An Evangelism Story
Most Fridays I work from home instead of going into town where my office is. Not last Friday. I was behind on things and needed to get caught up and have access to my printers, so I went to the office. About the middle of the day, I was getting hungry. I went to the store to get some lunch meat and cheese to make a wrap back at the office. When I got back to the office, there was a man I had never seen before raking leaves in front of the building. I greeted him with a smile and went in.
I was putting away my things and preparing to make my lunch. It had only been a couple of minutes since I had come in and I heard a knock on the door. It was the man I had seen earlier. He asked if he could ask me a favor. He went on to explain that he was trying to get a job and he needed to get home so he could go get his ID. He told me how he had been trying to find work and the other man that worked there was the only one that had helped him out. (He was talking about the owner of the building. Apparently, he had paid him something to rake up the leaves around the building.) He told me that he felt like he had already done so much for him, he hated to ask him for anything else. I asked him where he lived and he told me. It was across town. I told him I would give him a ride and asked for just a couple minutes to put my things away and get my coat.
I put my stuff up quickly and rummaged around in my office but I didn’t have any more tracts. I hurriedly pulled one up on the computer and printed it out. I hurriedly texted a couple of brothers to ask them to pray. I grabbed my coat and stuck the tract in my pocket. I went out to the street and we got in my truck. I asked him his name and told him mine. As I pulled away from the curb I knew that we could spend the time in idle chit-chat or I could use the time to witness to him. He had already asked me what kind of work I did there and I had told him. In order to put myself thoroughly in the soup from the outset, I told him, as we were pulling away, that I was also a pastor. I told a little about our church, described where it was by the landmarks he knew, and invited him as best as I knew how so that he would know that he was welcome to visit.
I asked a couple of questions and he told me that he had been in prison for ten years and recently got out. He told me he had four children and twelve grandchildren in another state. He talked about his struggles and how hard it was as he was trying to get his life together. I told him I had seven children and knew that it can be hard to keep above water sometimes. I told him I would be praying for him and that I would tell the church and we would all be praying for him.
He had mentioned God a couple of times and kept talking about trying to get his life together. I told him that I did not believe in accidents. I believed God had brought us together that day. I asked him directly, “How is your relationship to God?” He admitted that it was not very good. He went on to talk about how he was trying and he needed to do better. I told him that no matter who we are, we can never do enough to make ourselves acceptable to God. I couldn’t do it and neither could he. I told him that sometimes people think we need to clean ourselves up in order to pray to God and be forgiven. I told him that one of the amazing things about the Gospel is that we don’t clean ourselves up in order to come to God. We come to him as we are, confessing our sins, repenting, and trusting only in Jesus Christ. I told him God cleans us up by washing us in the blood of Jesus Christ who died that sinners could be forgiven. I explained the Gospel to him as well as I could in a couple of minutes.
I asked him if there was anything specific we could pray for him about. He mentioned work again and that he really needed a job. He asked me to drop him at the corner, so I pulled over. I said if he had just a minute I wanted to pray with him before he got out. He agreed. I took off my hat, bowed my head, and called out to God to have mercy on him, to open his eyes to Jesus Christ and to find forgiveness in him alone. I asked God to manifest himself to him by opening the door for him to get the work he needed.
With tears in my eyes, I invited him to church again and told him I would be happy to see him there. I had never seen him before in my life and may never see him again. God knows. I came back to my office and prayed. I hope the Lord saves him. I hope that my motives were right and I left a blessed memory (Proverbs 10:7) where he will know that he needed help and he met a man on the street named Jeff who helped him and cared about him. I pray he will come to praise and glorify God because of it.
Why tell this story?
I do not tell you this story to make myself look like a hero. I could tell you about many failures. I have not done as much I should in life. A year or so ago I was leaving my office to get to church for the Wednesday service. While walking to my vehicle, I met a man that asked me for help and I told him I was sorry but I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything, not even a dime on me. I got into the vehicle and immediately felt a weight of rebuke on me. I pulled out and went down the street to find the man, determined to do what I could for him and to share the Gospel with him. I drove all around two or three blocks and didn’t see him anywhere. I have no idea where he could have gone in such a short time. I drove away knowing I had neglected my responsibility and an opportunity.
