heart cry of the deep human themes appear in art and culture, making it easy to connect the gospel story by using what is readily available.
We had a good and engaging discussion for at least 15 minutes, and were able to explain the basic elements of the Christian understanding of the atonement in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Story 2: Parenting Today
Next, we spoke with Mark, a lapsed churchgoer. His interest peaked when he started talking about his early adolescent sons, and he said, with sincerity, that he realized that in today’s society, the boys needed to find a keel to make their way through the rough seas ahead. He committed to go back to church with his boys. In fact, he got so into the conversation that he almost missed his train.
Story 3: Assurance of Salvation
After a couple of people said they were not interested in talking, we spoke with Jasmine, a young woman in her early 20s who grew up in a church in the city, but who also had no assurance of salvation. We were able to take her through biblical texts to give her the very assurance she was looking for: that sins can be forgiven and a real relationship with God through Christ was possible.
The wide smile that drew across her face when she realized her sins were in fact forgiven said it all! We talked through some basic follow-up strategies and Maddy and Amanda got her contact information to keep the follow-up conversation going.
Story 4: The Prodigal
Last, we talked with Ore, a young woman with dual citizenship who lived her life between Nigeria and the USA. She was a college senior waiting at the station for her uncle. She shared how she was interested in faith as a child, but that she had drifted. As we spoke with her about the deep, unconditional love of Jesus for her, and his power to forgive sin and enter into her life as Lord to bring order out of the current chaos, she responded and prayed with us, at the station, to recommit herself to Christ.
She told us at the end of the conversation, “There was a reason you happened to come by and talk with me this evening, I needed to hear this.” Again, contact information was exchanged and the opportunity for further follow up initiated.
What Story Will You Hear?
It was a fun evening watching God at work. It should never surprise us when we discover people who want to hear about Christ. Jesus himself said that, “The fields are white unto harvest” but that the real problem is that there are so few willing to enter into the harvest and bring good news to those who are hungry for it.
Next week, Maddy and Amanda are planning to each take two other students out with them and do as we did. It’s easy to multiply the workers when people have so much fun doing the work.
Dr. Jerry Root is Professor of Evangelism at Wheaton College and Director of the Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center.