I tell this to encourage and I want us to encourage one another. I was overwhelmed by the encounter I had that Friday. I have had others that didn’t go that well. I couldn’t seem to think of good things to say or couldn’t get the conversation to go right. Honestly, every one of us knows enough to have the conversation I had. I had not prepared beforehand. In fact, I had been distracted with my mind overwhelmed all week long. I know it wasn’t the greatest evangelism encounter in the last 100 years, but I believe the Spirit helped me in one of the most powerful ways I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know all God’s purposes in it, though I know they will be accomplished.
A few lessons learned along the way
Let me try to encourage by sharing some things I see in this encounter and others that will help us in our personal evangelism. These are just some practical things I’ve learned. My goal is to help someone get started. I am thinking mostly about cold-contact evangelism on the street where the encounter may be a one-time event.
• We have to be willing to do it. We have to be willing to talk to people and especially the kind of people society teaches us to avoid. The example I have given is where someone came up to me to ask for help. I have found that people who really do have a need are much more open to talk to. People that come up to us may only be looking for a handout or may even be trying to swindle us with a fake story, but it is an opportunity handed to us to witness the Gospel to them.
• It takes humility to connect with people. If we think of ourselves as better than them on some level, we will be condescending and they will know it. We have to be sincere in what we are doing.
• We must be willing to listen to what they are saying, empathize with them, and respond to what they are saying. In other words, we need to have an actual conversation as far as we can and not give them a door-to-door salesman’s pitch. This goes along with the previous point and we must be concerned about the people we talk to. Evangelism is not a quota to meet.
• We can have a hard time turning conversations sometimes. We initiate contact and quickly get sidetracked and struggle to bring the conversation to the Gospel. One way to help this is to step right in it early on. Tell them your first name, and that you are a Christian, and invite them to church. Give them a tract or card. This way you have at least put the conversation on a certain track quickly and also committed yourself to it.
• We can sometimes get an opening to talk further by telling them we’re going to pray for them and then asking them if there is some specific need we can pray for them about. Again, we must be sincere and not trying to use a gimmick. We should be prepared to pray for them if we can right there. It’s a way of disarming a person and sometimes it opens the flood gates.
• If we have listened, there have probably been a few cues we can use to bring the conversation to the Gospel. I noticed how the man I met kept talking about trying to get his life together and I used that to talk about how we cannot get ourselves together before God. It led easily to the Gospel and our need for repentance.
• As a general rule it’s probably not a good idea to give money to people on the street. If someone tells me they need gas, food, or something like that, I usually offer to go get it for them. Few take me up on that offer. Some have. There is no playbook for how things are going to go. We should at least try to get something of the Gospel to people in every encounter.
Our job is to sow the seed and trust God for the results. Some people will refuse to talk or take anything from you. Some may want to argue with you. Some may be indifferent. Some may seem interested and give you openings to talk further. Remember we have successfully evangelized when we have made the Gospel clear to another person. We should always be inviting them to church. We also have to be willing to follow up. We have to be willing to receive them when they show up at church. We certainly must pray for them that God will work effectually in them.
The rest of the story
So what happened to the man I talked to that day? He came to our service the Sunday after I had met him. I was encouraged by that. I had a fairly long conversation with him after service that was mostly disappointing. He told me a lot of things about himself and his life. I don’t know if they were true or not. He may have been partially honest with me, completely honest, or lying about everything. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since.
We also have to realize we are going to have disappointments. Sometime we may invest in a person over a long time only to have them fall away. It can be painful. I pray for him. I am concerned about him. I have no idea what will happen with him. I am thankful that I at least had the opportunity to give him the Gospel and I pray God will use it to his salvation even if I never see him again.